Mathias Cormann wants to lead the OECD. The choice it makes will be pivotal


VOLGAVOLGA/Shutterstock

Adrian Blundell-Wignall, University of Sydney

My old OECD boss Secretary General (SG) Angel Gurria’s third term is coming to an end and the race is on to replace him.

Australia’s departing finance minister Mathias Cormann will face off against likely candidates from Canada, Estonia, Sweden and the United States and others yet to declare their hands.

Nominations are made by member countries and close on November 1.

The successful candidate will be announced by March 1. The next SG will begin the five-year term on June 1, 2021.

The person chosen will be remembered either as the SG who saw the OECD lose relevance in the face of pressure from large countries to cut its budget and marginalise it or, alternatively, as the person who kept alive the importance of the collective interest in holding governments to account, in a lobby-free zone.

The OECD has come a long way

The OECD began as the Organisation of European Economic Cooperation in the ruins of the second world war. Its brief was cooperation in the post-war reconstruction of Europe. It was about getting old foes to bury the hatchet and focus on common needs as US loans and technology were passed to Europe.

Its flagship activities were economic forecasting and country surveys.

As the formation of the European Economic Community in the late 1950s rendered some of its original role redundant, the United States and Canada joined, and in 1960 it was rechristened the OECD.




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Japan joined later in 1964 and Australia much later in 1970. Today it has 37 member countries, all of them upper or middle income democracies, including Mexico, Korea, Chile and Israel.

Brazil, India, China, Indonesia and South Africa are official partners (although not members), meaning the OECD is able to address challenges facing countries that account for 80% of world trade.

From tax to bribery, its work is important

At first it too focused on forecasting and country surveys, but then the International Monetary Fund moved into that role after its original raison d’être of exchange rate stability was taken away as the world moved to floating exchange rates in the wake of massive spending by the US to sustain the Vietnam War and the mid-1970s oil crisis.

Under the its second SG, Emiel van Lennep, the OECD developed new rules, facilitating cooperation on, among other things, financial regulation, tax policy, competition policy, corporate governance, multi-national enterprises, science and technology, environment, bribery and corruption, pensions, social policy, employment and (often forgotten) data consistency and the manuals used by statistical agencies and researchers all over the world.




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It’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is the gold standard for assessing the performance of students worldwide.

The way it works was well suited to these roles and could not be duplicated by other international organisations. Its agenda is driven by committees made up of representatives of member governments rather than its permanent staff.

In these committees, more than 300 including expert and working groups, representatives come together to discuss problems and how cooperation can help sort them out.




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The expansion has been demand-driven, with member countries, companies and other institutions often providing voluntary financing to make them work (OECD budgets are always under pressure). Today roughly one third of the OECD is funded this way.

It requires a special type of leader.

What’s needed to run the Paris-based organisation is someone who is credible, experienced in international affairs, has presence and gravitas, is a linguist (English and French), a fund raiser, energetic, ready to spend months travelling, thick skinned and has vision and courage.

It needs a leader who’s unafraid

Above all, it has to be someone who believes in the idea of the OECD and wants it to make a difference.

The present SG, Mexico’s Angel Gurria has been perfect, pulling it out of a lull and raising its profile.

Australia’s candidate Mathias Cormann.

Unfortunately, after 15 years with Gurria at the helm, some governments are looking for a more of a consensus-seeker.

“Consensus” means moving to the lowest common denominator, and not rocking the boat by using the full power the SG has to publish under his or her authority whenever consensus cannot be reached, as is often the case.

How will the new SG be chosen? The OECD Council doesn’t have the seniority and independence to decide. The appointment will be approved back in the capitals after lobbying by politicians and trading of favours, just as these things are decided for all heads of international organisations.

The best hope for an inspiring choice will be the smaller countries.

We can be grateful there’s one vote per country and no veto held by major powers as is so often the case in other international organisations.


Adrian Blundell-Wignall is a former director of the OECDThe Conversation

Adrian Blundell-Wignall, Adjunct Professor, School of Economics, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Anthony Albanese tries to climb an impossible mountain


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Many people who know Mathias Cormann – let us except Malcolm Turnbull – will hope he wins his bid to become secretary-general of the OECD.

Not only is he well qualified, but it would be a feather in Australia’s cap.




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He’s certainly no shoo-in, however. There are already multiple candidates, the pandemic will make campaigning complicated, and Australian’s record on climate change might be a negative.

But he’ll have strong government support and, given his meticulous organisational skills and network of contacts abroad, nothing will be left undone.

Finance minister throughout the Coalition’s term, Cormann is respected across the political spectrum, which has made him effective as the government’s “wrangler” of the difficult characters in the Senate.

His dour image conceals a lighter side, seen in Wednesday’s cameo appearance on the ABC’s “Mad as Hell” as he jested with his “spokesman” Darius Horsham, a long-running character on the show.

Cormann’s October 30 parliamentary exit – the timing determined by the OECD’s process – is a significant loss for the government. But Scott Morrison was determined not to let it become a disruption.

Morrison has filled Cormann’s shoes even before his minister has stepped out of them, announcing Simon Birmingham will take over the finance portfolio and Senate leadership when Cormann goes.

The PM said he’d make no other changes at that time, but there’ll be a reshuffle at year’s end.




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Birmingham will then shed his trade ministry, and Morrison will have the opportunity to make other alterations to his team. With aged care set to be a mega issue after the royal commission reports in February, one thing he should do is put a heavyweight into that portfolio and elevate it to cabinet.

Thursday’s small shuffle was a side show in the major play of the week, which saw a budget with a deficit of $213.7 billion this financial year that gambles on being large enough to get the country marching to recovery.

It will take months to judge whether the government has pitched its budget well (and that’s assuming no new seismic setbacks), but it is satisfied with the immediate reception. Income tax cuts are likely to be popular even if their critics argue other measures would be better. Business can only welcome the massive incentives to invest, although many enterprises won’t survive to take advantage of them.

Labor has given its support to the huge tax concessions for business in Josh Frydenberg’s second budget.




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This ease of passage is in sharp contrast to the company tax cuts in then treasurer Scott Morrison’s first budget, which embroiled the Turnbull government in a debilitating fight from 2016 to 2018. Even Cormann couldn’t wrangle the big business tranche of those through the Senate; it was abandoned in the final week of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.

The budget has come under fire on various fronts – for example, the wage subsidy for younger workers carries the risk of being rorted, and there’s criticism about the lack of assistance for older workers.

Nevertheless, it has been a difficult budget for the opposition to savage, given Labor is endorsing its core elements of income tax cuts and business concessions.

But one fertile area for the opposition has been the lack of specific assistance for women, many of whom have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. They’re often in casual jobs, and in sectors with the biggest job losses (although Frydenberg pointed out women have been strongly represented in the restored jobs). Women have also carried a disproportionate load of home schooling.

Anthony Albanese tapped into this area of government vulnerability when he delivered his Thursday night budget reply.

The opposition leader had several imperatives to meet as he went into that speech. To produce some policy flesh. To set up an ideological difference with the government. To cut through to the public.

With possibly only a little over a year before an election, the opposition is under pressure to start rolling out detailed policies. Albanese’s promises to make child care more affordable (at a cost of $6.2 billion) and to modernise the energy grid (a $20 billion investment) were substantial commitments.

The child care policy will appeal to women in particular. The pandemic has made families, but especially women, even more aware how important child care is for them – the brief period of it being free only increased the appetite for a better system – and the budget didn’t respond.

The proposals Albanese put forward to boost skills and local manufacturing highlighted Labor’s message that it believes in using government as a driver of change, through prescriptions, procurement policy and other means.




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Albanese promises $20 billion plan to modernise electricity grid, and $6.2 billion for child care


Albanese proposes mandating that a certain proportion of workers on major government-funded projects should be apprentices and trainees. He even suggests this could be extended to government-funded sectors such as aged care – how practical that would be is debatable.

There wasn’t a detailed social housing policy but Albanese flagged Labor would invest substantially in this area – that’s spending favoured by many economists as well as necessary to improve lives.

While Albanese is at pains to argue he’d mobilise the power of government, Morrison has muddied this political water.

The budget might be heavily private-sector oriented (and from that vantage point, seen as ideological), but Morrison is also interventionist when it suits him. His so-called gas led recovery, and his identification of designated sectors in his manufacturing policy are examples.

In terms of the imperatives he was trying to meet, Albanese did produce some policy flesh but of the announcements, probably only the child care initiative is likely to achieve general “cut through”.

The danger for Albanese is that come the next election, if Morrison sees child care as a political weak spot, he’s likely to address it.

In his stress on child care and social housing, Albanese made his point that Labor had different priorities to the government’s. And we got the message about putting government in the driver’s seat.

But the picture of what an Albanese government would actually look like wasn’t clear – as it can’t be, because that remains a work-in-progress.

Nor did we get any comprehensive idea of how, if this had been a Jim Chalmers budget, Labor would be tackling the immediate crisis differently.

Albanese’s problem was that circumstances demanded too much of him in his budget reply. He had a fair crack at meeting those demands, but he couldn’t change the perception that the pandemic has made the opposition one of its victims.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Simon Birmingham to become finance minister and Senate leader as Australia nominates Cormann for OECD


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, a leader of the Liberal moderates, will become Senate leader and finance minister following the imminent retirement of Mathias Cormann.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia will nominate Cormann as its candidate for secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).




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Cormann indicated in July he planned to leave parliament late this year. He has been Finance Minister throughout the Coalition government and a central figure in the preparation of its seven budgets.

Morrison said Birmingham would be sworn in as finance minister at the end of the month when Cormann retired. He would continue as minister for trade, tourism and investment.

“I am not planning on making other ministerial changes at that time,” Morrison said.

But there will be a reshuffle at the end of the year. With the current COVID-19 restrictions on international travel, Birmingham will be able to juggle his trade and extra responsibilities for a time, and he has trade negotiations in train.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash will become deputy Senate leader, a position Birmingham has held since 2018.

Birmingham has served in the Senate since 2007 and was education minister between 2015 and 2018.

Cormann, who came to Australia from Belgium in the 1990s, demonstrated his multilingual skills at a Thursday news conference with Morrison, giving short speeches in French and German.

His election to the OECD job is not certain, but Australia will campaign hard for him.

Morrison said this was “the most important Australian nomination for a major international body in decades”.

“Senator Cormann has already been an influential contributor in regional and global institutions, having attended every G20 Leaders’ meeting since 2014 and numerous G20 finance ministers, IMF and World Bank meetings over the period,” Morrison said.

“Over the last seven years, Senator Cormann has worked with many OECD leaders, and dozens of treasury, finance, and trade minister counterparts from developed and developing countries.”

Cormann will step down from the ministry and the Senate on October 30, before he is formally nominated for the OECD role. Nominations close at the end of October, with interviews and consultations beginning after that and an outcome expected in the first part of next year.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Those tax cuts test Albanese and provoke Hanson


The proposed 3 stage tax plan will cost $158 billion.
Shutterstock

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As hissy fits go, it was a beauty. Pauline Hanson was very cross indeed. Senate leader Mathias Cormann hadn’t called her, even though he was reportedly negotiating on the government’s $158 billion package of income tax cuts.

Venting on Sky on Wednesday night, Hanson said: “I don’t think he’s got the guts to pick up the phone and actually talk to me. And to turn around and say that he’s negotiating with crossbenchers is not the truth, because he’s not negotiating with me”.

She went on to rail about the Liberals preferencing One Nation below Labor, doing “grubby deals” with Clive Palmer and trying to destroy her.

The three-stage 10-year package, which promises an extra tax offset for low and middle income earners, is the big game in town for the first days of the new parliament, which opens the week after next, and it’s causing some grief.




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Despite the government’s confident words during the election campaign, the Tax Office has declined to pay the offset of up to $540 until the legislation is passed. This means the July 1 deadline from when the offset was supposed to be available will be missed. (Although people will get from July 1 the tax cut in the pipeline from last year’s budget.)

If the tax legislation is passed quickly, a few weeks’ delay for the offset is no big deal, especially as many people won’t be putting in their tax returns for a while. But the pressure on the government to deliver the first stage of its plan ASAP – not least because the economy needs the stimulus – reduces its ability to hold out indefinitely on its insistence it won’t split the package to accommodate objections to the later cuts.

Labor is in even more of a bind. It is happy to tick off the first stage – worth $15 billion – but has yet to decide its position on stages two (costing $48 billion and starting 2022-23) and three (costing $95 billion and commencing 2024-25).

Its objections are particularly to the last stage, which delivers cuts for higher income earners. Both the later stages come after the next election, due early 2022.

Those urging Labor should try to block at least stage three argue, apart from the equity issue, that mounting economic uncertainty makes it irresponsible to lock in such big tax cuts out in the “never never”.

On the other hand, a strong case can be made on grounds of principle and practicality for Labor to wave the whole package through.

The question of when a party or politician has a “mandate” is vexed.

On one view an opposition can claim it possesses a mandate to stay faithful to positions it advanced before an election even after it has lost that election.

But when the Morrison government went to the polls with the tax package as its prime policy, it does seem to have a strong case to say the parliament should pass it.

The same point would have applied if Bill Shorten had won. He would have had a mandate for his proposed changes to franking credits and negative gearing – both opposed by the Coalition.




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It doesn’t help maintain faith in the political system, or in election promises, for parties to try to govern from opposition, despite the Senate’s voting system sometimes facilitating this. Voters should be able to expect that major election policies of the winning side are implemented (perhaps with some alterations at the edges by parliament).

It is another matter when, as happened with the Abbott government’s 2014 budget, big new controversial initiatives are brought in soon after the election campaign, during which they were not flagged.

The practical reason against Labor going to the barricades on the tax package is that as it regroups, there is little to be gained by taking on this particular battle, especially when it is trying to reposition itself as appealing better to “aspirational” voters and leaving behind language attacking the “top end of town”.

Labor might be right that the proposed long term tax cuts could look irresponsible later, but if so, that is a fight to be had at the next election, when the ALP could highlight doubts it had previously registered.

There are divisions in Labor about what to do. Victorian MP Peter Khalil this week said if the government won’t split the package, Labor should vote for it all. Anne Aly, a backbencher from Western Australia, expressed concern about the package’s implications against a darkening economic outlook. The ALP has asked the government for more information. Anthony Albanese is consulting within the party before shadow cabinet decides the position it takes to caucus.

While the government is focusing the rhetorical pressure on Labor, it has an eye to the alternative route – to get the package through via the crossbench.




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For Cormann, the new Senate is easier than the last, partly because the non-Green crossbench has been slashed at the election.

To pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens the government needs four of the six non-Green crossbenchers. These include two from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, two from Centre Alliance, South Australia’s Cory Bernardi, and Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie.

Bernardi will vote with the Coalition. He has said he wants to help the Morrison government as much as possible, and on Thursday he announced he is winding up his Australian Conservatives party. It’s not clear whether he’ll seek to rejoin the Liberals, from whom he defected in 2017, or even stay in the parliament.

Cormann has been in discussion with Centre Alliance about their push for lower gas prices, and an agreement on some action appears likely. While this deal is formally separate from the tax package, he and they both have that front of mind.

This would leave one vote to be collected.

Lambie refuses to comment on her position. Hanson said earlier this month she was “not sold” on the current package and “therefore not likely to support the measures” – and proposed some of the funds be used for a coal-fired power station and a water security scheme.

After Wednesday’s outburst, Cormann was (of course) on the phone to her at crack of dawn Thursday. On her account, he said: “I’m not negotiating with crossbenchers with this at all. We have our three stages. We’re going to pass that no matter what”.

The government aims to keep the heat on Albanese. By the same token, if the crossbench has to come into play, Cormann won’t want a repeat of last term, when he couldn’t muster the numbers to deliver tax relief to big companies.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Minister who watches the nation’s credit card overlooks his own


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Mathias Cormann’s 2018 family holiday in Singapore is costing him a good deal more than the $2780.82 he belatedly paid for airfares booked with Helloworld travel company’s CEO who happened to be the Liberal party treasurer and a mate.

Cormann, Government Senate Leader, says he gave his credit card number to Andrew Burnes in July 2017 and assumed – until a media query this week – the transaction had gone through. He received no reminders about the outstanding payments.

He also says he had nothing to do with handling a contract his Finance department awarded a subsidiary of the company around the same time.

In his explanation for not noticing he hadn’t been charged, Cormann told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday he travelled a lot and many travel-related expenses went through his card.

It’s reasonable to take Cormann at his word about missing that the charge hadn’t been processed. Even accepting this, however, the affair looks bad for Cormann, who failed the “Caesar’s wife” test.

He should not have booked through the CEO, given the man is a
political and personal associate, and the company has a commercial relationship with Cormann’s department.

If he wanted to use that company, he should have gone to the normal booking service. It would have been more prudent to have used another travel agency.

Helloworld’s chief financial officer Michael Burnett says, in a letter Cormann produced on Tuesday, that the flights were never intended to be free. But Burnett provided an odd explanation for no reminders. “Because we held your credit card details at the time of the booking, payment reminders were not sent to you, even though the amount remained listed as ‘Outstanding’ on our internal system”.

You’d expect the company would have either processed the payment or sent a reminder.

Scott Morrison’s aggressive reaction – accusing Labor of going “to the bottom of the chum bucket” – when the opposition asked if Cormann had any conflict of interest, given the contract, doesn’t help the government. The public’s default position is scepticism when it comes to politicians’ conduct.

Giving Cormann the benefit of all doubt, the matter smacks of cosiness and cronyism – a politician using his connections to smooth his way (just as that famous picture of Joe Hockey and Cormann smoking cigars sent a signal of complacency and came to haunt both of them).

This is one more setback for Cormann, who has seen his reputation badly dented in the last few months.

His decision in August to throw his lot in with Peter Dutton and
declare Malcolm Turnbull had lost the confidence of the Liberal party sealed the fate of the former prime minister, with all that followed, including the Coalition being plunged into minority government.

There were multiple players in Turnbull’s downfall, not least Turnbull himself, but Cormann was a major one.

Cormann’s judgement was also off beam in his belief that he could muster the necessary crossbench votes last year to pass the government’s tax cuts for large companies.

His commitment was a factor in the government’s clinging to this
measure for too long, to the detriment of Turnbull.

Earlier this year it was revealed Cormann used a defence plane, at a cost of $37,000, to fly from Canberra to Perth so he could drop into Adelaide to lobby (unsuccessfully) a couple of Centre Alliance senators to support the cuts.

His spokesperson said at the time: “Use of the special purpose
aircraft was approved in the appropriate way to facilitate official business in Adelaide in transit from Canberra back to Perth in between two parliamentary sitting weeks”.

Cormann, obsessed with trying to rustle up votes, didn’t stop to consider how over-the-top this would look to most people, who would say “find a way to fly commercial” or “have a video call”. After Bronwyn Bishop’s helicopter flight, politicians should automatically hit a pause button before ordering up expensive transport.

It is obvious from Cormann’s demeanour that he is very aware he’s politically diminished. His reputation was as one of the government’s best performers, but he is not out in the media as much these days.

Another cabinet minister, Michaelia Cash, embroiled in the court case about her office leaking an imminent police raid on the AWU, has almost disappeared from public view.

This week’s Senate estimates hearings have been damning for the embattled Cash.

The Australian Federal Police gave evidence on Monday that Cash and former justice minister Michael Keenan had declined, despite at least two requests, to provide “witness statements” about media leaks. Rather, they responded by letter.

Morrison defended the two ministers’ behaviour. “I’m advised that both ministers did, in fact, cooperate with that investigation on a voluntary basis,” he told parliament on Tuesday. “I’m advised that neither minister received any further requests for information after they responded to the AFP’s initial invitation to provide information”.

On Tuesday night, Cash was put through the wringer during a Senate estimates hearing. Amazingly, the minister said she had not read the AFP’s Monday evidence. Asked why, she said, “because I haven’t”.

Taxpayers, incidentally, are currently up for $288,812 for Cash’s legal representation.

Although Cormann’s tickets affair is very different from the issue involving Cash and Keenan, the message from the behaviour of all three is one of elitism – politicians thinking they don’t have to do things the way ordinary people do.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: With apologies to Mathias, Hanson blows away government hopes on company tax


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Not so long ago, new South Australian independent senator Tim Storer and Victorian crossbencher Derryn Hinch were set to be the pivotal players determining the fate of the government’s tax cut for big companies.

But after the evidence from the banking inquiry Hinch’s doubts about the measure hardened further, while Storer continued to agonise.

The government then looked towards the Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, for the two crucial numbers it needed. The rest of the votes were in the bag.

Only it turned out they weren’t. Pauline Hanson, who commands three Senate votes and thus a veto, has suddenly withdrawn the support she earlier pledged. Hanson has flipped-flopped before but she insists this is for real – that she won’t change her mind again.

Hanson says she’s “so disappointed in this government” after the budget it produced. She has a litany of complaints: inaction on debt; intransigence on immigration; the absence of changes to the petroleum resource rent tax; no appearance of promised apprenticeships, and many more.

Hanson denies her reneging is driven by her political needs in the Queensland seat of Longman, though that claim lacks credibility. Tax cuts for the wealthiest companies, including the banks, would hardly appeal to potential One Nation voters, and this byelection will be a test for Hanson’s party, just as it will be for Labor and the Coalition. Bill Shorten had already been exploiting her closeness to the government.




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As much as the Senate is unpredictable, this does look like the end of the government’s chances of getting its company tax package through parliament before the election.

Senate leader Mathias Cormann, the government’s chief negotiator, said he hoped “that this is not the last word” but admitted “it might well be that we won’t ever get there”.

Once again, Shorten has had a lucky break. The tax cut for big companies, which Labor has strenuously opposed, is still on the political agenda. If the Senate had passed it, Labor would have a diminished target.

It also remains on the books. Admittedly the cost is way into the future, but in these times when parties like to talk in terms of a decade, those notional future dollars are useful to Labor.

Also, if the package isn’t passed, Labor doesn’t have to cope with the question: how can you be sure a Shorten government could persuade a post-election Senate to repeal the cuts?

Most immediately, the opposition on Tuesday was making merry with questions about what “secret deal” the government had with Hanson to try to get the company tax cut through.

A Senate estimates hearing saw an angry clash between Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong and Cormann, when Wong pursued whether the government was willing to meet Hanson’s various demands. As she went through these, Cormann retorted “I know that you always like channelling Senator Hanson”.

Wong, of Asian heritage, responded ferociously: “Don’t tell me I channel Pauline Hanson. I find that personally offensive. I can tell you what happened to me and my family and people like us, when she stood up in the parliament, possibly before you were here, saying Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians. I will never do anything other than fight her.”

Cormann accused Wong of “confected outrage”; Wong countered “How dare you!”.

But a few hours later the two had made up.

Wong tweeted: “I will never do anything other than stand up to Pauline Hanson and her views, but I know Mathias is one of the decent people in this Government and accept his assurance he did not mean to cause offence.”

Cormann replied: “While we are fierce political competitors, I value the fact that we always aim to engage in the political contest professionally and with courtesy and mutual respect.”

It’s notable how much genuine respect Cormann commands in a parliament characterised by the lack of it.

Hanson went out of her way to stress she wasn’t blaming Cormann for anything – “his colleagues and the government” had let him down, she said. She told her news conference, “I know he’s devastated”, and she’s said to be genuinely upset that she’s left him in the lurch.

The government says that if there’s not a new turn of Senate fortunes, it will take the company tax policy to the election.

Although some argue the measure should be ditched, which is the superficially attractive course, that would potentially bring fresh difficulties. Not only would it open a brawl with business, but it would undermine the economic argument the government has been making for two years. Killing an albatross can be a dangerous business.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Can the Turnbull government make the election all about tax?


It would, however, be popular with the public. Tuesday’s Essential poll reported that when people were asked which in a list of measures they would support to cut government spending, the top item nominated (on 60%) was “not providing company tax cuts for large business”.

The Essential poll brought mixed news on the tax front for the government.

Asked to choose between the budget’s income tax plan and the alternative outlined by Shorten in his budget reply, Labor’s plan was preferred by 45% to 33%. On the other hand, Labor and the Coalition were equal (on 32% each) when people were asked which party they trusted most to manage a fair tax system.

The ConversationParticularly interesting was the poll’s voting figure. The two-party Labor lead has now narrowed to 51-49% (compared with 52-48% in the last poll). This is the closest result since late 2016, and in line with the most recent Newspoll. It reinforces the point that the contest is tightening.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce: the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall



File 20180223 108119 vdf7n6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Barnaby Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals.
AAP/Marlon Dalton

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the end, the tough man crumpled. For a fortnight Barnaby Joyce had resembled someone out in the snow who’d broken through the pain threshold, as he defied massive pressure and political common sense to try to cling to his job.

But as the scandal engulfing him tore at the government, he finally gave way; on his own account, a sexual harassment allegation that was revealed publicly only on Thursday was the last straw.

Most observers thought the saga had to come to Friday’s conclusion. The media stories weren’t going to stop. They were of two kinds. There were those surrounding the employment arrangements made for his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion. The others were the various claims of inappropriate behaviour that kept surfacing.

His Nationals colleagues, despite their admiration for Joyce’s campaigning and other abilities, looked on aghast during the last two weeks, increasingly pessimistic about the way things were going. Never mind his enemies – by Thursday, even his loyalists could not see a way through.




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Barnaby Joyce wields the tea towel in the government’s soap opera


Within the government, clearly the relationship with Malcolm Turnbull was gone after the prime minister’s extraordinary personal attack last week and Joyce’s counterpunch. The staged weekend meeting to suggest a patch-up was farcical.

The fact that Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann, rather than Turnbull himself, of his impending resignation announcement says it all. Joyce’s opinion of Turnbull now likely matches what Tony Abbott thinks of Turnbull. Abbott had a thinly veiled jibe in his tribute to Joyce, saying “part of the problem has been poor management at the most senior levels of government”.

Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals. What it will mean beyond that is more difficult to predict.

Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, seems virtually certain to become the new Nationals leader. He’s a junior minister with a relatively low profile, and has sometimes been shielded in parliament’s Question Time by more senior ministerial colleagues. The party is moving in behind McCormack, because there is no real alternative, and in an effort to show it is regrouping.

Another NSW National, David Gillespie, has also put up his hand – despite still waiting on a High Court decision about his constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament. But he is not a chance.

McCormack might grow into the job, as leaders sometimes do. Tim Fischer (unkindly) likes to remind me that I wrote him off when he became leader, and then had to acknowledge how well he turned out.

But taking over in these circumstances will be hard going for the new chief, who must sell himself in the electorate as well as establish enough authority within the government to enable the Nationals to punch above their numerical weight.

In the parliament, the Nationals are a top-down party. They number only 21, so they need their leadership to be strong – ideally not just the leader but their other senior ministers as well.

They are eons from the glory days of John McEwen, Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair and Peter Nixon. But Joyce, under whom the party performed well at the 2016 election, enabled it to hold its own in the Coalition.

His successor will step into a Coalition climate in which many Liberals are furious that the Joyce scandal and the Nationals’ failure to resolve it quickly wiped out the government’s good start to the year. Also, even before all this happened, the rural Liberals, looking for more bounty and kudos, were flexing their muscle against their Nationals colleagues.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Is Barnaby’s baby a matter of ‘public interest’ or just of interest to the public?


Joyce (like Abbott before him) says he won’t snipe from the backbench. They all say that, the cynic might observe (especially a cynic watching Abbott’s run-up to Turnbull’s expected 30 losing Newspolls).

On the other hand, Joyce’s fall is different from that of Abbott. He was not knifed in a coup by his own party. Indeed, even on Thursday, some Nationals sources believed Joyce probably still had the numbers (whether they would have held in a spill is something else).

Joyce was brought down by his own behaviour, relentless media disclosures, and the reality that the government could not stand the damage being done to it.

Whatever he might say about being busy on other fronts, with the baby and all, discipline and quietness are not in Joyce’s nature. When he first entered the parliament as a Queensland senator, he crossed the floor countless times and caused many headaches for the Nationals’ leadership.

It would be surprising if, as a backbencher in the lower house, he keeps his opinions to himself, even if he eschews floor-crossing, given the government’s tight numbers.

It’s premature to judge how damaged Joyce is as a campaigner in regional Australia. Initial opinion polls are a limited guide. If it turns out he still has cache as a retail politician, it will be interesting to see how extensively the Nationals, under their new leader, choose to use him in the next election campaign.

At a human level, Joyce is the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall.

Joyce – who garnered international publicity when he threatened to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs – has always been a larger-than-life politician, a distinctive brand.

When he arrived in Canberra in 2005, no-one thought he’d ever lead the Nationals. He punched through, overcame setbacks, and remade himself while retaining the characteristics that led people to regard him as authentic.

But then his personal flaws and indulgences cost him all he’d worked and schemed for, as well as bringing grief to many close to him.

The ConversationIn other times and circumstances, Joyce might have skated through, little harmed by the scandal. But today the personal can quickly become the political – something Joyce failed to understand.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cormann and Shorten reach deal on citizenship disclosure


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has agreed to Labor’s December 1 deadline and tougher conditions in a deal on MPs citizenship disclosure clinched between Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann on Monday.

The agreement comes after last week’s haggling over timing and the terms of disclosure, and a meeting and an exchange of sharp letters between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Shorten. It paved the way for an immediate motion in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives after it returns on November 27.

Under changes obtained by Labor, MPs will have to go back as far as their grandparents and say what steps they have taken to confirm that they did not inherit foreign citizenship from their parents and grandparents.

The original proposal by Turnbull only went back as far as parents. It required only that MPs stated when they nominated they were not, to the best of their “knowledge and belief”, a citizen of any other country.

The resolution includes a provision requiring an MP who at the time of nomination, was a foreign citizen (or is currently), to state on what basis they contend they should not be disqualified under Section 44(i) of the Constitution.

This covers the situation of several Labor MPs, who took steps to renounce their foreign citizenship but did not receive confirmation before they nominated. Labor has legal advice these MPs are safe; the government has advice they are breaching the Constitution.

Labor claimed it got all it wanted in the deal; the government claimed the ALP wished to include further clauses designed to clear MPs on the basis that they had taken “reasonable steps” to renounce dual citizenship.

The government compromised twice in bringing forward the date of disclosure. Most recently it was saying it should be December 7.

A later disclosure date would have required a special recall of parliament to consider any referrals to the High Court. These will now be able to be dealt with in the last week, starting December 4, of the current timetable.

The government is flagging it will refer up to four Labor MPs to the court, although it is not clear whether it will wait to do this until the December 4 week, or seek to move the week before.

In the Senate, Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi claimed a senator was ineligible to sit and the government was aware of it. The senator in question is not a member of the government. Tasmanian crossbencher Jacqui Lambie’s eligibility has been questioned in recent days.

Meanwhile, a ministerial vacancy has opened with the elevation of Scott Ryan to the Senate presidency on Monday morning. Ryan has been special minister of state.

Turnbull will reshuffle his ministry at some later point, in what are expected to be quite extensive changes. The High Court’s recent disqualification of the Nationals Fiona Nash has opened another vacancy. In the meantime, Cormann will take over responsibility for the special minister of state portfolio.

The byelection for the seat of Bennelong, vacated by John Alexander who believes he had dual citizenship, will be held on December 16. Alexander will have to free himself of his UK citizenship before nominations close for the byelection.

Shorten told a meeting of Labor senators: that Labor was “behind the eight ball” in Bennelong, where the Liberals have a margin of nearly 10%.

“But we are going to give it every effort,” he said, defining the battle as “about the direction in which the nation is headed.

“One point we will be making in Bennelong is that because of the increasing and disturbing closeness and proximity between One Nation and the Liberal Party, that a vote for the Liberal Party in Bennelong is effectively a vote for One Nation on the national stage.

“When you look at One Nation’s voting record in the Senate, nearly 90% of the time they are voting with the Liberals.

The Conversation“So for the voters who think they are voting for One Nation as a protest against the Government, they are not. And for people who vote Liberal because they don’t agree with some of One Nation’s extreme views, they are, in fact, endorsing them,” Shorten said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/k3zus-7afe23?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Mathias Cormann’s Economic Girlie Man – Write Your Own Stuff!!!


So Mathias Cormann is quoting ‘The Terminator,’ or is it from ‘Mad as Hell?’ You be the judge. Maybe he should try writing his own stuff!!!

For more read the article at:
http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/18/mathias-cormann-calls-bill-shorten-an-economic-girlie-man