Labor moves in on the Barnaby Joyce affair


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Labor Party, which started with a hands-off approach to the Barnaby Joyce affair, has now segued into making it a political issue, while trying to still argue that its “personal” aspect should be private.

The opposition is eyeing possible openings to exploit in the liaison between Joyce and his former staffer Vikki Campion – who is expecting his child – by pursuing questions about processes and taxpayers’ money, as well as harbouring the hope of dragging Malcolm Turnbull into the matter.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek walked the fine line on Sunday.

“I don’t think [Joyce] needs to account for his personal behaviour, his relationships, to the public,” she told the ABC.

“The only area in which there is a genuine public interest is in the area of the expenditure of taxpayers’ funds, and there have been questions over the last couple of days about jobs that have been created for Vikki Campion, the expenditure of taxpayer funds on travel.

“I think those are areas where the prime minister and the deputy prime minister ought to be fully transparent,” she said.

Turnbull last week tried to keep away from the Joyce matter by saying it was private.

“These private matters are always very distressing for those involved, I don’t want to add to the public discussion about it. I’m very conscious of the distress this causes to others, in particular Natalie Joyce and her and Barnaby’s daughters. So it’s a private matter, a tough matter. I don’t have any more to say about it,” he said on Friday.

Pressed later, he said he was “not aware of any inappropriate expenditure of public funds”. But the issue of “public funds” is becoming murkier.

When the Joyce-Campion affair was creating problems in Joyce’s office, she was moved to the office of Resources Minister Matt Canavan. Later a place was found for her with Nationals then whip Damian Drum.

Questions are now being asked about the pay and arrangements in relation to these positions. On Friday, Turnbull was being quizzed about whether he’d counselled Joyce to remove Campion.

One can only imagine the Turnbull anger about the situation. He comes at it from a personal position of being very family-oriented and his sympathy is clearly with Natalie Joyce and the daughters. Also, with the government starting the year looking better, the last thing Turnbull wants is to have this becoming another distraction, let alone have any suggestion of a role in it.

Joyce by Saturday had publicly taken sole ownership, with a statement “that he had not discussed Ms Campion’s employment with the prime minister or his office.

“He confirmed that the Nationals were responsible for decisions relating to staffing in the offices of Nationals’ members. The Prime Minister’s Office has an administrative role in informing the Department of Finance.” Labor no doubt will be probing this “administrative role”.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, appearing on Sky on Sunday, was clearly uncomfortable. He maintained that “all of my advice is that everything was absolutely above board”, while also saying: “I am not aware of the specific staffing circumstances of every single one of my colleagues”.

The next few days will reveal whether there is anything to see, in terms of untoward arrangements or costs. Nationals sources point to the obvious implications for Joyce if there were any such revelation.

The big question – assuming there is no public money time bomb – is what this will do to Joyce’s leadership. There are mixed opinions.

He can point to the fact that in terms of retail politics, he has been highly popular, and led the party to a very good result at the election, in contrast to Turnbull’s below-par performance.

His position is protected (even more than Turnbull’s, in the Liberal Party, is protected) by the absence of an alternative leader. But the Nationals are at present an unhappy bunch.

There’s criticism of Joyce’s recent performance, including his handling of the Nationals’ part of the pre-Christmas reshuffle, which saw Victorian MP Darren Chester dumped from cabinet and assistant minister Keith Pitt ending up on the backbench.

There’s ruminating about how his new circumstances will play out in the wider Nationals’ constituency, which tends to be conservative and family-oriented. Will people have long memories or will they just move on when the fuss dies down?

Perhaps most relevant is whether Joyce will lose his political energy as he deals with new personal circumstances and some loss of respect.

With a bitter separation behind him, it won’t be easy.

Tony Windsor, Joyce’s old enemy in the seat of New England, is turning the knife, predicting in a tweet: “The Eagles are circling, don’t be surprised if Joyce resigns “for personal reasons” before the main story claims him … he will know it’s getting close to a one-way street to a job with Gina”.

The ConversationWith unfortunate if exquisite timing, Turnbull held a family fun day for Coalition MPs at the Lodge on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, there was no sign of his deputy prime minister.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6jqa7-8776fa?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.

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Trump and Nunes torch tradition of trust between Congress and FBI



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Trump with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Dec. 15, 2017.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Douglas M. Charles, Pennsylvania State University

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the FBI may have reached a climax.

In an apparent attempt to discredit Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, staff of the House Intelligence Committee on behalf of its chair Republican Devin Nunes of California, wrote and on Feb. 2 released a four-page memo based on confidential information made available to them by the FBI. It outlines alleged improprieties in the FBI’s investigation, specifically the monitoring of Trump’s former campaign adviser Carter Page.

Nunes in 2017 was forced to step aside from the committee’s Russia investigation because he was seen as taking direction from the Trump White House.

Page was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and a person of interest to the FBI beginning in 2013. He became the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, warrant in 2016.

As an FBI historian, I find the congressional effort to discredit the FBI’s investigation startling. Trump’s involvement reminds me of Nixon. Between 1972 and 1973, President Richard Nixon attempted to contain the FBI’s Watergate investigation as it zeroed in on top White House figures.

Congressional committees and the FBI

The behavior of congressional Republicans in this matter is unprecedented.

This view is shared even by GOP senators John McCain and Jeff Flake. The FBI has a long history, going back to the J. Edgar Hoover era, of providing congressional committees with sensitive FBI information and assistance – provided they keep that information and relationship confidential.

For example, the FBI provided information to the House Un-American Activities Committee, singling out suspected communists and anti-communist witnesses – like Ronald Reagan. The FBI cooperated with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee between 1951 and 1954. And it even provided Sen. Joe McCarthy with information and advice to keep his anti-communist cause alive until he violated Hoover’s rules in 1953 by revealing his relationship with the FBI.

In the years after Hoover, the FBI behaved more properly in sharing sensitive information with Congress. It began restricting itself to sharing information with its congressional oversight committees to keep them abreast of FBI activity and in line with the Justice Department’s investigative guidelines.

In the current Congress, Nunes’ House Intelligence Committee was provided with sensitive FBI information about its Russia probe based on the understanding that the committee would not publicly reveal any of it without first asking the FBI to advise and redact classified information.

The committee didn’t wait for redactions, however, and instead chose to reveal select nuggets of the FBI’s intelligence in its four-page memo. Trump-nominated FBI Director Christopher Wray publicly spoke out against Trump’s wishes about releasing the memo after he failed to convince the White House to block it. Wray is concerned the Nunes memo contains “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Nixon asks CIA to stop FBI

Nixon and Haldeman at the White House, 1969.
AP Photo/File

While Congress’ behavior in trying to discredit the FBI is unprecedented, President Trump’s interest and efforts in stopping an FBI probe of the White House is not.

In June 1972, Nixon discussed with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, how to use the CIA to stop the FBI’s Watergate probe. The idea was to have the CIA director and deputy director assert that the FBI’s investigation threatened national security. Though he never explained his reasoning, Nixon thought CIA Director Richard Helms owed him and would comply. He also thought it was embarrassing enough to the agency that some of the Watergate burglars were connected to the CIA for Helms to follow through. In the end, the effort failed.

Nixon had selected L. Patrick Gray as FBI director following the death of J. Edgar Hoover, and also hoped that he could maneuver the FBI away from Watergate. He was Nixon’s man at the FBI. Gray provided Watergate-related documents to White House Counsel John Dean, who monitored the FBI in the cover-up. In 1972, Gray destroyed Watergate-related documents that he had kept concealed for the previous six months.

Nixon’s Oval Office tapes confirm his concerns. In June 1972 Chief of Staff Haldeman told Nixon, “The FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them … their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money.”

After his 1972 re-election and as the Watergate investigation closed in, Nixon then said about Gray, “I don’t believe that we oughta have Gray in that job … he’s too close to us.”

Incredibly, Nixon even pondered the idea (listen at 21 minutes into the tape) of naming Associate FBI Director Mark Felt as FBI director because “he’s a good man” and would be, as Haldeman commented to Nixon, “your guy” who would know how to pull the levers at the FBI.

What Nixon and Haldeman didn’t know was that Felt was busy leaking Watergate information to various reporters, including to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “Deep Throat.” He hoped to undermine Gray and eventually take the top FBI job for himself. This effort backfired, and Nixon had no idea that he had briefly contemplated making Deep Throat his FBI director.

In Nixon’s day, interfering with the FBI happened out of view and behind the scenes.

Today, Trump’s concerns with the FBI’s investigations are blatantly public. He has allies in Congress who share his concerns about the FBI. Nixon had no such congressional committee backing him.

Where this ends, we do not yet know. Given FBI Director Wray’s pushback, will Trump seek a more compliant FBI director in the mold of Gray?

Will he fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein?

The ConversationCurrent events have the feel of a pending political and Constitutional crisis perhaps not too dissimilar from Watergate in the 1970s.

Douglas M. Charles, Associate Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University

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

Consumers are biggest losers of Trump’s ongoing war on regulations



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Some worry Mick Mulvaney is putting banks before consumers as head of the CFPB.
Reuters/Yuri Gripas

Jeff Sovern, St. John’s University

President Donald Trump has been waging a war on regulation since he got into office on the ground that government red tape costs the economy billions of dollars a year.

Among the victors in this battle have been energy companies, banks and the president himself, who recently promised he’s “just getting started.” Perhaps the biggest losers, however, have been consumers.

The best illustration of this is the neutering of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which began immediately after Mick Mulvaney stepped in as interim director in November.

So how much harm could he do in two short months? As someone who has written about consumer law for more than 30 years, let me count the ways.

Mick Mulvaney is governing the CFPB very differently than his predecessor.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

‘Pushing the envelope’

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may be best known for levying a US$100 million fine against Wells Fargo in 2016 after the bank opened millions of unauthorized accounts.

But the bureau, originally conceived by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has done so much more since Congress created the independent agency in 2010. Under Mulvaney’s predecessor, Richard Cordray, the bureau moved forcefully when it concluded companies had cheated consumers.

Through last summer, the bureau recovered nearly $12 billion for more than 29 million consumer victims of everything from illegal credit card fees to auto lenders that discriminated against people of color. In 2016 alone, the bureau announced 42 new enforcement actions, or nearly four new cases a month.

Mulvaney, who is also Trump’s budget director, argued his predecessor’s governing philosophy was to “push the envelope” in pursuing the bureau’s mission. Mulvaney, Trump and other Republicans argue that the CFPB director – who can’t be easily removed by the president – has too much power, making the bureau a prime target in their goal to eliminate regulation they believe puts a strain on the economy and small businesses.

While Cordray had previously never used the “push the envelope” language in describing his mission, he reacted to Mulvaney’s charge by embracing it, tweeting that he did “push hard to see that people are treated fairly by big banks, debt collectors and payday lenders.”

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It seems unlikely that the bureau would take on a bank like Wells Fargo for similar fraudulent conduct or pursue many of Cordray’s other actions now that Mulvaney is in charge. His boss has even praised a bill passed by the House that would strip the CFPB of the authority to go after banks for doing what Wells Fargo did, while Mulvaney himself has co-sponsored legislation aimed at killing the bureau.

Former CFPB Director Richard Cordray, center, embraced the idea that he ‘pushed the envelope’ to protect consumers.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

A new governing mission

While Mulvaney agrees that the bureau’s job includes protecting consumers such as credit card users, he says it also works for credit card issuers – despite the fact that its very name states that it exists to protect consumers, not banks.

One reason Congress wanted an agency to protect consumers was because existing bank regulators in the run-up to the Great Recession had not only failed to prevent predatory lenders from taking advantage of consumers, thus contributing to the subprime fiasco, but at least one even protected them. I believe the U.S. already has enough bank protection agencies, from the Federal Reserve to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, without adding the bureau to the list.

In January, Mulvaney told his staff that the bureau’s actions should be guided by how many complaints it receives on a particular matter.

By that measure, the CFPB wouldn’t have gone after Wells Fargo because few consumers seem to have complained to the bureau about the unauthorized Wells accounts. That may be because consumers often don’t bother to complain when they have suffered only a small loss. And yet collectively the Wells customers had much at stake, as demonstrated by the fact that Wells has agreed to settle the case for $142 million, a number that may yet grow.

Sally Greenberg, with the National Consumers League, is among the groups that have voiced strong opposition to Mulvaney taking over the bureau.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Enforcement – or lack thereof

So what has Mulvaney actually done since taking over?

While he pledged to be vigorous and consistent in enforcement of federal consumer financial law, he has also said that the bureau should bring cases reluctantly. As such, you might wonder how many he is actually filing.

The answer would be none.

The bureau has instead dropped a case, without explanation, against a group of payday lenders that charged consumers as much as 950 percent interest a year.

It also terminated at least one investigation, though we can’t know for sure how many it has ended because the bureau usually doesn’t publicly announce such actions.

That investigation was against a company that had made several campaign donations to Mulvaney. A ProPublica investigation previously reported that the installment lender, World Acceptance Corp., trapped consumers in a cycle of debt with deceptively expensive loans.

We can’t know whether Cordray himself would have eventually ended that investigation anyway and thus determine if its termination was the result of a lack of evidence. But we can be fairly certain that he wouldn’t have done what Mulvaney did around the same time: say, he may reconsider a rule intended to keep payday customers from falling into endless debt traps. That rule took the unremarkable step of requiring lenders, before extending some loans, to verify that borrowers can repay the debt.

Another noteworthy move by Mulvaney concerns the CFPB’s Fair Lending Office. The law that originally set up the bureau tasked this office with enforcing laws prohibiting discriminatory lending. He has revoked that power, suggesting that preventing discrimination on the basis of race and gender will now be less important at the bureau.

For the next five months – or until the Senate confirms a permanent director – the CFPB is led by someone who once called it a “sad, sick” joke.

The ConversationWhat is sad and sick, in my view, is that an agency established to protect consumers may be more eager to protect predatory lenders than consumers. And that is no joke.

Jeff Sovern, Professor of Law, St. John’s University

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

Why Trump’s infrastructure ambitions are likely to stall



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The White House favors public-private partnerships for widening congested roads and getting other pricey projects done.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Caroline Nowacki, Stanford University and Kate Gasparro, Stanford University

President Donald Trump recently raised the ante with his promise to unleash a wave of new infrastructure spending. During his first State of Union address, he conjured up images of “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land” without getting into the details.

The White House will soon unveil
Trump’s “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative,” which Trump now says will usher in at least US$1.5 trillion in spending. That’s a 50 percent jump from the $1 trillion he had previously pledged and nearly triple the money he talked up on the campaign trail.

With only $200 billion in federal funding apparently on the table, and ample questions
from the lawmakers who need to approve that money about where even that sum will come from, will the plan deliver?

A draft of his plan indicates it would rely on states, local governments and, most importantly, private investors to contribute the rest of the $1.5 trillion pie. As researchers studying ways to boost private infrastructure spending, we believe that it will fall short because it does not address private investors’ key concerns, and it would not work for many kinds of high-priority projects.

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Matching and mismatching

During his address, Trump repeated a message he’s made many times before: that private investment should help pay the nation’s infrastructure bill. “Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private-sector investment – to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit,” he said.

That makes it sound like he favors “public-private partnerships,” or P3s, the most common way governments attract and leverage private investment.

Here’s how they work. A public sponsor – either the federal government agency or a state or local government agency – contracts out part or all of the financing, construction, maintenance and operation of a project to a group of private companies following a competitive bidding process.

The amount of infrastructure money in new U.S. P3s has waned in recent years. It fell to $710 million between 2011 and 2014 from higher levels seen a few years earlier, the most recent period for which data is available. And P3s only facilitated about 1.5 percent of the $4 trillion all levels of government spent on highways between 1989 and 2013, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

However, the number of pension funds and other institutional investors putting money into infrastructure has doubled.

What’s holding things up?

Investors do not say that a lack of federal subsidies, like the $200 billion Trump reportedly seeks, is a big bottleneck. Instead, to draw much more private investment, the U.S. needs clear, consistent regulations that will help make projects more likely to withstand any shifts in political power – such as when the majority party changes at any level of government.

Establishing a more successful track record for these partnerships, which have often faltered, will also help.

One step the U.S. could take now is to follow the examples set by Australia and Canada, where more infrastructure is being built through these partnerships. Specialized P3 teams in those countries have developed uniform competitive bidding processes, standardized contracts and project pipelines all based on lessons learned from prior partnerships.

Californian precedents

The spotty track record for some U.S. efforts to establish P3s underscores the importance of that kind of coordination.

California, for example, sought in 1989 to harness four of these partnerships as “demonstration” projects. It only completed two of those four.

First, California’s transportation department created a P3 to build express lanes for its busy SR-91 highway to ease Orange County congestion near Los Angeles.

Because the department agreed to not build free roads running parallel to the tolled ones, a public outcry ensued after the 10-mile-long road opened to traffic in 1995.

Orange County then bought out the private-sector partner stake in this project eight years later, cutting its long-term contract short.

Expanding the South Bay Expressway, the other P3 California announced in 1989 that got done, took until 2007 to complete. Three years later, the project’s private partner declared bankruptcy, largely because of years of litigation that delayed the onset of tolls – which then generated less revenue than expected.

These planning errors, which were due to lack of experience, undercut confidence in the partnership approach for investors and the public alike.

But the Trump plan’s leaked preliminary details, such as an “interagency selection committee” administered by the Commerce Department and “federal technical assistance” with “no funding provided,” sound like they will fall short of what’s required.

We believe that unless the Trump administration – despite his disdain for bureaucracy – establishes new government offices to oversee federally backed P3s, it is likely to repeat the errors that hampered California’s pioneering projects.

If they build it

With infrastructure, investors are looking for relatively stable returns and less risk, more akin to bonds than stocks. This makes financing these partnerships attractive for pension funds and other institutional investors.

At the same time, it makes investors more eager to back projects that already exist and are generating revenue through user fees, such as toll roads, airports, ports and some transit projects with nearby land that can be sold or leased.

In the U.S., however, the government mainly needs the private sector’s help meeting other less profitable priorities, such as improving water quality, expanding public transit and building levees.

Although those projects may not be attractive to investors, they can stoke economic growth and productivity while fostering a higher quality of life.

Dwayne Boudreaux Jr., owner of a Circle Food Store in New Orleans, shown dumping dirty water that was vacuumed up after a flood. His city needs more than $11 billion to update key parts of its infrastructure but has only about $2 billion in hand.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

India’s mixed results

Interestingly, Trump’s infrastructure plan may resemble India’s approach, which has had mixed results since its 2004 inception. There, the national government foots about 20 percent of the bill when it enters into public-private partnerships, just as the White House proposes to do.

The Indian policy was intended for toll roads and airports for which the government fixed the user fees. The subsidy closed the gap between this regulated revenue stream and investors’ expectations.

However, India has failed to spend most of the money it budgeted for this initiative, suggesting that it will take more than subsidies to entice private investment.

Between India’s track record and signals about insufficient federal guidance and support for public-private partnerships, we doubt that Trump’s plan, as drafted, would catalyze the $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending he envisions.

The ConversationWhat’s more, we’re concerned that Trump’s proposed plan would primarily aid the kinds of projects that already attract private dollars, leaving many big priorities without a federal assist.

Caroline Nowacki, PhD Candidate, Global Projects Center, Stanford University and Kate Gasparro, Graduate Research Fellow of Sustainable Design and Construction, Stanford University

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

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


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A few decades ago, then deputy prime minister Jim Cairns’ affair with staffer Junie Morosi rocked an already embattled Whitlam government.

Debate occurred about the reporting of that relationship – which Cairns at the time refused to admit was sexual – but the case for airing was pretty clear given Morosi’s role. She was a political player, through her enormous influence on her boss.

Now we have a controversy over whether it’s been in the public interest for the Daily Telegraph this week to out deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s liaison with his now-former staffer, Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child in April.

There’s one very significant difference between the Joyce-Campion and Cairns-Morosi affairs. No-one suggests Campion, who was deliberately transferred out of Joyce’s office nearly a year ago, was a political mover-and-shaker.

Has the upheaval in his personal life affected Joyce’s performance? No doubt to some extent. He’s reportedly been more distracted and difficult, though his citizenship imbroglio was a factor too.

Government and Labor MPs have backed Joyce’s claim that his personal life should be private. They’re driven partly by collective self-interest. Other MPs have had, or are having, affairs. But many MPs also feel, with some reason, that they have enough intrusion into their lives.

Those defending the publication advance a range of arguments, including that public figures must expect public lives. They say that if Joyce’s circumstances had been exposed earlier, voters in the New England byelection might have been harsher in their judgement. They accuse him of hypocrisy, on the grounds that his personal circumstances were at odds with his stand against same-sex marriage.

They also make the point that in time Joyce’s situation would have been obvious. Or as Daily Telegraph editor Chris Dore colourfully put it, “What would [journalists] have done when he started pushing a pram around Lake Burley Griffin or Parliament House?”

Personally, I think media publicity about the affair wouldn’t have made much difference in New England, which Joyce retained handsomely. His critics ensured the gossip was widely circulated locally, and most votes are driven by more directly political factors.

On the hypocrisy charge: Joyce acknowledged in his same sex-marriage speech that his marriage had collapsed. And in terms of logic, what you say about marriage equality is separate from what you do in your own heterosexual marriage. While Joyce has been a promoter of family values, it’s not been as a hardline crusader.

As for the story inevitably emerging in the fullness of time – that’s rather different from how it did emerge, with a front-page picture of the pregnant Campion.

The Joyce affair comes against a background of the public hating politicians and deeply distrusting the media, and as increasing scrutiny is on the personal behaviour of those, particularly men, in senior positions – in business, politics and, most dramatically, the entertainment world.

The story taps into a resentment among some in the community towards Canberra “insiders”, including journalists, who are thought to be keeping things from the “outsiders” – that is, the public.

The reality is exaggerated, in this age of blanket communications. The bones of the Joyce story were on the internet well before it hit the mainstream media.

Rob Stott, managing editor of Junkee, said on Crikey this week: “As news spreads more and more on social media, the time has long passed since the press gallery was able to hold back information that was being widely circulated in the community.”

But being taken up by the mainstream media gives a story much more impact and cache.

In this context, some journalists have felt the need to justify why they did not write the Joyce story, which had been swirling around Canberra for months. They’ve said it was a rumour that couldn’t readily be stood up in face of an unco-operative Joyce office – although that sounds like an excuse rather than an explanation.

But excuses are not required if you don’t believe the public interest demanded the front page expose.

Consider precisely what we are looking at here. A re-partnering, after an affair that started in a ministerial office, that has involved a painful family breakdown. This week’s coverage has made things even more difficult for Joyce’s wife and four daughters. The family’s anguish has been obvious in Natalie Joyce’s bitter public comments.

Gay Alcorn in Guardian Australia points out that Malcolm Turnbull could never have got away with the privacy Joyce sought to claim. Of course that’s true. But lines are drawn all the time. If it had been Joyce’s predecessor, the dour Warren Truss, in similar circumstances, would the treatment have been the same?

It should be stressed that although the 33-year-old Campion is much younger than the 50-year-old Joyce, there is no suggestion she’s a victim of a powerful boss. And they are now a couple – she won’t be a single mother.

The start of the affair while Campion was on Joyce’s staff has raised the question of whether there should be some prohibition on relationships between politicians and staffers.

This week the United States House of Representatives passed legislation banning sexual relationships between members of the house and staff who report to them. The measure has yet to go to the Senate.

The congressional action follows a raft of scandals in the US involving harassment, and the #MeToo movement.

In Canberra, crossbencher Cathy McGowan has seized on the Joyce affair to call for a conversation within the parliament “about a process to address personal relationships within the workplace”.

“There is a belief the parliament is behind community expectations and corporate practices,” said McGowan, known for her ear to the local ground. “The parliament is a place of work and good workplace practice includes clear expectations about behaviour.”

She pointed to the Congress example and what’s happened in the Australian corporate sector, including the AFL. McGowan said she was happy to begin a conversation ahead of potentially tabling a motion in parliament.

This is not a conversation the major parties want to have. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, asked about the US move, said: “Government has no business interfering in people’s personal lives and we wouldn’t want to cross the line so that the moral police were able to dictate what happens between consenting adults.”

The ConversationBut McGowan says the Joyce matter has highlighted “the need to talk about MPs as employers, our responsibilities to our staffs and how, if you make a mistake in the public arena, it can be managed in a respectful and effective way. There’s clearly an elephant in the room that needs to be discussed.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6jqa7-8776fa?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

George Brandis warns Liberals against rise of populist right


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former attorney-general George Brandis has warned of the challenge that right-wing populism poses to the Liberal Party, in his valedictory speech to the Senate ahead of taking up the post of high commissioner in London.

Brandis, a Liberal moderate, also strongly cautioned the Coalition against listening to those who said it should use national security as a political weapon against Labor, and criticised attacks on the judiciary from his own side.

With Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looking on, Brandis told the Senate that classical liberal values were under “greater challenge than at any time in my memory”.

“Increasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism’s concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism’s respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them.”

Brandis was attorney-general throughout the Abbott and Turnbull governments, leaving the ministry in the December reshuffle.

He became increasingly outspoken as a voice of the moderate strand of the Liberal Party toward the end of his time in parliament. Within the government, he was critical of the hardline conservative Peter Dutton, now the home affairs minister.

In his speech Brandis targeted “right-wing postmodernism”. “A set of attitudes which had its origin in the authoritarian mind of the left has been translated right across the political spectrum,” he said.

“This presents a threat both to liberalism and conservatism, and a profound challenge to the Liberal Party as the custodian of these philosophic traditions.”

Brandis – who once set off a political storm by declaring that people had the right to be bigots – said being a liberal wasn’t easy.

“It means respecting the right of people to make choices which we ourselves would not make and of which may disapprove.

“It means respecting the right of people to express their opinions, even though others may find those opinions offensive.

“It means respecting the right of people to practice their religion, even though others may find the tenets of that religion irrational.

“It means, in a nation of many cultures, respecting the right of people to live according to their culture, even though, to others, that culture may seem alien.

“It means respecting the right of everyone to marry the person they love, even though others may find their understanding of marriage confronting.”

Brandis was a prominent figure pushing for same-sex marriage, which was legislated late last year.

In a pointed reference including some (unnamed) ministers who have criticised the judiciary, Brandis said he had not disguised his concerns at attacks on the institutions of the law – the courts and those who practised in them.

“To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself. And it is for the attorney-general always to defend the rule of law – sometimes from political colleagues who fail to understand it, or are impatient of the limitations it may impose upon executive power – because although the attorney-general is a political official, as the first law officer he has a higher duty – a duty to the law itself.

“It is a duty which, as my cabinet colleagues know, on several robust occasions, I have always placed above political advantage.”

Brandis also was blunt in his rejection of those who want to see the government seek to inject more partisanship into national security.

He observed that eight tranches of national security legislation he had overseen were passed with opposition support after parliamentary committee scrutiny.

“It was a fine example of government and parliament working hand-in-hand to protect the national interest.

“I have heard some powerful voices argue that the Coalition should open a political front against the Labor Party on the issue of domestic national security.

“I could not disagree more strongly.

“One of the main reasons why the government has earned the confidence of the public on national security policy is that there has never been a credible suggestion that political motives have intruded.

“Were it to do so, confidence not just in the government’s handling of national security, but in the agencies themselves, would be damaged and their capacity to do their work compromised.

The Conversation“Nothing could be more irresponsible than to hazard the safety of the public by creating a confected dispute for political advantage. To his credit, the prime minister has always resisted such entreaties.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/99z29-862eb3?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.

Government unmoved by Labor MP Susan Lamb’s emotional story


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Embattled Labor MP Susan Lamb has hit back at government pressure for her to quit parliament over her dual citizenship, in an emotional speech laying the blame for her failure to produce a vital document on an estrangement from her mother.

But the government was unmoved by Lamb’s tearful explanation, saying it changed nothing – although there was no sign of imminent action to refer her to the High Court.

Lamb, who holds the marginal Queensland seat of Longman, took steps to renounce her British citizenship but the UK authorities required her parents’ marriage certificate, which she did not produce.

The government has threatened to refer her to the court, despite Labor’s opposition.

Some in the government had hoped that if Lamb could be forced to quit quickly without a court case, a byelection could be held in Longman on the same day as the Batman byelection, thus putting maximum heat on Bill Shorten.

But with Wednesday’s announcement of March 17 as the date for the Batman contest and Lamb refusing to resign, that is not going to happen.

Lamb told parliament she had been advised she did not have a legal right to access the marriage document.

Recounting how her mother had abandoned her as a young child, she said: “One day when I was around six years old my mum dropped me off at school, and she never came back to pick me up.

“I don’t remember every detail of what happened afterwards. I remember lots of tears. I remember lots of confusion. I remember my dad trying to explain. I remember sometime later, dad taking me to the train station, late one evening, to collect my mother.

“I thought she was going to come home. The train came, the train went, no sign of her, so we went home. Then one day, I remember going outside the front of the mill gates. We lived on the mill grounds in Mackay in north Queensland …

“A car turned up … my mother got out, words were exchanged and then my mother drove away. My dad was now a single parent – an amazing man whose example I try to live up to every day of my life.”

Her father died nearly 20 years ago.

Lamb said many years ago she and her mother attempted to build a relationship, but that failed.

“The fact is, my mum is not around to grant me access to her marriage certificate.”

Lamb said she was not telling the story to gain sympathy, but to explain that she did not have the legal entitlement to obtain the document. “So I would simply ask those opposite, take a moment and think about the circumstances.”

But government sources said that in her situation she could have applied to the registrar of births, deaths and marriages, or have got a lawyer to be an intermediary.

The sources said Lamb’s circumstances were similar to those of former senator Fiona Nash, also British through her father, who sought referral to the High Court and was declared ineligible to sit. Nash’s parents, now both dead, had divorced, and she had had little contact with her father.

Previously The Australian quoted Lamb’s mother saying she would have “definitely helped her if she had been contacted”.

The ConversationThe ABC’s Jane Norman tweeted “Re. Susan Lamb: QLD’s Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages says requests are considered on a case-by-case basis where parental consent isn’t obtainable”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Lambie’s Senate replacement Steve Martin flags that he won’t stand aside


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The High Court has ruled that Steve Martin, from the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN), is eligible to enter the Senate, dismissing the argument that his mayoral position disqualified him under the Constitution’s Section 44.

After the decision Martin quickly rejected any suggestion he might stand aside to allow Lambie to return to the Senate, despite her clear wish that he do so.

Lambie resigned from parliament last year because she had dual citizenship, inherited via a Scottish father.

Martin said he was excited at the case’s outcome and the prospect of taking up the opportunity to work for Tasmania in the Senate.

Asked whether he might defect to become an independent, as did a One Nation replacement senator, Fraser Anning, Martin said he was entering the Senate as a JLN candidate and there were still a few steps to be gone through. He would not be drawn on anything “hypothetical”.

The issue in the case of Martin, who was number two on the JLN ticket at the election, was whether, as mayor of Devonport, he held an office of profit under the crown.

Former One Nation candidate Kate McCulloch maintained that he did. The full bench decision, which was unanimous, has now clarified the constitutional position in relation to local councillors generally.

Lambie said at the weekend: “My heart is set on coming back to the Senate”.

Martin was “entitled to that second seat. If he wants to run through with it, well he’s entitled to do that. Unfortunately I broke the rules, whether it was intentional or not, and I have to sit on the sidelines and pay the price for that,” she told Sky.

“I’ll be brutally honest, if it was me in his position I would be extremely loyal and I would step down. That’s what I would do, but that is not up to me – that is up to him.”

Next week the court will hear the case concerning the successor to former Nick Xenophon Team senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore, who also resigned in the dual citizenship crisis.

Kakoschke-Moore is arguing the vacancy should not go to the next candidate on the ticket, Tim Storer, who, after a falling out with the party, is no longer a member of it. She maintains the seat should go back to her; she has now freed herself of her British citizenship.

The court also has before it the status of ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher, who did not receive confirmation of her renunciation of British citizenship until after her nomination.

Meanwhile, the Coalition is awaiting the court’s judgment in the case of David Gillespie, an assistant minister.

At issue there is another part of Section 44, which prohibits anyone being chosen for, or sitting in, parliament if they hold a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth.

The ConversationA tenant in a Port Macquarie shopping centre owned by Gillespie’s family company has an Australia Post franchise. Australia Post is a government business.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/99z29-862eb3?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.

Turnbull and the Coalition begin the year on a positive polling note – but it’s still all about the economy



File 20180206 14078 q69fzo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Malcolm Turnbull makes a point in Question Time.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2018, conducted February 1-4 from a sample of 1,616, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the final Newspoll of 2017 in mid-December. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 37% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down two).

While this Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 26th consecutive loss (four short of Tony Abbott’s streak), it is the Coalition’s best position since April 2017. This is the Coalition’s highest primary vote, and One Nation’s lowest Newspoll vote, since December 2016, before Newspoll started asking for One Nation as part of the party read-out.

As the Coalition’s primary vote gains have come at the expense of another right-wing party, the overall left/right balance is unchanged at 47-43. The two-party vote changes are exaggerated by Newspoll’s assumption, based on the 2016 election, that the Coalition will win only half of One Nation’s preferences.




Read more:
With Feeney gone, Greens sniff a chance in Batman, and has Xenophon’s bubble burst in South Australia?


At the recent Queensland election, about 65% of One Nation preferences flowed to the LNP. It is likely that previous Newspolls, which had high One Nation votes, overstated Labor’s lead after preferences.

Turnbull’s approval rating bumped up to 37% (up five), and 50% were dissatisfied (down seven), for a net approval of -13, up 12 points. Bill Shorten’s net approval also improved six points to -18, and both leaders are at their highest net approval since August. Turnbull led Shorten by 45-31 as better prime minister (41-34 in December); this is Turnbull’s biggest margin since September.

Voters were given four options for best Liberal leader: Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Abbott and Peter Dutton. Turnbull had 30% support (up five since early December), Bishop 26% (down four), Abbott 13% (down three) and Dutton 7% (steady). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 48%, Bishop 19%, Abbott 16% and Dutton 6%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.

Voters were given three choices for best Labor leader: Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese. Plibersek had 25% support, Albanese 24% and Shorten 22%. Among Labor voters, Shorten had 37%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 23%. Plibersek was the clear favourite among Greens voters (43%).

Both leaders appear to have benefited from the lack of any major controversies over the summer holidays. Turnbull has done better, perhaps due to the absence of hard-right Coalition backbenchers from the media environment.

Shorten’s ratings as preferred Labor leader are so low because conservatives detest him for strongly opposing much that the Coalition is proposing or has done, while many on the left do not regard him as a genuine leftie. Turnbull is helped as best Liberal leader by Abbott and Dutton being more right-wing.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: For Bill Shorten, it will be a matter of eyes left and centre


The most important factor regarding the next federal election, due by early 2019, is likely to be the performance of the economy. Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian recently that the strong employment growth in 2017 was consistent with the government being re-elected.

The government is inhibited by the continued low wages growth. If wages growth lifts this year, the Coalition would be far more likely to be re-elected. The strong US economy has benefited Donald Trump.

65% supported leaving Australia Day as it is, while just 29% supported referendums on Indigenous recognition and the republic proposed by Albanese.

The ConversationEssential will now appear fortnightly rather than weekly, so there was no Essential poll this week. You can read about last week’s Essential here.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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