Australian Politics 2015-03-18 15:54:00



In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that concessions to the Leftist media by Tony Abbott won't reduce their hatred of him

PM must ignore critics and continue reforms

FOR the Left there is no greater hate figure than Tony Abbott. After all, the Prime Minister is a liberal of the European school and embraces all the policy instincts and beliefs the Left des­pises. What’s more, Abbott effectively toppled Australia’s first female prime minister, the Left’s beloved Julia Gillard, and it is determined to get even.

Abbott is a fiscal conservative. He stands for lower taxes. He believes in smaller government and competition. He wants freer trade, freer markets and fewer regulations. He encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, which run counter to the ideals of the collective. He sees a place for private education and private health. He is opposed to open borders. He believes migrants should respect our values and our laws. He is for work and self-reliance, not welfare. He’s a monarchist, a Catholic and, worse, not of the global warming faith. Above all, for as long as he remains Prime Minister, he is an ever-present threat to the socialist legacy of the Gillard years.

It is why he has been met with unrelenting hostility and por­trayed as unfit for office. He was denied the honeymoon normally granted to new governments. He has been called untrustworthy, a misogynist, a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a bully and Gina Rinehart’s butler.

This demonisation was eagerly retailed by the leftist media. Groupthink reigned supreme. The Abbott government was depicted as incompetent, heartless and unfair. The Coalition’s successes were disparaged, distorted or drowned out. The crusade was highly effective. As Mark Twain observed: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

In such a mutually reinforcing hothouse, this ferocious campaign fed into ever-worsening polls, causing panic in Liberal ranks. Rather than putting the national interest and the party first, some members blinked and began airing their dirty linen in public. Latent ambitions surfaced but a spill motion was lost. It was a watershed moment that benefited no one, failed to satisfy the movers and, most critically, means the Prime Minister must now choose fewer battles.

Strangely, since the spill motion, public sentiment as reflected in opinion polls has turned. Maybe respondents are gaming the pollsters? Or perhaps the crowd is waking up to the delusions it was fed? For the time being, at least, the Coalition and Abbott have improved their standing with the people who count: the electorate.

With the passing of the leadership crisis, as the budget approaches, the government is promoting a softer image. The talk is of budget consolidation, not cuts. Childcare is firmly on this agenda. There may be more good news for small business and infrastructure spending.

But where are the offsets? The Medicare co-payment is “dead, buried and cremated” and, with it, $1 billion of revenue over four years. Defence Force pay is up by $200 million. There’s $1bn a month in interest payments to meet, all from a budget with declining revenue. Labor’s recipe for economic growth and taxing multinationals to cover revenue shortfalls is no answer. It can count on neither. The government must choose a spending and revenue policy priorities and coherently pursue them.

So it’s one thing for the Prime Minister to reflect his partyroom’s wishes that “because we’ve done so much hard work already, we won’t have to protect the commonwealth budget at the expense of the household budget”, but the job is far from done. Yes, there has been a lot of hard work, but progress has been impeded. Headwinds in the Senate mean structural flaws remain embedded, ensuring measures will have to be taken to protect the commonwealth budget at the expense of the household budget. But when? With the economy growing below trend, real wage increases arguably negative and a dollar under pressure, declining living standards will make budget savings increasingly difficult politically. Ideally, more should be done now. However, while polls remain equivocal and conceited leadership aspirants divert attention from the main game, getting priorities right is vital.

Whatever people think of Abbott, he must be credited with saving us from some of Labor’s worst legacies. True, on occasions his government’s messages were mixed. Many of the measures were poorly communicated or designed. Some failed to pass the parliament for base political reasons. But in circumstances when easy options had to be stared down, Abbott stood up and the nation is the beneficiary.

But the Left doesn’t care. It wants Abbott gone. So when he advocated sensible spending cuts for remote Aboriginal communities, he was abused because his “lifestyle” reference was considered culturally insensitive. What happened to straight talking? Can we offend nobody’s feelings? Must we always sugar-coat?

The Intergenerational Report is drawing attention to the dramatic long-term cost of denying short-term reforms. The numbers are disturbing for insiders and some of the recommendations are scary to voters. But we ignore it at our peril. For it to be taken seriously will require a quantum leap in the quality of economic and political debate. Too often the commentariat writes what it hopes rather than what is. Prejudice passes for analysis. So the government has a critical role in communicating the reality.

Affordable prosperity for future generations depends on the reform process begun by the Abbott government continuing. It rests on leadership stability and the support of the people. The longer it is delayed, the greater the risk that ultimately reality will collide with hope. The ensuing adjustment would not be pretty.


Australia's piracy web filtering - an exercise in futility

The pieces of Australia's security and piracy crackdown continue to fall into place, with the Federal government about to table plans for a scheme which lets movie studios force internet service providers to block websites which aide piracy. The movie studios will apparently need a court order, but it may well just be a rubber stamp – it's difficult to know how arduous this process will be until we see the plan.

The fact that the government has drafted this legislation without direct input from ISPs or copyright holders is a real concern – there was a consultation process last year but reportedly neither side is yet to see the wording of the Bill about to be put forward. This reinforces the impression that the government only cares about the demands of big businesss and has little interest in striking a balance with the needs of consumers.

In return for legislation to protect Hollywood's coffers, perhaps the government could demand that movie houses phase out the Australia Tax on digital content – actually backing up the tepid IT Pricing Enquiry with action. This would seems like a fair trade, but unfortunately consumer rights don't come into the equation. A government which seems happy to leave our fate to market forces must surely realise that piracy is one of the few market forces which actually pressures content providers to offer us a better deal.

Market forces aside, it's right to be concerned about this web filtering plan from a civil liberties perspective – even though it seems far less ambitious and wide-reaching than Conroy's proposed filter. There's always the danger of scope creep – especially if the legislation uses vague wording like "aides" piracy. This could cover anything from sites like WatchSeriesTV and The Pirate Bay to providers of virtual private networks and proxy servers. How long until it targets news articles about piracy?

Once copyright holders have an easy mechanism for blocking websites they don't like, you can be sure that other lobby groups will make similar demands. Some politicians began calling for the expansion of Conroy's filter while it was still on the drawing board. The same will happen again.

The flip side of the government's filtering plan is that it will be ludicrously easy to bypass. Your average school kid can tell you how to use a proxy server to access Facebook in the classroom. The same basic tricks will easily get you to The Pirate Bay and other piracy sites blocked by your ISP.

Then there are virtual private networks, with a wide range of free and paid options that countless Australians already use – whether they're dealing with sensitive work documents or simply sneaking into Netflix. Combined with this, sites like The Pirate Bay are rejigging their web hosting to help them bypass ISP-level filtering.

The government acknowledges that fighting piracy is a numbers game. You're never going to stop everyone, the aim is to raise the bar high enough that your average person no longer thinks that it's worth the effort and the risk. The problem with web filtering is that it's a lot of effort for a little short-term gain.

Anyone with the technical know how to use BitTorrent probably already grasps the basics of VPNs and proxy servers. If not it won't take long for them to get up to speed, turning to the same tech-savvy friends who introduced them to BitTorrent in the first place. In 12 months we'll be back where we started, except everyday pirates will now be harder to catch. The best weapon against piracy is offering people a better deal so they don't feel like they're being ripped off.

Sacrificing civil liberties in a futile effort to protect the profits of companies which price-gouge Australians don't sound like a recipe for success. What do you think is the best way for Australia to tackle digital piracy?


Shorten fluffs it

It’s not easy being a politician. You have to give so many interviews about so many topics, sometimes you just want to rip out your earpiece and storm off the set.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten had a slow-motion meltdown of his own on Melbourne radio last week, in what was billed as an opportunity to find out, ‘Who is Bill Shorten?’

It’s a reasonable question. Who is Bill Shorten? What does he believe? Is everybody, in fact, somebody?

Throughout the painful 25-minute interview with the ABC host Jon Faine on Friday, Mr Shorten sounded bored, slightly sleepy, and unable to answer a straight question without falling back on tired cliches and motherhood statements.

Faine was having absolutely none of it, calling the opposition leader out repeatedly for not actually answering his questions.

Listeners were less than impressed. Listen to the whole thing here:


Is this Australia in 2015?

This newspaper must echo the words of construction contractor executive Dermot O'Sullivan and wonder at "Australia in 2015" as trade union members blockade access to a building site because the company dared to deal directly with its own workers.

As revealed on page one of The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday, Construction, Forestry, MIning and Energy Union activists padlocked Mr O'Sullivan's building site near Sydney Airport. According to Fair Work Building and Construction director Nigel Hadgkiss, a female workplace investigator was spat at when she visited the blockaded site.

This is what happens when a militant labour supply monopoly is supported by one part of the law, the industrial relations law, even as it flouts the criminal law of the land with apparent impunity. When a building company seeks to exercise its right to deal directly with its employees, this monopolist typically replies with intimidation and even violence.

That's even when the company and its employees have agreed to a package including  annual wage increases of 5 per cent while rejecting a union proposal, which the company says would have sent it broke.

This behaviour cries out from the return of John Howard's Australian Building and Construction Commission. But this is likely to be blocked by a Labor Party, which is financed by the law-breaking union when the required bill is introduced into the Senate within the next two weeks.


Onions Australia takes gift basket to Canberra to thank Tony Abbott for boom in onion inquiries

I always have onions on hand.  At around 50c each, why not?

Two bites was all it took.  On a trip to a produce farm in Tasmania, Prime Minister Tony Abbott shocked onlookers - and in short order, the rest of the world - when he bit into a raw onion, skin and all.

Now, Onions Australia chief executive Lechelle Earl is travelling to Canberra to thank the Prime Minister for sparking a mini-boom in inquiries about the humble vegetable.

And Ms Earl plans to deliver a thank you package to Mr Abbott -  a basket of raw onions, and a "top-secret" onion-themed meal "just in case the PM decides to try his onions in a slightly more prepared manner".

Ms Earl has spent the past five years of her life living and breathing onions - she says she is "passionate about the industry" - but she's never seen anything like the level of interest in the slightly smelly vegetable since Mr Abbott's fateful bite.

"I was genuinely surprised but thrilled that Mr Abbott decided to bite into a whole, unpeeled, good quality onion. More people should do it," she said, hastily adding that "personally, I would take the skin off".

"Onions Australia's phone has been running hot since the Prime Minister was seen eating a raw onion. We are more than willing to talk to anyone who wants to talk to us about the health benefits of our onions."

"People are interested, asking if they can be eaten whole and people are also querying why the Prime Minister left the skin on - which I put down to personal choice. There has been national and international media interest too.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce will also get an onion basket, on Thursday, when Ms Earl attends a horticulture industry forum in Parliament House.

"Given I was going to be in Canberra, I thought I would take the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister in person," she said.

Mr Abbott, for his part, was still facing questions about his onion choice on Wednesday.

"I thought it was very important that I should show my support for the great products that the Tasmanian agricultural industry produces and, you know, I enjoy onions. I normally have them cooked on the barbecue, but I enjoy onions!"