Let the politicising begin

Let me begin by quoting Part 3, section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999 which has the heading APS Values (APS = Australian Public Service):

Committed to service

(1)  The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the Government.

Ethical

(2)  The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.

Respectful

(3)  The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.

Accountable

(4)  The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility.

Impartial

(5)  The APS is apolitical and provides the Government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.

Number 5 is the interesting one: the APS is apolitical. For those unfamiliar with the term, our friends at Wikipedia provide a succinct explanation:

Being apolitical can also refer to situations in which people take an unbiased position in regard to political matters. The Collins Dictionary defines apolitical as “politically neutral; without political attitudes, content, or bias”.

And that is exactly how the Australian Public Service is. And this defines the code of conduct demanded of an employee of the APS. It looks like all that is about to change:

Workers at [the Department of] Industry were told on September 20 – 12 days after their secretary Don Russell was sacked by the Abbott Government on its first day in office –  to quit if they didn’t want to implement the new government’s agenda.

In other words, let the politicising begin.

It’s nothing new from a Coalition Government. From the time John Howard won office in 1996 one of his first actions was to turn the Public Service into a political ally. (Read more here about his swift move and a more recent reflection of it here). But Howard’s response was more transparent; openly replacing department heads with ones that could best be described as Howard loyalists. The latest move since Abbott took office lacks transparency. It’s sneaky. It goes against the grain of the Act.

What the hell is going on? The Public Service is apolitical. Let’s keep it that way. We don’t want the Public Service turned into an arm of the Liberal Party.

But the Government obviously has other ideas.

What the hell is going on?

Abbott asleep

Now and again – but rarely indeed – I come across a political article in the mainstream media that has me nodding furiously in agreement. Yes, like I said, rare indeed. The simple truth is rare enough, let alone an article that goes to the heart of it. This one by Geoff Kitney titled What is going on with the Abbott government? in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review stands out.

I cannot reproduce the article due to copyright reasons but I can compile a few telling sentences from it that gets the gist of the matter. I’m sure, that after reading them, you too will be nodding your head. Here goes:

The alarm bells about the Abbott government are becoming deafening . . .

And it’s not hard to imagine that the first question being asked about Abbott’s Australia is: “What on earth is going on?”

Australia’s most important regional relationships – Indonesia and China – have entered dangerous territory since the Abbott government came to power.

And what this has revealed has been a worryingly narrow vision which seems to take too little heed of the economic dimensions of Australia’s foreign and strategic interests.

A wake-up call is desperately needed.

I hope I’ve teased you enough to be encouraged to read the article. Actually, I implore you to. I would also implore you to share it widely because not only is a wake-up call required of the Abbott Government, but for all Australians who voted for him.

Sorry, but I’ve changed my mind. I was paid to.

In October Malcolm Turnbull announced the appointment of former Tesltra boss Ziggy Switkowski as NBN Co to lead a three-person board overseeing the national broadband network.

In his inaugural appearance at a senate estimates hearing, Switkowski said Telstra’s copper network is ‘robust’ and has been well-maintained for decades. Concerns expressed about the network not being up to being the basis for a FttN NBN, he added, were “misinformed”. He stressed that:

The copper network has been in place for a long time. It’s constantly being maintained, remediated, upgraded.

Readers here will be all to well aware of the criticism of the government’s plan to provide the NBN through Telstra’s copper network; an antiquated alternative to Rudd’s NBN, the future of which is now in doubt.

But it’s remarkable to hear Switkowski’s glowing praise of the copper network when compared to what Telstra had to say about it in 2003 while he was chief of the telco:

Telstra will replace its century-old copper wire phone network with new technology within the next 15 years, saying the ageing lines are now at “five minutes to midnight”.

Telstra executives revealed the problem at a Senate inquiry into broadband services on Wednesday.

Go figure.

I guess it’s easy to change your mind when the government pays you lots of money to do so.

(Thanks to Kaye Lee and Bacchus for this post).

Mister One Per Cent

The results from yesterday’s Nielsen Poll gives Labor a 52-48 lead over the Coalition and an approval rating for the Opposition leader, Bill Shorten a modest 21%. I say ‘modest’, yet it is the strongest debut of any opposition leader since Kevin Rudd in 2006-07.

The poll should not bring much joy for the Government as voters have also voiced rejection for the Government’s policies with, in particular, their handling of asylum seekers and their Direct Action plan proving overwhelmingly unpopular.

But here’s the big one: Tony Abbott’s personal approval rating was a staggering 1%. Yes, 1%. Tony Abbott is Mr One Per Cent! (Hopefully the tag of Mr One Percent can stick, much as it did with John Howard who carried the tag of Mr Fourteen Per Cent following a disastrous approval rating while Leader of the Opposition some years ago).

In all seriousness though, this is an absolutely disastrous result for the Prime Minister. While the Government has only taken a hit, he has taken a bashing. He is clearly unpopular beyond imagination and has earned not an ounce of credibility since taking office. Mark Kenny, in the above article offers a few suggestions as to why:

  • The government is struggling to maintain public confidence in its tough stop-the-boats policy while refusing to reveal the most basic details on the grounds of operational security, and the breakdown of co-operation with Indonesia.
  • The government is struggling to explain to voters why it campaigned against spending – declaring the answer to debt is never more debt – but is now seeking an unprecedented $200 billion hike in the national credit card limit.

Can you think of any more? For example, do you think his tough stance on Indonesia has blown up in his face?

Tony Abbott has clearly taken the blame for the Government’s failings, and so he should. The buck stops with him, to borrow an old term.

But fear not, within days a Newspoll will be released showing he has an approval rating of 90% and the Government leading the Opposition 55-45. 😉

Abbott, nowhere man

My concern prior to Tony Abbott being elected Prime Minister was that his only aim was to win, that whatever happened thereafter really didn’t concern him a great deal.  Perhaps he thought to emulate his Liberal predecessor, and being in government there would be nothing more than that which he had already done, a never ending line of photo opportunities.  Boring I know, but if a job has to be done then it has to be done.

I think that it has been a rude shock to Tony now that he is PM, that he is actually expected to do something.  Tony has been propped up by so many people, the shock jocks, some very reputable journos, his wife (heaven knows why) and assorted family, all covering up and making excuses for him.

Tony promised that he would stop the waste – which he has admitted is non-existent.

Tony has promised to turn the boats around – well, he stuffed that one one hasn’t he.

Refresh my memory, why else was Tony elected?  Ditch the Witch?  Well, she’s gone.  So what are you Tony planning to do next?  Oh that’s right, you’re going to sack a couple of tens of thousands of people while at the same time increasing employment.  Tony has been amazing silent on how sacking a quarter of all CSIRO scientists is going to benefit..well anyone, except Tony’s bottom line.

He’s a real nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody.
Doesn’t kave a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to,
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere Man, please listen,
You don’t know what you’re missing,
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command.
He’s as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?
Doesn’t kave a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to,
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

I can only describe the current situation as eerily quiet. There are no new initiatives.  There are no new ideas.

If any normal person ever had the aspiration of achieving the top job in this country, that of Prime Minister then they would be saying, My turn, I now have the opportunity to do what I want to; it’s my vision, it’s my turn.

And this is why I stress out and big time for the future of our country.  No vision, and going nowhere.

 

‘Building an Indonesia-Australia Relationship for the 21st Century’

Tony Abbott promised that Indonesia would be the first foreign country he would visit upon taking office and he held true to that promise, knowing it was crucial to sit down and talk with Indonesia about what the two countries could do together. More than anybody else, it was in his own best interests to do so given his reliance on Indonesia to be a cooperative ally in his promise to stop the boats.

While in Jakarta, on October 1 he addressed a breakfast meeting of business leaders from both countries, naming his the talk “Building an Indonesia-Australia Relationship for the 21st Century” which had the aim of encouraging Australian and Indonesian businesses to increase two-way trade and investment flows. It was now more than being about just him. The country came first. He didn’t mention boats. Here is the transcript of his address:

“I’m here in Jakarta within two weeks of being sworn in as prime minister because of the importance I place on the relationship between two great neighbours and two major economies.

Australia currently has more significant economic relationships – but we have no more important overall relationship because of Indonesia’s size, proximity and potential.

Indonesia is a member of the G20 and a leader of ASEAN as well Australia’s most important neighbour.

It’s the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

It’s the world’s third largest democracy.

And along with India, it’s the emerging democratic superpower of Asia.

At present, Indonesia’s annual GDP per person is less than $4000 – or a tenth of Australia’s – but it’s growing at about 6 per cent a year.

It may be many years before individual Indonesians’ standard of living equals that of Australians but it probably won’t be very long before Indonesia’s total GDP dwarfs ours.

From Australia’s perspective there should be an urgency to building this relationship while there’s still so much that Australia has to give and that Indonesia is keen to receive.

There’s been trade of one sort or another between Australia and Indonesia at least since the 17th century and it’s now 80 years since the first trade commissioner was appointed to what was then Batavia.

Despite these connections and despite the annual pilgrimage that hundreds of thousands of Australian tourists make to Bali and elsewhere in the archipelago; and that tens of thousands of Indonesian students make to our universities and colleges, a fully mature economic relationship is yet to be achieved.

Annual two-way trade between Australia and Indonesia is still only about $15 billion.

In fact, our two way trade with New Zealand, with just four million people, exceeds our current two way trade with Indonesia with its 250 million people.

Obviously, there’s plenty of room to improve.

That improvement should start today with me and my ministers and with the business leaders in this room.

Australia and Indonesia have so much we can do together.

The global centre of economic gravity is shifting to Asia and on present trends, Indonesia will be the number four economy in the world by mid-century.

Fifty per cent of Indonesians are aged under 30, ready to play their part in this economic miracle.

Even now, they make up a technologically literate workforce, enjoying a standard of living their parents or grandparents could not have imagined.

There are more billionaires in Indonesia today than in Japan and, here in Jakarta, the minimum wage has risen by 44 per cent in the past year.

There are still 100 million Indonesians living on less than $1000 a year.

Within two decades though, there will be 135 million middle class Indonesians whose demand for goods and services – including financial services, health services, educational services, infrastructure and food – will be backed by purchasing power.

Protein is becoming a more important part of the Indonesian diet, particularly among prosperous urban communities and, within two years, beef consumption in Indonesia is expected to exceed domestic production by about 21,000 tonnes a year.

This is a chance here for each of us to play to our strengths: Indonesia, an acknowledged world leader in fattening and finishing, with some of the world’s finest intensive feedlots; and Australia, with our vast grazing lands and our long pastoral history, skilled at breeding beef cattle at a globally competitive price.

We can work together – but it will take some effort, especially after the shock of the former Australian government cancelling the live cattle export trade in panic at a TV programme.

Nothing like this can ever be allowed to happen again.

Last year, I visited abattoirs in Indonesia which were quite comparable to those in Australia and reject any notion that Indonesian standards are lower than Australia’s.

The new Australian government is determined to put this episode behind us and to build on the joint Red Meat and Cattle Forum established in July to foster partnership between the meat industries here and in Australia.

Australian business has rarely been keener to explore investment opportunities and build partnerships that transfer skills and build local industries – here and at home.

I also welcome Indonesia’s desire to invest in Australia – including in agriculture.

As I said on election night, Australia is under new management and is once more open for business.

We are open to investments that will help to build the prosperity of both nations.

Food security is just one area of opportunity – another is the rapidly expanding demand for services.

Educational services are a good example. Indonesia is already home to 100,000 former students from Australian universities.

Of those Indonesian students who choose to study abroad, roughly one in four make Australia their destination.

While tens of thousands of Indonesian students are studying in Australian universities and colleges, only a few hundred Australians are returning the compliment by studying in Indonesia.

Starting next year, the new Australian government will establish a new Colombo Plan that doesn’t just bring the best and the brightest students from the wider Asia-Pacific region to Australia but takes Australia’s best and brightest to the region.

The Colombo Plan, operating from the 1950s to the 1980s, saw tens of thousands of the future leaders of our region educated at Australian universities.

A contemporary, two way street version of the Colombo Plan, would acknowledge how much the region can teach us as well as how much we can offer our region.

Operating at different levels and for different periods of time, and often with a business internship component, this new Colombo Plan could provide us with a new and more contemporary version of Rhodes scholars and Fulbright fellows, this time with a strong Asia-Pacific orientation.

As well, within a decade, working with the Australian states and territories, the new government aims to have 40 per cent of high school students studying a foreign language – as was the case in the 1960s – only this time the emphasis will be on Asian languages as well as European ones.

This New Colombo Plan aims to ensure that we are a more Asia literate country, more able to play our part in the Asian Century.

Specific policies like these will have an impact, over time.

Still, deepening and broadening the Australia-Indonesia relationship means millions of human interactions, tens of thousands of business deals and hundreds of institutional arrangements in which Australians and Indonesians get to know each other, learn from each other and help each other.

National leaders can do so much – but only so much.

That’s why Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, Trade Minister, Andrew Robb and I are accompanied by a strong business delegation of leaders from Australia’s financial services, health, agriculture, resources, infrastructure, telecommunications, office management and manufacturing sectors.

I thank each of you for taking the time and trouble to make this trip and to build these links. Government initiatives mean little if they are not backed by dozens, hundreds, and ultimately tens of thousands of individual contacts between Australians and the people in other countries that we deal with.

As befits a country that’s under new management and once more open for business, it’s my intention to take a trade delegation with me on all significant overseas trips to showcase Australia and to let our partners know more about how we can work together to mutual advantage.

We’re establishing a register in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for businesses that want to be part of trade delegations accompanying ministerial visits.

I also thank the organisations working tirelessly to promote Australia-Indonesia business links such as the business partnership group, Kadin, and the Indonesian-Australian Business Council.

Such organisations are indispensable because they know their way around the local scene.

At another level, governments come together bilaterally to forge formal arrangements like the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

One of my first acts as prime minister was to ask the Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, to accelerate the work with his Indonesian counterparts towards this new deal.

The new government’s approach is very straightforward: we will take a respectful, consultative, no-surprises approach to relations with Indonesia.

Our aim is to rebuild confidence so that both sides respect each other and trust other to keep commitments.

Trust is essential to the future success of the businesses represented here today.

There’s the hard grind of establishing regulatory certainty.

There’s the patient negotiation that helps to eliminate barriers to trade and investment and facilitate market access.

Then there’s the further engagement that takes place in the regional and global forums – such as ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, APEC, and the G20.

Forums like these are critical to the long-term prosperity of every country – and Australia hosting the G20 in a year’s time; and Indonesia, hosting APEC in a week’s time, will both be pushing for regional and global strategies to promote economic growth.

The new Australian Government intends to showcase fiscal restraint, deregulation, tax cuts and investment in economic infrastructure.

Another example is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, currently being negotiated under the auspices of ASEAN.

Australia and Indonesia have much to gain from a regional free trade area encompassing ASEAN member states and the nations with which they have existing free trade agreements.

The 16 nations that this would cover account for roughly half of the world’s population, about a third of world GDP and a quarter of global exports.

This further agreement would not just cover trade in goods and services, but such matters as competition, dispute resolution, intellectual property and technical cooperation.

It’s negotiations like these – hard, open, with no surprises – that deliver the transparent and stable regulatory regimes that give companies the confidence to make the long-term investment decisions that boost economic growth and ultimately deliver a safer and freer world.

Early next year, right across Indonesia, Australia will present a major cultural festival to strengthen our engagement here, beyond the cabinet room and beyond the boardroom.

The aim is to showcase Australian creativity and innovation and to foster creative collaborations between Indonesians and Australians.

A business programme operating in parallel with this cultural festival will help promote trade and investment.

Then there’s the new Australia Indonesia studies centre at Monash University to be jointly funded by government and the private sector to build business, cultural, educational, research and community links and to promote greater understanding of Indonesia and its growing importance to Australia.

A more culturally aware Australia and an economically stronger Indonesia would mean more Australian students in Indonesia and more Indonesian tourists in Australia.

More and more Australians now see Indonesia as a place to do business and to embark on joint ventures, as well as to have a holiday, as the business leaders’ presence here testifies. Our challenge is to ensure that more and more Indonesians see Australia as a good place to invest and do business: in short, as a trusted partner.

I am proud to be here in Jakarta with such a group of business leaders acting as ambassadors for our country.

I’m confident you can engender the trust in Australia that’s essential for our future”.

It was actually a good talk. And a necessary one. Abbott clearly had a grasp of Indonesia’s economic importance to Australia and a realisation that it needed to be both nurtured and protected.

Now compare what he had to say on October 1 with what he has said and done since. Haven’t his actions made mockery of his promises? How much has he put at risk?

What do you think?

Living with baboons

It’s been a huge week in politics; a week that saw some absolute cock ups from the government. To briefly recap, we’ve had Tony Abbott’s decision to provide Sri Lanka with two patrol boats to help round up people fleeing the island nation, we’ve seen Tony Abbott upset the Indonesian president over his response to the 2009 spying scandal, we’ve seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets calling for action on climate change, and anybody who saw this week’s Media Watch would have been appalled at the government’s fanaticism at keep the public in the dark over asylum boat arrivals.

Indeed, it’s been a bad week for Team Tony.

You’d think that these big stories would be receiving daily coverage in the media, with dashes of scrutiny. But not so in the Murdoch media. These are all bad for Team Tony so any reference to them is silenced as quickly as the government’s news on asylum seeker arrivals.

As an aside, the Fairfax media is leading the charge but you”d be amused to learn that Andrew Bolt simply dismisses this as their jihad against the government. Yes, you may laugh.

The Murdoch media is of course free to write about whatever it wants. If they don’t want to write about the government, even when we are facing our greatest ever diplomatic crisis, then so be it. They did, of course, feel quite content on pushing all sorts of rubbish down our throats about the previous government, but apparently the current government isn’t newsworthy. It appears that politics is no longer of interest to them.

So what is?

Brace yourself, these are the big stories the Murdoch media think are the important page one issues of the day:

Canadian school rejects mum’s homemade lunch, gives crackers instead.

What kind of bored are you? Researchers discover a fifth type of tedium.

Snake Catchers Brisbane film marathon fight between two carpet pythons.

Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge recycles a favourite Orla Kiely frock at London charity event

How a non-runner learnt to run.

Kim Kardashian appears topless in Kanye West’s music video for ‘Bound 2’.

I’m not suggesting that these stories are not of interest – to somebody – but we do expect some balance in political reporting. We also expect honesty. We are receiving neither. And something on the diplomatic crisis would be nice.

But I’ve saved the best for last:

What Australian biologist Mat Pines learned while living with baboons.

All I can suggest is that he’s preparing himself for life under an Abbott Government.

Abbott’s global vision to stop the boats

Our beloved prime minister certainly is serious about stopping the boats. So serious, in fact, that he has taken his plan to distant shores. News comes in that the Australian tax payers will pay for the refurbishment of two patrol boats that will be given to the Sri Lankan navy in an effort to stop people smugglers leaving their shores.

Much has been written recently about Sri Lanka’s dismal human rights record and the situations which make Sri Lanka a wonderful country to flee from. It’s nice to see that Tony Abbott wants those attempting to flee persecution be contained on the little island. Keeping them ‘locked’ up on the island nation is certainly something he favours than the chance of them ‘illegally’ taking to the high seas to escape from it.

But one question appears to be overlooked: how is he to know that any of the boats being stopped intended to come to Australia?

He is, in effect, helping the Sri Lankan navy round up boats that may have set off for England, America, Italy or even the Antarctica for that matter. Personally, I don’t think that’s any of his business. Neither is it ours.

I also feel the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka should be an issue that the Australian Government should be focusing on if they want to stick its nose into someone else’s business.

What is your opinion?

English: Tony Abbott in 2010.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look who’s talking

Thanks to the Facebook group Keep Social Democracy in Australia I have borrowed the above photo.

Tony Abbott, by the looks of it, wore an ear piece during his interview with Leigh Sales on the 7:30 Report on Wednesday night.

Why? Does he have to be told what to say? Can’t he think or speak for himself?

As reported widely in the social media (where else?), Tony Abbott can’t turn up to any interview these days without the famous ear piece.

And those persistent coughs during the interview with Sales (which you may well have noticed). Were they an alert – as someone on Facebook suggested – to tell the ‘listener’  . . . “Help me on this one”.

You’ve got to wonder.