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.


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


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


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


(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.

Dear Tony your hubris is poking out…

Dear Tony

Since the media and the commentariat, not to mention Errand-Boy-in-Chief Christopher Pyne, are already celebrating your imminent accession to the Prime Ministership, despite your success as Eternal Opposition Leader and before you get Margie, or more likely Peta Credlin, to measure the curtains and before you put the second-mortgaged joint in Forestville on the rental market we thought we’d better run a few things past you.

We thought we should remind you that there is a small matter called an election which is to be held on the 14th September this year. Trivial indeed for the latest in a line of Tories who have believed they are Born to Rule.

That means unfortunately for you that the people of Australia actually get to vote to decide whether your party becomes government. And not before.

Damn nuisance this secular democracy stuff – I’m sure you yearn for a simpler time as you share a bottle of vintage plonk with the Cardinal.

We are sorry to disappoint you. We know you thought it was going to be the MSM, the shock jocks, the polling organisations, the mining magnates, the ACL and your party donors who would decide and deliver your imprimatur, but that’s the way it is in this country for now.

So given that you are still deeply unpopular with over half the voting-age population and that these women are not easily fooled by any hints of sudden backing-down on your previously strongly – held repressive positions, it may not be such a done deal.

After all your own daughter aptly describes you as a “lame, gay, churchy loser”. We don’t know about the second descriptor but your behaviour certainly indicates you are far more relaxed and comfortable with your own gender, doing blokey things while wearing lycra and interfering with the OH&S of production lines of hapless Queanbeyan factories and their workers.

For instance you have already indicated whom you would pick as Governor-General. That’s a big step to take before the polls have been declared and while the present incumbent enjoys the confidence of the present Government and the Australian people.

We know the position of G-G is largely ceremonial but the prestige attached to the position of de jure Head of State means that it is important that the person selected be someone who will attract the respect of the whole community.

The current G-G certainly does that. Quentin Bryce is probably the most popular incumbent since Bill Dean and has been an admirable ambassador internationally for this country as well as a fine representative of the monarch. It would not be wrong to say that only her long-serving NSW counterpart, Governor Marie Bashir, would attract the same level of respect and regard.

However it seems that you regard the position as a sinecure for your preferred type of Australian.

Your preferred G-G, it seems, would be either a former soldier or a former judge. That’s a fairly convenient way of excluding just about anyone who is not male, not white, who is Indigenous and who does not belong to any other ethnic or religious groups which may make you feel unrelaxed and uncomfortable.

Your errand boy has also made it quite clear that Things will Change in Education when you take the Prime Ministership. Lots of imperialist chest-beating fantasy history, no doubt rote-learnt to be regurgitated at exam time. Guess that will make up for your own total lack of comprehension about what war is really like.

Perhaps you could ask your preferred G-G?

We are somewhat in the dark about the rest of your policies. Perhaps after your imminent court appearance next month to face David Ettridge, formerly of One Nation, you may be inspired to Please Explain, as his former leader was wont to say.

You cannot continue to disappear from scrutiny in a puff of smoke for much of the week once you are PM. You would think Peta would be on to that – she has more time to make sure you were all polished up and Manchurian Candidated for the media than Andrew Robb had. He was a Shadow Minister with an electorate to service and a man with his own problems. He was wise to toss in the job.

You see, the people of Australia are totally in the dark about what you really stand for, as was evident when your Shadow Medicine Man Dutton appeared on Q&A, devoid of policies, mumbling alarming forecasts of a US-style two tiered health system and muttering the No mantra which is still your response of choice. Dutton only was able to appear to be on the ball when the non-controversial topic of palliative care for kids came up, because no one can oppose the notion of palliative care for kids with terminal illness.

Even a Coalition party member.

Though Dutton was a bit hesitant even on that point – perhaps he secretly believes the same as Toby Ralph ?

You see Tony, we don’t trust you. The people of Australia should not trust you. You will never be our Prime Minister, and if that dire day ever comes when you move into the Lodge, you will be regarded with even more alarm and apprehension than was John Howard. And everything you do, every breath you take, every aspect of your life past and present will be scrutinised and critiqued by us.

Be afraid

Tony Abbott, small target and lower your vision

imagesTony Abbott will be Australia’s next Prime Minister. His ambition to fulfil his destiny will be realised. What Tony Abbott wants, Tony Abbott takes and with remarkable determination will see the idealisation of his destiny become reality. He will wave his hands high on the steps of Parliament House. He will express humility at the honour which ordinary Australians have bestowed on him.

But wait for a moment, isn’t this imaginary scenario all about Tony Abbott and his ambition? For a while let us give a thought to that which follows, and after that “momentous occasion” when Tony Abbott is presented with the keys to the Lodge and his team are dutifully sworn in to serve Australia and her people by Governor General Quentin Bryce.

We have had many insightful articles, (although these are exceedingly rare in the mainstream media) with predictions of what an Abbott Prime Ministership might consist of. There are predictions of huge revenue losses, large scale sackings of people who work in the public service (although Tony Abbott refuses to specify which services to the public), and handouts reminiscent of the Howard years but minus the mining boom, and basically little else. These predictions are quite dire, but surely there must be some reason, something which Tony Abbott is offering which explains why he is heading towards becoming Australia’s next Prime Minister.

I would suggest that which is missing and this includes anything emanating from the mainstream media, is The Benefits of an Abbott Prime Ministership. We therefore have to rely on Tony Abbott supporters for any glimpse into what they perceive as these benefits. And to be honest, these are scarce pickings.

We have:

Cancel the carbon tax – because there is no such thing as climate change.

Turn back the boats – because they’re not Christians and will take Australian jobs, plus they’re “illegal”. This same prejudice is the undercurrent – white, married and male flows on to those seen as “the others”; not white, not married and certainly not male.

Anything pertaining to private schools or middle class/upper class welfare is naught but class envy, yet all the while not being a part of the class which will by far gain the most benefit from Coalition policies.

But in the vast majority of comments, the underlying theme is that Tony Abbott is not a red-headed female atheist living in sin with a hairdresser.  For my own self this makes Ms Gillard far more interesting than Tony Abbott can ever hope to be..but that’s another story.

This therefore is what Tony Abbott is offering, or at least what his supporters hope that he is offering. There are two strings to this bow, that while Abbott’s policies remain unscrutinised his supporters are also victims of ignorance.

Here is my theory for what its worth:  The Abbott Strategy

The Abbott Strategy is to play small target on anything with a vision, a small target on offering anything to anyone.

Therefore Tony Abbott’s vision is anything that you may want; you imagine it and he will deliver it – or at least it may seem so in the imagination of his supporters.

From the Liberal Party website, the words of Tony Abbott.

In the future, as in the past, the Coalition can do great things for our country.

That’s good to know, but for Australia’s future are we going to do anything except “Ditch the Witch”? And turn back the boats? Is Australia’s future nothing more than a momentous occasion where it’s winner who takes all?

Australia, no Australia here mate

The title of this post essentially sums up the federal government’s approach to irregular immigration and the so-called people smuggler problem.

If you haven’t heard by now, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, announced the federal government would seek to excise Australia’s mainland from being part of Australia’s migration zone. Yes you read that correctly.

Australia’s mainland will no longer be part of the nation’s migration zone.

It beggars belief that a federal government would stoop to these kinds of measures to tackle a non-issue. It would seem this is an attempt to appear tougher than Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and the Coalition’s Scott Morrison. It must bring into question now what we will consider to be Australia and what we don’t.

Does it now mean the only part of Australia in the migration zone is Tasmania?

It feels like a modern return to Van Diemen’s Land for people seeking refuge in our country; an act that is not a crime.

Of course the Australian Greens were very quick to condemn this move by the federal government. One would expect them to do so, and rightfully so given their constituency and that it’s the right thing to do. However, it is more interesting how Tony Abbott has responded.

His usual flair for saying ‘No’ at the drop of a hat, changed to ‘We haven’t seen the legislation blah blah’. This is far more interesting politically. But with the legislation in the Parliament the government has signalled an aggressive approach towards the Opposition.

So far the Opposition has been resisting agreeing to the legislation but can they continue to maintain this position?

In Chris Bowen’s most recent appearance on Lateline he struggled to justify a bad decision however he did make sure to wedge Tony Abbott on this decision. Since it was a policy measure pursued by former Prime Minister John Howard it will be hard for the Opposition to filibuster in the same way they did on the so-called Malaysian Solution.

It will be an interesting few weeks in Australian politics as the issues of immigration, border control and refugees are thrust spectacularly back onto the national agenda.

When will the Liberal Party come clean about their IR policy?

NOTE: This was first published on my personal blog on Thursday 16 August

There has been a lot of talk this year about productivity, calls for more ‘flexibility’ and strong words about the balance of the Fair Work Act.

If you only read the major daily newspapers in Australia you’d be forgiven for thinking that workers were endlessly taking industrial action and deliberately sabotaging productivity.  That is certainly the view that big business lobby groups like the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry would like to have you think, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed the recent review into the operations of the Fair Work Act showed that the legislation was working as it should be working.  ACTU assistant secretary, Tim Lyons, noted in his piece on R@W News last week:

“It’s important however that we separate myth from reality on IR and productivity.  While Australia has issues with productivity it is for reasons almost entirely unconnected with labour law.”

And this

“Australia’s relatively low productivity growth is a matter for concern. However, this is a long term problem. WorkChoices didn’t fix it, and Fair Work hasn’t made it worse. Labour laws are not the cause of our productivity problems, and they’re not the solution.”

In all of the commentary around the Fair Work review and productivity, we are still yet to hear from the Liberal Party about the details of their industrial relations policy. At the 2010 election voters were told that we would be given the full details of their industrial relations policy. Instead the Coalition went into hiding on IR with Tony Abbott meekly declaring that WorkChoices was “dead, buried, cremated”.

In more recent times, a lot of things have been said about industrial relations by Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and the Liberal Party’s IR spokesperson Eric Abetz, yet we can’t necessarily take what has been said to be policy because we’re regularly told that details will be released before the next election. It certainly reminds me of Tony Abbott’s now infamous line about not believing him unless it’s written down.

However we can start to build a pretty good idea of what the Liberal Party’s industrial relations policy may look like. The most recent commentary comes from Eric Abetz and according to reports the Liberal Party is considering changes to unfair dismissal rules that would force a worker to pay court costs if they lose the case.

But this is only one such example. There are plenty more.

Back in February Tony Abbott was telling Victorian members of the Master Builders Association that a Coalition government would return to the Australian Building and Construction Commission regime. And in July this year, Mr Abbott was busy telling the Tourism & Transport Forum that he understood their needs; their needs for more flexibility with individual flexibility agreements to be more flexible.

Not only did Mr Abbott tell employers he’d deliver more flexibility he then, a week later, declared that if the Coalition were elected at the next election, workers would find he would be their best friend. Remarkable given it was only a few years ago that John Howard was declaring he was workers’ best friend before introducing WorkChoices.

With all the talk about productivity and the Coalition’s constant reference to flexibility, it’s about time the Coalition comes clean about their IR policy.