Australian politics, society & culture

Friday, 19th December 2014


For Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the year's end can't come soon enough. Yesterday morning, Ray Hadley became his latest media booster to turn sour when he rated the PM's performance a D-minus, especially following Abbott's decision to "continue the business of government" as the Martin Place siege was unfolding. Abbott is now drawing fire from all quarters, and while detractors have different reasons – Abbott's calm response of the siege was seen by others as a rare moment of poise – most agree on the failures of administration, consultation, policy development and "keeping faith".

Abbott continues to claim that he's achieved much during his first 15 months, but the achievements he lists – abolishing the carbon and mining taxes and rushing the signature of free trade agreements – are unlikely to be unambiguously in Australia's interests. Meanwhile the Senate has rejected the philosophy of austerity that underpins his first budget. Economist Max Corden argues that by ignoring tax, the government is only leading half a debate. And after talking tough on company tax avoidance and possible GST increases for much of the year, Treasurer Joe Hockey has retreated on both measures.

Meanwhile the government continues be damaged by bizarre inconsistencies. Documents released by Victoria's new government on Monday confirm that the "business case" for that state's East West Link doesn't exist, which prompts questions as to why Abbott was so determined to fund it in breach of his own infrastructure rules. Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews remains determined to proceed with income management for welfare recipients, despite the conclusions of a government-commissioned report. A pre-Christmas Cabinet reshuffle is now looking likely.

And that completes PoliticOz for 2014. We'll return on January 12. Thanks to all subscribers for your support and correspondence, and from the team at The Monthly, wishing you an enjoyable festive season.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Intelligence and solidarity

As the Australian Federal Police conducts additional raids in Sydney in the wake of the Martin Place siege (Guardian), it will also investigate how it managed to misinform Tony Abbott on whether Man Haron Monis had a gun license (ABC). The AFP has a recent history of getting things badly wrong, which seems to demonstrate the importance of Roger Gyles's position as Australia's security watchdog. Bill Shorten says Abbott's inquiry into the siege must be transparent and open about any mistakes that were made (Fairfax).

Meanwhile elements of the Right – including Liberal Party MP George Christensen (Fairfax) – have attacked the #illridewithyou social media campaign that promotes multicultural solidarity. Jason Wilson wonders in the Guardian whether the Right doesn't really understand its own readers. And Rodney Tiffen in Inside Story critiques Rupert Murdoch's insensitive Tweeting.

Dealing humanely

Ricky Muir has secured a deal with Scott Morrison that will ensure that 31 babies born to asylum seekers will be allowed to stay in Australia with their families instead of being transferred to Nauru while their protection claims are assessed (ABC).

The Monthly has obtained a number of letters written during the last 3 months by asylum seekers detained on Nauru. And upon returning from Afghanistan, Benjamin Lee can't make sense of Australia's asylum seeker regime (Guardian).

Cruel, inhumane and degrading

The ABC has obtained 2010 footage from a youth detention centre in Alice Springs that shows guards restraining and stripping naked a 13-year-old boy who was detained for minor offending. The guard was charged with aggravated assault but was acquitted by a magistrate in February; the NT Supreme Court refused a prosecutors' appeal this month.

Infrastructure questions

Nine thousand pages of documents relating to the East West Link were released by the new Victorian government this week, after they were kept secret by the Coalition government that was defeated in last month's election. The evidence suggests that the project may have delivered just 45 cents' benefit for every dollar invested (Guardian). Yesterday, the Audit Office of NSW published an assessment of Sydney's WestConnex project that also raises questions about the rigour of its own business case.

Labor's Anthony Albanese wants the Commonwealth Auditor General to inquire into why the Abbott government is prepared to co-fund both projects against its own infrastructure investment rules (Guardian). Academic Lohan Lidberg argues that the East West Link fallout demonstrates the need for Freedom of Information reform to ensure greater transparency by governments (Conversation).

Economics and welfare

After Tony Abbott put a GST increase on the agenda for his government's second term, Joe Hockey has taken it off again (AFR). Peter Martin writes that it's conceivable that Hockey will never achieve his vaunted surplus (Fairfax).

Meanwhile Emily Millane argues that it's class, not generation, that's the big divider in Australian society, as the numbers of ageing poor also grows (Drum). And the Guardian reports that the Abbott government's scrapping of the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee came without warning, while Kevin Andrews plans to go ahead with income management for welfare recipients despite the conclusions of a government report.