Australian politics, society & culture

Friday, 27th February 2015


Inexplicably – because nothing the Abbott government has done this month has demonstrated an increased capacity for good government – opinion polls are recording a sharp "uptick" in support for the Coalition. They're still predicting a very comfortable win for the Labor opposition, were an election held now, and really the aggregate of the polls have only come back to what had been the lowest point for the government before "Knightmare": the period immediately following last year's federal budget.

But an election won't be held anytime soon, so the question this week's poll data goes to is that of Tony Abbott's leadership. Ministers and backbenchers are telling journalists that Malcolm Turnbull now has the numbers and should mount a formal challenge, perhaps as early as next week. That's either real or pure scuttlebutt, designed to either spook Abbott further or spark Turnbull into mounting a doomed challenge, which may harm him. But as Malcolm Farr observes, Turnbull's strategy is to remain aloof, to avoid the "back-stabber" perception that so damaged Julia Gillard after Kevin Rudd was cast aside. On the other hand, Turnbull may consider that his best chance is now, before other potential challengers, particularly Scott Morrison, have time to build their public image.

The level of support being expressed for Turnbull is itself based mostly on perception. He is benefiting from that phenomenon of opinion polling which records great support for alternatives – until they become incumbents. Turnbull is certainly more palatable to the political centre in Australia than Abbott, whose "junkyard dog" student politics style is ugly and getting uglier. But what are Turnbull's actual credentials? Has he been an effective communications minister? Didn't his earlier stint as Liberal leader end in the disaster of "Utegate"? Won't he have a similar front bench? And isn't he despised by a significant proportion of his party's right wing? Internally, however, the analysis may not need to extend any further than asking: will a Turnbull-led Coalition expose major inadequacies in Bill Shorten's Labor opposition? At least in the short term, the polls suggest the answer to that question is probably a resounding "yes".

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Gillian Triggs

Graeme Innes comments at Guardian Australia: "I was a human rights commissioner under five attorneys-general from both sides of politics. George Brandis is the only one to question my integrity."

Daniel Hurst reported yesterday evening at Guardian Australia: "A day after the foreign affairs minister made a definitive statement to parliament that ‘no such [job] offer was made’ to Gillian Triggs, Julie Bishop conceded on Thursday that ‘a role was raised that related to international affairs’."

Richard Flanagan commented yesterday at Guardian Australia: "Triggs was attacked for defending the powerless – and one day another prime minister will apologise for it."

Tom Burton's analysis at The Mandarin: "‘Independent’ statutory bodies like the Human Rights Commission are, in reality, beholden to ministers and departments over funding and direction. The current environment makes Gillian Triggs’ position unsurprising."

George Brandis comments in The Australian: "The language of ‘checks and balances’ to describe the Human Rights Commission is inappropriate – invoking as it does the basic constitutional principle that the different arms of government are a limit and a counterweight to one another."

Hal Wootten comments at New Matilda: Why I signed up to the Open Letter in defence of Gillian Triggs.

Unhealthy economics

Emma Griffiths reports at ABC News: "More than $600,000 is set to be spent by the federal Treasury Department on market research and communications strategy for the government's Tax White Paper."

Ben Schneiders reports in Fairfax: "The number of Australians out of work for long periods has risen dramatically since the global financial crisis, with retrenched older workers and young people yet to find work particularly vulnerable to long-term unemployment."

Lenore Taylor reports at Guardian Australia: "Former Liberal leader John Hewson says there may be a ‘jingoistic element’ to the Abbott government’s planned new rules and fees for foreign investment in Australian real estate."

Henry Pinskier comments in Fairfax: "The basis for the Coalition’s confused Medicare changes are predicated on a variety of falsehoods used by the government regarding the economic viability of Medicare, cheered on in particular by Terry Barnes, a former adviser to Abbott as health minister; Michael Wooldridge; and Tony Shepherd."


Lenore Taylor reports at Guardian Australia: "Warnings from every major media company that the government’s new data retention laws risk the proper functioning of a free press have not persuaded the Coalition and Labor to recommend changes in a committee report to be released today."

Ben Grubb's analysis in Fairfax: What Brandis and Turnbull can do to fix the metadata muddle.

David Wroe reports in Fairfax: "A $630 million counter-terrorism funding boost the Abbott government announced six months ago has still not begun to flow to the country's national security agencies."

Andrew Greene reports at ABC News: "A joint deployment of Australian and New Zealand troops to Iraq is expected to dominate talks when Tony Abbott flies to Auckland today."

Human rights

Kristina Keneally comments at Guardian Australia: "Until Labor takes responsibility for the harm it has done to asylum seekers it can’t credibly criticise the government for its response to the Forgotten Children report."

Calla Wahlquist reports at Guardian Australia: "A leading expert in Aboriginal criminal justice has accused the Labor party in Western Australia of political ‘cowardice’ for not opposing additional mandatory sentencing laws, which government figures show will put about 260 more people in jail over four years."

Shalailah Medhora reports at Guardian Australia: "The wage gap between men and women has increased slightly, as the government announces plans to water down gender reporting requirements for businesses."


Amy McQuire reports at New Matilda: "The federal Labor opposition has called on National Indigenous Television and the SBS to cancel its plans to scrap the award-winning NITV National News, stating it plays a vital role in Aboriginal communities."

And here's Myriam Robin's report from yesterday at Crikey: "Staff at NITV News, one of the flagships of Australia’s only indigenous television station, were told last Thursday that the half-hour nightly news program would be axed by June."