The Politics    Friday, March 13, 2015

Not so united

By Russell Marks

Glenn Lazarus ends Clive Palmer’s influence and the Abbott government’s chances of passing anything contentious

“You can polish a turd for as long as you want; it’s always going to be a turd,” said Glenn Lazarus in January. He was talking then about the Abbott government’s proposed higher education reforms, but he may as well have been referring to the Palmer United Party, which he quit overnight and which now retains a single senator, Dio Wang – or even the government itself, which continues to suffer from self-inflicted wounds and must now negotiate with eight individual senators every time it attempts to pass legislation that Labor and the Greens oppose.

Lazarus’s resignation has no direct bearing on the education bill, which both he and Clive Palmer oppose. The trigger was PUP national director Peter Burke’s decision to sack Lazarus’s wife, Tess, yesterday evening. Tess Lazarus had been her husband’s media secretary but according to Burke had “failed to comply with the terms of her employment”. Palmer this morning accused Glenn of “spitting the dummy” over Tess’s sacking (though it’s difficult to see how that wasn’t always going to be the inevitable consequence), and blamed everyone but himself for his party’s demise.

Senator Lazarus will create further headaches for the government as an independent. He’s more reflexively progressive than Palmer, and the sheer challenge of winning the support of six of eight cross-benchers when Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon, Ricky Muir and now Lazarus are among them means the government has few prospects of getting its remaining program – which includes denying unemployment benefits for six months to job-seekers under 30 – through parliament. The government’s preferred tactic appears to be moral blackmail, which it deployed effectively to get its Migration Act changes through late last year and which Christopher Pyne is now using to hope the senate passes his university fee deregulation bill so that research scientists don’t lose their jobs.

The Roundup

“Lifestyle choices”

Pat Dodson comments in Fairfax: “It is not just that the comments reflect Tony Abbott's worldview – which belongs in a time capsule of Australian political culture before Mabo – nor is it that the holder of the highest political office in the land simply doesn’t get it. The truly sad aspect is that it encapsulates what is fundamentally amiss in the relationship between descendants of the first Australians and those Australians who arrived in the wake of Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788.”

Fred Chaney comments in Fairfax: “If Aboriginal people, after all the prime minister’s commitment and experience, cannot rely on him to understand their situation what hope have they?”

Marcus Priest comments at The Drum: “What good is having a native title claim recognised when politicians can still take away the ability to use and benefit from the land?”

Sol Bellear comments at Guardian Australia: “As a lifetime activist for black rights, I know being connected with our mob matters. SBS must reconsider its axing of nightly Indigenous news.”


James Massola reports in Fairfax: “Senior ministers in the Abbott government have distanced themselves from Treasurer Joe Hockey's suggestion young first home buyers be allowed to use some of their superannuation to purchase their first house.”

Jacob Greber reports in the AFR: “Indicative modelling by PwC confirms changing super rules to fund housing would punch at $31 billion hold in the federal budget by mid-century.”

Tim Dunlop comments at The Drum: “Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are on track to destroy one of the most commonly held beliefs in Australian politics, namely, that the Coalition are better economic managers than Labor.”

Indonesian executions

An AAP report at “Jakarta says the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are not open for negotiation, and has criticised Australia for revealing an offer to pay the cost of the men’s life imprisonment to the media.”


Lenore Taylor reports at Guardian Australia: “The head of the Green Climate Fund has confirmed Australia will not be able to dictate where its $200m contribution will be spent, contrary to the Abbott government’s assertions when it announced it was reversing its previous refusal to give money to the fund.”

Free trade

John Garnaut reports in Fairfax: “Australia’s biggest-ever bilateral trade deal is set to grow much bigger, with China agreeing to a special ratchet clause that will ensure that future benefits conferred to other countries will flow automatically to Australia.”

Seeking refuge

Liam Cochrane reports at ABC News: “A group of 25 asylum seekers on Manus Island is mounting a fresh challenge in Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court against their detention.”

Joshua Robertson reports at Guardian Australia: “The first academic analysis of Australia’s ‘turning back’ of asylum seeker boats concludes the policy is a fatally risky, moral and legal failure that is ‘severely damaging’ the country’s reputation.”

Matthew Kronborg comments in Fairfax: “Australia has continuously been a strong supporter of human rights throughout international treaty negotiations and the country has ratified almost all major international human rights instruments. Feedback from friends, especially when requested, regarding areas for improvement should be considered rather than angrily dismissed.”

Bad education

Daniel Hurst reports at Guardian Australia: “Labor has foreshadowed greater government intervention in the allocation of student places at universities, signalling a shift from the demand-driven funding system it put in place when it was last in power.”

Andrew Greene and Jake Sturmer report at ABC News: “The Business Council of Australia has accused the federal government of jeopardising jobs by holding research funding ‘hostage’ in its push to overhaul the university sector.”

St Patrick’s Day

Padraig Collins reports at the Irish Times: “Preparations for St Patrick’s Day events in Australia turned controversial today with the prime minister Tony Abbott’s video message to Irish ex-pats being called ‘patronising’, and Sinn Féin taking legal action over its exclusion from the Perth parade. The video was supplied to both the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Lansdowne Club, but neither is playing it at their event.”


Richard Willingham reports in The Age: “Tension between the prime minister and Victorian premier continues to simmer with Daniel Andrews accusing Tony Abbott of responding to a meeting request with ‘absolute silence’ during a recent phone conversation.”

Lenore Taylor reports at Guardian Australia: “The secretary of the agriculture department, Dr Paul Grimes, is expected to leave his job today after an unexpected absence following his request for an extraordinary Senate committee hearing to provide information ‘highly pertinent’ to a long-running saga involving his minister, Barnaby Joyce.”

Marija Taflaga’s analysis at Inside Story: “Australia’s major parties have learned the wrong lessons from the failure of John Hewson’s 1993 Fightback! campaign and the success of John Howard’s bid for government three years later.”

Katharine Murphy comments at Guardian Australia: “The PM has found himself in a classic bind: if he can’t hold the party behind him, he’s finished. But he won’t win the next election by having a closed conversation.”

Gay Alcorn reports at Guardian Australia: A wide-ranging interview with Australian Sex Party leader Fiona Patten.

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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