Monday, 28 March 2016

Tony Abbott at heart of government division and chaos, says Bill Shorten

Opposition leader warns ‘Turnbull can’t stop Tony Abbott’ after reports emerged the former PM would launch his own national election tour of marginal seats

Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten
Tony Abbott with the Labor leader, Bill Shorten. On Sunday Shorten told reporters: ‘The only way you don’t get Tony Abbott is by voting Labor.’ Photograph: James Alcock/AAP
Bill Shorten says Tony Abbott is at the heart of the chaos and division in the Turnbull government and he’s not going away.
Reports suggest the former prime minister will be electioneering in marginal seats on his own national tour after being snubbed of a proper campaign role in what is likely to be a 2 July double-dissolution election.
“The only way you don’t get Tony Abbott is by voting Labor because Mr Turnbull can’t stop Tony Abbott,” the opposition leader told reporters after serving lunch with his wife, Chloe, at Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda on Sunday.
Turnbull kept a relatively low profile on Sunday, other than attending Easter mass in his Sydney electorate of Wentworth with his wife, Lucy.
A junior minister, Angus Taylor, said he had no problem with Abbott making a contribution to the policy debate, as he had done for many years.
“He will carve out his own role as a backbencher which all backbenchers do in an election campaign,” Taylor told Sky News.
But the former Liberal leader John Hewson said he believed the prime minister should give him a job.
“He won’t go away, so I think you give him a role. Define the role very carefully and encourage him to be judged by his performance,” Hewson told Sky News.
Hewson also expressed surprise at the plaudits that Turnbull was getting for his strategy to force a 2 July poll. Rather than being a stroke of genius, he said he believed it was “quite high risk”.
Turnbull is bringing parliament back on 18 April to have another crack at getting legislation to restore the construction watchdog through the Senate, and if this fails for a second time, as seems likely, it will be a trigger for a 2 July poll.
But Hewson said if the Senate unexpectedly supported the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, it would delay an election to September or October.
“In the interim he has got to deal with issues like [Arthur] Sinodinos, Abbott, backbench issues and a budget that has been neutered as a pre-election budget rather than a reform budget,” Hewson told Sky News on Sunday.
The government needs six of the eight crossbench senators to back the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation, with Labor and the Greens opposing the bill. Four have said they will support it, while the other four won’t say.
The former Labor minister Craig Emerson said it was strange the prime minister had left the timing of the next election in the hands of four senators “who hate his guts”.
“That’s a master stroke, apparently,” Emerson said.

John Kerry: presidential campaign descending into 'embarrassment' for US

Extract from The Guardian

Secretary of state says world leaders are ‘shocked’ as Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump defend plans to combat terror and focus on Muslims

John Kerry
Kerry did not specify which candidates or remarks had embarrassed the US but he was clearly alluding to controversial proposals by Republican candidates. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
The chaos of the 2016 US presidential election “is an embarrassment to our country”, secretary of state John Kerry said on Sunday, as he reflected on the candidates’ anti-Muslim sentiment and world leaders’ growing concern.
Asked about what he hears from leaders abroad regarding the US election, Kerry told CBS’s Face the Nation: “I think it’s fair to say that they’re shocked.
“It upsets people’s sense of equilibrium about our steadiness, about our reliability,” Kerry said. “And to some degree I must say to you, some of the questions, the way they’re posed to me, it’s clear to me that what’s happening is an embarrassment to our country.”
Kerry did not specify which candidates or remarks had embarrassed the US, but he was clearly alluding to controversial proposals from the Republican candidates.
Texas senator Ted Cruz has proposed sending police to surveil, “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods, and surrounded himself with advisers whom experts call “terrifying” on issues of civil rights. The proposals were derided by a wide range of officials, including NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, who said on Saturday: “It is clear from his comments that senator Cruz knows absolutely nothing about counter-terrorism in New York City.”
Donald Trump has proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, and said he would order the military to torture prisoners and to bomb the families of terror suspects, in contravention of international law. The Republican frontrunner has separately wavered on whether to denounce white supremacist groups that have rallied to his campaign.
On Sunday, Cruz defended his proposal, saying that police patrols would be “proactive law enforcement”.
“We can’t become Europe with its failed immigration policies. We can’t repeat their mistakes,” he told Fox News Sunday. “We can’t be forced to live under Sharia law. We need to engage and find this enemy. We have to fight Islamism at every level.”
He then repeated a stump speech line that top Pentagon generals have rejected as illegal, un-American and unreasonable. “If I become president, we will carpet-bomb Isis into the ground,” Cruz said.
Trump was not asked about his proposals on Sunday, but did rule out internment camps for Muslim Americans; the anchor’s reference to a concept not realized in the US since the second world war reflected how extreme the campaign has become.
But the former reality TV star painted a picture of a dangerous world in the aftermath of the deadly terror attacks in Belgium.
“I don’t think America’s a safe place for Americans, you want to know the truth,” he told ABC in a phone interview. “I don’t think Europe is a safe place.”
“Lots of the free world has become weak,” he added. “We’re going to have problems, just as big or bigger.”
In order to combat terror, Trump suggested, “Muslims in our country have to report bad acts”.
Contrary to his suggestion that the Muslim American community is not doing enough to counter extremism, a 2014 Duke University study found more suspects were brought to the attention of law enforcement by Muslim Americans than through government investigations.
Trump also suggested the US and Europe need to completely overhaul their security systems and the Nato alliance that has united them for more than half a century. “I think Nato is obsolete,” he said. “I’m not saying Russia is not a threat, but we have other threats, and Nato doesn’t discuss terrorism.”
The third Republican candidate, Ohio governor John Kasich, also said Nato should be reformed, but said the ideas of his rivals were unproductive. Solutions, he said have “got to include our friends in the Arab Muslim community”.
“I don’t want to overreact to this,” he told NBC on Sunday.
Senator Ron Johnson, the Republican chair of the homeland security committee, told CNN “there are no credible threats” of terrorism in the US. But he also called for ground troops to intervene in Syria, and invoked the Iraq war phrase “coalition of the willing” to call for allies.
The Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have, in contrast, called for European nations to improve their intelligence sharing systems, though both have only vaguely outlined details of their recommendations.
Earlier this week, the State Department issued an unusual warning to Americans in Europe after the Brussels attacks, in which at least two Americans were killed. Kerry urged calm, saying: “People do not have to live in fear, but it doesn’t mean you should be oblivious to your surroundings.
“It’s really a matter of common sense,” he said. “It means avoid a crowded place where you have no control over who may be there. Have a sense of vigilance to watch who’s around you.”
He said travellers should report suspicious activity, such as men wearing single gloves and using large suitcases, in the manner of the men responsible for the Brussels attacks.
The secretary of state also defended Barack Obama’s conduct in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, which occurred while he was on the first diplomatic visit to Cuba by a sitting US president since 1928. Republicans heaped scorn on the president for attending a baseball game on the afternoon of the attacks, a long-planned event to celebrate new relations with Havana.
“Life doesn’t stop because one terrible incident takes place in one place,” said Kerry, who was also in the stands that day. “The president of the United States’ schedule is not set by terrorists.”

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Smoke-Ho June 29, 1895.

*THE WORKER*
BRISBANE, JUNE 29, 1895.


Smoke-Ho.

TWENTY-TWO Kansas newspapers are edited by women.

A MINER'S wife in Creswick (Vic.) has given birth to a quartet of children – two boys and two girls.

IT is said that kanakas were first introduced into Queensland in 1867 and employed on a Darling Downs station.

MR. W. G. Spence, secretary Shearers' Union has resigned his position as a councillor of the Creswick (Vic.) Borough Council.

WHEREVER the voice of the Mallee (Vic.) farmer is, heard he is declaring in favour of perpetual leasing under State ownership.

A SMART little Japanese doctor now practises the profession of sawbones at Thursday Island.

THE Building Committee of the new Roman Catholic Church, Murphy's Creek, has publicly thanked Mr. W. M. Lovejoy for a cask of beer. Fact.

MR. Grimes will be pained to hear that, according to Reynolds Newspaper, the Duke of York was hooted at Sheffield by a crowd of ironworkers.

OF £21,000 held in the reconstructed Colonial bank at Bendigo £10,000 belongs to the Roman Catholic church authorities and £5000 to the Miners' Association.

MICHAEL Davitt was asked to stand for Parliament by nine labour constituencies in England, and refused, preferring to fight for the people outside of parliament.

IT is rumoured that if M'Ilwraith is fit he is to be Queensland's next Agent-General in London. Gerrick is at present supposed to be keeping the seat warm for him.

THE Labour Party in Melbourne intend to invite Michael Davitt to dine with them for the purpose of honouring the great Irishman and exchanging views over Labour questions.

THE real Labour members in Victoria would seem to consist of the seven Trades Hall members, together with Hamilton of Bendigo and Dr. Maloney of West Melbourne.

THE candle manufacturers of Melbourne solemnly deny that there is a “ring” in their industry. Which is one of the principal reasons why the public believe there is. Me thinks they do protest too much!

STRONG efforts are being made by the monetary influence in Victoria to impede the progress of the local beet sugar-growing industry. Australian capitalism is pooling in the interest of slave-grown products.

A BANK director by false balance sheets robs his trusting depositor of say £1000. We will suppose that he is taking the amount home in a bag when a footpad snatches the money. Query: Which is the greater robber.

DIBBS became famous through damning Chicago; he has completely damned Parkes, and now both suffer the tortures of the damned whilst Porkopolis, looking on, chuckles to Sir Geo: Curses come home to roost, you old crower!

THE coroner of Auckland has got into hot water through being over particular whilst conducting an inquest on the body of a man who died suddenly of heart disease. He had the heart of the deceased served up on a plate for the inspection of the jurymen.

UNFORTUNATELY the present political crisis in Great Britain may have the effect of cutting short the tour of Michael Davitt in Australia. Queenslanders would like to hear a few words from him before he goes, should he have to leave in a hurry, to do battle with the enemies of Ireland.

AT a recent meeting of the Tinaroo Divisional Board one of the members moved that in future all meetings be opened with prayer. The chairman candidly admitted that he was afraid they were all too wicked to do any good in that line. The Tinaroo Board then voted that it would have nothing to do with the prayer, and it was “putt” down.

N.S.W. PREMIER Reid's anxiety for the appointment of a governor could be attributed to an intention to have a British Government nominee present in the fight which is taking place between the Assembly and Council over the land tax and Freetrade proposals. It is questionable if any of the lieutenant governors in the colonies are as liberal as the imported governors.

LAURENCE Benjamin, owner of a block of property on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke street, Melbourne, paid income tax on £25,000 for 1894. Just think hard on the condition of a world which gives one man about £500 per week (and steadily increasing in amount) whilst there are from 10,000 to 15,000 bread winners and their families on the verge of starvation.

DR. Louis Robinson writing in “Blackwood's Magazine” on Trades and faces, and describing mouths, says that the nonconformist mouth tends to be more lax than, say, the the mouth of a High Church curate. That's all very well, but the doctor would be surprised if he had a look at the cavity under the Colonial Secretary's nose. That's the spot where there is an immensity of “laxity” if you like.

M. ALPHONSE Daudet, in speaking of London to a Daily Graphic interviewer, said: “We can show you in Lyons, Marseilles, and Roubaix much more terrible sights than I have seen in Whitechapel. One thing, however, has interested me very much. I have seen the characters of Dickens in the flesh. I have recognised them in the gamins, in the ragged girls dancing jigs to the tunes of the hurly-gurdies, in the portly and prosperous shopkeepers – even in the trim servant girls.”

AT Christie's auction mart, London, last month, says Reynolds, an enormous crowd gathered to witness the passing over by the famous pearl necklace, lately owned by the Duchess of Montrose. This necklace was sold in compliance with the will of the late Duchess, and its proceeds are to be devoted to the East end poor. The bidding commenced at £3000, speedily visiting to £7500, and competition was very keen. Mr. C.J. Hill finally purchased the bauble for the substantial sum of £11,500.

THE South Brisbane Municipal Council alleges that it has been had badly by the Victoria Bridge Board over a land booming speculation amounting to £10,000. Eager inquiries are being made for the person or persons through whom the sale was made, as it is asserted that about three times the value of the land has been paid for it. One aldermen stated that it is said the sale of the property was negotiated through J. R. Dickson and Co., and he thought Mr. Dickson should be given an opportunity to refuse the statement.


WRITES our N.Z. Special: Who says the colonial youngster neglects passing events for the career of Deadwood Dick or the Plated Pirates of the Prairie! Just read this account taken from a country paper in this colony and say whether there isn't at least one Democrat in the circle in which all are supposed to be Tory, the schoolboy: “When Mr. Hill was examining the upper standards at the Woodville school in history he asked them what the three states of the constitution were. They gave 'The Governor' and the 'House of Representatives' correctly and promptly, 'Yes,' said Mr. Hill, ' now what is the other?' 'The House of Conservatives, sir' said one bright youth. 'One of the best answers I have ever heard to the question,' said Mr. Hill.”

Mocked and forgotten: who will speak for the American white working class?

 Extract from The Guardian

When you listen to poor people who work with their hands, you hear a uniform frustration and a constant anxiety – but it’s not just about economic issues

Over the past 30 years the working class has been devalued, the result of an economic version of the Hunger Games.
Over the past 30 years the working class has been devalued, the result of an economic version of the Hunger Games. Photograph: Chris Arnade

The National Review, a conservative magazine for the Republican elite, recently unleashed an attack on the “white working class”, who they see as the core of Trump’s support.
The first essay, Father F├╝hrer, was written by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who used his past reporting from places such as Appalachia and the Rust Belt to dissect what he calls “downscale communities”.
He describes them as filled with welfare dependency, drug and alcohol addiction, and family anarchy – and then proclaims:
“Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster, There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. ... The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”
A few days later, another columnist, David French, added:
“Simply put, [white working class] Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin.”
Both suggested the answer to their problems is they need to move. “They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.”
Downscale communities are everywhere in America, not just limited to Appalachia and the Rust Belt – it’s where I have spent much of the past five years documenting poverty and addiction.
To say that “nothing happened to them” is stunningly wrong. Over the past 35 years the working class has been devalued, the result of an economic version of the Hunger Games. It has pitted everyone against each other, regardless of where they started. Some contestants, such as business owners, were equipped with the fanciest weapons. The working class only had their hands. They lost and have been left to deal on their own.

A boarded factory in upstate New York.
A boarded factory in upstate New York. Photograph: Chris Arnade


The consequences can be seen in nearly every town and rural county and aren’t confined to the industrial north or the hills of Kentucky either. My home town in Florida, a small town built around two orange juice factories, lost its first factory in 1985 and its last in 2005.
In the South Buffalo neighborhood of Lackawanna, homes have yet to recover from the closing of an old steel mill that looms over them. The plant, once one of many, provided the community with jobs and stability. The parts that haven’t been torn down are now used mainly for storage.
In Utica, New York, a boarded-up GE plant that’s been closed for more than 20 years sits behind Mr Nostalgia’s, a boarded-up bar where workers once spent nights. Jobs moved out of state and out of the country. The new jobs don’t pay as well and don’t offer the same benefits, so folks now go to the casino outside of town to try to supplement their income.

Mr Nostalgia’s, a bar sitting opposite a closed plant.
Mr Nostalgia’s, a bar sitting opposite a closed plant. Photograph: Chris Arnade


When you go into these communities and leave the small bubbles of success –Manhattan, Los Angeles, northern Virginia, Cambridge – and listen to people who work with their hands, you hear a uniform frustration and a constant anxiety. In a country of such amazing wealth, a large percentage of people are trying not to sink.
In Blossburg, Pennsylvania, Arnie Knapp walks five miles into town every morning, trying to keep his body in shape and not succumb to the various injuries he suffered working the mills. He started working at 14 and once they closed, he worked a series of lower-paying jobs. Unlike the characters profiled in the National Review article, he isn’t looking for a handout: “I haven’t asked for anything but work from anyone. Problem is, there aren’t a lot of jobs around here any more.”

Arnie Knapp, who worked in the mills most of his life.
Arnie Knapp, who worked in the mills most of his life. Photograph: Chris Arnade


In Appleton, Wisconsin, Tom Lawless, who has been driving long-haul trucks all his life and measures his success in millions of miles safely driven, is frustrated: “I am getting squeezed, my pay gets lower, and my costs go higher.”
In Ohatchee, Alabama, Larry, taking a day off work to take his son fishing, is gracious but frustrated: “I have worked in foundries all my life, since I was 15. Hard work, and I don’t got a lot of money to show for it.”
The frustration isn’t just misplaced nostalgia – the economic statistics show the same thing.

Tom Lawless, who has been a truck driver all his life.
Tom Lawless, who has been a truck driver all his life. Photograph: Chris Arnade


Over the past 35 years, except for the very wealthy, incomes have stagnated, with more people looking for fewer jobs. Jobs for those who work with their hands, manufacturing employment, has been the hardest hit, falling from 18m in the late 1980s to 12m now.
The economic devaluation has been made more painful by the fraying of the social safety net, and more visceral by the vast increase at the top. It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help.
It is not just about economic issues and jobs. Culturally, we are witnessing a tale of two Americas that are growing more distinct by the day.
The differences are manifest in education. The pathway offered out of the working class is to get a college education. Yet at the best colleges there are very few low-income students, except for a few lucky enough to grow up in New York City, Los Angeles or Boston.
Differences are also stark around health issues, as well as social issues such as marriage, family and where people live. The growing differences have made it easier and seemingly acceptable to ridicule the white working class, further marginalizing and isolating them. Go into an office in New York City (I worked in them for 20 years) and you will hear people joke about “white trash”, “trailer trash”, “rednecks”, “round people from square states”. Turn on the TV and you hear more cheap jokes about how they dress, talk and behave.

The way those downscale communities shop is different than how people consume in a metropolis.
The way those downscale communities shop is different than how people consume in a metropolis. Photograph: Chris Arnade


As the isolation has increased and opportunity diminished, some have turned to drugs. America, and particularly the white working class, is dealing with a drug epidemic that is killing more people each year at a startling rate. Just in the past decade deaths from drugs has doubled.
The National Review sees it as another sign of the flawed character of the poor. This is a common and moralistic trope those battling an addiction have long dealt with – that it is all the fault of their weakness. The reality is often far more complex. Addiction thrives in societies undergoing stress. How much someone abuses drugs is a measure of the trauma, pain, anxiety and isolation someone has experienced.
Then again, blaming the changes in the white working class on moral failures, rather than political and economic ones, is very convenient for conservatives and Republicans.
At almost every juncture over the past 35 years, Republicans have supported and passed policies that have empowered businesses while supporting the removal of policies that protect workers.

Trailer and car in Alabama.
Trailer and car in Alabama. Photograph: Chris Arnade


They have supported the shift towards an aggressive free market that rewards the winners, regardless of where they started, and does little to protect the losers.
They supported, and got, massive tax cuts for the wealthiest.
They supported, and got, the deregulation of Wall Street.
They supported every effort to dismantle the social safety net: food stamps, welfare, social security and Medicaid.
Some of the polices they have supported, such as free trade, have also been supported by the Democrats. These policies were justified by the notion that the entire country would win, because the winners will win more than the losers lose.
Yet this is contingent on the winners sharing, and the Republicans have no interest in making the winners share.

State to subsidise rent in two share houses to tackle youth homelessness

Advocates welcome trial scheme but call for long-term solutions including compulsory affordable housing in new developments

A man walks past some residential houses in Sydney
Community housing advocates have called for up to 30% of new developments in inner Sydney to be set aside as affordable housing. Photograph: Paul Miller/AAP
The New South Wales government has announced a trial of private rental subsidies to tackle youth homelessness, but housing experts and community housing advocates have called for affordable housing in new developments as a longer term solution.
The social housing minister, Brad Hazzard, announced the trial on Thursday, citing the need to help find housing for young people, who have the highest rate of homelessness of any age group.
The NSW government will partner with youth homelessness service Launchpad Youth Community to provide two share houses for three years in inner Sydney. Up to six young people at a time will pay a fixed rate of 25% of their income in rent, with the government paying the balance.
Launchpad’s chief executive, Cindi Petersen, said her organisation supported more than 70 young people in short- to medium-term housing funded by the government but “sadly, due to issues of affordability they are unable to exit into the private rental market”.
“This creates a bottleneck keeping young people in the social housing system.”
The chief executive of the NSW Federation of Housing Associations, Wendy Hayhurst, told Guardian Australia rental subsidies were a “great way to help young people quickly ... because you can’t build new properties overnight”.
“But it’s not adding to the overall supply of housing.”
Hayhurst advocates inclusionary zoning, whereby when the government releases new development sites, it mandates a proportion of the development as affordable housing.
The federation argues up to 30% should be reserved for affordable housing. It represents about 45 managers and developers of affordable housing, including the largest community housing providers in NSW.
Hayhurst points to big potential developments such as the Central to Eveleigh rail corridor in Sydney, which will house up to 26,000 people, and the Sydenham to Bankstown corridor, which will have 36,000 new homes by 2036, as perfect places to start.
“There’s resistance to inclusionary zoning where a developer has purchased land at a certain price and they have feasibility studies about expected profits based on that purchase price.
“But if we say upfront and early that they’ll have to factor in that contribution they’ll have to make to affordable housing, they will offer a price for development land that allows them to do that.”
Hayhurst said this was feasible because it could be a condition on the sale of government-owned land or approval for higher density development on privately-owned land.
Speaking at an affordable housing conference in Sydney on Tuesday, British affordable housing expert Prof Glen Bramley said “you have to increase housing supply an awful lot over a long time period to have a moderate impact on affordability”.
Bramley told Guardian Australia his models showed that in Britain prices fell by about a fifth the rate of increase in land for housing, implying that even doubling land for housing would reduce prices only by 20%.
Reserving part of new developments for affordable housing was a better way to increase its supply, he said.
Speaking at an event on older women’s homelessness earlier in March, Hazzard said the government’s RentChoice package in the Future Directions housing policy increased rental support over the next 10 years by 60%.
Hazzard said that requiring companies who had already bought land to provide 10% to 20% affordable housing could “decimate their business case”. But he accepted it was more feasible when new land was released or social housing was renewed to require a mix of private, affordable and social housing.
Hazzard said the planning minister, Rob Stokes, would look at delivering affordable housing in new developments, such as one in Waterloo which Hazzard reportedly said last year should have at least 6,000 affordable dwellings.

Schools and hospitals need a straight message from Scott Morrison and PM

Extract from The Guardian

As tension rises between Malcolm Turnbull and his treasurer, the states wait impatiently to hear how the $80bn shortfall caused by Tony Abbott’s first budget will be made up

Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison
State premiers and treasurers will find out from Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison whether there will be any more money to deal with the hospitals and schools funding crisis. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Of all the real, or perceived, differences between the prime minister and the treasurer, the one that is likely to matter most to Australians is about to come to a head.
In one week state premiers and treasurers will meet Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison to find out whether the federal government is going to offer them any more money to deal with the hospitals and schools funding crisis that hits next year, and has been going to hit next year ever since Tony Abbott ripped $80bn out of projected hospitals and schools funding in the infamous budget of 2014.
As the Guardian revealed last month, Turnbull has been reassuring state premiers for some time that the commonwealth was going to stump up interim funding to tide them over while new long-term funding agreements are struck.
But for a long time Morrison has been consistently sending a totally different message, essentially that the states are on their own, saying things like: “I don’t think states are branch offices of the commonwealth. I think they are sovereign governments ... In no business in this country would anyone just accept someone walking into their office and saying the increase in cost is 8%, give me the cheque. We all have to manage our budgets. The states almost without an exception ... are in surplus at the present.”
At a recent meeting in Sydney, senior federal officials told their state counterparts that Turnbull was trying to get a funding deal through his cabinet for both hospitals and early childhood education but was coming up against resistance. The officials also said they still wanted to see movement on the states’ commitment to reduce their own taxes.
This has left premiers somewhat dazed and confused. They say the federal government’s position seems to depend on who they talk to and the private messages have been as contradictory as the public ones.
And they point out that it was the federal government that ditched the whole conversation about changing the mix of state and federal taxes when it backed down on plans to increase the goods and service tax. The states’ commitment at the last Council of Australian Governments (Coag) meeting to look at their own taxes was made in that, now redundant, context. This one is just about how to avoid a funding crisis.
Federal officials concede there have been differences between the prime minister and the treasurer. Sources say the issue has been to the expenditure review committee on cabinet numerous times. But they insist the pair are “working together now”. Well, that’s a relief.
But the joint plan does involve a quid pro quo – states agreeing to making their own taxes more efficient and to longer term reforms before the commonwealth puts its money on the table.
We can only hope the ask is realistic, because there’s a lot at stake in this discussion.
For hospitals, the cuts amount to $57bn over 10 years, compared with the amounts agreed between the former Labor government and the states during protracted negotiations that began with an acceptance that states have no means to fund on their own the huge cost increases as the population ages and medical treatments become more expensive.
In real terms, Victoria has said losing this money is the equivalent of the budget for two major hospitals – or the budget to perform more than 10,000 elective surgeries a year. Queensland has calculated it is equivalent to what is needed to pay for 4,500 doctors and nurses, and NSW has said it just can’t happen.
They are now negotiating a whole new long-term funding agreement based on the idea of a “hospitals benefit schedule” contained in a Coag discussion paper leaked to Guardian Australia.
But at Coag they need to know they’ll get enough money to tide them over while they do this deal – with Baird saying the states need at least $7bn over the next four years for hospitals alone and the South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill, insisting the figure is close to $10bn.
For schools the $4.5bn final two years of the Gonski funding deal are at stake – the deal based on a report that found the poorest and most disadvantaged schools and students were falling further and further behind. Given the Grattan Institute’s report this week that found inequality in schools is growing, that need has apparently not changed. Baird announced last week an offer to spread that money over four years rather than two.
(While these are the most important issues to be discussed at Coag, the agenda is as long as your arm. It also includes Indigenous economic development, reducing violence against women, counter-terrorism, medicinal cannabis, the national disability insurance scheme and Northern Territory statehood.)
Meanwhile the long-simmering tensions between Turnbull and Morrison have suddenly become the talk of Canberra, with columnists being briefed either that Morrison is at fault for constantly talking about ideas that have not yet been decided, or that Turnbull is at fault for not locking in baseline decisions.
Morrison’s much analysed embarrassment at having insisted his budget would be delivered on 10 May just an hour before Turnbull announced that it would be delivered on 3 May owed more to stuff-up and clumsiness than a conspiracy to keep the treasurer in the dark. Having known the 3 May date was likely, if not finally decided, why did Morrison make such definitive statements? Having made the decision on Sunday night, why didn’t Turnbull bring his treasurer into the “small circle” who knew about his dramatic tactic?
But the differences over policy and direction are real, and potentially damaging.
There has been real tension over the treasurer’s tendency to publicly argue the case or hinting or backgrounding about policy options that had not yet been finally decided, such as the GST or personal income tax cuts, which were later ditched, leaving the government looking like it couldn’t hold an idea for five minutes. It also left the electorate confused, to the extent that it was listening at all.
Asked about it on Sky news on Thursday, the Victorian Liberal president, Michael Kroger, was forced to try to argue that tensions between a prime minister and a treasurer were actually a good thing.
He said it was “no secret to say they haven’t been best friends” but “like Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, and John Howard and Peter Costello, you have to have some tension in the relationship”.
“In the history of Australian politics it has been better if there is some tension” and the relationships had been “strengthened by the element of tension”, he claimed, managing, admirably, to keep a straight face throughout.
When a party official has to tie himself in those kind of knots, there’s obviously a political problem.
But that pales in comparison to the real life problems that would be caused if those tensions hurt the chances of the commonwealth and the states reaching a reasonable agreement on the funding of hospitals and schools.

Straight news or Fox News? Andrew Bolt's show sends Sky further right on the night

 Extract from The Guardian

Sky News Australia plays it straight during the day. But signing Bolt to front a show every weeknight makes clear it is after views not news in the evening

Andrew Bolt on the set of The Bolt Report on Channel Ten
Andrew Bolt on the set of The Bolt Report on Channel Ten. Bolt is joining Sky News for a five-nights-a-week show in prime-time. Photograph: Channel Ten
Hours before Malcolm Turnbull said he would call an early election unless the Senate passed his industrial relations laws, Andrew Bolt was revealed as Sky News Australia’s star recruit to “lead discussion” during the election. It is not hard to see that Bolt’s appointment will push the channel even further in the direction of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, which delivers an unremitting and sometimes fearsome diet of rightwing opinion into most homes in the US.
The timing of Bolt’s appointment was not lost on some with a cynical frame of mind who thought he might have arrived just in time to do his best to cruel Labor’s chances at the polling booth. But the truth is Sky has been keen to get Bolt on board ever since News Corp chose to stop funding his low-rating political opinion show, The Bolt Report, on Channel Ten.
The pay TV channel, under pressure from ABC’s News 24, which has significantly higher ratings and is free, is keen to offer a point of difference. And whatever you think of Bolt, he certainly attracts attention.
The Bolt Report, which the Herald Sun columnist presented on Sunday mornings on Ten for five years, will be transformed into a looser format that will air live every weeknight on Sky at 7pm from May. That’s five hours of Bolt on his soapbox each week – talking about everything from global warming and the Greens to the stolen generations and free speech.
The Bolt Report timeslot puts him up against the ABC’s main news bulletin at 7pm, which is Sky’s main competitor in the space. To compete against the highly resourced public news program Sky could only go one way, and that was to be provocative.
According to OzTAM ratings figures Sky News averages 12,000 viewers nationally between 6pm and midnight, peaking between 8pm and 10pm at 18,000. For comparison, ABC News at 7pm averages 1m nationally.
Although Bolt was beaten by the ABC’s Insiders in his old slot on Ten, he had significantly more viewers than he can expect in his new home.
Of course Sky is no stranger to conservative commentary or to giving Murdoch’s favourite commentators a voice. Now one third-owned by Murdoch’s Sky Europe, with the rest owned by Nine and Seven, Sky has always had a close connection to News Corp and its journalists. They even have purpose-built studios in the newsrooms at the Australian and the Daily Telegraph.
But over the past 20 years Sky has built its reputation on straight news reporting throughout the day, strong breaking news coverage and endless political analysis from talking heads in Canberra. The main presenters such as David Speers, Kieran Gilbert and David Lipson have all been thorough professionals and you would be hard-pressed to detect a political leaning among them. Similarly the newsreaders are all straight down the middle. Sky News in the UK manages to maintain a neutral line through all its coverage – indeed, is required to by broadcasting rules.
But the evenings on Sky News Australia are a different prospect altogether, suggesting something of an identity crisis. After Speers comes off air, you can be fairly sure you’ll catch a rant about the inner-city elites, Fairfax, the ABC or the Labor party.
Paul Murray’s right-leaning PM Live show runs at 9pm every weeknight and you’re likely to see News Corp journalists such as Miranda Devine, Sharri Markson, Tim Blair and Rita Panahi on his panel, or listen to him in furious agreement with Cory Bernardi.
The Australian’s associate editor, Chris Kenny, also has his own show every Friday and Sunday on which he pontificates about his favourite topics – climate change, the Greens and the ABC – and he too usually has guests who agree with much of what he says.
Sky management would say the channel is no Fox News and boasts a smorgasbord of talent from across the political spectrum, including the former Labor premiers Kristina Keneally and Peter Beattie and the former Labor numbers man Graham Richardson.
Then there’s PVO – Peter van Onselen – a soft-right commentator who presents and analyses the news for much of the afternoon.
“Great news, this has the potential to become The O’Reilly Factor of Australia,” wrote one of Bolt’s fans on his blog about the news.
“Perfect fit Andrew,” said another. “Once a week was always insufficient at 10 and Sky offers the best resources to present The Bolt Report. Congratulations and look forward to the relaunch in May.”
But Bolt and Sky had better not start celebrating too soon if commenters are any indication. Many of them bemoaned the fact that they don’t have and can’t afford to get pay TV.
A sample: “No Foxtel so is there [an] option to watch online instead?”
“Please advise availability of reception as cannot afford Foxtel ...!”
“PS, how do we pick up Sky News on the net?”

Friday, 25 March 2016

Coalition still counting Abbott-era 'savings', but renewable grants roll on

Extract from The Guardian

In his clean energy announcement Malcolm Turnbull continues to claim $1.3bn in energy grant savings that have not been passed by parliament

Wind turbines at the Infigen Energy wind farm located on the hills surrounding Lake George, near Canberra.
Wind turbines at the Infigen Energy wind farm located on the hills surrounding Lake George, near Canberra. The government has announced it will keep the Australian Renewable Energy Agency but has cut $1.3bn from its budget. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters
The Turnbull government is continuing to claim $1.3bn in Abbott-era savings from renewable energy grants even though the cuts have not been and may not be legislated, and in the meantime the agency responsible for them is required to continue spending the money.
The clean energy industry has largely welcomed an announcement by the prime minister this week that he would keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – which the Abbott government had sought to close – and retain in name but change the role of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena).
The Abbott government had also sought to abolish Arena and cut $1.3bn from its spending – a “saving” it counted in the budget bottom line even though the legislation implementing those decisions did not pass the Senate. The Turnbull announcement retained that saving, giving Arena a new role as administrator of a subsidiary loans program for earlier stage clean energy projects, using some of the borrowed funds of the Cefc.
But the Arena chief executive, Ivor Frischknecht, told Guardian Australia that Arena’s legislation specifies its funding and its tasks and until it is amended or repealed Arena is required to continue considering and making clean energy grants with that money.
“It is a big step forward that the government recognises renewable energy and Arena as part of its agenda ... that is tremendously positive,” Frischknecht said.
“But any change to our funding is subject to parliament, the $1.3bn remains in our act and subject to board decisions. The legislation obliges us to carry out the functions of Arena and one of those is to provide financial assistance, so we would have to continue to do that to some level,” he said.
“Whether we will lose the $1.3bn will be up to the parliament, and just as with any other legislation, groups can try to influence the parliament one way or another about whether those cuts are passed.”
The chief executive of the Solar Council, John Grimes, said Arena had received legal advice confirming that it was obliged to continue considering and awarding grants until such time as the legislation was amended or repealed.
At the moment Arena has only one board member – the secretary of the environment department – with the government expected to appoint new board members in coming weeks.
Greg Bourne, the former oil industry executive who was chairman of Arena until January, said the new board would be in the same position as his board had been after the Abbott government made the policy decision to abolish the organisation and cut the funding, but had been unable to get it through the parliament.
“We had to work within the Arena act, which meant we had to continue to consider project ideas and fund them. The directors will have to continue to follow the purpose of the act and weigh up projects and fund those they consider worthy. To crystallise those savings the government needs the legislation to pass.”
Under the Turnbull government’s new policy Arena will co-manage a new Clean Energy Investment Fund set up underneath the CEFC, with a mandate to lend to earlier stage and slightly riskier projects, and generate a slightly lower rate of return.
It provides some certainty to both organisations which had been on “death row” for years, but means no grant funding will be available for very early stage projects that do not yet generate a return.
Bourne said he believed renewable energy development needed “grants, debts and equity”.
The government has said Arena will continue to manage its existing projects and will finalise the $100m in large-scale solar grants.
Turnbull said on Wednesday the decision to shift to debt and equity-based funding was a deliberate shift.
“This reflects a very big change in the way the government ... is now approaching this type of investment,” he said. “Historically ... the federal government has been very much like an ATM, it’s been making grants ... without, frankly, a lot of follow-up as to whether it’s effective.
“We believe ... the government should seek to be a partner and investor, seek to get a return. It doesn’t have to get the same high return that a private venture capital firm or a private bank would seek to get. It can get a very long-term return but, in doing that, by ensuring that you take a more economic approach, you will ensure that you have a much more rigorous analysis and that you will get a better quality of investment and a better quality of project.”
The $1.3bn in “savings” remains available – despite Arena continuing to dole out grants in the two years since the Abbott government original tried to take the money back – because Arena also cancelled some earlier grants.