Monday, June 21, 2010

Labor party defeat in NSW State by-election sends PM Rudd a message on asylum-seekers

Every federal Liberal who went to Penrith to campaign reported that voters raised two issues; Rudd and boatpeople. Joe Hockey and Marise Payne both informed the Liberal caucus last week in Canberra about these concerns. "The boatpeople issue out there was white hot," said one Liberal yesterday.

Hockey and Payne did not raise anything publicly about what they discovered because they were afraid it might stir Rudd into action.

Scott Morrison, the Liberals' increasingly effective immigration spokesman, has managed to bushwhack Rudd both from the Right and the Left on boatpeople. On the one hand he says people-smugglers must be stopped because they are putting desperate and innocent lives at risk. On the other hand he advocates a much tougher treatment of asylum-seekers if they do make it here.

As he put it, Rudd's problem is that he has nowhere to go. If he does change course, either way he must embrace at least one aspect of Coalition policy. Hockey and Payne's fears were never going to be realised, however. There is a view at the highest levels of Rudd's ministry that he just does not understand the voters' visceral reaction to the collapse of border protection on his watch.

Part of the reason I'm writing this column is that there are senior Labor figures who are so frustrated at Rudd's blind spot on asylum-seekers they see no other way to get the message to him than through the media: "We are bleeding to death on this," says one prominent backbencher loyal to Rudd. "Everywhere you went in Penrith they were talking about boatpeople. "And people (read Rudd) don't seem to understand that over in Western Australia they may hate the mining tax. But they hate the boat arrivals even more."

Two weeks ago David Bradbury, the federal member for Lindsay, which takes in Penrith, stood in the partyroom. Bradbury, the chairman of the caucus economics committee, is a widely respected figure in the caucus, regarded as intelligent, hard-working and above all well plugged-in to his local community. Bradbury warned Rudd just how damaging the asylum-seeker debacle had become for Labor in his electorate. He was followed by the equally respected South Australian member for Wakefield, Nick Champion. The message was the same. And critically the demographics of Champion's seat are the same. In other words the boatpeople problem for Labor is national in scope.

Most commentators attribute Rudd's speed-of-light decline in the polls to his backflip on the emissions trading scheme. But if you look at Newspoll closely you can date the beginning of Rudd's decline from his mishandling of the Oceanic Viking affair. It was that episode that stripped him bare as a prime minister unable or unwilling to take tough decisions in the national interest. The ETS retreat simply reinforced that suspicion among more voters. The wheels of the government had been wobbling for some time over asylum-seekers. The ETS was just the pothole where they finally fell off. No one in the early stages really noticed except colleague Dennis Shanahan who attributed the downward movement to boatpeople earlier than most.

Liberal scrutineers on Saturday reported two recurring themes; voters bagging Rudd in highly personal terms and anger over the federal government's loss of control over our borders.

It was too much for Labor how-to-vote volunteers at three of the biggest booths in the electorate. Halfway through the afternoon they ditched their ALP T-shirts for orange "Your Rights At Work" tops. In those three booths the swing against Labor was 30 per cent - 5 per cent more than the average across Penrith. Which must mean Rudd's attempts to pin a return to WorkChoices on Tony Abbott is going along just swimmingly, thanks very much.

With all due respect to Swan's limp attempts at humour on Sunday morning television, the message federally for Rudd from Penrith, and therefore from every equivalent outer suburban seat in the nation, is that the Prime Minister must change tack on asylum-seekers. Right on cue, the beleaguered Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor whose melancholy duty is to inform the nation at a constantly accelerating rate of the arrival of yet another boat, announced yesterday the beginning of the procurement of eight new coastal patrol boats in 2013. Two elections away. And when they are commissioned they will only "gradually"replace the serving vessels.

Rudd simply does not have that much time. "When an entire party's brand is damaged you're in very dangerous territory," one senior Liberal machine man said.

If that's true what does it mean for federal election timing? Many commentators were saying yesterday that the Penrith result meant Rudd would have to go early to put as much distance as possible between his poll and NSW Labor's state fixed term which is due to expire in March next year.

But here's an alternative theory. Why go first in the key battleground state of NSW and cop a hiding because voters have been waiting patiently to take the head off the first person who puts theirs above the parapet under the ALP banner?

Constitutionally Rudd can wait until April. In fact he mused about it on Friday before his office was forced to re-commit to a poll this year. One Liberal strategist who has run a few campaigns in his time put it more directly: "If your arse is on fire, you wait." That might explain all that smoke haze out in Penrith on Saturday.


State Labor on the nose in Queensland too

I am a bit surprised at this. Bligh is charisma-free but she hasn't done much to attract odium. She hasn't done much at all in fact, which is rather a good thing where a Labor government is concerned. The public hospitals are a disaster but what else is new? The big issue seems to be her moves to sell off government assets to balance her budget. Conservatives like that but the unions hate it and have big billboards up condemning it. So it sounds that it is her own Labor voters she is losing

LABOR's incoming national president, Anna Bligh, is an electoral turn-off in Queensland where her name is mud with voters in Kevin Rudd's must-win home state.

Internal Liberal polling, seen by The Courier-Mail, reveals the ALP brand is in trouble in the Prime Minister's own backyard which was pivotal to catapulting him to power in 2007. Voters are turned off when federal Labor and Mr Rudd are mentioned but their unfavourable feelings intensify when the Premier's name is raised.

Coalition strategists want to capitalise on Ms Bligh's unpopularity and will attempt to drag state issues into the federal campaign in Queensland.

On the weekend, NSW Labor lost the Penrith by-election with a record 26 per cent swing against Kristina Keneally's Government.

Mr Rudd is fighting to get on the front foot to shore up his leadership, which is being rattled by disgruntled MPs, plummeting opinion poll results and a deadlock on the mining tax talks.

The internal Coalition research was conducted by pollsters Crosby/Textor in two marginal Labor seats in Queensland – Longman and Forde – and the new federal seat of Wright. In Wright – where the Liberal National Party was forced to disendorse its candidate Hajnal Ban and order a new preselection – the party's brand still scored positively with voters, recording a plus-25 favourability rating.

In contrast, Mr Rudd's name scores minus-24 and the federal ALP has a minus-31 rating. But Ms Bligh comes in at toxic levels, posting a minus-51 per cent rating in the seat. In Forde and Longman she is in the high negative-30s. The net rating subtracts the percentage of voters who rank a name as favourable from the percentage who find the name unfavourable.

The Premier takes over the figurehead position of ALP national president on July 1 but her unpopularity could limit the role she plays in the federal campaign in Queensland.

Asked about the Penrith by-election results yesterday, Ms Bligh said "lessons would be learned". She wouldn't speculate about whether Mr Rudd would experience a swing in Queensland but she conceded there would be serious discussions between Federal and State Labor following the Penrith fallout. "Every time you go through an election, you sit down and work through what it is the people are telling you," she said.

When asked if the Labor brand had been tarnished, Ms Bligh said "these are tough times".

She said Australians were smart voters and differentiated between state and federal issues.


Rudd's big talk on health coming back to bite him

Hot air got Rudd into power just as it got Obama into power but when reality hits, the backlash is all the stronger

THE Rudd government is facing revolt over a key omission from its health reform plans. Labor stands accused of having no intention of finding extra funds for mental health, despite claims to the contrary.

The government was last night battling a credibility crisis, following the resignation of its top mental health adviser who accused it of having "no vision or commitment" for the troubled sector.

In a blistering resignation letter to Health Minister Nicola Roxon, National Advisory Council on Mental Health chairman John Mendoza said it was "clear . . . you have lost confidence in the council" appointed only two years ago.

Professor Mendoza declined to elaborate on his decision yesterday, but the walkout is a sign that simmering dissatisfaction among mental health experts with the government's performance has reached boiling point.

On Thursday, 60 mental health organisations and experts will travel to Parliament House to present Kevin Rudd with a letter protesting at the lack of action in mental health policy, although it is understood no senior government figure has yet agreed to receive it.

The turmoil seems likely to widen to other health sectors, amid claims that the trigger for Professor Mendoza's departure was a report through a Labor source within the past week that Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner had revealed privately that there was "no money" left for further spending on mental, dental or aged-care services.

A spokeswoman for Mr Tanner last night said the minister "absolutely denies saying any such thing", but other mental health experts agreed the source was highly credible - and the comment, if true, shredded the credibility of the Prime Minister's claims that mental health was on his agenda. Just on Friday, Mr Rudd appeared on Seven's Sunrise to declare that mental health and aged care were "the two big areas still to be done, and we're determined to get on with it".

Dental and aged-care experts last night said they were also "disappointed" and "frustrated" by the reported comments. One senior mental health expert last night told The Australian it was believed the government had between $6 billion and $10bn to spend in the run-up to the next election, and even since the May budget the sector had hoped to benefit. "I certainly was of the view that with the right proposals put in front of them, we would see a sensible move," the expert said.

"Other people in that circle of government had given some inkling that our turn was next. But he has formed the view there are no votes in mental health and he's not going to fund it." The expert said Mr Tanner's reputed comment showed the government's line that it planned further spending on mental health was "a straight-out lie" and the advisory committee was "a charade".

A spokesman for Ms Roxon last night rejected the criticisms, saying the government "has been absolutely frank with the Australian people that when it comes to mental health, more will need to be done in the second term of a Rudd government". "This is exactly what the Prime Minister said on Friday and what minister Roxon has been saying for some time," he said.

"The government's COAG investments are important in laying the foundations for our health system and setting the system up for further investments in mental health into the future."

Other mental health experts, including Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry, have backed Professor Mendoza's stand.


Green/Left War on Land Owners, Home Owners and Shareholders

The Carbon Sense Coalition today claimed that the war on carbon was just another battle in the long war on property rights by populists in Parliament.

Speaking yesterday at the well attended annual meeting of Property Rights Australia in Emerald, the Chairman of “Carbon Sense”, Mr Viv Forbes, said that Mark Twain was right – “No man’s life liberty or property is safe while parliament is sitting”.

He added: “The war on property rights is always carried out under the spurious slogan of “the public interest”. “It is always secretly serving a private interest. “Mainly it is being used by politicians to buy votes from swinging voters or to attract green preferences.

“Currently ‘global warming’ and ‘carbon pollution’ are their preferred vote winners. As these scams are exposed as grubby schemes to serve private interests in the carbon trading and alternate energy industries, new slogans will be found. “But always it will be an attack on the right of property owners to use and enjoy the security of their own property.

“Farmers have been robbed of their rights by bans on controlling woody weeds and regrowth on their properties. Seaside property values are being damaged by sudden changes in zoning laws and development plans using the excuse of possible sea level changes. Shareholders in mining companies have seen the value of their retirement funds slump under the threat of super taxes needed by the federal government to balance the books after the extravagant stimulus packages and roof insulation disasters. Real job opportunities for aboriginal people are destroyed by ‘Wild Rivers’ legislation. Fishermen are being deprived of the right to fish, and foresters are locked out of the forests.

“And at this moment many property rights are being trampled to force feed the unnatural growth of the wind, solar and natural gas industries, using various spurious climate excuses. Those whose assets are suffering include landowners, miners, tax payers, shareholders and electricity consumers.

Mr Forbes advised members of Property Rights Australia to focus on the real problem, which is in parliament. “It is not other property owners such as miners, gas producers and native title claimants who are your main enemy – they too have bits of paper signed by politicians giving them rights which are often vague and, too often, overlap and degrade your property rights. These overlapping property rights are at the root of all discord between various classes of property owners.

“My advice to all land owners is “Know your rights, get good legal advice, negotiate hard with other conflicting property owners, but keep out of court battles with them – the only winners in that battle are the lawyers. “Focus your legal weapons and court actions on government property invaders, and make sure your politicians feel the heat.

“And as the global warming scam is exposed, watch for their next excuse for grabbing control of your lives and property. “There will be one – bio-diversity, sustainability, soil conservation, ocean acidity, saving something cuddly, energy conservation, or, most likely, all of the above.”


Another bloodsucking Leftist outfit

Most of its donations go on "administration" -- i.e. cushy jobs for its bosses, one imagines. Reminds me of America's notorious SPLC

Monday’s list of political donations revealed more than just Labor’s burgeoning links to Chinese property developers the figures show left-leaning lobbyists GetUp spent a massive $1.2 million on political activity with the voluntary cash sourced from a who’s who of armchair activists and white collar unions affiliated directly with the ALP.

GetUp is helmed by 22-year-old wunderkind Simon Sheikh and runs a popular line in issues-based advocacy. Its professional social movement model has achieved a number of successes, most notably a turn-around in public opinion over David Hicks. Apparently, it has also captured the wallets of thousands of donors, who according to separate ASIC filings stumped up more than $3.4 million in 2007/08.

But there is mounting evidence that GetUp’s 300,000-strong army is starting to demand more transparency from the organisation. With the mass democratic ethos of the labour movement almost entirely absent, GetUp has resorted to polling its members every few months, giving the perverse impression that funds are being squandered in the interests of navel gazing.

The AEC list shows Lonely Planet founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler gave $50,000 to GetUp, while rich-list patriarch Boris Liberman parted with the same amount. But by far the most surprising individual donation was the $30,000 received from the Community and Public Sector Union, currently involved in an internal battle with its members to affiliate with Labor across the country. In 2007, the union also gave $75,180 to the ALP’s NSW branch.

GetUp has previously copped criticism for being too close to Labor current Labor MPs Bill Shorten and Victorian ministerial quitter Evan Thornley both served on the board before their ascension to Parliament. The sole ex-Liberal former opposition leader John Hewson quit within weeks of its 2005 launch. GetUp’s conservative cred was further eroded when Australian Institute of Company Directors CEO Don Mercer departed in March last year, a fact only revealed in the firewalled ASIC statements.

The CPSU donation would appear to cast serious doubt on GetUp’s claims to “political independence” which it has been at pains to defend this week. In a possible attempt to defuse the looming controversy, Sheikh penned a nonsensical column for the Canberra Times last week claiming he was now backing Malcolm Turnbull’s piecemeal policy on climate change, a long bow if there ever was one. He also heaped praise on Thornley’s new employer, car battery swapping outfit Better Place, claiming Thornley could single-handedly reduce Australia’s emissions by 30%, a ridiculous assertion in light of this damning CarPoint article that debunks the Better Place business model.

Thornley of course, retains strong links with GetUp, donating $14,165 of his own money in 2006 and serving on the interview panel that appointed Sheikh, as recently revealed by Crikey.

Annoyingly, GetUp’s annual reports for both the 06/07 and 07/08 financial years are both absent from its website, which also claims replacements for Thornley and Shorten are “imminent”, more than two years on.

But the core problem with GetUp is not its coziness with either the ALP or self-styled social entrepreneurs. It’s the aloof detachment from the grass roots networks that have always impelled real social change.

Along these lines, GetUp have been criticised for spending excessive amounts on wages and administration. The ASIC filings reveal a massive $1 million wages bill, an issue former Executive Director Brett Solomon was grilled on in 2007. The $2.2 million gap between total donations ($3.4 million) and political expenditure ($1.2 million) would indicate a significant proportion of total revenue is spent on day-to-day running costs.

Yes, all organisations need to pay staff and stock the photocopier. But the democratic deficit at GetUp’s core means howls of “taxation without representation” are all but inevitable. With over half of GetUp’s donations linked to a specific campaign, it would be interesting to see whether its members are truly getting enough bang for their buck. Opaque accounts and expensive surveys aren’t going to help.


My Queensland Cops blog has had quite a few posts recently.

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