Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Road to ruin for traditional Labor Party

Julia Gillard and her senior colleagues are confident that Labor's political fortunes will begin to improve when the carbon tax kicks in on July 1 next year. They believe much of the electorate will appreciate the compensation package, which accompanies the tax, and realise that opposition to Labor's climate change agenda has been nothing but a scare campaign.

Maybe the Prime Minister and her advisers are correct. However, there is another possible scenario. Namely, that the introduction of the carbon tax, leading to an emissions trading scheme, on July 1, 2012, takes place at a time of rising unemployment at 6 per cent or higher. This could cause serious problems for the Gillard government just more than a year before the scheduled election date in 2013.

At the weekend, the Australian Workers' Union national secretary Paul Howes warned of a "major crisis in Australian manufacturing" leading to significant job losses. Yesterday, BlueScope Steel announced significant redundancies at its plants in Port Kembla in NSW and Hastings in Victoria. There are likely to be more job losses in manufacturing due to many causes - including the high value of the Australian dollar.

They will come on top of redundancies already occurring in the retail, hospitality and financial services sectors. All four sectors are labour intensive. So it is not unreasonable to assume that unemployment will increase in the medium term. The situation would worsen if there is another significant economic downturn in the North Atlantic.

What was striking about the "Convoy of No Confidence" that rolled into Canberra yesterday was how many protesters looked like one-time traditional Labor voters. Not many employees or independent contractors can find the time or the money to travel to Canberra for a demonstration and the turnout was not large.

Nevertheless, the convoy symbolised how Labor - under pressure from its own left wing, the Greens and the independents - has alienated much of its traditional voting base.

On ABC radio yesterday, Deborah Cameron described the convoy as "anti-everything". This misses the point. Sure, elements of the convoy oppose the carbon tax and/or the ban on live cattle exports and/or the proposed restrictions on gambling in licensed clubs and/or same sex marriage. But what united the convoy is that - to a man and woman - all the protesters want an election. Now.

Some of the convoy leaders do not understand that the constitutional requirements of a double dissolution have not been met. Yet the conditions do exist whereby the Prime Minister could advise the Governor-General that a normal election should be held.

Judging by the comments from Labor ministers and the press gallery, Tony Abbott has set the political agenda like no Opposition Leader since Labor's Gough Whitlam in the early 1970s. However, Labor's essential problems stem from its own policies.

What makes a carbon tax so hard to sell are rising energy prices and the fear that they will increase further under a carbon tax. This is of special concern to individuals in insecure jobs and/or on low incomes. The proposed pokies tax - designed to appease independent Andrew Wilkie - is hitting at Labor's heartland in the outer suburbs and regional centres where clubs provide much-needed entertainment.

Inner-city types, including some conservatives, tend to favour same-sex marriage and quite a few commentators are quick to sneer at Christians who regard marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But talk to some Labor MPs in suburban seats and they will recount, in confidence, how many Muslims and Hindus are offended by the concept.

Last week there was some excitement when the AC Nielsen poll indicated a slight increase in Labor's support. But former Labor operative Graham Richardson put the matter in perspective when he commented: "I never thought I would live to see the day when Labor went up two points in the polls and still only got to a miserable 28 per cent."

Gillard's support collapsed when the carbon tax was announced in February. Labor may recover. But it is difficult to see how when it seems to be alienating traditional Labor supporters in suburban and regional Australia.

In Canberra and the US, trade union leaders are not advocating an emissions trading scheme. Yet in Australia, ACTU leaders Jeff Lawrence and Ged Kearney are calling for the introduction of a carbon tax at a time of growing unemployment.

Meanwhile the Labor government, by re-regulating the industrial relations system, is making it less attractive to hire workers.

The protesters in the Canberra convoy may not be sophisticated in many ways. But they do know that, in the present economic situation with the prospect of increasing unemployment, the introduction of a carbon tax doesn't make sense.


Do-gooders attack a responsible parent

A MOTHER made her child sit in public with a sign pinned to his shirt that said: "Do not trust me. I will steal from you as I am a thief."

The boy, thought to be aged about 10, was also wearing Shrek ears and writing lines in what appeared to a form of public punishment, according to dozens of witnesses who contacted the Townsville Bulletin.

The boy spent almost an hour on Sunday near a popular waterpark in Townsville while his family ate lunch nearby, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Diane Mayers was so "horrified" when she saw the boy she contacted Child Safety Services to intervene.

Ms Mayers, who worked with the department in the past, said any long-term effects of public humiliation would have been much worse than physical abuse.

"The boy just kept his head down and was staring at the ground," she said. "The parents had gone to all the trouble of printing two copies of the sign - one for the back and one for the front - and laminating them. A lot of work had gone in to it.

"A lot of people walked past and were laughing at him, including boys who would have been his age.

"At one point the boy had taken off the Shrek ears. My daughter walked past and heard the mother say, 'Put them back on or I'll smack your head in'."


Rogue union loses one

THE Federal Court has ordered militant unionist Joe McDonald and his Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union to pay oil and gas giant Woodside more than $1.5 million in compensation over strikes at the company's $12 billion Pluto project in the Pilbara.

In one of the biggest penalties handed out to a union, the court ordered the CFMEU and Mr McDonald, the union's West Australian assistant secretary, to never engage in illegal industrial action at Woodside's state sites.

At least 1200 construction workers employed by contractors on the Pluto LNG project did not show up for work on December 1 and 2, 2009, in protest at Woodside's introduction of "motelling", under which fly-in fly-out workers were forced to change their standard accommodation at the end of each four-week shift.

In a consent ruling, the CFMEU and Mr McDonald admitted they had engaged in and encouraged the unlawful strikes. CFMEU state secretary Kevin Reynolds said yesterday the union had made a pragmatic decision to avoid much larger costs and fines had they continued to contest the case.

But Mr Reynolds, who retires at the end of the year, was defiant. "There was no doubt the workers took action that was unprotected industrial action, but what are they supposed to do?" he said. "Are we supposed to lay down and cop it from these employers, whatever they want to do?"

The court "permanently restrained" the CFMEU and Mr McDonald from engaging in unprotected industrial action at the Pluto site, the North West Shelf project and the Browse Basin.

The CFMEU was ordered to pay $1.5m in compensation to Woodside and up to $500,000 of costs the company may incur as a result of claims by contractors over the strike.

The union was also fined $71,500 and Mr McDonald $14,000. Woodside said it welcomed the decision.


No love for gay marriage among Queensland MPs

Queensland federal MPs have overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to same-sex marriage, buoying conservative Christian lobbyists ahead of tomorrow's discussion of the issue in the House of Representatives.

But marriage equality campaigners say they are undeterred because some major party MPs support change but are not yet ready to say so publicly.

On the eve of tomorrow’s parliamentary gay marriage discussion, brisbanetimes.com.au asked each of Queensland’s 30 federal members about their position.

Of the 17 MPs who replied, 10 stated their clear opposition to same-sex marriage, three did not outline their personal views and three refused to comment.

The remaining member, Labor’s Moreton MP Graham Perrett, who has two gay brothers and has previously voiced support for same-sex marriage, was far from emphatic in his comments.

“As I have stated publicly before, I believe the state should protect all committed, monogamous relationships,” he told brisbanetimes.com.au.

“Whether there is mood for change in the community is another matter as I suspect most people are more concerned with cost of living pressures, quality health care for their families and a strong national economy.”

The comments follow intense lobbying by both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage, as momentum gathers within the Labor party for MPs to be allowed at least an open vote on the issue.

MPs from across the political spectrum will tomorrow be given time in the House of Representatives to report on the views of their electorates on gay marriage.

The discussion follows last year’s motion by Greens MP Adam Bandt urging colleagues to consult their communities on the issue, amid opinion polls showing majority public support for marriage equality.

The brisbanetimes.com.au survey revealed few Queensland MPs from either the Labor or Liberal National parties were prepared to buck their respective leader’s anti-gay-marriage stance.

Many of those who ignored the questions have previously put their opposition to gay marriage on the public record.

Community 'tired of the issue'

Australian Christian Lobby Queensland director Wendy Francis said she had been lobbying parliamentarians and believed they were generally opposed to changing marriage laws.

“Some of the polls would indicate that Australians are accepting of same-sex marriage but what MPs are finding is that people who are contacting them are saying marriage should remain between a man and a woman,” she said.

“I think the community is tired of the issue because I don’t think the community sees it as an important issue.”

But Brisbane-based marriage equality advocate Shelley Argent said the issue was important to the gay and lesbian community and would cost the government nothing to implement.

The Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays spokeswoman said the “silent majority” supported allowing same-sex couples to marry, as reflected in national Galaxy opinion polls.

Mrs Argent, who is in Canberra speaking to MPs this week, said some politicians were “frightened” to speak out in support of marriage equality because others in their parties opposed it.

“I think it’s mostly the ‘against’ ones that are answering these surveys; it’s not a representation of what MPs think,” she said.

Australian Marriage Equality campaign director Rodney Croome said some Labor MPs were staying quiet until the party’s national conference in December, given Prime Minister Julia Gillard had repeatedly stated her opposition.

“I do quite a bit of lobbying in Parliament House ... and the impression I get is that there’s much more diverse support than that would indicate amongst Labor and Coalition MPs,” Mr Croome said.

“Again, I can think of a few [Labor MPs] and some Liberals who privately support it but aren’t willing to say so.”

Politicians tight-lipped

Numerous MPs ignored brisbanetimes.com.au’s questions, sent last week, asking them about what they had done to consult their communities, what they had found, and what their personal view was.

Liberal National Party MP for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro, did not respond, but has previously revealed that of 1120 people who answered her own survey, 73 per cent backed same-sex marriage.

Labor MP for Petrie Yvette D'Ath did not reveal her personal position but said she would represent her constituents and keep listening.

“I will continue to gain the views of my electorate in the lead up to the ALP national conference at the end of this year,” she said.

LNP MP Ken O’Dowd, whose central Queensland seat of Flynn includes Gladstone, said marriage should remain between a man and a woman, but he would support civil unions.

“Recent polling and people who have contacted our office indicates that the electorate of Flynn is about 90 per cent against same-sex marriages,” he said.

“Of course there have been many emails received at our offices from people who are not on the roll in Flynn but who are pretending that they are.”

However, in the adjoining electorate of Capricornia, Labor MP Kirsten Livermore appears to be more open to allowing same-sex marriage.

Ms Livermore did not respond to questions from brisbanetimes.com.au, but the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin last year reported she would back gay marriage if a conscience vote was allowed.

“I would vote yes, in favour of homosexual marriage,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

Federal Labor Member for Blair Shayne Neumann said he supported his party’s position that the current definition of marriage should be retained, after hundreds of constituents had emailed, phoned, faxed, written letters and spoken to him about the issue.

“The numbers in Blair are running in excess of three to one in favour of the retention of the current law which states marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said.

Coalition frontbencher Peter Dutton’s spokesman said the MP would not answer the questions because “we don’t respond to surveys”, while Longman MP Wyatt Roy also declined to comment.

Outspoken Queensland cross-bench MP Bob Katter, who told an anti-gay-marriage rally in Canberra last week the idea should be ridiculed, went quiet following the event.

A spokeswoman said Mr Katter “would not be commenting further on this matter because he is devoting his time to matters of more serious significance”.

Growing momentum

Both major parties oppose same-sex marriage, but the Labor party is set to debate it at its national conference in December amid a growing push from within the party to support it.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh last year revealed to brisbanetimes.com.au she supported same-sex marriage and the state branch this year voted to give in-principle backing to the concept.

The LNP state conference voted against same-sex marriage last month, but state leader Campbell Newman has voiced his personal support.

Mrs Francis said the ideal environment was for a child to be raised by a married mother and father.

"One of the things for me is, where does it end? Why do we need to change marriage and then where do we draw the line [when talking about further changes to the Marriage Act]?" Mrs Francis said.

However, Mrs Argent said MPs had nothing to worry about from backing marriage equality, pointing to the short-term controversy over same-sex surrogacy laws in Queensland.

“In Queensland when we had the surrogacy legislation ... we had the right-wingers there up in arms big time ... but as soon as the legislation went through they all took their placards and went home. Children are fine. Nothing happened.


1 comment:

Paul said...

I'll say it again: The manufactured issue of "Gay Marriage" (whatever that is ultimately supposed to entail) is a distraction issue that loses its value to both sides once it is "approved" (assuming it most likely will be...great way for Gillard to divide city from country). I wonder how many supposed grassroots organizations are fund-raising over both sides of this issue. What a lurk that would be.