Monday, September 10, 2012

Greens' heartland turns against the radical party

AFTER a dramatic lift in electoral support over the past decade, rising from 2.1 per cent of the House of Representatives vote in 1998 to 11.8 per cent at the 2010 election and doubling their parliamentary representation from five to 10, the Greens may have hit a ceiling as their supporters appear to desert them in droves.

Saturday's NSW local government elections saw the Greens lose votes across a range of disparate groups and in almost every area of the state, from the coastal enclave of Byron Bay to the western suburbs of Sydney and the Blue Mountains beyond, and to the inner-city areas of Sydney that were fast emerging as a political base. While it may only be a series of municipal elections in one state, the problem for the Greens is that it comes after so many other recent lacklustre electoral performances and a discernible slide in opinion polls.

The Greens failed to perform strongly, let alone win, the recent by-elections for the state seats of Melbourne in Victoria and Heffron in NSW. In the Queensland and Northern Territory state elections, the Greens vote declined. The Greens argue their emergence as a third political force is only a transitory step towards being a mainstream alternative to the major parties. But, as the vast majority of voters seem to be content opting for Labor or the coalition parties for now, it must be time for the Greens to assess why it is that the voters are no longer going Green.

For too long the party has been content to operate in a political world devoid of reality and responsibility. The Greens make the incessant yet audacious claim that they encapsulate a holier-than-though approach to politics. But, as we have reported, the party is riddled with factions and is racked with internal divisions just like the major parties. The Greens evade scrutiny. They do not allow journalists to report the full proceedings of their conferences. They decry the influence of money in politics, yet accepted the largest individual political donation in Australian history -- $1.68 million from Wotif website pioneer Graeme Wood. When the Greens' party room witnessed a tussle for the deputy leadership between Christine Milne and Sarah Hanson-Young after the last election, it was not revealed until weeks later.

Although taking over from Bob Brown as leader would be a tough ask for anyone, Senator Milne has not taken the Greens forward by explaining how the party would fund its policies, showing it understands the vital art of compromise in politics -- especially over asylum-seeker policy -- or by developing an alternative mainstream policy agenda to interest voters. Instead, the costly list of Greens promises continues to lengthen, from implementing the Gonski Report on school funding to a National Dental Scheme and a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Criticising the Catholic Church, as Senator Milne did in The Weekend Australian, will also not help to win over mainstream voters. Meanwhile, the Greens want to shut down the mining sector, which has laid the basis for much of our economic prosperity and boosts the retirement incomes of many of its voters. It is no wonder that in the Greens heartland, stretching from Balmain to Byron Bay, the voters are turning against the party for taking them for granted.


Nauru ready for asylum arrivals

THE first asylum-seekers from Christmas Island may be on their way to Nauru as soon as tomorrow.

The Australian has been told Australian Federal Police officers and guards from the private company Serco will escort the asylum-seekers to Darwin tomorrow. From there they are scheduled to be taken to Nauru on Wednesday.

But Australia is yet to decide how long asylum-seekers will be kept on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island to ensure there is "no advantage" for refugees arriving illegally by boat despite a new written agreement with Port Moresby.

As illegal boats continue to come, Australian and PNG definitions of the length of time asylum-seekers will be kept in detention centres remain at odds.

On the weekend Julia Gillard and PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill oversaw a new agreement governing the transfer of asylum-seekers to Manus Island and processing refugees, but the leaders provided different interpretations of how long people would be held there.

After the signing of the agreement, which was designed to head off a High Court challenge similar to the one that sank the Malaysia Solution last year, Mr O'Neill said he hoped asylum-seekers would be moved as soon as possible. Rejecting any suggestion PNG was going to "make money" out of the reopening of the Howard-era centre, he said asylum-seekers would be dealt with as speedily as possible.

But in Vladivostok, before leaving to join her family after her father's death, Ms Gillard said the agreement ensured the principle of "no advantage".

"Even if you are a genuine refugee, you would not get a resettlement opportunity earlier than you would have got it if you hadn't moved by boat," she told the ABC's Australia Network.

"The aim here is so people don't get an advantage if they get on a boat, pay a people-smuggler and risk their lives at sea."

Although Mr O'Neill said PNG wanted people treated humanely and processed as speedily as possible, Ms Gillard said Australia had not yet decided how long a refugee would have to be kept to ensure there was no advantage in coming illegally.

"We will consult with the High Commissioner for Refugees to ascertain what the right amount of time is," she said.  "We want people resettled as quickly as possible, as does the Prime Minister of PNG and the President of Nauru."

In Nauru, there is an expectation the first of the asylum-seekers could be on the island by the end of this week.

An earlier deadline that would have seen between 50 and 100 arrive tomorrow was aborted at the request of the Naurans, who said the ablution blocks and catering services were not ready.

Sources on the island painted a picture of intense activity, with RAAF Hercules transport aircraft arriving daily with supplies and equipment.

The Australian has been told the tents to house the first asylum-seekers are up.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen declined to say if the government would begin transfers this week.


States shrink at culling bloated bureaucracy

TOMORROW'S Queensland budget will provide a true litmus test of the preparedness of state Coalition governments across the eastern seaboard to reduce the size of government.

With revenue growth weak, budgets in deficit or wafer-thin surplus, and as public sector debts continue to mount, cutting government spending is essential to help restore sustainable state public finances.

Since public sector employment costs average about 44 per cent of general government sector operating budgets in the three big states, governments should reduce their workforces as part of meaningful fiscal consolidation strategies.

But the quantum of the public service cuts that the O'Farrell, Baillieu and Newman governments have announced or implemented have been, to put it kindly, meek and mild at best.

In NSW there has been speculation the government will cut up to a further 10,000 jobs, following its announcement last year to reduce its employment by 5000 people.

Queensland has already reduced its public sector by about 5000 jobs, with the budget likely to shed up to 14,000 jobs.

In Victoria, the Baillieu government has announced two rounds of public service reductions totalling about 4000 positions.

While these figures may seem large in isolation, in the context of total public sector employment these reductions represent a drop in the ocean.

According to the ABS, excluding the tertiary education sector, there were over one million state government employees in NSW, Victoria and Queensland as at June 2011.

In effect the job reductions already announced or implemented by coalition governments in the three big states roughly amount to less than two per cent of total state government employment.

And a considerable proportion of the redundancies so far have been either voluntary redundancies or retrenchments of contract workers whose terms were about to expire in any case.

Apart from the actual numbers of employees engaged, salaries and benefits paid will also have a bearing on the ability of state governments to contain their costs.

The O'Farrell government has been particularly active in this area, with its application to the state's Industrial Relations Commission to limit public servants' entitlements following its decision last year to legislate a cap on wages growth of 2.5 per cent.

These reforms are a commendable first step to ensuring that public sector entitlements are not out of line with underlying economic conditions or community expectations, and should be considered by other states.

But as the Baillieu government has discovered through its pay negotiations with police and nurses, alternatively bowing to public sector union demands to be the "best paid in the country" only delivers unnecessary political and budgetary pains.

Clearly the public sector unions have marshalled a well-organised campaign opposing any reductions in public sector employment or entitlement limitations, regardless of the union membership status of affected employees or the state of the budget.

The conventional wisdom is that this campaign is wearing away the political shine of the new kids on the state political block, especially in Queensland where the LNP's opinion poll standings have fallen away considerably over three months.

While all three governments when in opposition rightly made the budgetary recklessness of their predecessors an election campaign priority, they failed to take the next step, then and now, to outline why future public sector employment reductions are necessary.

There was no explanation that state bureaucrats are funded by state taxes, or perhaps even by taxpayers in other states through GST redistributions, and that these adversely affect economic activity and private sector growth.

No mention was made of the fact that fewer skilled workers are available to the private sector, where they could be used more productively, when public sector employment expands as it did over the past decade in NSW, Victoria and Queensland by 290,600 people.

There was silence about the way in which extra public policy bureaucrats advising or enforcing taxes and regulations accentuate cost pressures upon private sector businesses and individuals.

Nor did the Coalition parties mention that frontline staff often deliver sub-optimal services, in areas such as education, health care or welfare services, that could be delivered more efficiently by the private sector.

In fact, they concurred with then Labor governments that frontline staff should be preserved as a protected species shielded from the winds of reform. It is in this deafening silence about the need for public service attrition that public sector unions, and others on the big-government gravy train, fill the vacuum by arguing for the disreputable position that government employment should be either set in stone or even expanded.

Having successfully wagged the dog of state Labor governments for the best part of a decade to fulfil their socialistic objective of public sector expansion, public sector unions are now waging a rearguard, conservative campaign to protect their membership base.

With Coalition governments finding themselves under intense pressure to pull back from trimming the public service to more reasonable proportions, the big question is will they concede to the statist agenda of the public sector unions?

The record so far has been rather uninspiring, but at least the first Newman budget should provide some vital clues as to whether democratically elected state governments have finally acquired an appetite for serious small-government reform.


How much will a degree earn you?

A good idea below

STUDENTS will now be able to determine the job prospects and starting salaries of preferred university degrees.

Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans will today launch the revamped MyUniversity website, which students will also be able to access from mobile phones and iPads to compare different university campuses.

He said the improved version of MyUniversity was timely given students across WA would submit their university applications for 2013 later this month.

"Going to university is a major investment of time and resources so it's important that students can make an informed decision about what and where they study," he said.

"MyUniversity gives students the power to compare courses and campuses, as well as the performance of each university, so they can make an informed decision that's right for them."

His announcement comes as new data reveals the Bachelor of Arts has been the most searched course since the website was launched in April, followed by the Bachelor of Science, Commerce and Engineering.

In WA, 60 per cent of applications to study at university were lodged by female students for the past two years, and 40 per cent from men.

Last year, the University of WA and Curtin University of Technology recorded an even split of female to male students.

Murdoch University and Edith Cowan University had a 60:40 ratio, and the University of Notre Dame, which includes its WA and New South Wales campuses, had only 30 per cent male students.

MyUniversity has received more than one million page views, with the website attracting up to 800 hits a day.


No comments: