Sunday, January 04, 2015

Labor’s long decline from glory to gutless

Piers Akerman

It’s Day Two of Year Two for the Abbott Coalition government but there is no indication that the motley collection of senate crossbenchers or even the once-grand Labor Party has any intention of letting the government govern.

It might seem incredible to most intelligent people but Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said last May there was no budget emergency.

He is, of course, capable of extraordinary stupidity, having once gone resolutely on the record saying in 2012 of his then leader prime minister Julia Gillard: “I haven’t seen what she said, but let me say I support what it is that she’s said.”

Right. As it happens, Gillard was in Turkey talking about whether her hand-picked speaker, Peter Slipper, should return to the speaker’s throne while remaining the subject of civil claims of sexual harassment.

It mattered nought for Shorten. He was behind Gillard, on her side, in her pocket, whatever the issue was and no matter what she thought.

It is easy then to understand why an individual of such vacuity might — after being part of a series of dysfunctional governments that repeatedly promised budget surpluses and failed to deliver anything but deficits — hold such an irrational view of the state of the economy.

Of course Shorten, having stated that there was no budget emergency, did not stop there. Like most fools, he went further, saying: “Australia is fundamentally strong, and so is the legacy Labor left behind.”

Having the effrontery to claim that the smoking ruin of an economy Labor left in its wake was “fundamentally strong” was funnier than any of the gags in this year’s Christmas crackers. It’s just a pity that the line was so tragically wrong.

Re-reading Shorten’s Budget reply speech now, seven months on, is soul-destroying but it’s worth revisiting in the light of comments made by the last three responsible former prime ministers coinciding with the release of cabinet papers from 1988 and 1989.

Having experienced the blighted Labor leadership of Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and now Bill Shorten, it is difficult to contemplate a time when Labor was actually led by individuals who accepted that they were accountable for their deeds and policies.

Shorten, who said last April that he subscribed to “thoughtful responsibility” and was cognisant of “what needs to done and going about the job of doing it” has done just the opposite — unlike prime ministers Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard.

Throughout last year — and with increasing frequency as his term as treasury secretary came to an end last month — Martin Parkinson sounded the alarm about Labor’s lack of budgetary strategy.

He warned that Australia was living beyond its means, with too much government spending on health, welfare and education.

He called for “politically tough decisions” like those in the 1980s to ­address the “structural problem at the heart of the budget”.

What a difference 25 years has made to the Labor Party.

In the 1980s, when Hawke was PM and Keating the treasurer, the Labor government picked up the challenge of reform which had begun even earlier when Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser and his treasurer John Howard commissioned the ground-breaking Campbell Report into the nation’s financial system.

When Labor began implementing some of the report’s important recommendations, the opposition, under Howard, gave the government its political backing and ensured those measures were put in place.

Recalling those times in an interview with The Australian, Howard said: “The lesson is that at crucial times you do need an acceptance on both sides … that bipartisanship around measures that are clearly in the ­nation’s long-term interest is essential if the long-term interest is to be promoted.

“There was only one sustained period — and even then not on everything — of bipartisanship ­between government and opposition on economics and that was the period we’ve been talking about (the 80s).

“Most of the reforms they undertook I supported (such as) tariff reform, financial deregulation and most of Labor’s fiscal consolidation … I did argue that Hawke should have gone further on reform in some areas.

“So, politically, adopting that (bipartisan) position made it easier for the government of the day.”

Former treasurer and prime minister Keating endorsed that bipartisanship and agreed that the ­opposition should support the government’s program, provided it was credible and in the national interest.

Australia needed to address the underlying structural problem in the Budget as spending in some areas had become unsustainable, he said. This required a vision, political courage, and the capacity to make a compelling ­argument to voters.

“Policy ambition and urgency, that’s the lesson for today,” he told The Australian.

“Without policy ambition, and without the core of the government believing changes are absolutely necessary and competently selling them, and doing it with urgency, then these sorts of tasks can’t be undertaken.”

Hawke said there was a need to educate the electorate about the economic challenges facing the country and to convince voters of the need for reform.

He said the deteriorating budget bottom line had to be addressed ­because governments “can’t just keep pushing up taxes”.

Somewhere over the past quarter of a century the Labor Party has lost all the residual wisdom displayed during the Hawke-Keating era.


CFMEU slapped with fines after bullying inspectors

BUILDING inspectors tasked with stamping out illegal union behaviour on worksites should enjoy the same protections as police officers against harassment and intimidation.

The finding from a Federal Court judge emerged as he fined the militant building union and 10 of its officials more than $200,000 for illegal worksite entry and intimidatory behaviour towards Fair Work building ­inspectors in Adelaide.

The case involved four occasions of unauthorised entry by Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union officials, including an aggressive attack on an inspector that was captured on video and examined by the royal commission investigating trade union governance and ­corruption.

Organiser John Perkovic faces the prospect of criminal charges for his actions at the Ibis Hotel site in May.

The exchange, filmed by ­another Fair Work inspector and the union, shows Mr Perkovic standing close to inspector ­Seamus Flynn and shouting he was a “f. king piece of shit” and a “c. t’’.

“You’re shitting yellow, you piece of shit,” Mr Perkovic yelled. “You f. kin’ coward, I’d f. kin’ take you to school, you f. kin’ piece of shit.”

He and a colleague had earlier responded to requests to show their entry permits by telling the site manager to “f. k off’’, “f. k yourself” and “grow some balls”.

Judge Richard White said ­assaults against police and other law enforcement officials were ­regarded as serious criminal ­offences warranting severe penalties, and he believed penalties for attacks on building inspectors should be treated similarly.

“Inspectors should be able to discharge their duties without harassment, bullying or intimidation from anyone, let alone from persons who are present on a site only in the exercise of a right of entry granted for a limited purpose,” he said.

Royal commissioner Dyson Heydon last month recommended South Australian and federal prosecutors consider laying criminal charges against Mr Perkovic, questioning whether his behaviour was legitimate use of industrial muscle or “the ­triumph of barbarism”.

Justice White described the CFMEU’s record of industrial law contraventions as “dismal” and indicative of an indifferent attitude. The union has been ­ordered to pay $180,000, with fines of up to $5000 laid against Mr Perkovic and each of the other union ­officials.


British asylum-seeker compensation claim rejected

A BRITISH citizen who smuggled himself to Australia almost five years ago deserves $140,000 compensation for his “arbitrary” detention while he pursued futile court action, the Australian Human Rights Commission has urged.

Samad Ali Jafari, a dual-­citizen of Britain and Afghanistan, did not disclose his British citizenship or the fact he had previously visited Australia after ­arriving on Christmas Island and requesting asylum on April 15, 2010. The truth emerged three months later, after his fingerprints were checked against border control records.

The Department of Immigration refused his visa application, arguing he could easily escape persecution by returning to Britain. An independent reviewer agreed, but his deportation was further delayed by an unsuccessful appeal to the Federal Magistrates Court.

Under the strain of boat arrivals, the Gillard government in October 2011 transferred thousands of asylum-seekers to live in the community on bridging visas. Mr Jafari was considered for this but rejected because of the government’s desire to deport him as soon as his “futile” court action was rejected.

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, in her ­report of the case, wrote: “Mr ­Jafari was detained for over two years and the commonwealth has not explained why he was not able to reside in the community or in a less restrictive form of detention — if necessary, with appropriate conditions imposed to mitigate any identified risks — while his immigration status was initially resolved and for the ­period of his judicial review proceedings were ongoing.”

The Immigration Department rejected the recommended payout, claiming his treatment was legal and did not offend his human rights.

The commission’s recommendations are not binding on the ­department.

“Mr Jafari was not honest and open in his dealings with Aus­tralian authorities.

“He arrived by boat at Christmas Island and failed to disclose his prior travel to Australia. Mr Jafari was a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom and had resided in the UK for up to seven years between 2001-09. Both of these facts were never disclosed to the department.’’


Auditors to blitz troubled national rental scheme

FEDERAL auditors have confirmed they are poised to begin a sweeping audit of the troubled National Rental Affordability Scheme, which has been plagued with computer glitches, delays and claims of fraud during the year.

The scheme has also been ruthlessly exploited by univer­sities and property developers to build housing for foreign students instead of low-income working Australians. It is believed the audit will focus more on the way the scheme is run by the Department of Social Services than the issues with its design.

The audit office has been eyeing a probe of the NRAS for some time, with the scheme listed among a range of prospective ­audits, but The Weekend Australian has learned it is now about to be “actioned”.

The audit’s terms of reference are being finalised, but documents on the Australian National Audit Office website referring to a possible investigation suggest a broad remit.

“An audit would examine aspects of DSS’s management of the NRAS in line with policy ­objectives, legislative requirements and the National Affordable Housing Agreement, as well as changes made to the scheme’s operations in 2014,’’ the office’s planning documents say.

The audit is not the only official probe into the Rudd-era social housing program.

Victoria Police is investigating allegations of fraud surrounding NRAS entitlements sold to charities in Victoria by a NSW developer. The incentives turned out to be useless as they could not be transferred.

The confirmation of the audit ends a troubled year for the NRAS program, which despite its flaws has been used to construct many thousands of reduced-­rental accommodation units and houses for low-income workers.

The $4.5 billion scheme provides a $10,000-a-year-per-dwelling incentive for owners prepared to install a tenant at 20 per cent below market rent.

The fact the incentive was the same rate for a unit as a house, and that the government at the time favoured large projects by big ­developers, allowed universities to seize on the program to boost their stocks of housing for foreign ­students.

The government has since sought to close that loophole, and has moved to stamp out an illegitimate trade in incentives where developers would stockpile incentives and then sell them to others for a profit.

Problems with the scheme continue to surface, however, with the restrictions on transferring entitlements leading indirectly to the fraud allegations in Ballarat, where several charities paid a bounty of $15,000 per incentive to a developer only to find the ­incentives could not be shifted to their projects because of the crackdown.

Then the bungled rollout of a new computer system in the ­department resulted in delayed payment of incentives in the latter part of this year, meaning that some investors had to seek permission from the tax office to file their returns late for the 2013-14 ­financial year.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Why do people like Gillian Trigg always get to lord it over us? She is unusually repellant.