Thursday, May 07, 2015

New Greens leader fires up after allegations the party's deputy leader was SHAFTED (but Adam Bandt says he's 'very happy' to be out of the job)

There's been a seismic change in Australian politics with a new Greens leadership team installed. But was one of the party's most famous faces shafted?

Relative unknown Dr Richard Di Natale was elected leader of Australia's third biggest party unopposed on Wednesday afternoon, following the shock resignation of Christine Milne.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was that Melbourne MP Adam Bandt will not return as deputy, with senators Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam sharing the position instead.

Di Natale and Milne faced fierce questioning over 'disquiet' in the party room that the leadership spill may have been rushed and that Mr Bandt had been 'shafted'. 

'I suspect, look, someone may be disappointed with the outcome. Surprise, surprise. That's politics!' Di Natale told reporters in Canberra. 

Asked if the quickfire leadership spill was to stop Mr Bandt becoming leader, Senator Milne told reporters: 'You have people out there saying what comes to their mind. 'The fact is that I'm not going to talk about the last 3 years in terms of discussions that have been had.  'What I am talking about today is how proud I am of the entire team and how proud I am that Richard is the new leader and I think he's going to do a great job.'

Mr Bandt tweeted that he was 'very happy to hand over Deputy' in order to focus on the demands of a new baby due in a few weeks.  He also wants to focus on winning seats for the Greens in the House of Representatives. 

Both senators said the leadership selection process had not changed from previous incarnations.  

Former party leader Bob Brown, a fellow doctor, praised Di Natale's leadership on Sky News.  'Richard's a very loveable character. He's a very mature fellow. 'I think he's going to be a very visible figure for Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten to emulate when it comes to politics.'

Dr Di Natale hailed the work of his predecessor but signaled a change in leadership style. 'We're different people, Christine and I,' he said. 'I came at this through health. I came not from a political background. 'I spent a few years as a GP and a public health specialist working in places like Tennant Creek and north-east India.  

'It became pretty clear to me that if you want to improve people's health, you've got to start looking at the things that make people sick. 'You've got to have a clean environment, clean air and clean water'.

Senator Milne, who spent 25 years in politics and famously fought the Franklin River dam environmental campaign, made her unexpected announcement on social media.

But Ms Milne won't leave the political field entirely, promising to use her passion and experience to continue the fight for action on climate change.


Christine Milne's departure a win for Tony Abbott

Even in politics it turns out that good things come to those who wait. Eventually.

That's how Liberals received Wednesday's bombshell resignation of Greens leader Christine Milne and her substitution with the reputedly more centrist Victorian, Richard Di Natale. "I'm no ideologue", the new leader announced in a spot of pre-positioning unlikely to be lost on hopeful Coalition MPs.

The Greens' switch was not a development the government saw coming nor influenced in any way, but it will be a positive nonetheless.

And it is one that could hardly have been better timed for Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey - just days before a pivotal budget specifically crafted to soften their hardline image set in their first bombastic budget, by producing a more generous pro-growth, pro-households formula for 2015-16.

To be fair, Abbott and Hockey have been pretty luckless in the Senate they acquired, controlled as it is by populist newbies and a Greens Party under Milne that was so anti-Coalition that it even blocked the re-indexation of federal petrol excise. This was opposition for opposition's sake in that it was a policy to which the Greens would otherwise be philosophically committed.

Indeed, under Milne, the Greens Party has mostly opted for the warm inner-glow that comes from absolute protest against Abbott, enabling its 11 parliamentarians to remain pure, unsullied by the grubby business of compromise.

Now, that could change. The medically qualified Di Natale is a political mainstreamer or, as one Parliament House wag noted, "he eats red meat".

The prospects for that fuel excise increase, which must be legislated properly in September, have suddenly improved as the new leader revisits his party's opposition. He is likely to conclude that taxing a polluting fossil fuel offers a triple-win: for the environment if it dampens petrol consumption, for the competitiveness of more expensive alternative energy, and for the Greens' own credibility in appearing to be constructive.

This is Abbott's opportunity. Central to his proposed recovery is his success in appearing more consultative, and a critical part of that is ending the hyper-partisanship in the Senate that has characterised the Abbott government since its election.

The change in the Greens' leadership offers the Prime Minister at least some opportunity to cast a new relationship with the third force in Australian politics. Of course, it wil never be close and will rarely even be cooperative, but even a small improvement in the atmospherics in Canberra will be pay dividends. And it will be noticed by voters, too.


Leftist media smear job about Abbott's arrival in Paris

Tony Abbott says he was not aware the gay partner of Australia’s ambassador to France was asked by his staff not to take part in an official welcome.

Mr Abbott today denied there was any rift between himself and the ambassador, Stephen Brady, describing the diplomat as a personal “friend”.

The Prime Minister said he had no knowledge that Mr Brady’s spouse, Peter Stephens, had been asked not join the official party that greeted Mr Abbott at a Paris airport when he landed there on Anzac Day.

“I have a lot of time for Steven Brady. I appointed him, our ambassador to Paris, I have known him for many years. He’s a very distinguished public servant — a very distinguished public servant. I’d even say he’s a friend of mine,” Mr Abbott said in Perth.

Asked if he knew about the alleged snub of Mr Stephens, Mr Abbott said: “No. I’m the Prime Minister and I don’t normally concern myself with trivia.”

“My understanding is there was some issue at the level of junior officials and I don’t concern myself with these things.

“All I want to say is that he’s a fine servant of Australia, a really fine servant of Australia. He’s a friend of mine, always has been and — as far as I’m concerned — always will be.’’

Earlier today, Mr Abbott’s parliamentary secretary accused Fairfax Media of a “disgraceful smear” on the Prime Minister by implying he refused to be greeted by the ambassador’s gay partner upon landing in Paris last month.

“You’re referring to an article which is running in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age by Peter Hartcher,” Mr Tudge told Sky News.

“I think it is actually a disgraceful article because it has the implication that the Prime Minister wanted a gay person not to greet him on the tarmac when he had arrived in Paris. I think that’s a disgraceful allegation. I think that that should be withdrawn. No such thing occurred. There are protocols in place which were asked to be adhered to.

“The Prime Minister has a very good relationship with Ambassador Brady and his partner. He had dinner with the pair of them that night. I understand he had dinner with the pair of them before they went to France, so it was a disgraceful smear, that article, and I think that the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age should have a look at themselves and they should be doing much better than that.

“My understanding of what actually occurred was that there’s a usual protocol, from my understanding, that when the Prime Minister is travelling with his spouse, then he would be greeted on the ground by the Ambassador and his or her spouse. In this instance, the PM was travelling alone and in that instance the usual protocol in my understanding is that the Ambassador would therefore greet the Prime Minister by his or herself.

“My understanding was that the Prime Minister was in fact greeted by Ambassador Brady and his partner and the Prime Minister was warmly welcomed and had no problem with that; of course he didn’t.”

The report surprised Mr ­Abbott’s supporters because he hosted a dinner for Mr Brady and Mr Stephens upon the diplomat’s posting to Paris. The Prime Minister and his party joined the pair for drinks at the ­embassy about 24 hours after the arrival on the evening of Anzac Day. After the drinks Mr Abbott and his team went to dinner with Mr Brady and Mr Stephens in Paris. “The Prime Minister was very happy to be met by ambassador Brady and his partner when he arrived in Paris last month,” a spokesman for Mr Abbott said last night.

The Australian was told Mr Brady did not offer his resignation to Mr Abbott.


Nanny trial: the devil is in the detail

Since the Productivity Commission’s draft report into childcare was released in July last year, the issue of whether nannies – or, more accurately, in-home carers – should be subsidised as part of broadening the scope of accessible and flexible childcare has been a hot topic.

The government has, after much speculation, announced this week that it would be funding a trial of in-home care for 10,000 children of shift- and emergency services workers, rural and remote families, and children with special needs. The anticipated cost is $250 million over two years.

For starters, it’s worth mentioning that this is not without precedent. A very small In Home Care program already exists. According to chapter 2 of the Productivity Commission’s report on childcare, there are currently around 70 in-home care approved service providers, and around 8450 capped places were allocated in 2012.

Broadening access to in-home care was recommended by the Productivity Commission, with the expectation that any in-home carers would fit within the auspices of the National Quality Framework — in terms of the required minimum qualifications and compliance with the other accreditation measures long day care workers are subject to.

The government has stepped away from this particular part of the Productivity Commission’s recommendation, instead requiring only that carers be part of an approved service and have basic qualifications, such as a First Aid certificate and a Working With Children check.

When this proposal was first flagged, I outlined here at the Drum why bringing nannies into the NQF tent is a bad idea. In summary, when a carer is hired directly, parents have a much higher capacity to be informed than they do in the rest of the formal childcare sector. Since the requirements of the NQF are essentially a form of quality control in the mainstream childcare market where information is limited, it makes little sense to apply them here.

Though the planned $125 million annual spend is a rounding error in a $7 billion annual childcare budget, it’s still worth asking whether the proposal is value for money. The devil is potentially in the detail – much of which we don’t know yet, and won’t know until the government releases the entirety of its childcare policy package.

Rough calculations suggest that this sum of money for 10,000 children is a per-child spend of about $12,500 annually (assuming that each of these children is a new addition to the formal childcare sector, and not merely switching over from one form of care to another). For the sake of comparison: the Child Care Benefit can amount to $10,000 per child in subsidy annually; the Child Care Rebate is capped at a maximum of $7,500 per child. It’s important to note that nobody is likely to collect the full maximum combined amount of these two payments.

It remains to be seen whether a child will receive the same amount of subsidy, a higher amount, or a lower amount, for in-home care as they would for mainstream childcare. Nevertheless, there is still a potential for inefficient spending, if there is no reduction in the rate of subsidy for second and subsequent children. Two children in long day care will incur separate and unrelated costs, but the same cannot be said of two children in in-home care: the marginal cost of caring for the second child in the same family is much lower than the cost of the first child.

A trial of an expansion of in-home care is a good way of testing the waters and seeing what problems may arise from a more widespread integration into the formal childcare sector. But it remains to be seen whether this careful and considered example of childcare policy is par for the course in the government’s brave, new, childcare world.


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