Monday, January 09, 2017
Turnbull needs to be more Trump-like
With the rise of Pauline Hanson clipped by the woes of Senator Culleton, several contentious pieces of legislation passing through the ‘unworkable’ Senate, and his old foes in the conservative wing of the Liberal party falling to infighting: the end of 2016 gave Turnbull cause to hope that many of his problems would be manageable in the new year.
“Sure the budget is in as bad shape as ever. But it’s been 10 years of deficits now and no-one has been kicked in the pants for it,” he may have mused.
So 2016, which was either the year democracy died (along with every celebrity ever) or a celebration of the power of the people, is finally done.
Yet the significant changes in the body politic — both here and overseas — could have profound consequences for years to come. The trick is to distinguish these changes from the other important stuff that happened last year.
A good example of this is Pauline Hanson. It is too early to tell whether Hanson can hold her disparate party together now they have a sniff of real power. History is not on her side: as the Palmer United Party, the Australian Democrats and her own party’s prior struggles show.
Hanson may be just a symptom of a much broader fracturing of the political order that was established during and after the fall of communism. Though Hanson, Brexit and Trump are all viewed as right wing phenomena, they actually have the potential to be enduring because they represent new fault lines on the left.
One Nation voters directed preferences almost equally between Labor and Liberal — something unlikely for a party comprised of the hard right (even allowing for any personal anger at the displacement of Tony Abbott). By way of contrast, more than 80% of Greens preferences flowed to Labor.
Trump won because in the end the ‘never Trump’ movement didn’t split the right, while Trump managed to peel a large number of white working class votes off the Democrats (once their core constituency, now voting Trump and Hanson).
Brexit was even clearer cut: the industrial north east, a Labour party stronghold, voted decisively and unexpectedly to leave. The division in the Tories was obvious from the start — the bulk of the Brexit campaign committee were Conservative MPs — the division on the Labour side was far less so.
That is not to say that Turnbull doesn’t also have a problem on the right. Until recently, the Coalition held the right wing vote together in the face of increasing minor party success. While Labor shed almost 15 percentage points in its primary vote in the lower house between 1983 and 2016 (and 10 percentage points since 1993), the Coalition vote has only trended down slightly.
However, the key difference is that although more seats have flowed to minor parties on the left (the old Democrats seats as well as some from Labor) almost all have gone to the Greens, while the seats lost on the right have split between a number of parties.
This is why Labor has been able to contain the damage from their losses so far: their low primary vote is negated on a two-party preferred basis and the Greens give them a workable option in the Senate. In fact, for a moderate like Turnbull, if the Coalition cannot hold the right together it would be better if a single party gathered up all the disgruntled right wing voters in one place rather than the current mess.
Yet that will not help Turnbull this year, a crucial one for him as Prime Minister. It is hard to see how his business-friendly, pro-innovation persona could win over working class voters opposed to immigration and trade. So if the recent shifts in political alignment are enduring, Turnbull’s troubles will continue into this year.
The Hanson / Brexit / Trump fracturing is a true wild card. Turnbull is not Trump and Australia is not the US but the task facing Turnbull is similar. He must bring disparate forces together if he is to succeed this term.
Australia's foreign aid under scrutiny
Australia's foreign aid programs are facing fresh scrutiny after an independent audit revealed transparency reporting has dropped significantly under the Coalition Government.
The foreign aid budget has fallen to its lowest level in eight years at $3.87 billion and experts have raised concerns about accountability and access to reports and results.
Researchers at the Australian National University's Development Policy Centre found publicly available information on aid projects had fallen by 25 per cent since 2013.
This is despite Foreign Minister Julie Bishop vowing to introduce more rigorous benchmarks for aid programs in 2013, along with a stronger performance culture and investment decisions based on results.
Ms Bishop was forced to defend the aid program last week after former prime minister Tony Abbott called for the Government to reconsider payments to the Palestinian Authority.
Mr Abbott raised concerns the authority was diverting Australian aid to the hard-line Islamist group Hamas.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) suspended funding to World Vision in August after one of its employees in the Gaza Strip was arrested by the Israeli Government.
Crawford School of Public Policy researcher Camilla Burkot said the decline was "particularly disappointing" given previous audits called on DFAT to provide more information.
"It should not have been difficult for the Coalition Government to improve on Labor's record in relation to aid transparency, and yet it failed to do so," she said in a report.
"It is acknowledged that achieving a high level of transparency in the Australian aid program is a task that requires resources, attention and a certain level of risk."
In 2011, an independent review of foreign aid called for a "warts and all" approach to reporting to ensure the department was "as frank about our failures as we are about our achievements".
In a statement, a DFAT spokesman said the Government remained "firmly committed" to the transparency of Australia's aid program and would continue to improve the availability of information.
Improved transparency gives 'better value for money'
Aid groups and policy think tanks have been calling on the Government to improve transparency for years, particularly as the foreign aid budget has been cut.
In May last year, the Government cut $224 million from the budget after stripping close to $1 billion a year earlier.
Former treasurer Joe Hockey announced $3.7 billion of cuts over four years in 2014, or 33 per cent of the budget over four years.
Australian Council for International Development head of policy Jo Pradela said more information on foreign aid would ensure Australians understood how the funds helped the world's poorest people.
"Quite simply, the better value for money we deliver, the more people we can help," she said.
"Without high levels of transparency, it is difficult to monitor and evaluate aid work and so becomes more difficult to improve and create greater impact."
Lowy Institute research fellow Jonathan Pryke said improved transparency would reduce wastage and increase the value for money in foreign aid.
"Transparency around what the Australian aid program is doing and how well it is performing makes our aid more accountable to both the taxpayer at home and the recipient nations we send our aid to," he said.
Another triumph of hope over experience
Australia's first Aboriginal grower group has been officially established in south-west Western Australia.
The Noongar Land Enterprises (NLE) group has been set up by the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) in the hope it will maximise the potential for industry investment and international supply opportunities.
DAFWA project organiser Kelvin Flugge said the group was expected to run like other mainstream grower groups.
But, he said it was important to have a customised group for Aboriginal farmers as many Indigenous-owned farming properties had different management logistics to other modern-day farms.
"Consider the fact that some of these management groups are not like your typical Mum and Dad [run] wheat and sheep farms where they've probably got bigger over time to allow more family members to stay on the farm and work the farm," he said.
"We've got, in some cases, 20 members and in some cases 120 members so it creates a whole different dynamic for us and a whole different set of challenges," he said.
According to Mr Flugge, the establishment of the NLE has been underway for more than a decade, but has now officially held its first two meetings.
As a part of the initial set-up of the group, DAFWA's role is to source initial funding and create a strategic plan, which will be completed by June next year.
It will include farmers in Noongar country in the south-west of WA, which generally coverers people located from Moore River to Esperance.
Mr Flugge said the group had been formed at a time when Indigenous owned properties were increasing.
"What we've seen lately, in the last 20 years or so, is a marked increase in the number of purchasers, money through the Indigenous Land Corporation, who have been working with Aboriginal community groups to acquire land on their behalf," he said.
"But what we've found is you combine the recent purchases with the existing estates, and the impending Native Title discussions and settlements and there will be a number of potential Aboriginal Lands Trust properties.
"They will ultimately need to be supported to achieve some financial stability."
Mr Flugge said so far the peak group included about eight landholder groups, covering up to 24 properties.
He said many of these covered mainstream farming operations of wheat and sheep, but they were also looking at incorporating native bush foods into the operation.
"It's really important that we do maintain [the mainstream farming] so that we contribute to the department's own role in supporting the WA food sector and doubling the value of agriculture by 2025, but we want to capitalise on opportunities where there are global food demands as well," he said.
"While the mainstream farming concepts still stay with us we are looking at utilising the whole land asset.
"Honey is a classic one for us; it's really important we look at bush, bees, honey — it's a natural fit for us.
"And so is the deep sand where we look at a native tuber, we call it the bush potato or youlk."
He said they would be teaming up with other grower groups in the region to attract industry investment.
Hills parts with iconic clotheslines for good
HILLS has again parted ways with its iconic Hoist clothesline – but this time it’s for good.
The company announced on Tuesday it had sold its Hills Home Living division, which includes the clothesline and about 200 other products, to Victorian-based AMES Australasia. The sale price was not disclosed.
In December 2014, Hills granted Woolworths a 20-year exclusive licensing deal to manufacture, distribute and sell the HHL product range in return for a $2 million annual fee that was not linked to sales.
Less than two years later that deal fell apart with the failure of Woolworths’ Masters hardware chain, although Hills received a severance payment worth $6 million.
Hills chief executive David Lenz said the company had undertaken a strategic review of the HHL business and determined that it was not viable for it to resume the manufacture and sale of those products.
"The Hills of today is a value-added distributor of technology products and services and the company is focused on delivering security and surveillance solutions, audio visual, IT, communications and health solutions," he said. "It is important that we remain focused on our core business activities."
AMES chief executive Simon Hupfeld described the acquisition as a "tremendous development" and said "the many customers, employees and suppliers of Hills will enjoy the benefits of this new ownership structure".
The transaction involves the sale of tooling equipment and trademarks not used by Hills in its core technology businesses and a commitment on the part of AMES to invest in the HHL brand.
On a busy day for Hills – one in which its share price shed 7.6 per cent to close at 42.5c – the company also announced that a planned merger had been abandoned.
In mid-September, Hills said its health division would join forces with international healthcare company Lincor – news that saw its share price surge 22 per cent for the day.
Yet two months later those plans were put on hold because of "current market volatility".
The conditional merger agreement allowed either party to terminate after December 31 if an IPO had not been achieved, an option that Lincor exercised in recent days.
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