Friday, September 12, 2008

Nelson Making Promises He Can’t Keep

Every day that goes by it seems that someone else jumps onto the pensioner bandwagon. The latest to join the campaign to boost pensioner payments is Dr. Rosanna Capolingua, President of the Australian Medical Association. She points out that poverty is widely recognized as one of the key contributing factors to poor health, and that keeping pensioners below the poverty line is not only bad for their health but ultimately costly to the health system. This is yet another excellent argument to support something which should not even be an issue.

Another convert on the road to Damascus is Federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, who has announced that he will introduce legislation to the Parliament next week to award single aged pensioners the $30 a week that National Seniors Australia have been requesting. Despite the fact that this is a most worthy cause, it’s hard not to think this is yet another cynical exercise in populist politics from Dr. Nelson. He knows very well that the bill will never pass Parliament as long as the Government sticks to its plan to wait for the review of pensions to be completed next February. It’s nothing more than a grandstanding stunt.

The coalition had more than a decade in power during which they could have addressed the issue of pensioners living in poverty. But they didn’t. It’s only now that they can score a few points that they have decided to come to the party. It’s so blatant that it’s almost unseemly, almost a cynical attempt to benefit from the misfortune of others. It’s a move that isn’t fooling anybody.
If Brendan Nelson really wanted to get this through he could always offer to do a deal with the government to allow the luxury car tax and alcopop tax increases to go through in return. But unfortunately today’s politics is not about delivering results, only scoring points.

For Brendan Nelson, the sad truth is that it doesn’t matter how many populist proposals he puts up. His time as opposition leader is running out anyway. It has been reported that a move could be made against him as early as next Tuesday when Parliament returns to Canberra. It is certainly clear that many within the Liberal Party are keen to move on, and now that Peter Costello has repeated his determination to leave politics, many feel the time is right.

I wouldn’t be too sure of that, however. There is also advice being given to Malcolm Turnbull to be patient and allow Dr. Nelson’s leadership to run its course to avoid the accusation of not giving him sufficient opportunity to assert his leadership. That is a sound proposition, and in all likelihood Mr. Turnbull will not challenge until the point arrives when Brendan Nelson has exhausted his goodwill. That won’t be next week, but it will be before the end of the year.

So, Brendan gets another chance for now, Malcolm gets to be leader later, and meanwhile the pensioners still get nothing until next year.

I only hope I’m wrong about that last part.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Minister For Dirty Dancing

Well that didn’t last long. The new cabinet announced on Monday by Premier Nathan Rees has had its first casualty with the bizarre departure of Matt Brown. The newly appointed Police Minister held the post for just three days before being forced to step down following the revelations of an incident at a party in his office on Budget Night a few months ago.

Perhaps we are not in possession of all the facts, but putting that aside and judging by what we do know, was this a hanging offence? It is alleged that Mr. Brown, while under the influence of alcohol, danced on a couch, climbed on top of fellow MP Noreen Hay, and made a risqué remark about what he was doing in less than tasteful language. All this is alleged to have taken place in front of other party guests including Ms Hay’s daughter, to whom the colourful remark was allegedly addressed. In simple terms, the whole thing could be described as “horsing around”.

So was this incident offensive and inappropriate? Well, I suppose that is a matter of personal opinion, but surely the test of that would be if the people allegedly involved felt that way. The fact is that Noreen Hay has denied that it occurred. Even if it had, it would up to her to decide if she was offended and wanted to pursue any kind of action against Mr. Brown, or alternatively accepted it as a friendly although crass joke. And that’s the question: was it a case of friends fooling about at a party, or was it an unwanted and unacceptable mistreatment of a colleague.

Either way, it is an unwelcome distraction from the issues that really matter, such as the extraordinary economic mismanagement, the repeated episodes of incompetence, and the perceived links to corruption which really should be the focus of attention. It is those matters which need to be addressed and for which the Government should be held to account. The Matt Brown episode is a distraction that neither the Government nor the people of New South Wales need right now, and for that reason it’s time for Matt Brown to go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Peter Had His Chance And Turned It Down

Will Peter Costello please just shut up and go away? Honestly, I just don’t know why so many of his colleagues would be prepared to hand him the Liberal Party leadership after all of the ducking and weaving of the last few months. Yes there was a time when Peter Costello could have led the coalition to an election victory. That time has passed.

It has been widely observed that he is stringing matters out as long as possible as a ploy to promote interest in his new book which is due to be launched next week. Already some of the contents of the memoir have been reported, including criticisms of several key failings of the Howard Government such as reconciliation, a republic and Pauline Hanson. Attention is also devoted to the leadership saga which apparently saw Mr. Costello repeatedly promised the top job, but never delivered to him.

As well as allegedly criticizing Mr. Howard in his book, Peter Costello has also taken the opportunity this week to publicly lambaste the new Rudd Government over the economic slowdown. In doing so he has grossly oversimplified matters, ignored the global credit crunch, and pretended that he was not in charge of the economy while interest rates went up repeatedly along with inflation. Now the genie is out of the bottle and all he can say is “It’s not my fault”.

Increasingly, Liberal Party members are frustrated with the unresolved leadership question. Many would still welcome Mr. Costello as leader, believing that he has the best chance of success. But I disagree. After the election loss last November, the leadership was his for the taking. However, like a petulant boy, he announced he would be retiring form politics. Since then he has hovered around casting a shadow across the Liberal Party which is doing more harm than good. Perhaps it’s his own form of revenge for not getting his own way before.

So far, this whole travesty has been centred around the best interests of Peter Costello, not the best interests of the Party. Until Peter Costello makes his intentions clear, the Liberal Party is caught in Limbo, torn between the past and the future. It seems that the Party has been prepared to wait until the book is published, but time is almost up. After all this it has to be asked why would they want him now anyway?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Growing Pressure For Pension Increase

The financial plight of the pensioner is becoming a powerful political issue with increasing pressure being brought to bear upon the Government. One by one, Government Ministers are being forced to admit that the pension payment is inadequate and that they could not survive on the money. And yet they insist that nothing will be done until after the official review is completed.

Longer term, two things need to be done. One is that the pension needs to be restructured so as to provide a reasonable safety net, and the bottom line there is that it needs to increase. Second, the Compulsory Superannuation Guarantee needs to be reformed to deliver the benefits it was originally intended to provide. That means quarantining Super Funds from tax as they grow, and increasing the contributions at the front end. Those are the steps that must be taken for the long term.

But that doesn’t solve the immediate problem. The fact is that a single aged pensioner is about $30 a week below the official poverty line. The fact is that the Australian pension is below international standards. The fact is that Pensioners need help now, not next year. These facts are already plain to see and no review or inquiry is going to change any of them. That’s why Seniors Australia is campaigning for an immediate $30 per week increase, which they say will cost the budget about $1 Billion. But they are not the only ones.

It seems that Senator Steve Fielding is also pushing for an immediate increase, only he has called for $70 per week. Now this is the same Senator Fielding who last week chose to block the Federal Government’s planned increase to the luxury car tax. That move has denied the Federal Budget more than $500 Million revenue. The Government is not giving up on its tax increase, and plans to bring the legislation back into the Senate again in a few weeks. So, here’s an opportunity.

With the budget surplus topping $22 Billion, an increase for pensioners is not out of reach. Perhaps Senator Fielding could be persuaded to allow the luxury car tax increase in return for an increase to the aged pension. It’s just a thought, but while the Government has to depend on the minor parties and independents in the Senate there is an opportunity to push the plight of the pensioners further up the agenda.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Meet The New Boss

It’s probably a cheap shot to write off the new Premier and his new Cabinet line-up on the basis that this is not a new Government, just another episode of musical chairs. It’s still the same party with many of the same people who have failed to deliver on a long series of promises for the people of New South Wales. Even if we might be tempted to believe that new blood at the top, an entirely new leadership team, provides the opportunity for a fresh start, nobody is going to forget that we have heard it all before.

Only a couple of years ago, Morris Iemma stepped into the Premier’s job with a promise of a new direction and a change of style. It was a promise which was convincing enough to see them re-elected eighteen months ago. But instead of a fresh new start it turned out to be the same old serving of spin over substance. The people of New South Wales are entitled to be skeptical that anything might be different this time.

Of course it is true that there is an entirely new leadership team, and it would be wrong to discount them out of hand. New Premier Nathan Rees has the opportunity to stop the rot, and prove that he is his own man. Carmel Tebbutt as Deputy has the opportunity to live up to her reputation as a capable performer. Eric Roozendaal, the new Treasurer, has the opportunity to repair the damaged New South Wales Budget, along with the States reputation.

But none of it will be easy, and the question remains whether such a turnaround is even possible in the two and a half years left until the next election. Even if the new team actually is true to its word and works hard to turn the fortunes of the state around, there might simply be not enough time to show a result convincing enough to win them another term. At this point, the people of New South Wales can’t wait to get rid of them, and they are likely to still feel that way for some time to come.

The words of the old song by The Who seem to be appropriate: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Even if the new boss really is different his biggest challenge will be getting anyone to believe it.