31 October 2009

Dennis Ferguson

Perhaps now it may be possible to speak of this person and the issues surrounding him without being part of a lynch mob.

Dennis Ferguson has spent most of his adult life in Queensland prisons, convicted six times of sexually abusing children. He does not participate in rehabilitation programs. He attempted to settle in communities in Queensland which included children, and was hounded out of them. All of a sudden he popped up in a public housing facility in Sydney, where he was hounded out again, and was last heard of at Coogee and in a homeless shelter.

For the first time since 1840, New South Wales has accepted responsibility for a convicted felon from another jurisdiction. Yes, he has to live somewhere and it was clear that the Queensland government found it difficult to locate him in any community within that state without a storm of protest.

He did not have to live in NSW, and was not obliged to be a government responsibility by being accommodated in this state's public housing. He was not entitled, let alone obliged, to vault ahead of others in the long and time-intensive queue for public housing. Those who advocate more low-cost housing in Sydney have a harder time of it because of this stunt.

Ferguson's lack of remorse and his lack of rehabilitation means that children in the community wherever he might live are in danger. This is the pattern he has set and that pattern is unbroken. It is true that he has served his sentence, but this is no reason why he should be given the benefit of the doubt going forward. It is those people living in the community, going forward, who deserve the benefit of the doubt: Ferguson represents a real risk that children in that community might be abused.

There was a time when the rights of a freed convict might have trumped those of others in the community, and no amount of jowl-wobbling outrage from lawyers insisting that procedures known and practicable exclsusively by them vincit omnes will or can change that.

There was a time when sexual abuse of children was tolerated more than it is now. Those times have changed: people are acutely sensitive to the possibility of child sexual abuse to the point where children no longer play in the street or have unstructured play time to the extent that they did. The very prospect of child sexual abuse has caused far-reaching changes in the work practices of those who deal with children, even on a voluntary basis. It erodes people's faith in one another, and even in religious institutions that have not cottoned on to the implications of child sexual abuse as a serious, faith-destroying issue for people today.

Rehabilitating offenders and having them return to the community after their sentence is over is one of those issues that could always be done better. To the extent that it does happen, public housing communities perform an unheralded role in quietly facilitating this. It would be a mistake to assume that all public housing facilities contain all necessary facilities and goodwill required to effect prisoner rehabilitation; more could certainly be done generally, but for an unreconstructed and unrepentant offender there is little to be done. It is cynicism to use the publicity surrounding Ferguson to lobby for more resources: the worst type of cynicism, one where the means won't justify or be justified by the end.

Ferguson can only be accommodated in a community without children. He does not have the right to live where he pleases; the rights of children to grow into communities free of likely harrassment trumps those of this recidivist. Prison is one such; if there are others, then Ferguson must go there. Any community with children in it is a community of which Ferguson is unfit to be part. If there is no such community in NSW, then the NSW government can take no further responsibility for Ferguson and he must be returned to Queensland. If he is harrassed from Coolangatta to the Cape then this is an indictment of Queensland.

It was wrong of the Rees Government to think it was clever helping solve a problem for their neighbours by shunting this serial offender into a Liberal electorate (while I have no proof that this is its motivation, such is the position of the NSW government that nobody should believe any denials).

Fancy taking on a problem that couldn't be solved! What clowns.

30 October 2009

The slow tsunami

Conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, amongst other places, will see cause thousands of people to seek better lives elsewhere. The Australian government should be more proactive in addressing this problem.

When the tsunami struck in 2005 the then Australian government was extraordinarily generous to stricken nations and communities. It's not a snark against the Howard government to suggest that it was proactive policy: the more it could do to stabilise those communities the less likely any transmigration would occur, and thus it was less likely that Australia would be besieged with migration and asylum applications. It seems to have worked (in a national-policy sense rather than a party-political sense): the Howard government went to the 2007 election claiming responsibility for having stemmed a flow of asylum-seekers and refugees.

What has to happen now is the recognition that it is in Australia's foreign policy interest to do all it can to avoid, minimise and resolve conflicts that cause social displacement.

If Tamils believe they can no longer live in Sri Lanka after the defeat of Tamil Eelam, as appears to be the case, this is a foreign policy issue for Australia.

It's one thing for Australians to participate in military action with allied forces and what passes for the national government within Afghanistan; but there is an additional and distinct interest for Australia to limit emigration from the AfPak region. The Howard government was wrong to close the immigration desk at the Australian Embassy in Islamabad, but it was also wrong to limit it to a passive administrative role, waiting for applications. Instead, a role exists there for a proactive person, working with local communities and international agencies, to limit the number of people who feel unable to live in their own country and compelled to seek refuge/ asylum elsewhere.

Rather than reacting to events and displaying the limited focus that might have made him an effective staffer, Stephen Smith should be proactive and start wading in to these disputes. Backbench MPs seeking either promotion or a post-retirement diplomatic post should start volunteering to act as emissaries on the ground, in much the same role that Richard Holbrooke plays on behalf of the US government.

Such a role would involve tough and dirty work though, dangerous but hopefully not thankless, which may explain why nobody appears to have put their hand up for it. The sort of role that Alexander Downer is playing in Cyprus is a model for what could happen here.

This isn't about Australia being a global do-gooder; it's about solving a problem for Australia in a way that minimises cost to Australia.

This isn't about being a global cynic either, just focusing on stopping the outflow of refugees/ asylum-seekers (as with Rear Admiral Thomas' trip to Sri Lanka). A government responsible for war and social dislocation on a mass scale can hardly be relied upon to cut a deal to block the reffos (short of slaughtering them, perhaps).

Australian foreign policy should be about maintaining strong relationships with stable countries in our region; a country with mass social dislocation is not stable and incapable of providing much in the way of trade, pro-Australia votes in international NGOs, or anything else really.

There is a increasing understanding that the problems of our neighbours are our problems too, and that we need not consider ourselves obliged to sit and wait until the problem ends up within our borders, however they might be defined. The fact that there are thousands upon thousands of people throughout the world who'd like to come here, more people than we feel we can accommodate in a short time; that is our problem. Countries like Indonesia have their own refugee problems. Countries like Australia can do the hair-shirt rhetoric of "we decide who comes to this country" (this is what John Howard will most be remembered for in fifty years' time - discuss), but we need rhetoric to resolve complex social and international issues.

Far from being nakedly self-interested in seeking to solve displacement problems before they hit our shores, and without pretending to have the means to enforce "gunboat diplomacy", Australia could develop a reputation for helping bring about practical solutions to problems that cause social and political dislocation throughout the Asia-Pacific. We can overcome perceptions of self-centredness or blithe racism through ongoing, active on-the-ground diplomacy, practical action to prevent exoduses.

If we have to build a school here or a hospital there, this is better than having to build detention centres here.

This is the kind of foreign policy we could have if we didn't have such muppets, like Smith and Bishop, running the country's foreign policy. It's what could happen if Rudd wasn't so starstruck by bit-part acting in big-power politics (which is part of foreign policy, but need not be all of it).

This sort of engagement would also work its way through other areas of society and help avoid ignorant nonsense like this. Our options ought not be limited to one poorly thought out and morally expensive policy versus another. It is not so appalling being an Indonesian, or a Sri Lankan for that matter - people locked up on Christmas Island don't have the option of showing how well they could integrate with the Australian community, until they are dumped in it following successful "processing". The whiteness thing may be fairly levelled against Howard but it seems irrelevant when levelled against Rudd.

I agree that the distinction between people who arrive by boat and those who arrive by other means is bogus. Frankly, I would like to see "plane people" sent to detention centres to mix it with genuine refugees/ asylum-seekers in order to get them past their self-indulgence. I would like to see refugees/ asylum-seekers "earn their keep" by doing the sort of agricultural work Australians seem reluctant to do. You may say I'm a dreamer, etc.

27 October 2009

A little quirky

Dr Peter Phelps has hit the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. For someone with so much experience of political campaigning and media, he regularly makes the cardinal error of backroom advisors: he makes himself the story.

That said, this is a poor article. You have to get two-thirds of the way down to find that Turnbull's office received the email in question rather than generated it - none of us would wish to be judged by the emails we received. Matthew Franklin should have quoted Phelps' email more fully up front than he apparently did, explained who Phelps is in relation to Opposition staff and his background (yes, including his attempt to shirtfront Mike Kelly on "the Nuremberg defence" in 2007). If this is your idea of valuable content, Mr Murdoch, your paywall proposal is in trouble.

"You don't get news stories by trying to change perceptions, you get them by reinforcing stereotypes," said the email, penned by Peter Phelps, media adviser to opposition cabinet secretary Michael Ronaldson.

I have always hated the neologism "penned" but it's particularly inappropriate here: emails are not written with a pen, Matthew. Yes, I'm being a smart-alec but so were you by implying that the email had been written by Turnbull or one of his staff.

What follows here is not an assumption that Franklin has quoted Phelps fully, or fairly summarised his contentions. Where quotation marks have been used I will assume that they come directly from Peter Phelps' email and that Phelps himself wrote them, however inconvenient it may be for him to admit it: Franklin may be a hypemongering fool but let's assume he's honest.

It's precisely at the point where the stereotypes fail that you get real news. You can get through life with your stereotypes if they work for you: you don't need to read a newspaper at all if you live in a world where your stereotypes exactly match reality. While it's true that lazy journalists basically write stories that fit their stereotypes, it's also true that readership of newspapers that engage in this are in decline. The idea of the mainstream media as the conduit to the people (the stereotype, if you will) is unsustainable. It may be that the Rudd Government is among the last to be elected by courting "media proprietors".

People turn to the media for information as to why those stereotypes no longer hold, or situations that are so broad and so fluid that stereotypes are hard to establish in the first place (property prices are an example of this).

Some of us read more widely than the Australian mainstream media can provide in order to keep ahead of settled opinion that may not be appropriate; we might not be many, but we're not an "elite" and we used to be the very sort of people newspaper proprietors built their businesses around. There are more of us in marginal seats than you might realise, and by refusing to be patronised by dumb media we are regarded as "elusive" by both that same dumb media and those no brighter who second-guess them.

The stereotype is that the Rudd Government is doing a good job, and that Malcolm Turnbull is stumbling from one crisis to the next. The stereotype is that Labor is stronger than the Coalition on the economy, the environment, and all those other issues that change votes. If those stereotypes hold the Coalition won't win, can't win the election, Peter. You have to bust the stereotypes. This may mean that Glenn Milne might not want to lunch with you, but that need not be a great loss.

Stories worth pursuing should cover: "Fat cat public servants not caring about taxpayers, pollies with snouts in the trough, special interest groups getting undeserved handouts from tax taken from hard-working Aussies, a favoured pro-Labor contractor who seems to be getting all the work for a particular job etc," the email said.

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was the bipartisan support for polluters getting compensation under the CPRS.

The media might lap this stuff up, but the question is not what's in it for them: the question is, what's in it for the Coalition to point this out? There has to be a clear implication that the Coalition would do things differently, and better. Michael Baume wittered and jibbered away for a decade on this "wastewatch" stuff without shifting a single vote. Same with Labor: nobody recoiled from the Coalition at the last election (or the one before that, etc.) because some minister spent $20,000 on lunch. No such implication can be sustained without a clear policy directive from Turnbull himself about clean and transparent government, or using his backstory for good (e.g. "I'm so rich I don't need inducements").

In other words: policy, Peter, is what is needed here. Yes, Labor might pull it apart - but if you're scared of Labor you shouldn't contest elections at all (which is the position Peter Dutton appears to be taking).

As to stereotypes, Canberra fat cats (elected or not, Labor or Liberal) squandering tax dollars is politics as usual. Politics as usual means the incumbent government is likely to be returned. If the incumbent government is returned the media will go on as it has, but the Liberal Party will suffer, Peter (ultimately I think it will be for the best, but that's another debate to be had later).

"While policy discussions are nice, the simple fact is that in opposition, the majority of our successful news stories are going to be ones which are a little quirky and which draw the attention of journos."

For the Federal Opposition, policy discussions are "nice" in the way that it's "nice" to have a blood transfusion should you ever find yourself bleeding to death.

When an opposition releases policy (whether in the form of a speech, a discussion paper, an online forum or whatever) it is inviting people to consider how the country could be run differently, and better, than it is now. It dares the incumbents to assert both that a) things are as good as they can be, and b) that you can rely on the incumbents to make things better. Rudd himself and other senior members of his government get rattled when they have to defend themselves: putting the agenda back on the government would seem like a smart move for the Liberals.

Depends what you mean by a "successful news stories", though - successful simply in getting into the paper/being mentioned on electronic media at all? The Rudd Government shows that where it has nothing to say, it says nothing: the Howard Government also did this to effect when required. Compare and contrast with the dog-and-pony stunts of Stephen Fielding that have made him a national punchline (and even if they have raised his profile, he's not a serious candidate for government either).

A story that "draw[s] the attention of journos" is not enough for anyone other than the journos: some might ask you hard questions about policy that cannot be simply brushed away, followed up later by accusations of bias. Most of them won't ask hard questions: but all of them will report a failure to address a simple and relevant question as to how a policy proposal might (not) work. Yes, policy: everything else has been tried.

The definition of a successful news story should be one that positions the Liberal Party ahead of Labor as the most suitable government: not just one that creeps into a dying organ and is gone from sight and mind the day after it runs. Why bother with journos when you could be, should be appealing to voters?

Q: What do you think about Liberal policy?

A: I think it would be a great idea - and, in the current environment, a little quirky.

26 October 2009

None out of three

The next election will be called at some point within the coming year. It's becoming clear that the three issues for that election will be climate change, the economy and refugees. The Liberal Party is floundering on all three. On none of the key issues of the day can the major opposition party convince anyone but its rusted-on supporters that it has a better policy than that of the government. It has no basis to win the next election.

On climate change, Labor's policies (if you can call them that) on carbon trading and the Murray River is inferior to that shepherded by Environment Minister Turnbull to the last election. Turnbull can't normally be accused of lacking confidence in himself, but he should be more assertive on those positions. Even though they were rejected by the voters, those positions represent the kind of political groundedness (I can't think of a better word either) that a five-year blow-in just doesn't have: that kind of groundedness would be an antidote to the perceptions arising from Grech. The fact that those policies came through under Howard would have been enough to fend off disquiet from within the Liberal Party, and could yet be. Oh well.

On the economy, debt is a slow-burning issue as we saw in the 1990s. It wasn't enough to turf Labor in 1990, and it wasn't enough to prevent Labor getting back in '93, but by 1996 it was a dead weight that Labor was unable to shake. The same might happen this time: by the middle of the decade government debt might be a huge issue, but it was never enough to send Labor spiralling out of contention for the coming poll. Not yet, not enough - Whitlam had to work on his economic death-wish, as long as Rudd and Swan are perceived to be doing their best then they'll be right. Even a big infrastructure spend won't cruel Labor's poll standing if it sounds reasonably responsible.

Why has Turnbull sat on all those tax reform proposals that he sprayed Costello with in 2005? Why is he allowing Ken Henry to outflank him on tax reform - and worse, sending only dickheads like Abetz and Ronaldson to question Henry?

On refugees, anyone can "call for an inquiry" - it's the mark of a political amateur, if not a pissant, to call for an inquiry without knowing where it might lead or what it might recommend. Every other official inquiry into Australia's refugee intake, including those commissioned by the Howard government, has concluded that mandatory detention is (I paraphrase) stupid, counterproductive, barbaric and absurdly costly. It is doubtful that a Turnbull-commissioned inquiry would conclude much differently, more doubtful that they'd deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Turnbull can't convincingly turn back the clock to hardline Howard-era policies. Nor can he come out and say that refugees have the very sort of tenacity, initiative and guts that we want in this country, and that the boat/plane dichotomy is nebulous. The latter has the potential to snooker Rudd; he looked shaky on this question but the Liberals are in the business of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at the moment.

The Liberals can't create a clear difference from Labor on any of the big issues, and it's hard to see where any distinction might come from on the smaller issues - the Liberals have no Kate Lundy or Lindsay Tanner daring to grapple with big issues poorly understood. You might expect Greg Hunt to chart a different course, but he seems to be following the Peter Garrett route into docile oblivion.

Malcolm Turnbull has misled Liberal supporters with his claim that he could put them into, or within striking distance of, government at the first election after the 2007 loss. A barely competent government can only get less so in its second term, especially if rewarded with the big majority that appears likely: an incompetent opposition could stumble around indefinitely.

Even on telecommunications, a second-order issue handled supposedly by the Liberals' best policy-political brain - the party's position is a mess. A ragged defence of an indefensible status quo, championing the environment that was used as a picnic for American carpet-baggers and saying nothing about what telecommunications could be for this country - this is the worst strategic ineptitude since the rise of SA's Olsen Government. Minchin hasn't laid a glove on a vulnerable minister, and don't get me started on Abbott.

Liberals should not have accepted being put in a position where they could not put forward coherent and credible positions on the major issues of the day. They have not done the hard work in articulating what such positions might be, and how best to outwit a government that can be rattled if only it had an opposition worth the name. The quietism that led to victory remains in defeat. Because they haven't done this work, and because they've accepted less than the best (i.e. they've been conditioned by Howard to cop whatever they're bloody well given, and smile for the cameras), Liberals have nobody to blame but themselves.

07 October 2009

Fly away Peter

Updates to previous posts:

Update to post of 3 Oct: Dutton is starting to overplay his hand, it would seem. Gutless little prima donna! No self-respecting organisation should have to put up with this treatment, not from someone who has taken more than he has given back.

If he's such a scrapper, if he really was PM material, he'd fight for his political career. He'd take on beef-witted yokels like McIver, Slipper and Somlyay and leave such a trail of carnage through the LNP that it would have to be fundamentally reorganised. Stamping one's foot like Veruca Salt is not on.

The Rudd Government is vulnerable on issues like health, but I suspect it will take Liberal Health Ministers in NSW and WA a few years to establish credibility in this area. Right now, any exchange in Parliament - an irrelevance that only Annabel Crabb and "parliamentary theatre" junkies care about - would go like this:

The Shadow Minister for Health (Mr Dutton): Would the Minister inform the House about [very serious health issue, highly embarrassing to government]?

The Minister for Health (Ms Roxon): Oh yeah well at least I fancy my chances at preselection.

Guffaws from government benches, such wit! Squeals of delight from Annabel Crabb and Christian Kerr that their next columns have been written for them and they can get to the Holy Grail early, Michelle Grattan starts working into the night to give this some gravitas and fails, debate continues in a similar vein other issues until House adjourns.

Update to post of 6 Oct: Peter Costello has thrown his "weight" into this debate. First, there's the learned helplessness that catapulted him into the Lodge. Then there's the undergraduate "boo-ringgg!", in which he unwittingly invites comparisons with the next-biggest reform of its type, the GST. In describing the carbon credit exchange he sounds like a horseman out of Banjo Paterson trying to explain the motor car.

The thing about the bet is not just that it's a straw man (as if it won't change after the event - preparations always change after the event). It completely destroys the idea that Peter Costello was fiscally prudent. Talking about gambling big money like that also goes down well with abstemious Liberal voters in Melbourne's conservative eastern suburbs, and with anti-gambling campaigners like his brother. Way to go out: trash what little you ever stood for. You've really set up Fifield, too.

Worst of all is the flat-out denial of any need to deal with the issues surrounding Copenhagen until they come at us after the event: it's that engagement which must start before and during Copenhagen, so that our political system is better able to develop a comprehensive Australian response that doesn't cause or lead to social and economic upheaval. The whole idea of the climate change issue is that you prepare for events before they happen, not afterwards.

06 October 2009

Sticks and stones may break my bones but climate change will kill me

In criticising Malcolm Turnbull for proposing to do anything at all about climate change, Mitch Fifield realised he was out of his depth when he went into a defensive crouch, trying to pre-empt being called names for publicly emphasising Coalition disunity over this issue.

Never mind being a rebel, a dissenter or an outrider, Mitch. How about 'pinhead'? You think you're being careful and principled but you're just being a pinhead, and here's why.

In December 2009 (no it can't be put off until after the election) there will be a major international conference on climate change in Copenhagen. It's likely that this conference will come up with an agreement for regulating industrial and other human activity that affects this planet's climate, and it is almost certain that Australia will go along with whatever is decided. The Australian government has to go there with a starting position. That position has to be a sensible one, it has to reflect what will and what won't fly in Australian politics and it must guide the government in its negotiations. Politically, the government can and should be held to account for the degree to which the eventual outcome of Copenhagen represents Australian interests.

It's true that Australia emits a tiny proportion of the world's carbon emissions. It's also true that Australia plays a major role in international forums like Copenhagen. What you'll be deciding in November is the form that role takes. If you do nothing - the pinhead option - you don't leave Rudd with nothing to offer. You leave Rudd with no guidance as to what's the best interests of Australia over the long term (which may be different to what's in the longterm interest of the US, Europe or elsewhere). You also leave the Liberal Party unable to make the case it needs to make in order to win government: that it is capable of articulating and representing Australia's best interests.

If you don't give the government guidance as to what will and won't work for Australia, Rudd will just go and do whatever the hell he likes - like Billy Hughes at Versailles in 1919, like crazy Herb Evatt and rorty Frank Forde at the founding of the UN in San Francisco in 1945, Rudd and Wong will make it up as they go along and will come up with a policy that gives Labor the political initiative. the difference with those other examples of major international conferences like those is that Copenhagen will give them a walk-up start at every federal election for a generation.

It's entirely possible that you decide one thing in November, and have to decide something else next February in response to Copenhagen. This might see terribly confusing if you're new to politics but when you've been around politics as long as I have, Mitch, you know that Parliament post-dates the impact of its pronouncements. It doesn't just vote on an issue and lo, it becomes so. People won't look at what comes out of Canberra in November, start gearing up for that, and then get blindsided by Copenhagen, the US Congress, and whatever else to the point where they become discombobulated. The vote in November is crucial in framing the debate, in Copenhagen and afterward, at the election.

The trouble with the learned helplessness of waiting for Copenhagen, for the US legislation and for whatever other excuse you might come up with for dithering (what about after the Victorian fire season, Mitch? Not too soon after because it would be "too early to tell", then the election will be upon you and you won't make a decision then either, etc.), is that you can't go to the people of Australia and represent yourselves as being able to handle the big issues. Making a decision in November doesn't put Australia out in front of everyone else - as Ross Garnaut said, there is no way Australia can get out in front of everyone else. For the Liberals to be part of that decision puts the Liberals into serious contention for government in a way that it isn't, and can't be, with the dithering pinhead option.

So much for the politics of dithering: there is hope in action, Mitch, only in action; dithering will only get you screwed.

Wilson Tuckey knows that he has become a national punchline with his outbursts on this issue, and the others who have spoken out against Turnbull - Alby Schultz, Dennis Jensen et al. - are people with no future. Mitch is shadow parly sec for something or other and should be punted, with a polite request to Victorian Liberal Senate preselectors to please adopt a Swans-like 'no pinheads' policy and trade Mitch to Family First or something (if they up the ante, throw in Julian McGauran). Was there any sort of political calculus as to the course of action most conducive to increasing the Liberal vote? Did Mitch do anything similar in terms of maximising his own credibility? Politicians might love getting their fat heads on the telly but Mitch did himself, nor the Liberal Party as a whole, no favours. Fancy being set up by Wilson Tuckey! What a pinhead.

He needed to come up with a course of action other than dithering, a course of action both popular and sound in policy terms, if he were to speak out. In other words, Mitch Fifield should only have spoken out if he were capable of more than Mitch Fifield is capable. He's played a high-stakes game against a man who played such games with Kerry Packer and Margaret Thatcher before he was as old as Mitch Fifield is now. See, I told you he was a pinhead.

Even reporting on Fifield and taking him seriously makes you look like a pinhead: how long has Michelle Grattan been in Canberra? Insignficant backbencher speaks out shock could scarcely be any less significant. It simply is not news. The fact that Labor has gone to ground so that Liberal divisions become the issue is no excuse for not remembering that they are the government and it is they who are to account for the actions of government. It is lazy journalism to accept Labor's unavailability and to go on about the Liberals because their scent - of fear, mainly - is more pungent right now.

03 October 2009

Obvious talent

Peter Dutton has always appeared wooden and not particularly swift on his feet, before the media, in Parliament and in other public functions. He has managed no policy initiatives, nor managed competing interests to arrive at a workable arrangement over a complex issue. Why he is regarded as great political talent is unclear.

Dutton should have managed his political career better. If he was going to leave Dickson because it was too marginal, he should have managed the transition and supported a candidate who'd be likely to win the seat and make a positive contribution to Federal politics and the Liberal Party. If he was going to another seat, you'd think he'd have done the groundwork with local people and issues long before the preselection. Long-serving NSW Liberal party official John Carrick observed that you can't fatten the pig on market day (a quaint image in the age of "98% fat free", but the principle still holds), it is a basic lesson of politics and Dutton did not learn it.

Why he is regarded as great political talent is unclear.

Milney certainly thought so. However, in his plea for Dutton, Milney holed his own case below the waterline in the first two sentences here, and all that remains is to watch its trajectory to the briney deep.
GENUINE renewal in any political party has to come from the grassroots. Considered in that light, the weekend preselection of Paul Fletcher in Bradfield sends an important signal that the Liberal Party is looking to the future.

Fletcher didn't live in Bradfield, he lives in Paddington. He was a staffer and sucked his way upwards by networking with a small number of highly-placed Liberals rather than doing grass-roots politicking, which he considered beneath him (and probably still does, unless it benefits him directly. As I said earlier, it's a sign of nostalgia and stunted growth for the Liberal Party to shunt senior staffers into Parliamentary ranks in the hope that the glory days of the Howard government may soon be replicated and therefore re-elected.

What Milney means here is that when volunteer members of a political party do what they're told, by him or the sort of people with whom he lunches, that's renewal When they return someone to Federal Parliament who's already familiar with Federal Parliament, that's renewal. It is odd that his plea takes a hectoring tone worthy of Alan Jones:
[The Liberal preselection for McPherson, which was held earlier this evening] will resolve whether Peter Dutton's gamble in abandoning his seat of Dickson, outside Brisbane, to stand for McPherson, has paid off. For the sake of the Liberal Party, it had better. For a start he hasn't nominated for another seat. If he fails in McPherson, he will be lost to politics. Any other outcome than the endorsement of Dutton by the Gold Coast Liberals would render the party not worthy of a vote across the country.

"For the sake of the Liberal Party, it had better"? Oh, piss off! If he's put all his eggs into a basket not obliged to carry them, that's his bad luck and poor political judgment. The Liberal Party/LNP, in McPherson or wherever else, is not obliged to rubber-stamp a decision foisted on them by some chancer from a hundred kilometres away who won't take the time to understand their concerns and is still clearly suffering Relevance Deprivation Syndrome.
Because if the preselectors of McPherson can't see that Dutton is part of any future the party might have, then why should ordinary voters believe in that future either?

Is it really not possible that Karen Andrews has much to offer the future of the Liberal Party? If Peter Dutton can't cope with Kallangur, how will he go in the back streets of Currumbin or Mudgeeraba? He's supposed to be a former Queensland copper, isn't he? If he's gone soft in Canberra, Milney, that's hardly the problem of Gold Coast LNPers.
Dutton's chances of being saved by an anti-Rudd swing are negligible.

Right: better get off his backside and do some work then - unless that's not an option either.
As the years of government roll away from the Coalition it is going to need to conserve the corporate memory of office. Dutton, now in the shadow health portfolio, will be crucial to this process. He's aggressive and he's economically literate.

It's something of a pity that a) Nicola Roxon has been utterly untroubled by Dutton in anything she's done as Health Minister, and that b) his aggression and economic literacy was not obvious in the Howard Government. Dutton would appear to be no great loss to the Liberal Party, the Parliament, or to anything other than Peter Dutton's own sense of self (and that of a small number of others).
If Turnbull falls on his sword or is pushed on to it before the next election, Dutton will be a candidate for the deputy leadership, which will accompany that scenario. He'd probably win.

Not any more: show me the biggest joke in the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party and I'll show you someone who's won preselection. Why would McPherson preselectors support someone who's waiting for a chance to profit from leadership instability? It doesn't make sense, Milney.
State Liberal Party president Bruce McIver and vice-president Gary Spence are strongly supportive. Under party rules the president has the power, with the state executive, to appoint a candidate. The idea was considered, but with the political camel that is the Liberal National Party in Queensland still in its infancy - whether it gets beyond that stage federally is debatable - it was decided intervention in McPherson would not set a good precedent.

However, the option remains live if things go badly for Dutton. He has the backing of John Howard, Peter Costello, Turnbull, Joe Hockey and even Barnaby Joyce.

Having gone through a preselection process and chosen Andrews, a person of considerable potential, only to be overriden by McIver and other members of the LNP heirarchy, there is no reason why Gold Coast Liberals should turn out for a candidate whom they did not choose. The supposedly hard men of LNP head office know this: they dare not risk a grass-roots revolt, which is why they've taken their chances with a preselection in the hope that Dutton's obvious talent will see him win over the locals. Otherwise, those guys (two retirees, a guy who hates the Liberal Party, and a New South Welshman) will have to do the heavy lifting for Dutton themselves.

If Dutton were to work his guts out in Dickson and squeak home, he'll be a legend. There is no Labor candidate and the Labor state government is on the nose. Dutton should not be jumping at Labor shadows and polling stats, and Milney has no excuse not to consider the possibility of Dutton winning, however narrowly - if you've been around politics as long as he has, you know that (to use the words of Lyndon Johnson) chicken shit can become chicken salad.

Alternatively, if Dutton had shirtfronted dead wood like Andrew Lame-ing and Michael Johnson, he'd reveal himself to have political toughness and strategic deftness of a front-rank politician. He lacks these qualities, and so Milney's puffery rings hollow.
Which brings us to Andrews. She's the McPherson divisional council chairwoman, has no name ID and was waiting for May to retire after another term.

Dutton has been beaten fair and square by a better candidate, he and his supporters should have the good grace to accept that and get behind the duly preselected candidate. Andrews has not sought to upstage the sitting member (is this what Milney could mean by "name ID"? That, and the fact she's not an ex-staffer?).
[Karen Andrews would] probably be better off looking at the next Senate vacancy.

Would you write a puff piece for her if she did, Milney? Probably not - in the next half-Senate election there are four incumbent Liberal Senators up for re-election, and if the pattern of re-appointing former MPs and staffers is anything to go by, Andrews has no chance. At least this is a tacit admission that she has the makings of a useful politician, which is probably why the Liberal preselectors of McPherson chose her. In his backhanded, even unconscious way, Milney has been more generous to Andrews than this peanut from her local rag:
Another Palm Springs female booked for backbench oblivion in Canberra at the expense of Peter Dutton is not the LNP answer, according to some key Liberals. Sorry, LNP members.

Booked by whom, Peter? Are only men capable of building real political clout in Canberra? If Dutton were to get an easy ride into McPherson by overriding the locals, why would he owe anything to the community at all? What would the Gold Coast do with such clout, anyway?

Dutton should put his shoulder to the wheel of a LNP government in Queensland - a term or two of actually running a health system, and he might have the makings of a Federal Health Minister (besides, by then the Federal Libs might be electable again, and he wouldn't be that old). Alternatively, he might just be a fair-weather sailor: all very well against the disgraced Cheryl Kernot with a incumbent Coalition government, and can gather support from top brass, but no good in the close-order fighting and low-resource scrapping of opposition.

Dutton hasn't impressed anyone outside the media-political complex so he's probably not the person to shake it up. It is true that some institutional memory of government is useful, but it is not sufficient - besides, there are already so many old dogs of government in the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party that one could be forgiven for thinking they have no capacity for learning new tricks. Institutional memory of government in 1996 was pretty much limited to Howard himself.

A spell on the sidelines could be the making of Peter Dutton - or even Karen Andrews. The defeat of Dutton is not just a victory for localism over head office, and it's not necessarily one in the eye for Turnbull - it's a victory over the idea that the next Liberal government must be a continuation of the last one.

01 October 2009

Law reform

This article does a quick skate around issues of costs and pace of, and access to, the justice legal system, with a quick conflation of criminal law with complex corporate cases adding to its air of cynicism.
Why we're in this frightful, seemingly insoluble litigation vortex is largely because the judges, and successive governments, have allowed the lawyers to capture control of the courts and the cases. The judges sit there allowing opening addresses to go for 100 days out of a 404-day trial (the Bell case, Western Australia) and lesser cases to trundle along with trolley-loads of documents at a sloth's pace.

There is no excuse for having verbal presentations in cases without a jury. It should be possible for combatants to lodge all documents electronically and securely (with visual indicators succinctly identifying issues in dispute), and wait for feedback. This should be followed by a finding on admissability, which could be open to challenge. This should then be followed by a preliminary judgment, which counsel have to address and explain why it should not form a final judgment (sucky pro-judgment addresses should be frowned upon, but probably won't be).

The same should go for Parliament - not every MP roped in to the speaking roster wants to speak. They should have the option to table their speech as read in order to free up time for Parliament.

A plea of "not guilty" should mitigate against the possibility of a lighter sentence. Legal counsel presented with a confession should be obliged to bargain for lesser charges or sentences rather than mount a fatuous case against guilt. A spivvy lawyer who gets a felon off a charge rightfully applied to them is not Rumpole, that person has wasted public resources as surely as the person who phones in a fake bomb threat.

Pro bono and legal aid work should be a condition of registration as a lawyer, just like being a notary public.
Equating access to justice with access to lawyers will just get us more of the same.

Yes, it will. A focus on the end result is what's required here, lawyers are at best facilitators.The idea is to have justice in your everyday life, like sunshine and water, without having to be grateful to lawyers, politicians or whomever else for granting it to you.
lawyers ... love complexity, the greater the lack of clarity, the more befuddled the client, the greater the need for lawyers, the bigger the business, the more the fees, etc.

Quite so, but that's why the profession of the lobbyist has overtaken the law's purple majesty, and why law graduates become lobbyists in order to frame the context in which newly-graduated lawyer-drones will work. Lawyers who think they're clever passing off work done by paralegals as though they did it themselves can't complain about the rise of lobbyists: a 30-year-old former staffer can run rings around a 50-year-old law-firm partner when it comes to "delivering outcomes". Not only do the latter not get this phenomenon, they still don't understand where all the lawyers with 3-to-5 years experience have gone ...

The best of them know there isn't that much time to lose, and that a generation that prides itself on techno-illiteracy has less and less to offer. That court case that lasted 400-odd days was similar to the C7 case, where all parties concerned prided themselves on their ignorance of crucial issues surrounding the case (in this case, digicasting).

Law reform will come when the institutions have so reformed themselves around the law that it stops genuflecting before its might, and when its blows no longer maim or kill. Lawyers are starting to feel that their make-work schemes are not nearly as successful as they once were. The worst of them want the status quo to stay for just a few years more, old boy, until the chldren of the third wife have made it through school.