So what are going to be the battleground issues in Election 2013? Leaving aside that the punters may not like either Julia or Tony, there’s little doubt that cost of living issues are going to be central to this year’s election.
There will be the usual debate about border security, the NBN, who’s looking after regional Australia and whether we should be encouraging Australians to move to the top end. But at the heart of all these issues is cost of living. Can we sustain more `unauthorised’ boat arrivals given the pressure these place on housing, jobs and government services? Can Australians afford to pay for broadband services provided through the NBN? And how can people living in regional Australia make ends meet given that the cost of living is an even bigger issue for them?
The point is very simple. The cost of living in Australia is going through the roof. Ordinary Australians whether they are in western Sydney or Western Australia are feeling the growing pressure on household budgets. The price electricity is going up. The price of petrol is going up. The price of water is going up. The cost of health services is going up.
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Is there anything more to be said about Julia Gillard’s September 14 election announcement? Of course there is. As the dust starts to settle quite a few things are starting to become clearer. And one or two things have even come into sharp focus since the cabinet reshuffle.
Where do we start? Perhaps at the apparent finish line on September 14. Who will be PM? Will it be Julia or Tony Abbott? Or someone else? It also depends on whether Julia will still be leading the party on Election Day or whether, after a few more terrible opinion polls, there will be a move against her.
Julia may have named an election date, but that doesn’t mean she’s beyond challenge. Of course, her defenders will say that it would be disloyal to talk about a leadership challenge during a so-called “election campaign”, but this is still a phony election campaign.
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In recent years there have been so many bad policy ideas come out of Canberra it is hard to decide which was the worst. Some will vote for the knee-jerk ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia, some the pink batts fiasco, some the dismantling of Howard’s Pacific Solution.
Personally I think the worst policies, like the best wines, take years to mature. Which is why Peter Costello’s decision to pay the dregs of society to breed always gets my Number One on the ballot paper of dumb things our politicians have done.
But this week after five years in office Labor finally got its act together with a policy to rival the baby bonus for its stupidity. Congratulations are due to Chris Bowen for his “no advantage” test which will apply to asylum seekers who are released into the community.
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Since August 13 the Government has been forced to pack almost all its asylum seeker deterrents into the rickety vessel called Off-Shore Processing. Today the Government had to acknowledge its policy craft had sunk.
Any discouragement of asylum seekers it might have carried has disappeared. In fact, the prospects for boat people look somewhat brighter. Nauru and Christmas Island have been overwhelmed by asylum seeker arrivals since August 13, and Manus Island in P-NG is only now open for business and soon will be full.
So Immigration Minister Chris Bowen today announced that two on-shore centre in Tasmania and Victoria would be re-opened as detention facilities and more asylum seekers would be sent into the general community.
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Poor old Chris Bowen, better known lately as the embattled Federal Immigration Minster.
What did Bowen do to deserve what some might call the political kiss of death portfolio? Sadly, immigration is one of those portfolios where you can easily divide a nation and end up being typecast in a way that sticks with you forever. Inevitably some people will love you and others will hate you. If you let too many people into the country you may be considered soft on border security. If you let in too few, then you’re considered mean-spirited.
Of course, on occasion you get a flamboyant immigration minister like Al Grassby. Whatever words could be used to describe Chris Bowen, flamboyant is certainly not one of them.
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It is difficult to imagine that Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison will surrender his high political profile and undoubted effectiveness by signing on to the 22 Houston panel recommendations released yesterday.
The asylum seeker debate has been good for Mr Morrison and the Opposition, ranking with carbon pricing as an issue that has consistently rattled the Government.
This has ensured he is a Question Time constant, one of a handful of Opposition front benchers who regularly gets the nod to take on his ministerial opponent.
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You’ve heard a lot about the asylum policy debate in the media. The Government announces a new policy. The opposition denounces any new policy. Talk back radio goes back and forth about the best way to deal with this issue. If all this noise about asylum seekers makes you almost believe there is thought put into how to develop best practice approaches, think again. You’ve been conned.
For those of you who have seen The Usual Suspects, asylum seekers are Kaiser Sozé. A made up bogey-man criminal used to distract you from what is really going on.
It’s all just a political marketing campaign from both parties aimed at marginal seat voters. They use the boatpeople debate to define their party’s image. ‘Cruel to be kind’ for the Coalition, with ‘tough but humane’ for Labor. The reality is, when you analyse policies from both parties from a purely rationalist public policy angle, they both fail the test.
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Last week was a historic moment for multicultural Australians, a day for which we have waited and fought for five years. When migrants were targeted in the last elections and when some Australian voices joined the chorus of multicultural indictment in Europe, we despaired and thought the day would never arrive.
Last week in Sydney, Minister Chris Bowen announced that Australia has a new Multicultural Policy.
Australia’s last national multicultural policy expired in 2006. The lack of a national government affirmation of Australia’s multicultural reality has allowed divisive and racist voices to gain legitimacy. The statements of European leaders, which in actual fact spoke more about the failure of their own vision, seemed to fuel abhorrent sentiments in our country.
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Islam doesn’t have much of a reputation for a sense of humour. Maybe its best comics don’t get an airing here in the west – there might be an equivalent of a Peter Cook or a Lenny Bruce doing stand-up at a nightclub in Tehran.
But as a general rule, the more orthodox practitioners of the Muslim faith are more likely to crack a fatwa than a funny. And there are a few Danish cartoonists who found out the hard way that poking fun at the prophet Mohammed by daring to draw a picture of the guy can land you some pretty bad reviews, and also result in your nation’s embassy being burned to the ground.
In Australia, the relationship between Muslim communities and the wider community has often been fraught. The tension has been strongest in Sydney, particularly in relation to the Lebanese Muslim community. There was an amusing and hopeful moment last week which suggested that a genial kind of mutual accommodation may be taking hold.
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Faced with the unexpected arrival of about 400 refugees in her town, I doubt she’d say “There goes the neighbourhood”.
She wouldn’t worry that the presence of asylum seekers would cause a dip in property prices, or complain that the kids (most of whom will be under five) will shoplift.
She wouldn’t argue that we should make male asylum seekers take the place of Australia’s own soldiers at war. And she wouldn’t say that we should demean refugees and make them suffer in order to deter more people from coming.
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On Monday Chris Bowen, Australia’s Minister for Immigration, flew out to East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia to push for the development of a so-called ‘regional framework’ for addressing refugee issues, and more specifically to progress the idea of a regional processing centre for asylum seekers in East Timor.
The day before he left, Minister Bowen told Laurie Oakes that the trip was about more than just regional processing centre and that he is working towards the development of “an entire regional framework” to deal with the refugee issue.
In the same interview, he also made the point that “it makes sense for all of us, all of our regional neighbours to work together in reaching a solution to what is essentially an international and regional problem.”
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Late this morning another group of refugees clambered on top of the roof at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre in protest.
And while the Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen managed to get yesterday’s group down by refusing to “give in to their demands” maybe it’s about time we stopped cushioning the issue with industrial size mattresses and faced them head on instead.
Ian Rintoul is one person looking for a better solution. As a spokesperson for the Sydney based Refugee Action Coaliton, he’s described the situation as “desperate” and that most detainees, having spent between 12 to 16 months in Christmas Island prior to coming to Villawood, “see no future”.
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