Round 5: Returning Sledgehammers in View from the Arch

16/11/2007 - 23:04

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WA politics reclaimed the spotlight this week as Upper House MP Shelley Archer quit the ALP. Meanwhile both federal parties launched their campaigns, Foreign Affairs spokesmen were in furious agreement and our expats started voting.

Round 5: Returning Sledgehammers in View from the Arch

Burke fallout: The contempt findings...

Western Australian parliamentary inquiry recommended criminal charges be considered against her and Liberal upper house member Anthony Fels, as well as lobbyists Brian Burke and Noel Crichton-Browne as well as two sitting MPs.

The Parliament's select committee found Mr Burke and his business partner Julian Grill sought to influence the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations in late 2006 and early 2007 as it considered an inquiry into WA's iron ore industry.

Mr Burke and Mr Grill had been hired as lobbyists by Cazaly Resources in its fight against Rio Tinto for control of the Shovelanna iron ore mining tenement.

The committee found Mr Burke and Mr Grill had devised the idea for an iron ore industry probe with the aim of positively influencing the battle for Shovelanna.

Central to their plan, the select committee said, was influencing two members of the standing committee in question.

Upper House Labor MP Shelley Archer was found to be in contempt of parliament for disclosing details of the committee's deliberations on the iron ore inquiry to Mr Burke and for giving false information to the select committee's hearings.

Upper House Liberal MP Anthony Fels was also found to have given false information to the hearings and to have disclosed details of the committee's deliberations to Mr Crichton-Browne.

The parliamentary inquiry recommended they apologise to parliament and the WA Attorney General consider criminal proceedings against them.

It also recommended criminal proceedings be considered against Mr Burke and Mr Crichton-Browne for giving false information to the committee's hearings.

Greens MP Giz Watson was also found to be in contempt of parliament for disclosing the standing committee's deliberations to former colleague Robin Chapple, but no action was recommended because the contempt was considered minor.

...Is it all over...

Eight months ago, Ms Archer told reporters that it would take "a sledgehammer" to get her out of the Australian Labor Party.

It may have been the the hammer, or perhaps just a well timed tap on the shoulder, but either way, Ms Archer made the decision to hand in her badge on Thursday, telling journalists through a lawyer that her decision was effective immediately.

Some analysts have said that Ms Archer's departure was widely expected, after Premier Alan Carpenter told media on Wednesday, the day the report was handed down, that he wanted to expel her from the party.

"I have just had a meeting with Shelley Archer, I want her out of the state parliamentary Labor party by way of resignation or expulsion," Mr Carpenter said at the time.

"She said she won't resign so I want her expelled."

But the real surprise of the day were the announced resignation plans of Ms Archer's husband, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union of Western Australia secretary, Kevin Reynolds.

Mr Reynolds, an influential figure in the Western Australian Labor Party, accused Mr Carpenter of running a vendetta against his wife for her lifelong friendship with Mr Burke.

"She's just being persecuted left, right and centre because she knows Brian Burke," said Mr Reynolds, who has been an ALP member for 30 years.

"He's not an axe murderer or a pedophile or anything.

"I've got no intention of staying in the party, the way they treated my wife."

Mr Reynolds said the CFMEU may now reconsider its ties to the Labor party.

"We may have a plebiscite of our members to see whether they want to be in the Labor party or not."

Mr Carpenter welcomed Ms Archer's resignation and denied he had an axe to grind.

"I'm not a dictator, but I am the premier and I've got certain standards that I want to see upheld ... and when there has been such a gross breach of appropriate behaviour I feel duty bound to act," Mr Carpenter said.

...bar the shouting?...

Mr Reynolds' resignation from the party was at least by his own choosing, unlike CFMEU assistant secretary Joe McDonald, who was last month expelled on the insistance of Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd.

Today, Mr McDonald put out an announcement, saying he would drop the legal battle against his expulsion.

"I vehemently believe my expulsion was unjust - but rather than lay down and take it - I choose to show solidarity to my comrades and join them in their protest against the party," he said.

Mr Rudd said he stood by his position on Mr McDonald that it was "entirely appropriate that he is not in the Labor Party."

Mr Carpenter said it was a good outcome.

"It's good for the Labor party, I believe it's good for Western Australia and I believe it's good for Australia because it, I think, improves even more Kevin Rudd's chances of winning the federal election," he told reporters.

But federal Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said it was all a farce.

"You can expect that not long after the election, Saturday week, Kevin Reynolds, Shelley Archer and Joe McDonald will all be back in the Labor Party," said Mr Hockey, who has led the Howard government's assault on union "bosses".

Meanwhile...

For his part, Opposition Leader Paul Omodei yesterday moved to expel Mr Fels for coming under the influence of lobbyist Noel Crichton-Browne, but may not have the success Mr Carpenter enjoyed.

Mr Fels says he has received a lot of support, including from former Liberal leader Matt Birney, who said it was not clear Mr Fels was in breach of parliament's standing orders and Mr Omodei's reaction was not justified.

But he said he was not trying to deliberately destabilise Mr Omodei's leadership.

"I've had innumerable opportunities to destabilise the current leader, all of which I have resisted," Mr Birney said.

"But when I see a clear injustice committed, you'll hear from me."

Mr Fels has said there would not be a leadership spill before the federal election and Mr Birney would be a better leader.

However, Mr Birney said he was not interested in returning to the top job.

"The issue of leadership and Anthony Fels being sacked are not related.

"I have no desire to wedge myself back into that horrible little seat in that horrible little office in parliament, but I do have a desire to correct wrongs when I see them."

The Federal Campaign Launch: Liberal Party

Walking on stage to the applause of the Liberal and Nationals faithful inside the Queensland Performing Arts Centre on Monday, Prime Minister John Howard unveiled a massive spending pitch to families, making $9.4 billion of promises in 40 minutes at the coalition's election campaign launch.

"I want to be prime minister again so that we can build an even stronger and greater Australia," he said.

"I want to say to all of my fellow Australians that the choice you face on the 24th of November has become more intense and more urgent because of some of the stormclouds that are gathering on our economy both domestically and internationally."

Mr Howard concentrated on three areas during his speech - education, housing affordability and child care.

He promised to change the way the 30 per cent childcare rebate is paid, giving it directly to service providers so that the up-front costs for parents could be cut by up to 30 per cent - a promise costing $652.4 million over four years.

He also promised to introduce tax-free home savings accounts from next year for all Australians who have yet to buy their first home, with parents, grandparents and friends able set up accounts for children, who would be able to access the savings to buy a first home once they reached the age of 18. That promise was costed at $2.2 billion over four years.

Parents who use the equity in their house to help their children buy a first home would also receive a tax break.

"The coalition is committed to Australia remaining a great home owning society, indeed the greatest in the world, where the dream of home ownership remains at the heart of the Australian experience and within reach of each successive generation," Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard also promised to increase financial literacy training for Australians - at a cost of $12 million over four years, more respite care for carers - $223.5 million over five years, and new summer schools for teachers to improve their skills - at $14 million over four years.

But the biggest item was almost $6.4 billion in tax rebates for education expenses, including school fees.

Parents will be refunded $400 annually for each child at primary or pre-school and up to $800 annually for each secondary school student.

Labor has a similar plan for up to $750 in tax breaks, but it does not include school fees or uniforms.

Mr Howard said his policy was more realistic.

"Unlike Mr Rudd I do recognise that the cost of education extends well beyond laptops and broadband connections," he said.

Mr Howard said the economic achievements of the past 11 and a half years had been "no fluke", but the result of hard work, consistent policy commitment and a talented team.

He said Mr Rudd stood for nothing and was trying to paper over his party's past mistakes.

"The people who once opposed tax cuts now support them ... they once opposed the Medicare safety net, they now support it, they once opposed budget surpluses, they now support them," he said.

The response

A day after the launch, Labor's deputy leader Julia Gillard told ABC radio the Coalition had run out of ideas.

"It is simply following in Labor's wake and it's led by a Prime Minister who's so desperate to win this election he's trying to buy it," she said.

Asked why Labor should not extend its education assistance to school fees, Ms Gillard said her party had designed its policy in the best way possible.

"It's a prudent policy focused on the future," she said.

"I do note that every policy area that the coalition went to yesterday is one where Labor's in the lead.

"We've led on education and there's the Coalition limping behind. We've led on housing affordability and, once again, the Coalition (has) no new ideas, just imitations.

"We've led on child care. You can only assume the Coalition wouldn't have had a childcare policy if Labor hadn't led the way.

"Of course we'll get rid of Work Choices and they'll take it further.

"We'll act on climate change, including ratifying Kyoto. The Government is still full of climate-change sceptics and deniers and (Environment Minister) Malcolm Turnbull and John Howard have profound differences on the question of climate change.

"Of course we've got an exit strategy for our troops from Iraq. The Government has no exit strategy."

The Federal Campaign Launch: Australian Labor Party

Two days later, and at the same venue, it seemed the ALP had difficulty with its entrance strategy, with the launch delayed by 30 minutes due to technical difficulties.

Regardless of this, the party faithful were equally supportive, with former Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating earning rapturous applause before the formalities got underway.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, addressing the launch, said the Queensland government had shown during the past nine years that a Labor government could deliver.

"So if you want to see a well-managed national economy, put a Queenslander in charge of it," she said.

It was a motto Mr Rudd made the best of, announcing $2.3 billion of initiatives, and contrasting them with Mr Howard's $9.4 billion packate.

"I have no intention today of repeating Mr Howard's irresponsible spending spree," Mr Rudd said.

"Unlike Mr Howard, I don't stand before you with a bag full of irresponsible promises that could put upward pressure on inflation ... today I am saying loud and clear that this sort of reckless spending must stop."

The money he was prepared to spend went on education, with Mr Rudd pledging $1 billion over four years to provide all schools with broadband and all senior secondary students with individual computers at school. Schools with computers for all or most students already would be able to upgrade them.

"I want to provide every secondary school student with the foundations to move into the digital economy of the future," he said, assuring the crowd that the announcement would not be a one-off scheme.

Along with this, Mr Rudd said he would increase the number of undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships by 2012, at a forecast cost of $201 million, as well as dedicating $175 million for 1,000 mid-career research fellowships and $539 million for 450,000 new training places.

He also pledged to set up a fund to develop, commercialise and deploy renewable energy technologies for $415 million.

The response

The Prime Minister described the claims of economic irresponsibility as juvenile, accusing Mr Rudd of dishonesty by comparing figures based only on the campaign launches -- rather than total pre-election commitments -- and of pretending to be an economic conservative

Finance Minister Nick Minchin said Labor had so far in the campaign out-pledged the coalition by $12 billion to $11.7 billion, while Labor finance spokesman Lindsay Tanner said the party's tally was $3 billion less once its identified savings were taken into account.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said Mr Rudd's so-called education revolution had turned out to be a con job.

Ms Bishop said that after all the hype about Labor's education plan, the launch had been underwhelming, particularly with reference to Labor's computers pledge.

"Recently, the Victorian State Government networked 1,600 schools and it cost $90 million. So there's a big black hole in the funding calculation as well," she told ABC TV's Lateline that evening.

Foreign Affairs debate: Downer vs McClelland.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his opposite number Robert McClelland went head to head on Thursday in a debate in which both agreed on the importance of Australia's good relationship with the United States and their difficulties in mastering foreign languages.

Mr Downer used his opening speech to argue that the Government's foreign policy had enriched the nation and he promised there was more to come, through the establishment of free trade agreements with ASEAN nations, Japan, China and Chile.

Mr McClelland, on the other hand, said the Howard Government had damanged Australia's international reputation as a good international citizen.

"The loss of our reputation as a good international citizen has unquestionably been directly contrary to Australia's national interests," he said.

Conversation initially turned to Iraq, with Mr McClelland mentioning his party's commitment to a astaged withdrawl of combat troops.

Mr McClelland said the invasion had been a humanitarian disaster, and had "unquestionably given international terrorism a recruitment catchcry."

Mr Downer said he still supported the invasion, saying the Labor Party was trying to have its cake and eat it by saying Iraq was a disaster but committing to keeping two thirds of the currently deployed troops there.

Other Policy Announcements

COALITION:

  • $82 million for a children's TV channel.
  • $6 million study of natural sequence farming.
  • $500,000 to save Indonesian orangutans in Indonesian forests.
  • $10 million to upgrade Wanneroo road.
  • $22 million in extra funding for type-one diabetes sufferers.
  • $10 million to boost Australia's aquaculture industry.
  • $10 million for a V8 supercar workshop.
  • $20 million to help redevelop Townsville's central business district.
  • $34 million to upgrade roads in Queensland.
  • $120,000 in funding for CCTV cameras in Melbourne's south-east.
  • $9 million on aviation scholarships, with a Technical College for WA.
  • $785 million to duplicate Hume highway (Auslink 11 funding).
  • $22 million for type-one diabetes sufferers.
  • $15 million up-grade of lanyon Drive and Monaro Highway NSW/ ACT.
  • $100 million for Newell Highway bypass in north-west NSW.
  • $20 million to relocate racehorses for World Youth Day in 2008.
  • $50 million to improve water flows in the ailing Snowy River system.
    • Campaign Launch - $9.4 billion:
      • $6.337 billion 40 per cent tax rebate for education expenses including school fees.
      • $2.167 billion tax free home saver accounts for first home buyers.
      • $652.4 million childcare tax rebate plan.
      • $223.5 million in respite care for carers.
      • $500 million community infrastructure.
      • 1000 students in remote Australia would be given $4000 bursaries.
      • $12 million Financial Literary Foundation.
      • $14 million for teachers' summer school.
      • $15 million rural and remote medical training equipment fund.
      • $24 million towards expanding the ethanol fuel industry.
      • $12.3 million rural student bursary fund.

This puts the total amount allocated by the Coalition over the course of the campaign at $54.67 billion, with $10.59 billion allocated this week.

 

LABOR:

  • $34.6 million in arts initiatives.
  • $510 million on improving the dental health of teenagers.
  • $6 million to fight crime in Western Australia.
  • $60 million to upgrade access to Western Australian port facilities.
  • $3 million boost to rural transport corridors in NSW.
  • 33.1 million to extend Australian Defence force (ADF) personnel medical and dental care.
  • $480 million to improve Queensland's Bruce Highway.
  • $5 million Asia Pacific Centre for Civil-Military Co-operation.
  • $100 million to help protect coastlines from climate change.
  • $15 million to help develop next generation ethanol technology.
    • Campaign Launch - $2.3 billion.
      • $1 billion for high speed broadband at schools and extra computers in high schools.
      • $201 million to double both number of undergraduate scholarships and postgraduate scholarships by 2012.
      • $175 million for 1,000 mid-career research fellowships.
      • $539 million for 450,000 new training places.
      • $415 million for renewable energy.

This puts the total amount allocated by the Coalition over the course of the campaign at $50.59 billion, with $3.55 billion allocated this week.

Bits and Pieces

  • Last Friday former opposition leader Mark Latham made a foray into the election campaign through The Australian Financial Review, suggesting a Rudd government would be more timid and conservative than the coalition - much to the Opposition's chagrin. Mr Rudd and shadow treasurer Wayne Swan were dismissive of the report, while deputy Labor leader and former Latham supporter Julia Gillard made no comment, cancelling and not rescheduling a press conference in Perth. The Coalition said it was clear from Mr Latham's statements that the party could not be trusted.
  • Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott was caught saying workers have lost protections under the coalition's industrial relations reforms by an amateur cameraman at a local electorate function this week. During the speech, he goes on to say that the best protection for a worker who felt they were under pressure in their job was the chance of another job. Mr Abbott accused Labor of doctoring the video and says his comments were taken out of context.
  • A report by Commonwealth Auditor-General Ian McPhee has been critical of the administration of the Regional Partnerships Program, finding that Howard Government Ministers often ignored public servants' advice when awarding grants to coalition electorates, and denying them to those held by other parties. Mr Howard said more grants had gone to Coalition electorates because they held all the rural seats in Australia. Mr Rudd said the report revealed another example of an arrogant and out-of-touch Government which had used taxpayer funds to buy votes in the run-up to the 2004 poll.

The Final Word

In a week where an Adelaide protester attempted to attack the Prime Minister with a pooper scooper and Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McClelland said he didn't speak Mandarin but had eaten a few, the final word goes to Sam Dalton, the media adviser to Kalgoorlie MHR Barry Haase.

Like many candidates for the election Mr Haase, the federal Liberal member for the world's largest constituency, has a promotional campaign trailer, which is parked along Kalgoorlie streets for the attention of passing traffic.

Unfortunately for Mr Haase, some exuberant locals appear to have taken a liking to the trailer, which has ended up dumped in the fountain in the middle of St Barbara's Square twice this week.

When it was found on Wednesday morning, a crane had to be used to remove it from the water.

Talking to ABC Online, Ms Dalton said she was unsure who was moving the trailer and conceded they may have to chain it down to prevent another incident.

"We might have to find a more secure location," she said.

"We didn't really think it would go missing like this, possibly we might need an armed guard or something."

Arch can't help but wonder what impression a stocky figure holding a rifle sitting next to a campaign trailer at all hours of the night might have on the good people of Kalgoorlie.

Arch doubts it would work for the Greens.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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