Time for a Long Summer Holiday?

Today’s Herald Sun reports (see below) that Abbott will scale back his paid parental leave scheme and allocate the savings for expenditure on child care (including for nannies at home). The 1.5% levy on “big” companies to finance the PPL will be retained. This report comes at the same time as a new poll revealing Labor even further ahead at 55/45 on a TPP basis, with a primary vote at 41% and the Coalition’s at 38%. It also come just after a report that Abbott and his office staff aim to take a long summer holiday (see below).

Nobody would deny that Abbott and his Ministers and staff need a holiday. But what sort of a holiday?

Obviously, with Parliament not sitting again until early February there will be a holiday from the day to day debates over legislation and fewer incidents that occur here and overseas will require immediate ministerial reactions: in short, we may temporarily experience less “government”! I recall past experience which provided only “emergency” communication arrangements for Acting PMs at a beach house, including one at a beach which I still frequent at Malua Bay.

In present domestic and international circumstances, not to mention increased media attention, it may be difficult to repeat such a relaxed holiday.  Consider.

First, there is an opportunity and a widely recognised need for a reshuffle of ministers, including some new starters. That would likely take some time and energy. Although Abbott has publicly supported the retention of Hockey as Treasurer, the most obvious need is to shift him out of the Treasurer position but, contrary to many observers, in my view not to replace him with Turnbull. In his handling of the ABC Turnbull has demonstrated little capacity to be the “tough” minister now desperately needed as Treasurer.

The imminent formal announcement that former deputy John Fraser will take over as Treasury Secretary, and with Michael Thawley already started as the new head of Prime Minister’s department, adds to the need for a consistently tough Treasurer who can handle the detail involved. In due course he would find strong support from these two key public service positions and have the potential to present stronger arguments on the national interest need for reducing government spending. As economic circumstances have deteriorated since Abbott started in government, handling the budget problem is now more difficult and requires both a tough PM as well as a tough Treasurer.

Regrettably, Abbott has started his holiday on the wrong foot here. While his decision to prune the PPL is admirable, at the very least he should have indicated a net reduction in  expenditure not simply a switch of funding to nannies. Abbott’s behaviour suggests he needs a nanny to hold his hand before getting on his bike! A tough Treasurer, such as Morrison or Frydenberg backed by the two new public servants, could do that.

Second, while it is too late now to influence the content of the MYEFO due shortly, it is likely that a more extensive and improved explanation of the rationale of the budget, as well as the deterioration in the economic outlook and its effect on the budgetary position, will be needed before Parliament resumes.

Accordingly, once the MYEFO has been released Abbott should announce the move of Hockey (perhaps to Defence) and indicate that his new “team” will be working over the Christmas/New Year period with the aim of presenting such a report before Parliament resumes. That should include an explanation of the “fairness” of limiting spending mainly to those in groups with incomes which are relatively low but which have increased substantially in real terms over the last 20-25 years. It should also announce further reductions over time in expenditures that do not tally with the rationale along with an indication to the states that, in circumstances where the Commonwealth has budgetary difficulties and where the economic outlook has  deteriorated, they too need to expect less assistance. Reference could also be made to the example set by the Newman government in Queensland, which faced with high levels of spending by the Bligh Labor government has now succeeded in actual cuts.

Importantly, such a statement also needs to include an appeal to the Senate to cooperate in the national interest and an indication that the government is prepared to hold extensive discussions with Senators on how to eliminate the deficit without increasing taxation – which almost all agree should not occur. A reference to the Senate should include an indication that a failure to obtain Senate approval of expenditure reductions will necessitate a double dissolution before the next election ie it should imply that even if the polling is unfavourable to the government, closer to the election it would risk a DD that would risk the seats of the independent senators too.

Third, developments in Australia’s involvement in international discussions on global warming add weight to the need for Abbott to publish a government paper indicating the extent of uncertainties in the dangerous warming threat and why Australia is aiming to limit action to reduce usage of fossil fuels. The revelation that Bishop as well as Hunt and Turnbull in some way support reduced usage, albeit qualified by the need to have international agreement, adds to  business and community uncertainty about the government’s attitude, including on the use of renewables. That uncertainty is heightened by Obama’s speech at Queensland University during the G20 meeting. It has also been heightened by the failure of Treasury hitherto to present a factual appraisal, as well of course as the one-sided attitude of the ABC and Fairfax press, not to mention the UN and its affiliates. Given this one-sidedness in the face of extensive evidence supporting sceptics, there is a strong case for Abbott to commission a report on the uncertainties of the “science” and associated warmist analyses. There are ample numbers of scientists and others who could be commissioned, both in Australia and overseas. Such a commissioning should occur during the “holidays”.

Fourth, something also needs to be done to either commission the Productivity Commission to report on the regulatory arrangements on workplace relations or at a minimum to identify the well known concerns with those arrangements. With the help that would undoubtedly come from the Royal Commission’s interim report this month, it would be opportune to publish  a report before Parliament resumes on the problems with  arrangements that are very one-sided in favour of unions which now represent only a small proportion of the work force. The recent HR Nicholls submission to the RC provides examples of this one-sidedness and a government paper could start from there. Such a paper would help engender the debate that is needed about the role of unions.

Last but not least, there is a need to start a public debate on the threat from Muslim extremism in Australia and overseas. Here is a speech on this growing problem made by Geert Wilders in New York. Wilders heads a party in the Netherlands Parliament and, with difficulty, has spoken in Australia at the invitation of our Q Society (I reported recently on a function held by that Society which was addressed by a West Sudanese who had experienced slavery in the Muslim dominated East Sudan).

Wilders has spoken widely on this and he has undoubtedly influenced the 60% of the Dutch who he says now see the mass immigration of Muslims as the number one policy mistake since World War ll and Islam as the biggest threat today. Wilders views are regarded as extreme by some but are in line with many experts who have published on the issue (see in particular the recent book on  “Sacred Violence, Political Religion in a Secular Age” by Professors David Martin Jones of QUT and M.L.R. Smith of King’s College London).

Many accept the view that most Muslims are peace-loving and should be accepted as such. But note the following from Wilders speech:

“Let no one fool you about Islam being a religion.  Sure, it has a god, and a here-after, and 72 virgins. But in its essence Islam is a political ideology. It is a system that lays down detailed rules for society and the life of every person. Islam wants to dictate every aspect of life. Islam means ‘submission’.  Islam is not compatible with freedom and democracy, because what it strives for is sharia.  If you want to compare Islam to anything, compare it to communism or national-socialism, these are all totalitarian ideologies”.

This perspective is one which the government needs to recognise publicly and indicate that Australia does not accept.

In short, my belief is that Abbott’s holiday is likely to be a brief one – or at least should be in his and the nation’s interests.

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