My letter below, published in the Financial Review five days after the budget, provides some references which briefly illustrate the Abbott government’s abandonment of serious budget reform in its second budget in order to improve its polling. My letter contains data limited to the estimates for 2015-16 because estimates/projections for later years, which show a large fall in the deficit, have lost credibility as a result of their shortfalls in recent years.
Contrary to the generally favourable reaction, my view is that the polling results suggest that the strategy has had little if any beneficial effect. The Fairfax-Ipso poll did show an improvement to a 50-50 TPP but the Newspoll deteriorated slightly and left the Coalition behind on a TPP basis, as did the earlier Galaxy poll.
It is possible that a better “feeling” has occurred because of the shocking performance of Shorten, who has been subject to increased criticism as a leader (see David Crowe’s article below on “ Bill Shorten’s weapons losing firepower”) and seems to have few policies. Abbott should benefit from the fact that the current leader of Labor cannot be changed before the election.
On the other hand, Abbott’s own performance in the week following the budget has also left much to be desired (see article below by Denis Shanahan on “Tony Abbott unplugged snatches defeat from the jaws of victory”). Abbott’s initial support , apparently without consultation with other ministers, of an inquiry into the fall in the price of iron ore had no justification and his decision to quickly reverse it have raised further questions about his “issues” judgment.
The end result is that many are left confused about budget strategy and asking -Where to Now? If the budget reform program is still to be pursued –and much more needs to be done – when will that start and will it be reflected in the 2016-17 budget?
Treatment of Muslims in Australia
This Weekend’s The Australian has what it describes as “an open minded but unflinching series of articles analysing Muslim Australia, its successes and vulnerabilities, and how it fits within an open, pluralistic society”. This is an important initiative which covers issues that the Abbott government should itself have already discussed in a White Paper – the problems faced by Muslims in Australia, those faced by non-Muslims on how to live with them, and what behaviour is not acceptable in a democracy like ours.
Of particular interest is an article in which former Immigration Minister Morrison seems to downplay the role played by religion in influencing the behaviour of Muslims (see article below by Paul Maley on “Integrate new arrivals or let in crime, terror: minister”). Morrison argues that “there are two different issues .. hard core religious, Islamic extremism ..And..an economic and social set of challenges”. But his approach seriously understates the prime importance of the religious influence.
It is from this quarter that extremist activity emerges and that also supports sharia law under which religious dicta are deemed superior to laws passed by governments. The provisions in sharia law should be exposed and subject to public debate. As I have previously suggested, leaders of
Australia’s “normal” religions should be taking a lead here.
The government should also issue a discussion paper explaining why our democratic system does not accept sharia law or the use of violence to achieve social objectives. The fact that only a small proportion of Muslims in Australia support such violence does not mean that the policy response should be limited to a strengthening of police and intelligence forces.
It is remarkable that there has been some questioning of the decision by the government not to accept back in Australia any of those who left the country as Muslim converts to participate in violent activity by extremist groups. This policy should be regarded as part of the wider policy of deterring extremism.
Tackling Violent Islamic Activity Overseas
A similar problem arises with the behaviour of some Muslim groups overseas. At present the Western world is responding to violence by such groups with two hands tied behind its back, largely because the strongest of such countries – the United States – has a President who acts like an isolationist and whose foreign policy appears to involve the issue of threats but with no follow-up when the threats are ignored. As indicated in earlier Commentaries, it also appears to be based on a view held by Obama that the US will only be accepted as a friend if it stops intervening in other countries.
Thus Obama’s response to ISIS is limited to air attacks and no indication is given that the governmental systems (sic) adopted by it and other similar groups are unacceptable. One wonders how Obama might have reacted to German, Japanese and Soviet Union aggression 70-80 years ago.
The article below by Greg Sheridan (“Obama’s pivotal absence”) illustrates the Obama problem mainly by reference to US policy in Asia. But it relates also to the advances by ISIS in Iraq/Syria over the past couple of weeks, which suggest that air strikes are an inadequate response. Some defend such a limited strategy by arguing that the 2003 intervention in Iraq by the US and others was a failure. But now we have intervention by air strikes (and the recent commando killing in Syria of an ISIS leader). The implication is that intervention is now justified because it is dealing with violence by an extremist group. But ISIS is not the only extremist group.
In reality, virtually all Middle Eastern and North African countries are now seriously threatened by such groups and these threats have spill over effects in Western countries. A strong case can be made for Western countries to respond both militarily and philosophically. It is ironic that calls for international action are being made to protect historical remains at Palmyra but hardly any to stop the slaughter of civilians in areas taken over by ISIS and other extremist groups. Again, there is a deathly silence by church leaders on the killing of Christians.
Abbott’s refusal to involve Australia in helping some groups from Bangladesh and Myanmar “escape” from their countries is well and truly justified. Financial help is being provided to international agencies which can and are saving lives through supply of food and water. But help should not extend to allowing the jumping of queues for humanitarian refugees (many of the boat people would not in fact qualify). Of course, we have had the usual Fairfax press and ABC/SBS questioning of Abbott’s response without adequately presenting what is already being done and the existence of the queue.
The policy adopted by the Abbott government of turning back the boats is also now being more widely recognised as one appropriate way of protecting borders. And a “tougher” approach to acceptance of migrants in Europe is also reflected both in the refusal of Britain to accept a quota of re-settlers from crossings of the Mediterranean and in Hollande’s statement that “people who come because they think Europe is a prosperous continent … must be escorted back, that’s the rule”.