In recent Commentaries I have referred to a number of deficiencies in the Budget which have either not been referred to in the main media, including even in The Australian, or have only been given limited attention. Despite this even The Australian has not published four letters I submitted on what I believe are serious analytical deficiencies, and the AFR often couldn’t decide whether to have a letters page. The Age almost automatically refuses to publish anyone deemed to be right of centre.
Both main sides continue to debate the second budget of the Turnbull government, with the most interesting development being the view expressed by Albanese that Labor should welcome the Coalition’s budget measures! But there is no indication from most Commentators that initial views have changed and that an improvement in the Coalition’s polling is likely to occur. In fact, doubts about the achievement of estimated budget outcomes have increased following the publication of a much lower growth in wages than assumed in the 2017-18 Budget estimates (1.9% cf 2.5%), a further fall in consumer confidence (the sixth successive occasion when pessimists have outweighed optimists), and a warning from credit agency S&P that while it kept Australia’s credit rating at AAA it also warned that it is at risk of a downside over the next two years. The improvement in the latest employment survey may help if it is sustained. But doubts continue about the survey’s reliability.
As mentioned in yesterday’s Commentary, the publication in The Australian of reports on the treatment of wives by Muslim men prompted me to circulate a Gatehouse report on various incidents involving Muslims in March in the UK. I also sent a letter to The Australian suggesting “the wives issue” raised a question about allowing the continued operation of Hitzb ut-Tahrir in Australia. That letter is below with two others on the issue, albeit one of which suggests that it would be discriminatory to point the finger at any particular group, including Muslims, which uses violence against women.
Most commentators, including Turnbull, welcomed or approved Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian airport from where chemical bombs are alleged to have been dumped onthe rebel held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun. Although some claim there is no proof that Syrian President Assad made the decision to bomb, the only alternative deliverer must have been his Russian ally. Hence, one way or another the Assad government of Syria implemented or approved the bombing of the Syrian town.
My Commentary of 23 March drew attention to several aspects of concern arising from the killings and injuries effected by a terrorist in London. These aspects of concern are strengthened by reports published since then.
Trump’s Executive Orders and Twitter announcements continue day by day and it is pertinent to consider their effectiveness and possible implications so far: Job Approval ratings in US polling show a slightly higher net rate of disapproval of Trump, on average - 48.3 to 46, with more disapprovals than approvals (see attached on Polling on Trump Job Approval). But the protests shown on our TV, and the imbalance in the news, clearly exaggerate the opposition to Trump. It is probably little different to the election, albeit more aggressive. Even “our ABC” felt it had to mention support for Trump in last night’s TV news. Despite Trump’s critical remarks about NATO, the meeting of European leaders in Malta on Feb 3 seems to have produced mixed views about Trump (see EU on Trump). The British PM (the only one to have met Trump as President) told them that the US under Trump would still cooperate on defence. The French PM, whose approval polling in France was in single figures the last time I looked, attacked Trump’s support of Brexit (but in front of May). It appears that the meeting was mainly concerned with helping Libya stop emigrants to Europe across the Meditarranean and improving controls on entry of refugees. However, the current President of the EU (actually of the Council), Tusk, thought the US is a threat to the EU!
The strategic and political role played by the US, and the dominant role played by its President in determining its foreign policy in particular, makes it important to assess Obama’s contribution after 8 years as leader as well as the possible implications for future policy. I spent some time yesterday reading the 6 page text of his farewell address (see attached) to 18,000 supporters in Chicago who (on the TV presentations) cheered at almost everything he said and who asked him to stay another four years. Today’s Australian gives an excellent assessment in brief compass in its editorial below. I would be much more critical, though.
Victorian Police Commissioner Ashton stated that the charging of five men with the threat of implementing terrorist acts in the centre of Melbourne was based on evidence that they intended to undertake an explosive event and use other weapons indiscriminately. It appears the police had been aware for some time that they had been planning terrorist action and had concluded that, when some of them were recently seen visiting possible targets (including St Paul’s Cathedral), it was time to arrest them. Ashton claimed publicly that they were “self-radicalised, we believe, but inspired by ISIS and ISIS propaganda." He also said four of the five were Australian-born with a Lebanese background and"there is another suspect in this matter who will be charged that was an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. All the others were Australian-born".
We are used to politicians changing their policy positions but, when they do, a question inevitably arises as to whether to accept the latest version as a genuine change. This is particularly relevant to policy positions announced by Turnbull given his well-known history of critiques of Liberal Party policies. So, how to assess what The Weekend Australian’s Paul Kelly describes as “a repositioning of Turnbull” and a preparedness all of a sudden to assault Shorten on character grounds (see Paul Kelly on Turnbull 26-27 Nov 2016)? In fact, not all the change-rationales are canvassed in Kelly’s piece – for example, Turnbull may have at last realised that “something has to be done” to reverse Labor’s favourable polling and to minimise the risk of a challenge to his leadership by Abbott during the Christmas-New Year period.
I have previously mentioned the report that, following his agreement with Chinese President XI on controlling emissions, Obama had claimed that the US has ratified the Paris Agreement. The latest weekly letter from the US sceptic group (Science & Environmental Project) reports that a White House adviser has claimed that it need not go to the US Senate for ratification by two-thirds of the Senate. He asserts that “With respect to the legal form of the agreement, the United States has a long and well-established process for approving executive agreements, that is, a legal form which is distinct from treaties, which are approved through the advice and consent process in the Senate.” My inquiry of SEPP as to the possibility of this being taken to court produced the response that, while this is likely to happen, the stacking of courts by Obama is likely to mean it would take several years before any review by the US Supreme Court. SEPP notes that Obama boasts that the Paris Agreement is the most ambitious climate agreement in history.