Daniel Elkington

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Budget 2017 - A Gamechanger

This is the budget where Turnbull may turn things around. A budget where the government makes up for the cruelty, dithering and empty slogans from the last three, a budget where the government finally acts as though there's a revenue problem by doing something about it, a genuinely surprising budget that is the best I have ever seen from a Liberal government.

It's not all good though. I've mentioned before that you really can't rate a government well if they're not doing anything serious to address the most pressing issue of our time - Climate Change - and it's really hard to find anything in this budget about it. I tried, I really did. On page 94 of Budget Paper Number 2 there's a reference to giving $0.6 million in 2017/18 for "online platforms that inform decision makers seeking to adapt to changes in climate", and page 95 says there's $13.4 million over 5 years for "an online data platform which links existing and new energy use datasets", whatever that is. That's all I could find. If you find anything else new regarding Climate Change put it in the comments, but in 2017, that's a disgrace.

But onto what the government is actually doing. After Peter Costello spent years giving away unaffordable tax cuts at the upper end (which Labor stupidly continued), damaging the budget bottom line and making it more difficult to fund good social policies, the government has stopped trying to solve this problem by hitting the poor and instead is starting to raise taxes to fund the shortfall. The tax policy is not perfect by any means - the "Temporary Budget Repair Levy" which was essentially an income tax increase on the very wealthy should have been made a permanent part of the tax schedules (instead it's being abolished as planned). The large cut to company tax should also have been scrapped, however on the plus side only the part of it assisting smaller businesses has passed Parliament, while legislation to cut it for very large companies making huge profits is unlikely to ever be implemented.

Instead, there's that huge bank levy, which was desperately needed. When the gap between the rich and the poor is widening like it is, and the big banks are making billions in profits at the expense of their customers, it makes sense for them to pay their way a bit more with the extra funds helping the vulnerable.

Then there's the 0.5% increase in the Medicare levy. Yes, it could have perhaps been made more progressive in its implementation, but it isn't applied to the very poor, and it means that the National Disability Insurance Scheme appears to be guaranteed. It's easy to forget about the real positive impact the NDIS has on people, and knowing that its funding appears to be secure may really help the people it affects to worry less about their future. I almost fell off my chair when I saw that there's also a bit of money to help reduce homelessness, something desperately needed but not expected at all.

We already knew about the changes to school funding, but it's worth emphasising that the government is seeking to genuinely allocate funding according to school need, as opposed to the well intended but flawed implementation from the previous Labor government that gave varying amounts to different states based on special deals and continued to overfund some private schools well in excess of what they should have been getting. If a private school gets a funding cut or a slowdown in its funding growth because it's getting much more than it deserves compared with public schools, so be it. Yes, Labor is complaining about the headline funding amount - if they want to increase the total funding while keeping its distribution genuinely needs based, good on them.

While some are complaining, the changes to University funding arrangements don't bother me too much. The overall funding cut to Universities is very small (especially compared with what the government had tried to do previously), and changes to fees and HECs only affect how students pay back their degrees later; with no upfront course fee payments, there shouldn't be anything that financially prevents poor students attending University in the first place.

There are some rather obvious nasties that aren't too much of a surprise. The measure with the biggest impact is of course the predictable freezing of the Foreign Aid budget, which will only hurt the world's poorest. There are various "welfare crackdown" measures that seem designed to satisfy the cries of tabloid newspapers rather than solve any real problem; things like trials of drug testing, and a demerit point system for welfare recipients. There is more money for defence, again, a solution looking for a problem, and the government is continuing to ignore one to the biggest things it could do to influence housing affordability - a big crackdown on Negative Gearing.

It is at least recognising that housing affordability is a problem though, and the announced measures may go some way to help. Ultimately if you want to get house prices down (or at least reduce the rate of price increase) you should implement policies that decrease demand, increase supply, or both. What we have is a bit of a mixed bag. A tax on unoccupied dwellings and allowing elderly to put money from house sales into super may increase supply. Restricting foreign ownership for new developments may decrease demand. But the centrepiece of the package - allowing people to put money into their super so it gets taxed less and allowing them to later withdraw it for a first-home deposit, if taken up, will only increase demand and hence put upward pressure on house prices. This might not be too much of a bad thing though if it gives first home buyers an advantage over investors; we'll see.

There's a lot of money for new infrastructure, and for once it's not all about new roads (which don't make sense when we should be discouraging the use of cars). The biggest surprise here was a $10 billion rail program. There isn't much detail about what this is actually for at the moment - projects will first need to have approved business cases. I wouldn't be surprised if we start to hear more about individual projects closer to the election. The Herald Sun immediately began to speculate about the possibility of it being used for a rail link to the Melbourne Airport.

And finally, the government ditched their "zombie" measures, nasties that have been hanging around for years that the Senate didn't support; things that were cruel and unfair. Things like cuts to family payments, increasing the Newstart eligibility age, and introducing waiting periods before unemployment benefits could be received. In essence, instead of hitting the poor to pay for health and education, we're now hitting the wealthy in the form of higher taxes on banks and middle to higher income Australians. The government should be going out and selling this, but instead their messaging seems to be that they would have preferred the former and were only forced into the latter due to the Senate. Nevermind the rhetoric though, they've overwhelmingly done the right and fair thing. Finding the money to fix schools and help the disabled from those who can most afford it. That's my kind of Australia.

Monday, 21 November 2016

My first International Flight

What do you do if a stranger walks up to you in an International Airport and asks for your passport?

An email popped into my inbox some time ago. Attached to it was a "ticket" for a flight to China. I was advised to print it out and take it with me to the airport on Sunday November 20. On opening the attachment I was faced with a PDF containing a heap of garbled text that didn't appear to make much sense at all.

Normally I would ignore an email like this, but in this case the email was from the Swinburne Study Tours Coordinator, who had previously informed me that I had been accepted into Swinburne's Future Leader's Study Tour to China, so it was probably genuine. I printed out the garbled mess of a ticket, which really annoyed me, because it was the opposite of user-friendliness. If you looked through the garbled text you could pick out my name, and the flight I would be on, but it was one of the hardest documents I've ever had the misfortune of being forced to read.

Later I would attempt to get rid of it at the first opportunity. Much later, at the China Southern Airways counter at Melbourne Airport, I knew I was supposed to give them my passport and the online check-in confirmation, but didn't know about the unreadable ticket thing. I did anyway, handing it over along with the passport.

But back to the preceding weeks. Having never been outside of Australia before, I found myself receiving an overload of advice from all manner of people. I was told to tie my passport under my clothes, exchange money in advance, be wary of strangers looking to steal my organs, and avoid tap water. I was told to avoid all meat, avoid all cold food, avoid all non-Western food, avoid dodgy side-street restaurants, and to try all street cold-food because it was the most "authentic". And then there was the plane advice. I was told to get a window seat because I could lean my head against it to sleep, and I was told to get an aisle seat so that I could move about without disturbing people, and stretch my legs. I was told that no matter what, it would be cramped and horrible. I was told that there would be screaming babies and terrible inedible food. I was told to do the online check-in, and to avoid the online check-in and check-in with the rest of the group so we could sit together. I was told to expect a rough journey, that the plane would make me sick, that I should prepare for no sleep and just watch movies, and that I should avoid the movies and just go to sleep.

I was told that the reviews of the airline Swinburne had chosen - China Southern Airways - were "mixed", but that it was cheap. I was told that it was actually cheaper than had been previously thought when I'd paid my contribution for the tour, and I would get a $500 refund. When I told people this information, they advised me that this was obviously the most dirt-cheap flight possible, and it would no doubt be unbearable, in a horrible, cramped seat. And it would be unbearably hot. And freezing cold.

Overwhelmed, I headed to the airport, arriving four hours and forty-five minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off. Which meant of course that I just ended up sitting around at the airport for hours waiting for other people to come. I had done the online check-in, which appeared to be sensible because it meant I could skip a huge queue at the actual luggage check-in. They took my suitcase, and after some more waiting around I made my way with a few others through customs, border force, and…perfume shops? Apparently there are people who are so devastated about their perfume being pinged by the Customs "no liquids" rule that they feel the need to immediately buy more on the other side. Melbourne Airport is so strange…

I met with the rest of the study tour for the first time at the boarding gate. There was still a while until our flight left. I sat down, and was scrolling through Australian Politics on Twitter when…a person approached. "Can I have your passport and boarding pass?" she asked.

I looked up. My first thought was that it would be security, but she wasn't dressed like a security person. One could possibly vaguely describe her clothing as "uniform-like" though. She was frowning. Why had she just randomly approached me here? I wondered if this was part of a criminal plot to steal people's passports and do bad things with them? What do you do when a stranger asks for your passport?

I reached into my bag, pulled out my passport and boarding pass, and gave them to her.

She didn't walk or run away like I was half expecting. Instead, she opened the passport, had a quick glance through, and took a quick look at my boarding pass.

And then she reached into her pocket, pulled out a folded piece of paper, and gave it to me. "You left this at my desk," she said, before wordlessly giving me back my passport and boarding pass. And before I could say anything else she had turned on her heal and was gone, and was soon lost in the crowd.

I stared at the folded piece of paper in my hand. I was almost scared of opening it. I couldn't remember leaving anything on anyone's desk.

I slowly unfolded it.

It was that wretched indecipherable China Southern Airways ticket thing that I'd wanted to get rid of.

How on earth had she tracked me here? Had someone been tracking my movements on CCTV cameras through the airport? Or had she just happened to recognise me? It was so strange.

I boarded the aircraft, and before-long I was out of Australia for the first time. And I have to say that China Southern Airways exceeded my expectation in just about every way. Overall I thought they were amazing. The seat was comfortable, much more comfortable than I had been expecting, and there was plenty of room for me to stretch my legs. They made it nice and dark for most of the flight so that sleeping was possible. It was much quieter than I'd anticipated. The flight attendants were very helpful. And the food was amazing. If other airline food is like this, I don't know why people complain. I wasn't even expecting to get food, but on the international flight those of us in economy class got two decent meals and lots of drinks, all of which was really really good.

Perhaps the only criticism I would make is that China Southern Airways needs to get better software developers. Their online check-in site is broken, in that it appears to only work if you leave the "middle name" field blank (and I've heard that from multiple people on the tour). The entertainment systems have a tendency to crash. And the in-flight wifi trial didn't work - at the login screen it kept telling me that I had entered "invalid input", and I noticed the same thing happen to other people on the plane who attempted to connect. But the wifi is marketed as only a "trial" anyway, hopefully they'll be able to iron out those bugs.

Our international plane touched down at Guongzhou, and I soon discovered the difference between how Australia and China stop poison getting through customs. Australia simply bans any liquids of a certain quantity from going through. In China they make you drink some of the liquid you're bringing in. I had to drink some of the water in my bottle as staff watched carefully to see if I was just pretending to drink/dying.

We raced across the airport to just make our connecting flight to Beijing. This time I had a window seat. And I was so glad that I did, because the view I had on the descent into Beijing was incredible. Breathtaking. Snow had just fallen, and covered the buildings, trees, and the ground. Tall buildings covered the landscape as far as the eye could see, which was nothing like Melbourne. I wish I could have taken photos, but having your phone on while in flight wasn't allowed, so I just took in what I could. It was a magical, wondrous experience.

All-in-all, international flying in economy is much better than it's made out to be. Worst part is unreadable air tickets. That piece of paper has now come with me from Melbourne to Beijing, it's in my bag right now, and it's still annoying me. If it survives coming back to Melbourne again, I'll need to think up a very special fate for the wretched thing…

Saturday, 25 June 2016

I hate cars. Here's why I'm voting for the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party.



Election night 2013. Kevin Rudd had made a lengthy speech where he sounded far too happy given he'd lost. Tony Abbott, surrounded by his family, had made his speech promising to govern for all Australians, while protester Fregmonto Stokes successfully got onto the stage. It looked like Clive Palmer might have won Fairfax. And as I was about to go to bed, I loaded the ABC Senate results calculator, and smiled in amazement. The Sports Party were forecast to have won a seat in Western Australia, Family First in South Australia, Palmer all over the place. It wasn't totally unexpected; there had been whispers that this would be the election where the micro parties finally began winning lots of seats, and I was somewhat happy that this was true, liking the idea of a bit more colour in the Upper House. Annoyingly the party I liked the least, the Liberal Democrats, were very strong in New South Wales, but I was most interested in my home state of Victoria, where I was surprised to see...

Sure enough, Motoring Enthusiast Ricky Muir, who hadn't even tried, and hadn't really even wanted it, was to be a member of the 76-person Australian Senate, sharing the balance of power in deciding whether to let key Bills through the Parliament.

I had preferenced Ricky at number 70 out of 97 on my below-the-line vote, mostly due to my dislike of carswriting before the election about the Motoring Enthusiasts
You're probably aware that I am very much against cars. So a party that seems to be obsessed with cars, where almost all of their policies are about cars really worries me. They push the ridiculous line about how the government is interfering in our lives too much and have turned us into a Nanny State, and want us to be able to drive cars around on public land. The one redeeming feature is their reasonable education policy. They don't seem to have a climate change/asylum seeker policy, but I think I can assume that it wouldn't be good.
However, I was very curious about the accidental Senator. There was almost nothing about him anywhere, and he began avoiding all media. Until finally, nine months later, he sat down for his first proper interview. Against veteran Channel 9 Journalist Mike Willesee. And it was a trainwreck. The worst political interview performance I have ever seen.

But I really felt for him. If you were to pick up most random Australians, make them a Senator, and plop them in front of the cameras against Mike Willesee, they'd probably do just as poorly. Or they might just get angry. But even as the interview was falling apart, Ricky Muir was as polite as one could be. It was amazing.

On the day he got his Parliament House Office and his Parliamentary office address was revealed, I sent him a letter in the mail stating I was happy he had been elected as my representative, and caught the bus to Canberra a week later to watch his first week.
Booklet given to people attending the swearing in of new Senators
After being pinged by security for forgetting about the scissors in my bag, I watched as Ricky walked into the Senate for his first official day in the Chamber, in the middle of a conversation with Labor Senate Leader Penny Wong. A few of the old-time Senators made a dive for Ricky straight away to welcome him, being uncannily nice. The Senators were sworn in, and they dealt with their first matter of business, the election of the Senate President, by secret written ballot. Ricky Muir nervously covered his ballot with his hand as he wrote down a name. Stephen Parry was elected President. And they adjourned.

I continued to observe Ricky Muir over that week. He didn't get up to speak at all, he seemed too nervous, but I appreciated how much time he spent in the chamber, just sitting and listening to the various points that were raised. Clive Palmer had managed to strike a deal with the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, where Ricky Muir would, in general, vote with his Senators, which was disappointing, but I was happy to see Ricky Muir prove that he wasn't the servant of Clive Palmer on his third day in the chamber, when, after listening to the arguments of Labor and Nick Xenophon, he voted against gagging debate on repealing Australia's Carbon Price, which the PUP Senators supported.

I continued to follow the snippets of Ricky Muir in the media, and was happy to see him declare early on his support for looking after the environment, in particular his support for Renewable Energy. There was nothing anywhere I could find though about the other issue I'm passionate about; how we treat people seeking Asylum, except for a small comment in one interview where he stated that he thought it was "pretty important" and would pay attention.

I would find out his views almost five months after that first day, when I again sat in the Senate to watch the Senate debate the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014. This bill was an incredibly nasty piece of work, making it much harder for people fleeing persecution to be recognised as refugees by Australia, and giving the Immigration Minister a lot of power in deciding whether to give people protection. The Government, obviously, were supporting it. Labor and the Greens were going to oppose it. Which left the decision as to whether it would go through to the crossbenchers. Three were needed to block it.

Jacqui Lambie, and John Madigan came out reasonably early as being opposed to the bill. David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day did as they usually did at that point, which was to support almost everything the government put up that they didn't care too much about, and hence they decided to support it. Nick Xenophon would support it, with amendments the government agreed to. Which left it up to the Palmer United Party Senators and Ricky Muir.

On the Wednesday there were indications from the Palmer United Party that they would vote against the bill. It looked set to be defeated. But then on the Thursday, something changed. Clive Palmer gave a press conference stating that he had struck a deal with the government, and his Senators would support it. Which meant that, for the first time, a major decision affecting many people would be decided by the Senator Ricky Muir from the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party. If he supported the bill, it would get through. If he opposed it, it wouldn't. Nobody knew what his thoughts were on Asylum Seekers. Was he just a petrol-head who didn't two hoots about people fleeing persecution? Would he even turn up to the chamber to vote?

After hearing the news from Clive Palmer, I handed in my phone and headed into the Senate at 3:33pm just as the debate on the bill was re-commencing. I would be planted to that chair for the next eight and a half hours.

Various Labor and Green Senators argued passionately against the bill. They began repeating themselves as the hours went by. And then, finally, I saw him enter. I wrote in capital letters on the handwritten notes I was taking:
7:55: MUIR ENTERS THE CHAMBER

He began speaking at 8:05pm. It was the first time I'd seen him speak in the Senate. It was the first time we were going to see what his views were on Asylum Seekers, potentially views that could matter, not just in this vote, but in many votes to come. Including me, there were four people in the Public Gallery. There was nobody in the Press Gallery.

Coming to a decision on this bill has been, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions I have had to face—a choice between a bad option and a worse option. It is a decision that involves human beings: children, mothers, fathers. It involves the lives of people who have had to endure unthinkable hardship, people pushed to the point where they go to any lengths to seek asylum.

Someone had for whatever reason managed to smuggle a PHONE into the Public Gallery, and was texting away. I had never seen anyone do that before.

I believe that this bill has many bad aspects; however, I am forced into a corner to decide between a bad decision or a worse decision—a position which I do not wish on my worst enemies.

A guard evicted the person with the phone from the Public Gallery.

Ultimately, it is my desire to see the legacy case load resolved with a clear pathway to permanency for those who are found to be genuine refugees, and for those who are found not to be genuine refugees to return home. Unfortunately, due to the current government's policy, I do not have that option in front of me.

I was amazed, and took a break from furiously scribbling notes to just listen to this amazing speech.

Tonight I have also spoken with people who have worked closely with detainees on Christmas Island. They told me that this bill is not completely fair, but that the detainees are tired. They told me that the detainees have had enough and that they want out. They are desperate. She told me that they have watched the news and they know it is down to one vote, and that vote is mine.

I wondered where all the journalists were. Later I would find out that it was the night of the annual Walkley awards. The journalists were cheering each other, giving each other gongs, while this was happening. Nobody was live-blogging it. Hardly anyone was paying attention.

While I was speaking to these people and they were informing me, they started to break down and cry as they were speaking about children who have been in detention since they were born who are two years old. They speak about the word 'out'. To them 'out' means going to church on occasion, and that is it. When they hear the word 'out', they cannot begin to associate it with freedom.

The person with the phone re-entered the Public Gallery, without their phone.

They told the people in detention that they rang the office of the man whose decision it was to decide whether they would be out of detention before Christmas. That man wasn't the minister for immigration; it was me. It should not be like this but it is. The crossbench should not have been put in this position, but it has.

And so, Ricky Muir would support this bill. The bad option. He had been blackmailed by Scott Morrison, who had promised to free child refugees on Christmas Island if Ricky Muir supported this bill. The bill had nothing to do with freeing children on Christmas Island. Morrison could free them whenever he liked. But he would only do so if Ricky voted to strip away the rights of other refugees. I honestly cannot say what I would have done in that situation. Ricky chose to support the bill, and free some children from detention.

I stayed to the bitter end, sitting through vote after vote. I watched as Scott Morrison entered the chamber, and sat in the Advisor's Box, grinning. I watched as Jacqui Lambie asked the Assistant Minister for Immigration if she would resign if the children were not out by Christmas, and I watched as she refused to get up and say anything. At 11:59pm, minutes before the final vote, I watched as the Senate lights suddenly went out, plunging the chamber into darkness. I watched, my face like stone but weeping inside as the bill went through. I left at 12:19am on Friday morning.


As I write this, it's not long until the 2016 Federal Election. It's been a very long election campaign, and it's been at a strange time of the year. The reasons for this are, funnily enough, due to Ricky Muir, specifically, the government's attempts to get rid of him and the other minor parties in the Senate by holding a highly unusual Double-Dissolution election, where all Senators, even those like Muir who would otherwise continue their terms until 2020, have to face the voters. And on this occasion, I'm going to be supporting Ricky, giving him my first preference on my Senate vote, and urging others to vote for him as well as I volunteer for him on election day.

I am not doing this because his views align closer to mine than any of the other 115 candidates on the ballot paper. I do not share his enthusiasm for cars or guns. I am supporting Senator Ricky Muir because he is the ideal model of what a Senator should be. He's the result of one of the most fascinating experiments in modern Australia: what happens if you randomly choose an ordinary Australian and stick them in the Senate. Ricky has ended up showing that an ordinary, sensible Australian can do a better job than any of the other political hacks in the chamber.

The major party Senators have to compromise their personal beliefs all the time, and recite dull, repetitive talking points when asked questions. Ricky speaks in plain English. The other Senators either have dictated to them a position or pick one, and then throw themselves behind that position, ignoring evidence to the contrary as they argue their case. Ricky carefully examines both sides, listening to the arguments presented, and changes his mind as the facts change. Take some of the other crossbenchers - Senator Leyonhjelm is rude and arrogant, while Muir continues to be as polite and friendly as you could hope for. Senator Bob Day seems to just vote with the government if he doesn't understand something, while Muir actually thinks through the issues. Jacqui Lambie seems to have rather extreme views when it comes to Terrorism and National Service, while Ricky Muir is more balanced and doesn't feel the need to make a big deal about what religious attire people wear.

Ricky Muir understands what it is like to be poor and unemployed; he's lived it very recently. He understands matters of fairness better than most Senators. When the government threatened him with this election if he didn't pass their Building and Construction Commission Bill, he voted against it, acknowledging that by doing so he'd probably lose his job. His voice needs to be in our Senate.

While of course I would prefer it if he took a stronger stance on matters such as Climate Change, he's never expressed Climate Denial, and apart from his confused second week in the Senate where he voted to repeal the Carbon Price on the advice of Clive Palmer, on the occasions where he has spoken or voted on environmental matters, I've usually supported his position.

Some people criticise Muir because they believe he was elected "undemocratically" at the last election, receiving 0.51% of the vote at the 2013 election. I disagree with this viewpoint. 16.58% of voters in Victoria did not vote for Labor, the Coalition or the Greens in the Senate, and these people need to be represented. The typical rationale for voting for one of these micro parties, particularly above the line, is because one is disengaged by the system, doesn't want career politicians in the Parliament, and wants a more average Australian to represent them. If they voted below the line, they entirely picked the parties and candidates they wanted, but if they voted above the line, they were trusting the party to preference parties it could tolerate. Some say this is where the system failed, because micro parties were preferencing parties they had no ideological affiliation with - meaning far left parties were preferencing those on the far right, and vice-versa. This isn't entirely true however - a close reading of the group voting tickets shows that the micro parties mostly preferenced those other micro parties who had similar views, and then preferenced those parties who they weren't as close to, but could still "tolerate" their opinions. Parties that don't seem particularly 'left' or particularly 'right' on the spectrum that other micro parties, no matter their leanings, could at least put up with, parties like the Australian Sports Party, or indeed, the Motoring Enthusiast Party. Ricky Muir's election was entirely democratic; 1/6 voters said they didn't want major parties controlling the Senate, voted for alternative voices, and as a result of this 1/6 of Victoria's elected Senators was a non-major party individual whose views weren't particularly extreme to anyone.

It's a shame that the system won't really represent these voters anymore. Now if you're not a particularly engaged person who just walks in, preferences a couple of random micro parties and leaves, your vote will simply exhaust and won't count for anything.

There may indeed be others on the ballot paper who are ordinary Australians who would be good representatives in the Senate running as independents or for micro parties, but even if I could reliably identify which of them would be the perfect person for the job, none of them in this new Senate voting system would have a ghost of a chance of being elected. Ricky does have a chance. It's small, but he has a bit of name recognition, and I've already run into a few people who have also noticed his quiet achievements and are planning on voting for him.

So I would therefore urge you - if you live in Victoria, put Ricky first or near the top of your Senate vote. If you're worried about wasting your vote on someone who probably won't get elected, don't - it's not how our system works. Just number all the boxes (or at least as many as you can) and either Ricky Muir won't get elected and your vote will flow straight to the candidate of your choice, or you'll help an honest, decent Australian defy the odds and get elected to be a representative you can be proud of.

If you're still not convinced, just find any recent wide-ranging Ricky Muir interview and listen to it. For example this one.

Just in case you're curious as to how the rest of my vote will look like, my lower-house vote in the seat of Melbourne will look like this:

1. Miranda Joyce Smith - Animal Justice Party
2. Sophie Ismail - Australian Labor Party
3. Adam Bandt - The Greens
4. Matt Riley - Drug Law Reform
5. Le Liu - Liberal
6. Lewis Freeman-Harrison - Australian Sex Party

In Melbourne this time around, it's a relatively simple ballot paper with 6 candidates, and for me three of them immediately fell into the "good" group and I was left to decide which of them was the best, and three fell into the "bad" group and I was left to decide which was the worst. The decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens was a tough one, but was mostly down to the Greens' decision to vote through the changes to the Senate Voting System, which might benefit them electorally, but could effectively void the ballots of those people looking for alternatives and deny them representation. Labor's candidate in Melbourne has views on Asylum Seekers that are much better than her party's, and I think she would be a welcome voice inside the Labor caucus to replace those of Melissa Parke and Anna Burke, both of whom are retiring. My vote shouldn't make much of a difference here however; Adam Bandt should get in easily.

I never like giving a major party my first preference because of the wonderful Single Transferrable Value voting system we have in Australia that lets you preference minor parties and still let your vote count for someone, so while I wish there was more choice on my ballot paper, I'll be giving my first preference to the Animal Justice Party. I saw Miranda Joyce Smith at a Meet the Candidates Forum, and she spoke very well. I would be happy to have her as my local representative. Le Liu, my Liberal candidate, did not turn up to that forum. If he'd turned up and been a really good candidate, he might have slipped ahead of Matt Riley from the Drug Law Reform party, but as it was I have to preference Riley just above the Liberals because he seemed like a genuine person, and did his best. I can't put the Drag Law Reform party any higher though; while their policies to help drug users stay safer by decriminalising or legalising the use of certain drugs may be arguable, their logo seems to undermine any sensibleness in appearing designed to trick gullible voters into thinking that they stand for giving out free drugs or something...
No surprise that I'm putting the Sex Party last, their views remain as intolerable for me as they did at the last election.

My full Senate vote is as follows, with comments:
1. Ricky Muir - Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party
2. Eric Vardarlis - Independent
Very good ideas on Climate Change, refugees, taxation, education, and the like. A lawyer who has taken the government to court over Asylum Seekers in the past.

3. David Knight - Australian Progressives
4. Josh Gilmore - Australian Progressives
Strong on Climate Change, compassionate towards Asylum Seekers. Have a decent set of policies.

5. Lalitha Chelliah - Socialist Alliance
6. Tim Gooden - Socialist Alliance
Excellent on refugees, against cars and roads, very very strong Climate Change policy.

7. Misha Coleman - The Greens
I'm not voting for the Greens according to their ticket, and have instead taken a quick look at the individual candidates. Coleman seems to be the best; she's done a lot for refugees and her voice in the Parliament would be very useful.

8. James Searle - The Greens
I had him as a guest lecturer once at Uni, and he does a lot of good work at the Swinburne Student Union. He's also volunteered quite a bit at the Swinburne Programming Helpdesk, which is a useful service.

9. David Collyer - Group B Independent
10. Wanda Mitchell-Cook - Group B Independent
This group is actually what is left of the Australian Democrats - they didn't manage to get properly registered as a party. Lots of well defined policies on various issues, including compassion towards refugees, good Climate Change action, and their candidates for Victoria seem very intelligent - Collyer is the director of a progressive think tank, and Mitchell-Cook is a nurse educator.

11. Danielle Lehrer - VOTEFLUX.ORG | Upgrade Democracy!
12. Stuart James Milne - VOTEFLUX.ORG | Upgrade Democracy!
Vote Flux wants to have an app. When there's a bill in the Parliament, you (as an average citizen) open the app and vote, and the Vote Flux Senator does whatever the app tells them to. You can swap votes with other people, not vote on something and get two votes down the track, or nominate a party or other person to vote on your behalf. An interesting idea, but probably won't work in practice because of being easy to rig and not representing the vast majority of Australians who would never download the app in the first place or take the time to properly understand what they are doing. Still, I would love having my own vote on bills in the Senate, and while I wouldn't want every Senator to do what an app tells them to, having one or two in the Senate from Vote Flux would make things interesting.

13. Christopher Beslis - Independent 
A lefty Uni Student who has good policies on Asylum Seekers, reasonably good intentions on Climate Change, and other interesting ideas that have merit, but perhaps aren't that well thought out.

14. Anna Crabb - The Greens
15. Richard Di Natale - The Greens
Crabb has volunteered a lot for good causes, and leader Richard Di Natale does okay, but maybe isn't the most interesting person to listen to.

16. Luke James - Science Party
Love the environment policies, particularly around having an ETS and having a bullet train in Australia. Want to close offshore detention as well. As a Christian, some of their social policies don't really square with me however.

17. Graham Askey - Renewable Energy Party
18. Gary Wilson - Renewable Energy Party
Good on the environment, renewable energy, and Climate Change (as you would expect), but no real Asylum Seeker policy that I can find. Askey seems to be a bit of a micro-party guru, having been the Registered Officer for the HEMP Party for 15 years, and having helped minor parties with their preference negotiations.

19. Chris Sinnema - Socialist Equality Party
20. Peter Byrne - Socialist Equality Party
Pretty average socialist party intent on helping workers. Has a good Asylum Seeker policy, Climate Change policy is a bit of a mish-mash and doesn't seem as much of a priority as it should be.

21. Elise Klein - The Greens
22. Jennifer Alden - The Greens
23. Tasma Minifie - The Greens
24. Judy Cameron - The Greens
25. Gurm Sekhon - The Greens
26. Josephine Maguire-Rosier - The Greens
27. Rose Read - The Greens
The Greens have a lot of candidates.

28. Bruce Poon - Animal Justice Party
29. Jacqueline Edgecombe - Animal Justice Party
Strong Climate Change policies, hints that they'd be good on refugee and immigration matters. They want to advocate a wider uptake of plant-based diets, and Bruce Poon works in IT as a Project Manager!

30. Lachlan Simpson - Pirate Party
31. Richard Burleigh - Pirate Party
Supports Carbon Pricing, and has a good Asylum Seeker policy. Their income tax policy looks good, and is party based on the Basic Income idea, which looks after the poor. However, it doesn't seem to tax wealthy people at a high enough rate.

32. Janet Rice - The Greens
A current Senator, who has been a bit uninspiring. I've been in the Senate for some of her speeches, and they can be a little dull.

33. Rose Godde - The Arts Party
34. Jamie Christopher Henson - The Arts Party
35. Maureen J Andres - The Arts Party
Pretty good Asylum Seeker Policymaybe except for making asylum seekers check in with the Department of Immigration weekly when living in the community. Supports carbon pricing. Most policies are about advocating for more funding for the Arts, which isn't really a particularly big issue for me, and they seem to hedge their bets both ways when it comes to vaccinations. Oh, and they have Anthony Ackroyd, the famous Rudd impersonator, running against Malcolm Turnbull in the seat of Wentworth. Just because.

36. Chien-Hui Yang - Australian Labor Party
37. Jacinta Collins - Australian Labor Party
38. Gavin Marshall - Australian Labor Party
Yang looks to be the best of the Labor Party Senate candidates. She's a migrant, and a science and technology professional who hopes to increase the cultural diversity of the Senate. While she supported Rudd, I feel that sitting Senator Jacinta Collins' views on certain social policies align more with my thinking than other Labor MPs. Gavin Marshall, another sitting Senator, doesn't seem to do much at the moment, but he's had reasonable views on Asylum Seekers in the past.

39. Nik Dow - Australian Cyclists Party
This party is all about bikes, and not much else. Is this really a federal issue in need of a Federal Party? Dow seems good though - he's riding his bike because he wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

40. Vickie Janson - Australian Christians
41. Eleni Arapoglou - Australian Christians
42. Anne Okumu - Australian Christians
While they want to increase foreign aid, and some of their views on Asylum Seekers appear reasonable, they seem to want to discriminate in favour of Christian refugees, and want temporary protection visas, which I don't really agree with. When it comes to Climate Change they seem rather vague, except for making it clear that they don't want a "carbon tax" or large-scale renewable energy.

43. Stephen Michael Conroy - Australian Labor Party
Sitting Senator, senior Labor MP, and a leader of the right faction. While he rightly supported Gillard (yes I'm still judging Labor MPs on this), he's quite a brash and rude person in the Senate.

44. Catriona Cecilia Thoolen - Palmer United Party
We've had a few years of Clive and his Senator(s), and in hindsight they were quite reasonable on most policies. They mostly looked after the poor, and ended up being better than expected on the environment. However the party is quite erratic, and seems to just try to judge whatever is going to be most popular view and go for it without really believing in much. Who knows what would happen if we were to elect another Palmer Senator - would they start their own party or do whatever Clive tells them to?

Thoolen however seems surprisingly left-wing on Twitter, and appears to be a serial commenter on news website, surprisingly offering good comments most of the time. Seems to be a bit brainwashed by PUP though.

Oh - and why is the Palmer United Party website directing you to their campaign website which has the URL 'thetruthhub.com'?

45. Kathryn Breakwell - Health Australia Party
This party wants to be humane to Asylum Seekers, and wants Public Transport instead of roads, but appears to be anti-vaccination. Breakwell is their second candidate on the ballot paper, seems to want to focus more on environmental issues, and is the editor of "Vegetarian Victoria".

46. Louise Persse - Australian Labor Party
47. Steve Kent - Australian Labor Party
48. Les Tarczon - Australian Labor Party
Various ALP candidates with very little information about them that I can find. They mostly appear to be various people who worked for Unions, and are now being shoved into un-winnable Senate candidate spots. Tarczon in particular doesn't appear particularly bright, and found a shotgun cartridge in his letterbox back in 2004!

49. May Hanna - Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)
50. Stephanie Botros - Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)
The Christian Democratic Party doesn't seem to have clear policies on major issues, appearing to leave these to individual candidates. Hanna, their top Victorian candidate, is a lawyer working to help Asylum Seekers, but is strongly opposed to negative gearing changes, which is a bit of a shame (I'm strongly in favour).

51. Kim Carr - Australian Labor Party
While he's appeared to have reasonable views on Asylum Seekers, he was a major destabiliser of Julia Gillard, and as a result, I cannot stomach the idea of rewarding this by giving him a high preference on my ballot paper.

52. Georgia Nicholls - Sustainable Australia
53. Steven Armstrong - Sustainable Australia
Public transport instead of roads, and they want to abolish Negative Gearing! While they accept that the humanitarian refugee intake isn't the problem when it comes to an unsustainable population, their idea of dramatically lowering non-humanitarian immigration is questionable. Their environment plan is vague.

54. John Karagiannidis - Independent
This guy is sick of the political duopoly, wants to do something about Climate Change, and has various "nice" policies - the sorts of things that random people often come up with as "good ideas" that maybe aren't that well thought-through and which maybe aren't major priorities. He'd been trying to crowd fund campaign money for the last 2 months when I took a look at his page, and it was still stuck on $0 - nobody had donated. I felt sorry for him, so I gave him his first donation - $5.

55. Naomi Halpern - Nick Xenophon Team
56. Justin Lee - Nick Xenophon Team
The Nick Xenophon Team is so vague on everything. Xenophon himself has basically shown himself to be a populist/centrist party that often supports the government on controversial matters, with an amendment or two. I'm rather worried about him having too much power, and would prefer the crossbench to be a little more diverse.

57. Roy Ridge - Mature Australia
58. Graham McCarthy - Mature Australia
Wishy-washy Asylum Seeker Policy, but probably better than what we currently have. Their focus is mostly on health policies for the elderly. I've swapped the two candidates around, mostly because Ridge has a lot to say on fairness, is concerned about homelessness, and the rich not paying enough tax.

59. Karthik Arasu - Independent
A few weird, populist "nice ideas" that are unlikely to happen. Seems like a decent chap though.

60. Aaron Mackey - Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party
Ricky Muir's running-mate. Seems to be a huge petrolhead who loves burnouts. Yes, he might be another Muir, but there really isn't enough evidence to suggest this.

61. Stephen Vereker - DLP Democratic Labour
62. Michael Freeman - DLP Democratic Labour
The DLP's Asylum Seeker Policy is reasonable, but not the best. They also appear to be Climate Change skeptics.

63. Mark Francis Dickenson - Independent
Appears to be compassionate towards Asylum Seekers, and wants to do something about Climate Change, although this doesn't seem to be a priority - he only appears to have blogged about it once back in 2014.

64. Meredith Urie - Independent 
Has been a local council member, and has various "nice" policies. She speaks okay in her various Youtube videos.

65. Stephen Juhasz - Independent
Very little detail about him. He wants to take on the banks.

66. Derryn Hinch - Derryn Hinch's Justice Party
67. Stuart Grimley - Derryin Hinch's Justice Party
Against animal cruelty, but the main platform seems to be longer sentences for criminals, because "it's just common sense". Except it's not actually the best way of reducing crime and creating a better society. No policies on Climate Change or Asylum Seekers, but in the past Hinch has used rather inflammatory rhetoric to spout some ill-informed views on Asylum Seekers. At this point he looks very likely to actually win a Senate spot due to some good media coverage, reasonable campaigning, first spot on the ballot paper, and preferences from both Labor and the Coalition.

68. John Madigan - MFP
69. Mark George - MFP
Seems to have stolen Labor's "Putting People First" slogan. As a sitting Senator and former DLP politician, Madigan has been reasonable, if dull. He's been quite good on Asylum Seekers, but bad on the environment - he has a thing about wind farms.

70. Karina Okotel - Liberal
Appears to be the best Liberal candidate on the ballot paper. Works as a lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid, interested in Human Rights and helping the vulnerable.

71. John Sherman - Drug Law Reform
The Drug Law Reform Party has its various drug policies (decriminalise drug use, reform how we treat drug users), and apart from that, all members get a conscience vote on other legislation. This is their second candidate, who is a Medical Doctor who seems quite good.

72. Hugh Dolan - Jacqui Lambie Network
73. Matt Timson - Jacqui Lambie Network
I tried to visit the Jacqui Lambie Network website to investigate her policies, and got this:

I got the same message when I tried again the next day. Hmm.

Lambie has been good at sticking up for the poor, and has made the Senate much more interesting. However she's erratic, and a bit mad on issues like terrorism and the armed forces. While she has her moments, on the whole she's not that good on Asylum Seekers or the environment. The snippets of information I can find on her Victorian candidates suggest they're not too bad - Dolan has an army background and writes comic books.

74. Dana Spasojevic - Independent
A truck driver and a Mum, who seems to have just randomly decided to run for the Senate because why not?

75. Cameron Hickey - Palmer United Party
Not much on this guy other than him being a "small business" person.

76. Dennis Hall - Independent
Seems a bit strange.

77. Greg Chipp - Drug Law Reform
Son of Don Chipp from the Democrats. Doesn't seem as good as their second candidate.

78. Geoff Lutz - Independent 
A ghost. There's basically nothing about him online, except that he's a semi-retired orchadist. He's given his phone number and an email address to the AEC - if I had more time I might have called him to find out what his views are and why he's running.

79. David James Scanlon - Voluntary Euthanasia Party
80. Miranda Jones - Voluntary Euthanasia Party
Obviously they're mostly about Euthanasia, which I'm not terribly enthusiastic about. They say they'll be "moderate" and "progressive" on other issues.

81. Allan Mull - Independent 
People need to experience hardship. That's why he wants compulsory defence training for everyone after they finish High School. Hmm. Apart from that, he's a former farmer who's into defence.

82. Immanuel Shmuel - Independent 
Not that much in the way of actual policy. Doesn't make a lot of sense.

83. Chris Ryan - Independent
A lawyer. Another ghost. Why did I put him here when I put the other ghost up at 78? Maybe I'm judging them on their occupation, and think more highly of semi-retired orchidists than I do of lawyers. I really don't know. He just feels better down here.

84. Mitch Fifield - Liberal
A reasonable, moderate Liberal who helped Turnbull get in. He's always spoken well when I've watched the Senate.

85. Garry Kerr - Australian Country Party
86. Phil Larkin - Australian Country Party
Basically another Nationals/Katter party who like to shoot, hunt and fish. They like guns.

87. Scott Ryan - Liberal
Sitting Senator who voted for Turnbull in the spill, but doesn't seem to do much in the Senate.

88. Isaac Golden - Health Australia Party
Appears to be a major vaccine skeptic with weird views on medicine.

89. Glenn Floyd - Independent
Would highly recommend that you go to his website. No really, do it. You'll laugh. Keep reading all the way to the bottom. This guy is bonkers. Totally bonkers. You'll see.

Everyone is corrupt in politics. Everyone. But not Glenn Floyd. When he gets elected, he'll put every meeting he attends on Youtube, he'll put all emails he sends and receives online, and he'll never take a donation.

90. Trevor William Nye - Independent 
Quite vague, except that he wants "strong borders".

91. Peter John Hawks - Independent
Seems to be into weird, right-wing issues.

92. Bridget McKenzie - The Nationals
93. Jane Hume - Liberal
94. Rebecca Treloar - The Nationals
Your typical Liberal/Nationals.

95. Peter Timothy Bain - Family First Party
96. Randell Green - Family First Party
97. Craig Manners - Family First Party
If Senator Bob Day is to be any guide, the Family First Party has turned into a front for the Liberal Party. They're terrible on the environment, terrible on Asylum Seekers. Jacqui Lambie's probably right - they should change their name to "Rich Family First".

98. Jake Wilson - Shooters, Fishers and Farmers
99. Ethan Constantinou - Shooters, Fishers and Farmers
They love their guns, and really want to be able to use them for home protection. They want strong border protection, and are climate skeptics.

100. Jason Tuazon-McCheyne - Marriage Equality
101. Jacqueline Tomlins - Marriage Equality
All policies are basically about LGBTIQ issues, and nothing else. As in, they don't seem to have any defined policies on anything else at all.

102. Meredith Doig - Australian Sex Party
103. Amy Mulch - Australian Sex Party
Since the last election they've developed their Asylum Seeker policy a bit, until it actually looks quite good, and they have a sort-of okay Climate Change policy. However I cannot in good conscience vote for a party so totally against Christians, and which makes this very very clear.

104. James Paterson - Liberal
The youngest Liberal Senator. Unfortunately he's an IPA extremist.

105. Craig Isherwood - Citizens Electoral Council
106. Gabrielle Peut - Citizens Electoral Council
We're really at the loony end of the ballot paper now. This one is perhaps the most loony of all the parties. You probably don't want to go to their website, but if you do, you can go here. Be prepared for lots and lots of conspiracy theories. As an example, they believe that Climate Change is a "fraud", but that's probably their most mainstream conspiracy theory. Surprisingly enough, they do seem to have some decent views on refugees.

107. Daniel Nalliah - Rise Up Australia Party
108. Rosalie Crestani - Rise Up Australia Party
"RUAP's views on Global Warning have been long known. It doesn't exist!" Still trying to figure out if the "Global Warning" typo is deliberate or not. They want to send all Asylum Seekers back to where they came from. Racist. Bad.

109. John Perkins - Secular Party of Australia
110. Alice Carr - Secular Party of Australia
Really good climate change policy, with carbon pricing and all. While their Asylum Seeker policy is vague, it's sort of on the right track. However they live up to their name in being against religious institutions, and think that the idea of people having religious beliefs "can be harmful to society".

111. Simon Peter Roylance - Pauline Hanson's One Nation
112. Ian John Cameron - Pauline Hanson's One Nation
Unfortunately Pauline might actually win her Senate Seat at this election, but that's up to Queensland. Victoria won't vote in any of her friends thankfully.

113. Daniel Jones - Australian Liberty Alliance
114. Kenneth Nicholls - Australian Liberty Alliance
Ban all Muslims! They're worried about Donald Trump stealing their ideas. Skeptical about Climate Change. Want to remove Australia from the UN Charter on Refugees, and in particular don't want any refugees from "Africa, the Middle East and Asia."

115. David Limbrick - Liberal Democrats
116. Duncan Spender - Liberal Democrats
As usual, the Liberal Democrats end up at the very bottom, and experiencing an actual Liberal Democrat Senator hasn't improved them in my mind at all. Leyonhjelm is amusing to listen to, but is very rude, and is frighteningly intelligent in the way he argues his party's insane policies. I'm fearing that he may win back his NSW Senate Seat, and if he were to spark more interest in his party and get other Senators elected I think we'd be in nightmare territory. While I think they may have removed some of the more extreme stuff from their website since Leyonhjelm was elected, they're still happy to admit that they want to privatise education, cut all foreign aid, abolish Medicare, do nothing about Climate Change, do nothing for refugees, and they want more guns. I try not to stay on their website for too long; it's exhausting and it makes me quite angry. I'm numbering their two candidates in reverse order, mostly because Spender is a Liberal Democrat veteran who helped start the party and developed most of their policies, while Limbrick doesn't seem to have devoted his life to the LDP, instead having a degree in computing and having spent time working at a rural internet startup.

Senate results will take longer than usual this year, but I can't wait for the results! Hoping for some decent minor party representation that isn't too insane. Happy voting everyone!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Federal Budget from The Chamber

I’m currently in the middle of perhaps the only four days in my life when I’ll be living across the road from the Prime Minister. So, on Federal Budget day, I decided I may as well use this rare occurrence. At 5am this morning, I got up, crossed the road, and waited for Tony Abbott to emerge, ready to see how well he was looking on the day of his second budget. I had no idea what time he would come out, but suspected that he would come out the front door, get into the white car sitting out the front with a chauffeur and perhaps a staffer, and drive towards Parliament House. Phone in hand, I was ready to take pictures of the occasion.

Unfortunately, my expectations were not met. After two hours of waiting with no Tony Abbott emerging from the door, I concluded that the white car was not the Prime Minister’s car after all, and gave up, going back home. Not having one of the exclusive tickets to the budget lockup, I would have to be content with watching Treasurer Joe Hockey’s speech from the Chamber.

In the House of Representatives there are three levels. At the bottom is the floor, where the politicians are. Up above, on the first level, are the three public galleries on the South, West and North side, and the Press Gallery on the East side. That's the level I usually sit at when I'm visiting. Even higher is the galleries on the second floor, that have glass sound-proof walls separating you from the rest of the chamber. Usually these are where particularly rowdy school groups go. At one point there was a plan to put people with face coverings there. And that's where my ticket let me sit tonight. It turns out virtually all the seats in the main public gallery were reserved for special visitors.

While I was further away from the politicians and unable to see as much detail, I had a much wider viewing angle of the chamber. Normally there are always a few of the MPs not visible no matter where you sit, but I could see every MP in the chamber tonight. The audio wasn't as good as normal because I had to rely on speakers rather than the raw audio of the chamber, but there aren't many interjections during the budget speech, so it didn't matter too much.

One question I wanted answered by coming to the budget in person rather than watching it on TV was which of the MPs would be the first to arrive into the chamber. Which of our politicians is the most enthusiastic and passionate about this important speech and document that will set the political tone of the next few weeks and months?

I was quite surprised to discover that it was Clive Palmer, who turned up 15 minutes before the budget speech. Independent Cathy McGowan, who sits beside Palmer, was next, arriving five minutes later. The various other politicians filed in over the next few minutes, even Bob Katter who hadn't bothered to turn up to Question Time earlier in the day.

At 7:30 precisely, Joe Hockey stepped up and began to speak. As he said his first sentence, some chamber attendants delivered some physical copies of Budget Paper Number 1, placing them on the centre table for other MPs to take and read if they wanted. Last year some Labor MPs immediately grabbed a stack, handed them out, and began reading while Hockey spoke. Not this year. The two neat stacks of budget papers remained untouched for the duration of the speech.

Labor MPs were reasonably well behaved, remaining quiet for the majority of the speech, only making limited noise when Hockey mentioned "fairness". Most sat and listened attentively, whilst a few took notes and others browsed Twitter.

The Coalition MPs were also well behaved on the whole. The main group behind Hockey, who were most likely to be seen in the TV footage, focused solely on the Treasurer as he spoke. Around the sides and at the back however, there were a number who were taking notes, and a few tapping away on their phones. I now wish I'd paid more attention to precisely which were on their phones, because two of them texted to Latika Bourke that they thought this was "an election year budget". She was one of the three journalists in the press gallery, and happily tweeted out the texts of the (unnamed) Liberal MPs while the speech was going. The only Coalition MP I noticed who was perhaps visibly unhappy was Phillip Rudock, who had his arms crossed. He was recently sacked as Chief Government Whip by Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott looked a little nervous, often tapping his foot on the floor.

As for the cross bench, Adam Bandt took notes and browsed the budget papers on his tablet, Andrew Wilkie took notes on his laptop while using his phone at the same time, Bob Katter took notes on a small notepad, and Clive Palmer took notes on a big notebook. After taking one page of notes, Palmer started on a second, but then suddenly took his phone out of his pocket, looked at it, and bolted out of the chamber a few minutes before Joe Hockey finished! Not only was he the first one in, but he was also the first one out! (I later found out that he was on Sky News at 8:14, so he may have been rushing to get there on time.) Glancing around, Bob Katter saw that Palmer had left, so he moved back a seat to sit next to Independent Cathy McGowan, and discussed the budget with her.

Overall, I thought it was a very good speech from Joe Hockey. I like how he put the budget in context by talking about the global economy, and built the suspense for a while before revealing the new measures. The speech lost points for appearing to link terrorism to asylum seekers, but that's sort of expected from this government, and Hockey didn't waste too much time demonising Asylum Seekers.

Rating a speech is very different to rating a budget however.

Government budgets fall into three broad categories. The worst are those that mostly contain poor initiatives, where an observer would talk about the budget by saying “I didn’t like how the government did x, y and z”. The best budgets those where the government mostly puts into place initiatives that are really needed, and the budget is defined by the good things the leadership has done.

The third category falls somewhere in the middle. It describes budgets that don’t do all that much in the way of horrible things, and even have a lot of nice, good measures. But the policies that are actually needed at that particular time, the things that really need to be done, are simply ignored. It is in this category that I would place the 2015/16 Federal Budget.

Last year’s budget on the other hand was remarkable by the bad things that were implemented. Making young unemployed people wait 6 months before receiving assistance, slashing foreign aid, slowing the rate of growth of the pension, and making poor people pay to visit a Doctor were just some of the horrible decisions made. I’m a big believer in governments giving little or no assistance to those on high incomes, and instead helping those in most need; the poor. The 2014/15 budget, whilst taking the small step of a temporary tax increase on wealthy Australians (which really should have been permanent), seemed to aim the vast bulk of its harsh measures at the people who could least afford it. That, to me, seems to follow the ideology of selfish rich people who believe that success and income is directly proportional to effort, which is simply not the case. I’m sure that there are many construction workers, garbage truck drivers and jobseekers who work, and have worked, just as hard as the top CEOs. That the latter group are in a role where they get paid so much more than the former is mostly just down to chance.

This year the budget was much more on the right track. That said, there were some things I did not agree with. The further cuts to foreign aid, particularly a huge cut to Africa, were cruel and unnecessary. Continuing to include money for the East West Link, a bad project that the Victorian State Government won't be building, is just ridiculous and illogical. Stopping Federal Government funding to the Refugee Council of Australia, which was a tiny $150,000 a year for the budget but did so much good in an important area, seems to yell "We don't like refugees". I also don't like how the budget increases the amount that the government subsidises childcare for wealthy families to $10,000 which applies to families on income of $165,000 upwards with no limit. These families really don't need this assistance to put their children into childcare when there are other families doing it tough.

However, the budget did give much more childcare assistance to poorer families who really do need it. The new tax arrangements for small businesses should assist the economy and make it easier for small businesses to employ more people. Beginning to go after profit-shifting multinationals who avoid paying tax, and extending the GST to digital goods is a logical move to raise more revenue. The funding to help young people and the long term unemployed to get jobs is needed with the unemployment rate as it is. On a macroeconomic level, the budget is relatively stimulatory for the economy, which is needed to boost demand and jobs in the slow economic climate. Somehow I suspect that the government in its heart really wanted to cut harder, and the main reason why it's much nicer than expected is because of polls and Abbott's job as Prime Minister, but ignoring that and rating the budget on its own merits, these are good policies.

If you were to measure the budget based solely on what the government actually put forward, you would have to conclude that it was a good budget. However the thing that bothers me about tonight’s announcement isn’t so much about what the budget does, but what it doesn’t do. The most pressing issue of our time, Climate Change, hardly rated a mention, apart from an extra year of funding for the near useless Direct Action. The government doesn’t seem to be interested in implementing the essential and inevitable measures needed to combat this phenomenon, and the longer they wait, the more costlier and difficult it will be. I doubt I will ever be able to rate a Federal Budget as “excellent” until Australia once again has a proper, long-term plan to do our part to mitigate this global problem. There are other things this budget should have been doing, such as cracking down on unfair superannuation concessions, funding public transport projects and a much larger increase in our refugee intake to take our share of the world’s displaced people, but they all fall secondary to the obvious hole that is this government’s Climate Change action plan.

Still, compared to last year, the budget is up a notch from "doing bad stuff" to "not doing enough good stuff". Hopefully whoever is doing next year's budget will go to the next level of a excellent budget that puts in place the policies the country really needs.

This morning as I waited outside the current residence of Tony Abbott, I was bracing myself to be disappointed. Disappointed that I would never get to see the Prime Minister as I waited outside in the cold, and disappointed that the evening's budget would be filled with more terrible policies. I was perhaps wrong on both counts. Whilst I mentioned previously that the Prime Minister never stepped outside into that white car, there's something else that I didn't mention.

At 5:35am on the morning of Budget Day 2015, as I stared intently at the doorway of the Prime Minister's residence, I heard a man's voice saying "a couple of points not far..." before trailing off. Looking up, I saw two male cyclists riding past in front of me. One of them on the far side had been speaking to the other, who suddenly turned his head and looked at me. And I looked back at him.

The man on the bicycle, slowly pedalling past, looked remarkably like Tony Abbott.

I'm not certain it was him. I was taken by surprise and would have needed a few more seconds to confirm it. But in all the early morning photos of Tony Abbott riding a bike around Canberra that I've seen, he's always accompanied by a male staffer. A white van and another car were following close behind the two cyclists, and it is well known that a Federal Police security team follow Tony Abbott wherever he goes. Perhaps I was one of the first, on budget day, to see Prime Minister Tony Abbott choosing to ride his bike to Parliament, rather than take the car. If only he realised the environmental benefits of riding his bike to work, and applied the same principal of supporting the environment to his policies.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Another election in Western Australia

As widely expected, following a whole bunch of missing votes and an incredibly close result, there's going to be another Senate election in Western Australia. Once again, voters will get to choose six people to represent them in the Federal Parliament for another six years from July.

Unlike the recent by-election in Griffith, this election will actually matter an enormous amount. Because of how close the numbers are going to be in the Senate from July, this election will effect exactly what Tony Abbott and his Coalition government will be able to do. It will even determine whether or not the government is going to be successful in repealing the carbon price (the carbon price being my favourite issue).

This election won't simply be photocopying some more ballot papers and getting voters to vote again for the same candidates as before, it'll be a complete new election, with a 33 day campaign period and will allow anyone with the money to nominate themselves to be a candidate.


Current Numbers

Excluding the six seats up for grabs in Western Australia, this is what the Senate numbers will be from July:
Liberal/National: 30
Labor: 24
Greens: 9
Palmer United: 2
Democratic Labour: 1
Nick Xenophon (Independent): 1
Liberal Democrats: 1
Family First: 1
Motoring Enthusiasts: 1

For the Government to pass anything through the Senate, they need 39 votes. If the numbers in the Senate are equal (38 votes each) it is not passed and is instead blocked.

Immediately you should be able to see that the Coalition cannot have an absolute majority in the Senate. In order to get the 39 votes they need to pass something, they will need to win the support of other Senators.

Let's take a look at the issue of the carbon price repeal. Obviously the Liberals and Nationals support the repeal, and Labor and the Greens do not. The Coalition needs another 9 votes from somewhere to pass the repeal, and Labor and the Greens need another 5 votes to block it.

Clive Palmer opposes the carbon price, but has said previously that he'll only support Coalition legislation if he is given the same amount of funding as the Greens, and he'll only support the carbon price repeal if all businesses that have ever paid it are refunded (a condition I cannot see the Coalition ever supporting given the enormous hole it would put into the budget). However, I cannot see him holding out against voting for the repeal for too long. The Coalition will no doubt do some deal with him and get his support, along with the support of Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts party, who has agreed to vote with the Palmer United Party. That's 33 votes.

The Democratic Labour Party Senator, John Madigan, has always been opposed to the carbon price and remains opposed to it. I cannot see him shifting on this issue, and he would definitely be voting for the repeal of it. The Liberal Democrats are opposed to the carbon price and their Senator-elect will vote to scrap it. The Family First Senator-elect has also confirmed that he will support the repeal of the carbon price. That's 36 votes.

Nick Xenophon is an interesting case. He voted against the carbon price when it was first introduced, and has continued to oppose it. However, shortly after the election there were a couple of interviews where he seemed to suggest that he might not support the repeal. His issue is what the carbon price is replaced with. He wants to take action against Climate Change, but doesn't seem to like the carbon price in its current form, and doesn't seem to like Direct Action either. At the moment I'm thinking that he might end up supporting the repeal, but out of all the cross-benchers, I have the most doubt about him.

This leaves the Coalition with 36-37 votes in favour of repealing the carbon price. Remembering that the Western Australian Senate Election will have 6 more seats up for grabs, the Coalition will therefore need at least 2-3 carbon price repeal-friendly Senators elected. If the carbon price repeal is to be blocked, then 4-5 anti-carbon price repeal Senators will need to be elected.


Coalition winning just 1 seat?

I'll immediately say that it is virtually impossible for the Coalition to get anything less than 2 Senators elected in Western Australia (unless if they muck up the electoral commission paperwork like some small parties did in the recent election, but I can't see that happening for a major party). If you look at every election since World War II, the two major parties have always won at least 2 seats in every State in a half-Senate election. Well, that was until 2013, when Labor only won 1 seat in South Australia (but South Australia has the Nick Xenaphon factor) and in the second count in Western Australia. In South Australia, Labor only managed to get 22.7% of first votes, and in Western Australia Labor managed to get 26.6%. There is no way that the Coalition's vote will sink to those levels in Western Australia, the mining state.

Therefore, it appears that the only way to prevent the carbon price from being repealed will be if the Coalition wins 2 Senate seats in this election, and the other 4 all go to pro-carbon price candidates.


The first WA Senate Election

Let's take a quick look at how things panned out in the original election last year.

In Western Australia the Liberals and the Nationals run separately to each other, but you would expect that National preferences eventually flow to the Liberals. Back in September, the Liberals won 39.3% of first votes, and the Nationals won 5.1%, for a total of 44.4% if we add these figures together. Labor got 26.6%, the Greens got 9.5%, and the Palmer United Party got 5.00%. The next highest was the Liberal Democrats who gained a surprisingly high 3.43% of first votes, although I'm guessing that this may have had something to do with the fact that they were the second column on the ballot paper, whilst the real Liberals were in the 27th out of 28 columns, and some voters mistook the Liberal Democrats for the Liberals. (The Liberal Democrats did even better in New South Wales when they snagged the first column on the ballot paper, and ended up winning a Senator.)

In order to win a Senate Seat in a normal State half-Senate election, you need 1/7 of formal votes plus 1. That's about 14.29%. So from first votes you need
-14.29% to win 1 seat
-28.57% to win 2 seats
-42.86% to win 3 seats
-57.14% to win 4 seats

So the Liberals were able to win 2 seats on first preferences alone, and with the help of just Nationals preferences they were able to get a third seat in both of the WA Senate counts. However they're nowhere near getting a fourth seat, and I cannot feasibly see why how they could get a high enough vote or enough preferences to achieve this. That's why they're so against having another election; they can only go backwards.

The six Senators elected in the original WA Senate count were:
-3 Liberals
-2 Labor
-1 Palmer
and the six elected in the recount were:
-3 Liberals
-1 Labor
-1 Green
-1 Sports party

The first count elected 4 Senators who would vote to scrap the carbon price, and 2 who would vote to keep it. The second elected 3 who would vote to scrap it, 2 who would vote to keep it, and 1, the Sports party, who never stated its position on the carbon price. In either scenario though, we would have been saying goodbye to the carbon price come July.

In either of the scenarios, the Coalition would have had a tricky task to get any other legislation through the Senate. Taking the second result for example, to get their 39 votes the Coalition would have needed
-The support of Labor OR
-The support of the Greens OR
-The support of Palmer plus 3/5 of Family First, Democratic Labour, Liberal Democrats, Sports and Xenophon


Micro Parties

The Sports party were able to get in the same way that Ricky Muir was able to down in Victoria; by a whole heap of micro parties preferencing each other before any of the major parties, in the hope that they could scramble enough preferences together to reach the 14% needed to get one of them elected. Out of all 28 columns on the ballot paper, the Sports party won the 8th least amount of first preferences, a mere 0.22%, but were able to get enough preferences from other parties to win.

Now that the micro parties have seen that it's possible to win a Senate seat if you're an incredibly small group that nobody has heard of before, and by the next full election the major parties may have conspired together to change the rules so this doesn't happen again, no doubt every micro party in Australia will try their luck at this election. I'm thinking that we'll end up with a New South Wales style ballot paper crammed full of candidates hoping to do a Sports party. Disengaged voters may indeed spot an interesting party name on the day and vote for it. There's a reasonable chance that someone may get elected who we have never heard of before.

Working against the micro parties however is the fact that some disengaged voters simply will not turn up to the election. Turnouts at by-elections is typically very low, and turnouts at elections where voters don't understand what they're doing is also typically low. Given that a lot of voters don't understand what the Senate is, combined with the fact that this is like a by-election in that it's held outside of the regular election cycle, I have a feeling that the turnout will be very low, and many of those disengaged people who would usually vote for a minor party simply won't turn up to vote. Therefore, I would only put it at a small chance that a party we've never heard of before ends up winning a Senate seat. Given that the majority of micro parties seem to be far-right parties, even if some unknown party does win a Senate seat, it would probably end up being someone who would vote to scrap the carbon price anyway.


What will the Liberal/National vote be?

Once again, at the original election the Liberals/Nationals won 44.4% of first votes. Since then polling suggests that the Coalition has lost support. (Note that I'm going to for the moment ignore the Nielson poll on Monday which suggested that the Coalition has regained support and is, in Western Australia, more or less where it was at the time of the election. The reason is that it is the only poll showing support at these levels, and none of the other polls are showing this. The Essential Research poll on Tuesday for example actually showed a swing to Labor.)

The latest Newspoll (Feb 7-9) says there's been a 5% swing against the Coalition on House of Representatives first votes since the election, and the latest Morgan poll confirms this. Given that we have no specific results for Western Australia and no results for the Senate, if we use this figure as a rough approximation of the Coalition's loss of support, the Liberals/Nationals are looking at around 39-40% of first votes in the WA Senate re-election (although after a campaign this could change and go either way). This is short of the 42.86% required to win 3 seats, meaning the Coalition may have to pick up a few more points on preferences if they are to win 3 seats.

Given that people seem to love to vote against the Government of the day in elections outside the normal election cycle (the recent by-election in Griffith was perhaps an exception due to a very strong Liberal candidate and the loss of the popular Labor candidate Kevin Rudd) I wouldn't be surprised if the Coalition's vote ends up being less than this, and therefore I expect that they will win just 2 Senate seats, not 3.


How about Labor and the Greens?

I'm expecting Labor and the Greens to perform much more strongly in this election then they did last year. Given Labor's first vote has jumped up nation-wide since the election, I don't think they'll be facing the embarrassing scenario of only winning 1 Senate seat. Given that Labor only fell 2% short of winning 2 seats on first preferences, their vote will definitely have recovered so that they will easily win 2 seats.

There's a reasonable chance that the Greens may be able to win a Senate seat as well. Their 9.5% at the last election was well short of the 14.2% needed, but the Greens were able to win the seat back in 2007 with just 9.3% of the primary vote, winning the rest of the required amount from preferences.

One may well ask about the possibility of the final outcome being Labor 3, Liberal 2 and Greens 1. We did see this result down in Tasmania in the 2010 election, where the primary votes were 41.4%, 33.0% and 20.3% respectively, but there's no way there'll be results like that in the mining state that is Western Australia. Labor won't be getting their primary vote near the 40s, which is required for them to pick up 3 seats.


The Palmer factor

Clive Palmer surprised many commentators at the federal election when he did much better than expected (although I was actually expecting him to do even better than he did). He managed to get 5.0% of the first vote in the Western Australia Senate, and with the help of preferences from a large assortment of other parties including the Liberal Democrats and the Shooters and Fishers parties, he was able to get a Senator in the original count.

The Palmer United Party's Senate vote in Western Australia was lower than it was in Queensland or Tasmania where the party also won Senate seats, forcing the party to rely on a lot of preferences in the original election. Given that in the original election a lot of the micro parties almost seemed to view the Palmer United Party as a micro party like them, they may have been inclined to treat him as such when determining their preferences. Now however, I think they may be more likely to see him as a threat to them being elected, and he may therefore struggle to get the preferences he did last time.

Also, part of the success of Palmer United was how he really stepped up all his campaigning in the final week before the election, taking the major parties by surprise when his vote in the polls jumped up like it did. As far as I am aware, the major parties didn't campaign against Palmer at all, as they did not view him as a threat. Now, however, I suspect the Liberals may indeed spend a bit of money campaigning against the Palmer United Party.

At the same time, I would expect the Palmer United Party to put a lot of money into this election. Whilst a lot of their funding was directed at Queensland during the federal election, Clive Palmer really wants to win his seat in Western Australia, so I'm sure he'll be opening his cheque-book to pay for lots of ads.

With the Liberals advertising against him but with Palmer advertising more than before, it's difficult to know whether his vote will go up or down.

Wikileaks?

Of course the Wikileaks party ran candidates in some of the States back in September. In Western Australia they managed just 0.75% of the Primary Vote, but in Victoria where Julian Assange was their lead Senate candidate they managed 1.24%. Julian Assange will be running in Western Australia in this election, and the party are very confident that he will win. I'm not so confident however. They'll need an awful lot of preferences to win, and I cannot see them getting them.


Column draw and Ticket votes

The order in which columns are ordered may play a role in who gets elected. The column order is random but is the same across all ballot papers. Naturally, parties that are on the left side of the ballot paper tend to do much better than parties on the right side, especially when there are a lot of columns. It makes sense. For someone who doesn't have that much interest in politics, if they have an enormous meter-long ballot paper with over 50 columns, they're going to begin reading the column-names from left to right, will grow tired of this rather quickly, find the first name they either recognise or that sounds interesting and vote for them. In New South Wales we had the interesting scenario where the Liberal Democrats were the first party on the ballot paper, and the Liberals were a long way to the right, and many people mistakenly voted for the Liberal Democrats. In Victoria the Rise Up Australia party were the first on the ballot paper and gained the 8th highest amount of first votes.

The other important factor will be the ticket votes of the various parties, that is, what happens to your preferences if you vote above the line, as most people do. The decisions of party representatives submitting the ticket votes may be the most critical factor in determining the result of the election, and whether we'll see someone from a tiny party like the Motoring Enthusiasts or the Sports Party getting in.

Once the ticket votes have been submitted, take a look at the Truth Seeker website which runs thousands of simulations of Senate votes with varying levels of support for all the different parties to try to determine who will be elected.


Most likely winners

Labor and Liberal will each win 2 seats, putting the last 2 up for grabs with Labor, Liberal, Greens, Palmer and other minor parties vying for them. I'm thinking that the most likely scenario is
-Liberal 2
-Labor 2
-Greens 1
-Palmer 1

followed by
-Liberal 2
-Labor 2
-Greens 1
-Micro party 1

So in all likelihood the Coalition will get the numbers to repeal the carbon price. The only chance I can see of the carbon price not being repealed is if the second scenario occurs, and the micro party elected is one of the few lefty parties who will oppose the repeal and Nick Xenophon decides to oppose the repeal.

If we take the result I believe to be most likely, the final Senate numbers will be
Liberal/National: 32
Labor: 26
Greens: 10
Palmer: 3
Democratic Labour: 1
Nick Xenophon (Independent): 1
Liberal Democrats: 1
Family First: 1
Motoring Enthusiasts: 1

Assuming that the Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts keeps his end of the deal with the Palmer United party, this means that if the Coalition wants to pass something they will need either
-The support of Labor OR
-The support of the Greens OR
-The support of Palmer plus 3/4 of Democratic Labour, Liberal Democrats, Family First and Nick Xenophon.

If Labor wanted to block something, they would need the support of the Greens plus either
-The support of Palmer OR
-The support of 2/4 of Democratic Labour, Liberal Democrats, Family First and Nick Xenophon.

No matter what the outcome in Western Australia, we'll have a very very interesting Senate from July, and just a few unexpected people will have a great deal of power.