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Wednesday, 4 October 2006
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A Sensitive Sol
The Australian has wheeled out Newspoll boss Sol Lebovic this morning to try and explain what we should make of findings showing Labor comfortably in front in his polls while the accompanying commentary dismisses Labor's chances. Sol goes to his history books to explain his hypothesis that this far out from an election some voters use the polls to register a protest vote against the Government.
In other words even he does not believe that the Newspolls now being published have any relevance to what will happen in the political process. All his hypothesis allows is that Labor's lead "suggests it is competitive, with the potential to win the next election" but it "needs to lock in these parkers well before the next election with policies that are more appealing."
Thanks very much Sol. That advances the argument tremendously.
One pollster who does know the significance of his findings
Mark Textor is one pollster who does know the significance of his findings, and government difficulties with the trade union campaign against the new industrial relations laws is clearly coming up as a big negative for his client the Liberal Party. Hence the recent humiliation of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone by her Cabinet colleague Kevin Andrews.
Senator Vanstone last week quite cleverly sidestepped the issue of American Express wanting to import Japanese speakers to work in its Sydney call centre. Amex proposed to pay the holders of short term work permits the same $36,000 salary it gives to locals doing the same work but this happened to be less than the minimum wage of $41,850 the Commonwealth Government has decreed as being necessary to permit labour imports. In the face of Amex claims that it might shut up shop, costing Australians their call centre jobs, if the government rate had to be applied, the Senator asked NSW Premier Morris Iemma for his opinion. It was a neat way of ensuring that should Amex carry out its threat the blame would at least be shared between a Federal coalition and State Labor.
Before Premier Iemma had a chance to venture his opinion the Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews bluntly ruled out any variation of the minimum wage. Mr Andrews clearly believes that the current campaign alleging the Commonwealth is all set on reducing wages is far more damaging than the closing of a call centre could ever be.
So there was Amanda left and high and dry but like a real trouper she fronted up yesterday and said she did not want "foreign workers coming here at all to undermine job security."
I wonder what the pollster will say if Amex does move. Probably that the Senator be called on to explain. After all, she handles all the other impossible cases.
A Christian Hiccup for the PM?
Prime Minister John Howard is again talking tough about making it difficult for asylum seekers from Indonesian Papua to settle in Australia but he risks upsetting some staunch supporters of the Liberal Party in doing so. Mr Howard talked yesterday about manipulation of the Australian asylum system and vowed "I am not going to have the system manipulated by anybody."
The anybody in this case might well be members of the National Council of Churches in Australia , the organisation which is actively working to establish West Papua Support Groups throughout Australia . Such groups now exist in many parts of the country and at the weekend they came together for their 3rd Annual National gathering where they dutifully "affirmed the right of the people of West Papua to Self-determination and decolonisation."
The NCCA claims that over the 26 years that Indonesia has held official control of West Papua, the indigenous population has endured one of the twentieth century's most repressive and unjust systems of colonial occupation. An on-going war has been fought against a popularly supported indigenous movement opposed to Jakarta 's rule, and against members of the civilian population who stand in the way of Indonesian "development". An escalation in killings recently, especially around the massive Freeport copper and gold mine in the central highlands, has been widely reported in the Australian and international media.
A Painful Reminder
I had a little memory jogging this morning when Harold Thornton sent me the following email:
Richard Farmer writes "In Australia where legislation governing what can and cannot be shown on television is clearly within the bailiwick of the Federal Government, prohibiting political commercials would quickly achieve what Liberal Senator Gary Humphries is seeking." Er, no it would not. The Hawke government did precisely this in 1990 by amending the Broadcasting Act to prohibit political advertising. Sadly for us all, the High Court overruled the legislation by finding hitherto unknown 'implied' terms in the constitution. I'm surprised Richard has forgotten it.
Alas I do remember the High Court decision and still despair at the weakness of the Labor Government for not accepting the criticisms which led Mr Justice Mason to strike it down on the basis of an implied constitutional protection for freedom of speech and redrafting its law to comply with it.
His Honour, it seemed to me then and still does, was aware of the dangers of political advertising being dominated by the wealthy. In his judgment he weighed up the dangers of that against the difficulties which the legislation as passed presented to new political parties and organisations trying to influence an election outcome without actually standing candidates.
He said in his judgment that :
It is obvious that the provisions of Div.3 regulating the allocation of free time give preferential treatment to political parties represented in the preceding Parliament or legislature which are contesting the relevant election with at least the prescribed number of candidates. Their entitlement amounts to 90 per cent of the total free time. Others must of necessity rely on the exercise of discretion by the Tribunal. As among the political parties, the principle of allocation to be applied will tend to favour the party or parties in government because it gives weight to the first preference voting in the preceding election. Furthermore, a senator who seeks re-election is given preferential treatment over a candidate, not being a senator, who stands for election to the Senate. The former, but not the latter, is entitled to a grant of free time. The latter must rely on an exercise of discretion by the Tribunal and the Act makes no attempt to enunciate the criteria according to which that discretion is to be exercised.
Mr Justice Mason seemed to believe that the Labor Party had slanted the legislation restricting political advertising on television to suit its own purpose and I have no doubt that he was correct. I still think that he was wrong in maintaining that that evil was greater than the evil of the wealthiest groups being able to dominate the debate but he clearly left open the solution of the Parliament coming up with a system that did not discriminate against those with only a small or no representation in a Parliament.
Perhaps we can provoke a renewal of this debate. It is certainly worth having. You will find the High Court decision Harold Thornton refers to here .