Dio Wang: less exciting than Geoff Boycott

The appearance of PUP Senator-elect Dio Wang on &.30 made it quite clear that he is no Clive Palmer or Jacqui Lambie when it comes to entertainment value on television. His interview hadall the excitement of Geoffrey Boycott innings.

Geoff Boycott – only slightly more exciting with a cricket ball

Geoff Boycott – only slightly more exciting with a cricket ball

Still, he successfully fended off Sarah Ferguson for most of the 7.30 interview, something not many politicians have managed.

The interview however raises some interesting issues about the nature of PUP. Throughout the interview Dio Wang made it quite clear that he agreed, and will probably continue to agree, with everything that Clive Palmer said and was certainly not interested in pursuing questions of our Palmer had funded his election campaign.

Dio Wang- taking a back seat and backing the leader

Dio Wang- taking a back seat and backing the leader

Normally political parties form as result of a coalition of relatively like-minded people who then proceed to formulate policies that they think the electorate will find sufficiently palatable to elect them.

This is clearly not going to be the case in PUP, where Clive Palmer is clearly going to decide what will be policy and what will not. The role of the senators and of the kangaroo-poo throwing Ricky Muir is simply to agree with him. Palmer has clearly got a good gut instinct for populist politics but does not appear to be a thinker on matters of policy and clearly not when it comes to questions of how the policy is funded.

What we now appear to have in Australian politics is a party that, if well-organised, can hold the balance of power in the Senate and which is completely beholden to one of the richest men in Australia with a huge vested interest in the mining industry.

The situation is likely to continue for at least another six years unless there is a massive overhaul of the Senate election process. When the state elections are held towards the end of this year and the beginning of the next, voters would be well served to reflect on whether this is a situation that they really want in a democracy.

Clive Palmer: what’s mine is mine and what yours is mine also

I’m not certain that I got it right about I think that I heard Clive Palmer described his legal stouch with Chinese coal giant CITIC as being about “getting the Chinese to pay for our minerals.”

Now hold on, shouldn’t that be “getting the Chinese to pay me for our minerals.”

Or more accurately, if Clive was addressing the Australian people, as he is wont to do, it should have been “getting the Chinese to me for your minerals.”

But then perhaps I’ve simply got Clive’s motivation for being in Parliament completely wrong.

Arms and the Man and the chocolate cream soldier

Ukraine President-elect Piotr Poroshenko, the self-made ‘chocolate king’ would be well advised to read G B Shaw’s romantic comedy, Arms and the Man, particularly in the light of his bellicose attitude towards the Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. In Shaw’s play, the chocolate cream soldier, Captain Bluntschli, knows the value of chocolate but also knows the futility of war.


Poroshenko’s determination to destroy the Russian separatists is doomed to failure. For every Russian separatist he kills, he creates a small battalion of enemies: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and children and that’s just the family members. Military crusades that are designed to solve problems of nationality only create deep and enduring divisions in any society: think Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey to name but a few.

Let them eat chocolate because the iron fist is not going to work

Let them eat chocolate because the iron fist is not going to work

Unpalatable though it may be to the West, the best solution in Ukrainian situation is to let the Russian nationalists return to the bosom of mother Russia. Nationalism is a very powerful and often destructive force. But blowing everybody to pieces with attack helicopters is not the way to solve problems of national identity.

The Grim Reaper pursues HECS debts

Christopher Pyne suggests collecting HECS debts from dead students as way to help budget.

“[If] an elderly person passes away with a HECS debt, they wouldn’t be able to say to the bank, we’re not paying back our mortgage, yet they are at the moment entitled to not pay back their HECS debt,” Mr Pyne said.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne pursues a HECS debt

Education Minister Christopher Pyne pursues a HECS debt

Actually, Christopher there is a difference. If someone inherits a house with a mortgage, the house is worth the market value minus the mortgage. It’s appropriate that someone who inherits a capital asset should only inherit the unencumbered value.

With a HECS debt, the beneficiary does not receive any tangible benefit from which the debt can be deducted. In addition, the education received has no capital or tangible value once a person has died. The value that was created has disappeared with the death of the now deceased student.

It may be appropriate for the Federal Government to pursue the estates of deceased students for HECS debts but Mr Pyne’s comparing this to recouping mortgages on houses is disingenuous.

Another transmission from political La La land

Tasmanian senator-elect Jacqui Lambie has compared the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme to eugenics – the discredited social policy associated with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi-era attempts to breed a race of ubermenschen, or super humans.

It’s important to understand how Lambie pitches her messages from Political La La Land. There is always a thin filament of logic that connects La La land messages to the real world. In this case of the paid leave scheme it is that the scheme disadvantages those on low wages (and in particular the unemployed although Lambie did not mention this). To extend this argument to say that to leave scheme will discourage people from having babies does not follow. To link it to eugenics is mischievous in the extreme. The only people who will be potentially discouraged from reproducing will be the unemployed, who currently receive $500 a week and under the paid parental leave scheme will receive nothing. That is certainly a disincentive. But that was not Lambie’s argument.

The dangerous thing about politicians like Lambie is that occasional and regular visitors to Political La La Land are unable to distinguish between the thin filament of rationality and the large pile of nonsense that is included in the utterings this self-styled inhabitant of the “underdog world.” (I know it has nothing to do with the discussion but I keep thinking “underworld dog” – Cerberus, tamed by Hercules in his 12th Labour and that this is somehow a metaphor for the task facing Leader of the Government in the Senate, Eric Abetz in dealing with the new Senate. But I digress).

Hercules And Cerberus by Paolo Pagani.

Hercules And Cerberus by Paolo Pagani.

One thing we can be certain is that PUP’s overdog, Clive Palmer, will probably not be happy with Lambie hogging be the media every time he has a nana nap.

Every one of Clive's nanna naps is a media opportunity for Jaqui Lambie

Every one of Clive’s nanna naps is a media opportunity for Jaqui Lambie

Where was “the good guy with a gun?”

There seems to be a shortage of good guys with guns The NRA frequently trots out the platitude that “the only way to stop a bad guy with the gun is a good guy with the gun.”

So where was the good guy when Elliot Rodger went on his killing spree in California or when 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School. No good guys were around when Andrew Engeldinger opened fire at Accent Signage Systems or Wade Michael Page at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin or James Holmes at the Aurora in Colorado.

Estimates of gun ownership in the US vary. The conservative estimate is 85 guns for every hundred residents. The FBI estimates that there are 300 million guns in the US, which is around 1.5 guns per person. So clearly there are enough guns around it just seems is a shortage of good guys. Perhaps the NRA knows where they are or who they are.


Or perhaps this “good guy with a gun” idea is just nonsense, a glib marketing idea peddled by a group of unthinking right-wing fascists. It is unbelievable that this group can hold the citizens of the world’s greatest democracy to ransom.

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop: Another outbreak of Political Smarts Deficiency Syndrome

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop appears to have another outbreak of the Political Smarts Deficiency Syndrome. Her last outbreak was over her decision to attend Liberal party political meetings while holding the position of Speaker of the house. One of the symptoms of this particular outbreak was the inability to understand the meaning of the word ” impartiality”. It is widely believed that these latest outbreaks are a recurrence of the earlier attacks that brought on the ill-fated “Bronwyn for PM” campaign.

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop rules that there will be no laughing in Parliament

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop rules that there will be no laughing in Parliament

Symptoms of the latest outbreak appeared to be holding fundraising dinners in the Speaker’s office. The defence offered by her office is that she is not breaking any rules but this misses the point which is that the Speaker is meant to be above party politics and that the office of the Speakers should not be used for political activities.

To say that the expenses come from her private account misses the point entirely. Ms Bishop is using not just the physical office of the speaker, but also the metaphorical Office of the speaker and all its prestige to raise money for a political party. The fact that she pays for the Bollie and canapés is beside the point. What she is not paying for is the immense prestige that is associated the speaker’s office again, in both the physical and metaphorical sense. This is something that money simply cannot buy. Why did she not simply hold the fundraising activities in a local restaurant? One is left to suspect that the use of the Speakers office adds to the prestige of the function.

It also provides a legitimacy to her activities that is not appropriate.

The problem is she simply doesnt understand this. More importantly, what she doesn’t understand is that there are many Australians and possibly many people who would vote for the Liberal party, who are deeply offended by this kind of rorting of the system because it undermines the respectful which should be shown for high political offices.

Tony Abbott and the problem of the PSDS

The PSDS is the Political Smarts Deficiency Syndrome.

It is observable when a politician exhibits a complete lack of political smarts. The evidence that Abbott suffers from the syndrome has been building, unfortunately most of the Australian public did recognise it early enough.

The first manifestation of this was after the 2010 election when he was unable to negotiate support from the independent members of lower house in particular, independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. In the case of the last two, their natural constituency was probably more to the right of politics and to the left.

Abbott was completely outmaneuvered by Gillard who manage to maintain the support of independents throughout Labor’s term of government. It does not auger well for the Coalition that there will be forced to negotiate with a group of people in the Senate who will redefine herding cats.

The second manifestation of the Abbot’s PSDS was when he failed to heed the old mantra that ‘Opposition parties don’t win General elections, Governments lose them’. He mistook the fact that the Australian electorate was thoroughly sick of the Labor Party for a belief that it was in love with him, his party and its policies. That gave him a mistaken idea of the extent of the mandate that he had received in the last election.

This led to the third manifestation of the PSDS. His mistaken grasp of the nature of his mandate led him and Joe Hockey to present a budget that has served to mobilise all the latent discontent with and mistrust of, him and his party. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the budget, it has been a monumental political disaster.

It is hard to imagine a politician getting the politics of a budget so completely wrong.

Some commentary in the media suggests that the slide in opinion polls may be terminal.

The fourth manifestation of the PSDS is using Christopher Pyne to carry the debate about the budget. Does Abbott not realise that this man is probably the most reviled politician in Australia? Why hasn’t Malcolm Turnbull stepped up to the plate?

The fourth manifestation of the PSDS is in the developing scandal around the preferment of his two daughters. Regardless of the arguments about the merit of these two young women, for the PM to have one daughter receive a $60,000 scholarship from a mate and then to have another daughter receive a diplomatic appointment to Geneva to work with former Coalition staffer Peter Woolcott who is the ambassador there, is just plain dumb.

There will always be a perception that, regardless of the merit of the people concerned, that employment of family members with people or organisations who have links to the influential and powerful parents of the appointees, is nepotism of the worst order. Of all of the manifestations of Abbott’s PSDS it is the inability to negotiate his way into power after 2010 election is the most worrying. It is now becoming clear that Abbott is completely incapable of a nuanced political activity. He is only good at shouting and when that doesn’t work all he can do is shout louder and more insistently. This is probably not going to work with this bloke.

A visit to political La-La land: an interview with PUP Senator-elect Jacqui Lambie

Anyone who wants to understand what a terrible danger PUP represents for Australian politics should watch Sarah Ferguson’s interview with Jackie Lambie on 7.30.

The ABC's Sarah Ferguson and PUP's Senator-Elect Jacqui Lambie

The ABC’s Sarah Ferguson and PUP’s Senator-Elect Jacqui Lambie

The first worrying element of this is the extent to which PUP will be a coherent and cohesive political party in the Senate. Lambie’s appearance on 730 last night does little to reassure that this will be the case.

SARAH FERGUSON: Let’s talk about some of the policies. Clive Palmer’s changed his position on university deregulation. Last week he was for it; now he opposes it. Which policy do you support?

JACQUI LAMBIE: Oh, no, we oppose it. There’s no doubt about that. I think Clive Palmer may have been a bit sleepy over that when he answered the question.

Clive Palmer delivers yet another PUP policy. "It's easy," he said, "I can do it in my sleep."

Clive Palmer delivers yet another PUP policy. “It’s easy,” he said, “I can do it in my sleep.”

The next thing that is worrying is the extent to which Lambie understands the taxation system that operates in Australia.

SARAH FERGUSON: You’ve opposed – as I understand it, you’ve opposed the debt levy, you’ve opposed the Medicare co-payment, changes to pensions, changes to welfare, and clearly, universities. What are you proposing as alternatives?

JACQUI LAMBIE: Well, you know, one of the alternatives was – in our national package, was that, you know, we have an annual – we collect tax annually, which will bring in $70 billion. Now every time that goes through the hands of another person, that builds on another $7 billion. So, if that goes through three sets of hands, that’s $21 billion and they’re the economic outcomes that we should be looking at.

Surely Lambie is not suggesting that we abandon the PAYE and GST collection systems and collect tax once a year, presumably around Christmas time? Remember, this woman will be one of the people who will hold the balance of power over all legislation that comes before the Australian Parliament. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Later in the interview, she got stuck into the banks. Now, everybody enjoys a bit of bank bashing and we all think that the fees they charge are a form of usury and this is Lambie’s (and presumably PUP’s) populist approach.

SARAH FERGUSON: And would you just be precise about what you mean about those other avenues? How would you collect that extra revenue from the banks?

JACQUI LAMBIE: Well, you’d put extra taxes on the banks, but you would make sure that that’s not passed down to the consumer. You would put in legislation so it was that tight it wasn’t passed down to the consumer and the big banks that are making all these profits will be paying more into the country.

There’s no doubt that this will wash well with the electorate. But as Lambie not realise that if legislation can be put in place to tax the banks and that legislation will ensure that the taxes are not passed on to consumers, that someone will not pay the price. That will be the nasty capitalists who own shares in the major banks. In particular, it will be the superannuation funds that handle the superannuation investment of all working Australians who will carry this particular impost. Now, this may actually be an equitable solution to finding more revenue sources for the government. But the worrying thing about Lambie’s approach appears to be that the banks should be taxed simply because they are profitable.

And then there was this killer:

SARAH FERGUSON: And just briefly, does Clive Palmer support your idea of levying higher taxes on the banks?

JACQUI LAMBIE: Well I haven’t actually spoke to Clive Palmer about that one yet. How’s that for you?

Tony Abbott must be wringing his hands in despair if he thought that he was going to be dealing, and negotiating, with a Palmer Party that is actually united. Jacqui Lambie may be about to redefine the notion of a political loose cannon.

Funding for medical research: mainly smoke and mirrors

Joe Hockey said in his budget speech that the (proposed medical) research fund would eventually be ”the biggest medical research endowment fund in the world”.

Well, not quite. The Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the UK and established by pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome that has an endowment of £13 billion ($23 billion) and as Joe admits, it will be some time before the Australian fund grows to be that size.

Not only that, there are claims from the government that research funded from this endowment will find a cure for cancer. This is a pretty dubious claim as the search for a cure for cancer began in earnest under Richard Nixon in the 1970s and we’ve still got a way to go. It’s also worth noting that Nixon also began the “war on drugs” which has been a spectacular policy failure.

But let’s have a look at some of the details of this magic pudding scheme. The government expects to be able to use $276m from fund earnings over three years “to fund critical medical research in the medium to long term”.

Let’s put this in perspective. This funding translates into around $90 million a year “in the medium to long term”. At present, Australia is spending approximately 2% of the $80 billion allocated to health for health and medical research. That’s around $160m a year. So it’s a significant increase but not one that is going to revolutionise medical research.

Britain’s Medical Research Council spent about £766m ($1.3bn) on medical research in 2012-13. In the US, the National Institutes of Health has granted a massive $30.1bn to allocate for research in 2014.

It’s great that there is an increase in medical research funding but it’s not really all that earth shattering, particularly in light of the point that former Labor minister Kim Carr makes: “They’ve taken $6.4bn out of higher education science and research. They think they can play this pea and thimble regime and claim there is something noble about what they are doing.”

And to put this in a broader perspective, this government has gutted research and development into climate change research and renewable energy. It’s great to talk about a better future for our children where there will be a cure for cancer as a result of this fund. But, in the long term, climate change represents a much greater threat to humanity than cancer and this government is doing nothing to develop the science that will help us deal with this problem.