EDITORIAL by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Tony Abbott unveils new direction for government
, August 15, 2015
While the distraction of politicians’ entitlements – fuelled by media and community outrage at politicians’ extravagant expense claims – continued to dominate the headlines, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was moving on several fronts to reposition his Government for the future.
To put an end to the expense scandal, he promised a “root and branch” review of the rules under which politicians could claim travel expenses.
Despite the legitimate public concern about the issue, the amounts of money involved in relation to politicians’ travel pale into insignificance with some of the outrageous expenses incurred in the past, including Kevin Rudd’s entourage of 140 people taken to the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in 2009, or the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in pursuit of Labor’s carbon and mining taxes, which this Government has thankfully repealed.
Great Britain experienced a profound parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009 that led to the resignation of senior members of both the government and opposition, the retirement of many MPs, and even the imprisonment of several who were shown to have criminally abused their parliamentary expense allowances.
The British Parliament eventually dealt with the issue by establishing the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Australia should do the same. The authority is responsible for paying MPs’ annual salaries, as well as drawing up, reviewing, and administering MPs’ allowances.
Meanwhile, the Government is moving to deal with the crisis in the defence industries by putting in place a long-overdue plan for the future of naval construction.
The plan, largely devised by Defence Minister Kevin Andrews, who took over a demoralised Defence Department in 2014, is based on the construction of nine frigates in Adelaide and Melbourne, to get naval shipbuilding onto a “continuous fleet build” program which could ultimately include construction of the next generation of Australian submarines.
The government-run ASC shipyard was close to being closed as unviable just a year ago. Mr Andrews recognised that the long-term future of naval shipbuilding depended on a satisfactory construction program for frigates, which are the foundation of the Royal Australian Navy.
He insisted that before any new contracts for ship construction were signed, there must be a well-integrated team to design, build and equip naval vessels in Australia, and that established ship designs would be preferred to untried models or those that required extensive modification of existing designs.
The government is also accelerating the rollout of the national broadband network (NBN), ensuring that this technology is widely available to both businesses and consumers throughout the country.
The Prime Minister has also resisted immense pressure from the United States government to sign an unsatisfactory Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement which would have prevented higher exports of farm products to the U.S., while giving higher levels of protection to the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, pushing up prices for prescription drugs in Australia.
The TPP deal has been the subject of negotiations among several leading Pacific nations for years, and was close to settlement before the recent trade summit in Hawaii.
Among the outstanding issues were U.S. refusal to give greater access to Australian sugar and beef to the U.S. market, and U.S. demands for Australia to extend patent protection on U.S. pharmaceuticals.
As Australia held out against U.S. pressure to sign on the dotted line, The Australian newspaper reported that U.S. President Barack Obama called Tony Abbott to strong-arm him into agreeing with U.S. proposals to increase the patent protection on pharmaceuticals from five years to 12. There were no U.S. concessions on exports of Australian sugar and primary products.
The Australian Prime Minister flatly rejected the Obama proposal.
There is certain to be further pressure on Australia from the U.S., arising from the U.S. President’s announced plan to force U.S. electricity generators to cut CO2 emissions ahead of the Paris Climate Change Summit in December.
Mr Obama’s announcement will certainly lead to greater pressure on Australia to impose deep cuts to conventional electricity generation before December, pressure which the Abbott Government has so far resisted.
Obama, if genuine, would have put before Congress the Kyoto Protocol.
The Obama plan is, however, a complete sham, because there is no chance that the U.S. Congress, controlled by the Republican Party, will agree to sign any international climate-change agreement.
Like President Bill Clinton before him, Mr Obama has already foreshadowed a deep green climate agreement in Paris, while having no intention of seeking ratification from the U.S. Congress.
If he were genuine, he would have put before Congress the Kyoto Protocol, which Mr Clinton signed in 1997. Mr Obama had the ideal opportunity to do that just after he was first elected in 2008, when the Democrats controlled both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.