The ten questions I would most like Labor MPs to be asking themselves

The often reliable Leigh Sales has ventured into the “you’re not helping” genre of journalism with a piece in The Drum listing “The ten questions Labor MPs are asking themselves”. Sadly, yet unsurprisingly, all ten pertain to the leadership of the party. Sales doesn’t seem to consider it even a possibility that anyone is allocating any brain space to policy or governing the country. Now, as much as it is a depressing thought, I acknowledge that there is every chance she is right. But as a reporter with a substantial platform, she has a choice about where to direct the conversation. She could, for instance, be inviting responses to these, alternative, questions, that Labor MPs have every reason to be asking themselves:

  1. Since it seems that slinging single parents onto Newstart was a horrible idea that has created lots of social damage, how can we reverse that decision as quickly as possible? While we’re at it, why don’t we go ahead with that $50 per week Newstart increase, that the Greens have been on about?
  2. All sides appear to be working with the assumption that the public doesn’t want a well-funded tertiary education sector, but do we know this is true? Why don’t we experiment with treating all facets of tertiary education, including research in non-STEM areas, and teaching of the humanities and the arts, not to mention TAFE, as if a well educated population is of insurpassable value to any nation?
  3. Since our socially conservative Catholic base will probably vote for Abbott anyway, is now a good time to at least stop making ourselves look like fools by continuing to oppose marriage equality, when there are no rational reasons to deny a portion of our voters their basic human rights?
  4. Come to think of it, wouldn’t that also make it an opportune moment to differentiate ourselves from the opposition by instituting a federal level clarification of abortion law, decriminalising it absolutely, and confirming it as a medical procedure to which everyone with a uterus has a right, since leaving well enough alone is actually a pretty rubbish policy when it comes to human beings’ bodily autonomy?
  5. Which of the policies and programs designed to address the shameful gap between the heath and education outcomes of Aboriginal Australians and other Australians are showing signs of working? How can we further support and expand those?
  6. Perhaps we could offer our public a genuine alternative to inhumane asylum seeker policy, and save a whole messload of money at the same time, by shifting to in-community processing of applicants, and closing all the on and off-shore detention centres? Can we at lest get all the children out of detention by, oh say, Saturday?
  7. Is there some way we can force the media to report the improvement in fossil fuel emissions levels since we put a price on polluting (extra memo: remember to stop letting people get away with calling it a tax)? Wasn’t there a time when the general public seemed genuinely concerned about the environment? Can we get back to that?
  8. Likewise, can we construct some clever way to force the people profiting from mining to make a larger financial contribution to the societal infrastructure that supports them? Or are we just going to give up because they have better lawyers and accountants than us?
  9. How about we maintain a modest budget deficit a while longer, so we can keep improving infrastructure and services, and keep people employed?
  10. If we apologise to Andrew Wilkie, will he let us have a proper go at getting his pokie reforms through after all?


Categories: media, Politics

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23 replies

  1. HELL YES TO ALL OF THIS.
    The ALP must know – surely? – they can’t beat the LNP at being nasty, so why they don’t try to be the opposite?

  2. Orlando if that party existed I would vote for them in a flash.

  3. I should have said: please add your own questions in the comments; I’m fairly certain I haven’t exhausted the limits of the list.

  4. Yes, please. I love these. Pretty much everything I could hope for.
    One I would add is, “How can we explain to people and carers of people with a disability how the NDIS benefit them?” I’ve found nonpolitical people in this area don’t know what the NDIS entails, how it will benefit them and whether there is a danger a Coalition government will water it down and / or delay it. It’s assumed that Abbott would have done it anyway (which I don’t think is the case, I’m sure the Coalition would have said they couldn’t afford it) -the Labor government isn’t getting any credit for this important policy.
    You know, if Labor changed their refugee policy to one that is humane, I’d be very tempted to vote for them. As it is, I won’t be voting for either major party. Refugee policy, treatment of single parents and people on Newstart – I just can’t vote for that – even though the idea of an Abbott government sends my anxiety levels soaring. As bad as it is now, these things will be even worse under a Coalition government.

  5. I’m in furious agreement with this post.

  6. Likewise, can we construct some clever way to force the people profiting from mining to make a larger financial contribution to the societal infrastructure that supports them? Or are we just going to give up because they have better lawyers and accountants than us?
    I can think of one question which might just make a lot of the mining companies stop and think about things: “Do you actually want those mining leases or not?”
    I’d love to have a government which actually stood up to the mining companies, and pointed out to them in very blunt terms that the minerals they’re digging up (For Great Profits!) belong to the Australian people – all of the Australian people, not just the ones who have the money to be investing in mining companies. We don’t owe these companies the opportunity to dig up the landscape, we aren’t beholden to them for the chance to sell our minerals to other nations, and quite honestly, if they decide to take their capital elsewhere, well fine.
    The truth is, as far as the mining companies are concerned, Australia is a great place to do business. This country is tectonically stable, financially stable, politically stable and economically stable. We change governments by means of peaceful elections, rather than violent coups. We have a population which is generally educated to at least upper secondary level, if not post-secondary level. There isn’t much corruption in the various Australian bureaucracies, which means that the cost of doing business here is pretty easy to find out, and pretty straightforward to calculate. There isn’t the need to hire armed guards to protect the mines against thieves, raiders, or political guerrillas. Plus, we have all those nice, big mineral reserves that are just crying out (in the minds of the various mining companies) to be exploited. Australia is actually a pretty damn good place to be doing business – even though you’ll never hear the mining companies actually mention that.
    But hey, if they think they can get bigger profits elsewhere, maybe we need a government which is prepared to say “if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it!”

  7. Since our socially conservative Catholic base will probably vote for Abbott anyway, is now a good time to at least stop making ourselves look like fools by continuing to oppose marriage equality, when there are no rational reasons to deny a portion of our voters their basic human rights?

    Is that assertion actually true? I thought that several unions had quite strong conservative catholic roots. Which is why the ALP have a conscience vote on the issue.

    Come to think of it, wouldn’t that also make it an opportune moment to differentiate ourselves from the opposition by instituting a federal level clarification of abortion law, decriminalising it absolutely, and confirming it as a medical procedure to which everyone with a uterus has a right, since leaving well enough alone is actually a pretty rubbish policy when it comes to human beings’ bodily autonomy?

    I don’t think the federal government have either the power to criminalise or decrimninalise abortion. Its a state issue. Not that ALP state governments have been that enthusiastic about totally decriminalising all forms of abortion either, I’d guess because they do have a significant conservative religious component of their own.
    I’d agree they could do a better job of explaining exactly what the NDIS will mean, though that has been pretty well neutralised as a political advantage with Abbott pledging support. I think they could do a better job explaining Gonski. At the moment its seems all they talk about is buckets of money rather than what it will actually fund.

    If we apologise to Andrew Wilkie, will he let us have a proper go at getting his pokie reforms through after all?

    Heh, the ALP don’t want the pokie reforms to go through. They raise way too much money for the party through the pokies.

  8. Chris: I don’t know why “lefts” praise Inglis-Clarke so much. He and Samuel Griffith are responsible for most of the nasty bits in our Federal Constitution that have frustrated generations of people wanting to give Canberra powers to enact socially progressive measures, in particular, the requirement for four states out of six for a referendum measure to pass.
    Socially progressive referendum questions will automatically fail in QLD and WA and from there you only need one more state and then you’re toast.
    It’s deliberately set up to defeat change.

  9. One pertinent question underlies all of these: How do we prevent powerful wealthy lobbies (eg mining, clubs) using the millions they earn cheating the rest of us out of our money to take out anti-government advertising when they don’t like something the government we elected does? This question seems to me to underline most of the reasons for government backtracking.
    Another question might be how do we get Murdoch to divest himself of the power to destroy free speech in this ‘democracy’?

  10. Word. Just, word.
    I would add: ‘Given that the polls showed an increase in support for Julia Gillard after she stood her ground and spoke up against misogyny in a decisive and strong way, will Labor show a similar confidence in all its policies instead of dilly-dallying around on important issues?’

  11. How do we prevent powerful wealthy lobbies (eg mining, clubs) using the millions they earn cheating the rest of us out of our money to take out anti-government advertising when they don’t like something the government we elected does?

    I don’t think you can restrict the wealthy using their money to try to influence through advertising and still remain a democracy. I’d suggest the long term response is ensuring that all students leave school with decent literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills. And don’t discount the power of social media which can be harnessed with very little financial cost and be just as influential as millions of dollars of advertising.
    David – actually I think it sort of makes sense to have the federal government fairly restricted in what they can do. It makes it harder to get homogenous change throughout Australia in a short time period but it does make it easier for one state to experiment with progressive policies which can then spread to other states, rather than requiring a big-bang approach.

  12. I thought that several unions had quite strong conservative catholic roots.

    That’s part of my point. The odd thing about the Australian situation is that our nominally further left political party is forged from an awkward amalgam (am I keeping my metaphors straight, there?) between lentil-hugging social progressives, and a labour movement that grew out of the working class status of a largely Irish, and later Italian, and therefore Catholic, socially conservative workforce. That’s why the Labor party so consistently fails in its role as a voice for justice over tradition. I’m suggesting that they may have lost that portion of their base who care about religion anyway, so they might as well do some stuff for us hippies.
    Again with the pokies issue, what you say is right, but that doesn’t stop it being wrong. What I am asking for here is for the people who have chosen to represent the Labor party, and worked hard enough to get to the level of federal MP, to be asking themselves whether they did all that because they like money more than the health of the nation.
    It’s quite true that abortion legislation is currently in the hands of the states, but such things are not immutable natural phenomena, they are the result of decisions made by legislators, and if we go in assuming nothing can be done, we aren’t thinking big enough. On precisely this topic, Marie Coleman just made this statement:

    Any argument in current Australian discourse that the issue of potential limitations on the rights of women to make a choice about continuing a pregnancy has nothing to do with Commonwealth policy is spurious. Of course States and Territories have their own choices as to whether abortion is or is a matter for their Criminal Codes or should be decriminalised. But the role of the Commonwealth in handling international obligations as well as in financing medical procedures and pharmaceutical benefits is paramount in giving women the capacity to manage their fertility, and to decide on the numbers and spacing of their children.

  13. Nice post! Also one of the reasons I’m voting Green.

  14. Eden: Aren’t the Greens severely limited by the fact that Lab and Lib/Nats routinely combine against their motions in the Senate?
    With Bandt gone (no Coalition preferences this time) and also probably Ludlum, things will be even more difficult post-September.

  15. What a great post! *Applause* My mind, you are reading it.

  16. Orlando,

    The federal government already does finance medical procedures which can terminate pregnancies, and has yet to act on the April PBAC recommendations, but has previously had an excellent record in financing contraception.

    Universal decriminalisation of abortion would open non-medical abortions, and would close the avenue to prosecution of medical practitioners who did not follow adequate standards.

  17. No, medical practitioners who don’t follow adequate standards can be prosecuted for not following adequate standards. “Technically it’s illegal, but we probably won’t prosecute” is not good enough for women or the competent medical practitioners whose care they seek.

  18. Professional misconduct, in NSW at least, does not bear criminal charges, except when it occasions assault.
    There’s no ‘technically it’s illegal’ about it. The common law clearly states what constitutes a lawful abortion, and medical practitioners can sit well within those constraints.

  19. Hildy, what exactly do you envisage would happen? Please be specific. What adverse outcomes do you think would occur, and in what situations, and why? Can you give an example of other places which have decriminalised abortion and seen the consequences you’re foreseeing here?
    You also asserted that decriminalisation would open abortion up to being performed by anyone – which is untrue. Impersonating a medical practitioner carries a jail term; dispensing medication without a licence is a further offence; and performing procedures fraudulently would also constitute assault and battery and possibly sexual assault, since there can be no proper consent. (Here’s an example of a conviction.) In addition, any doctor who egregiously contravenes good practice guidelines can be deregistered.

    • I’m not sure how that is untrue; the current law essentially states that abortion is criminal except where performed by a medical practitioner under a particular (not onerous) set of circumstances.
      In NSW, this is governed by s82/s83/s84 of the Crimes Act, and the Levine ruling.
      Which of these would you repeal, yet not open the doors to non-medical abortionists?
      Case in point: Tegan Simone Leach. She was acquitted under a tight reading of the Queensland law (that a drug was not a ‘poison or noxious substance’) but would probably have been found guilty in NSW. Should people be importing mifepristone over the internet? I’m envisaging a situation where cffDNA is used to determine sex and mifepristone imported in an anonymous envelope.
      Second case in point: Suman Sood.
      I’m not talking about people impersonating medical practitioners; I’m talking about continuing the ban on the herbalist selling pennyroyal.
      Counter-question: what is wrong with the law as it stands?

  20. Hildy: And you think that desperate people (and why would they be that desperate, if abortion were decriminalised and therefore more available than it is now – I’d like those circumstances examined, please) should be jailed for that? What purpose do you think that jailing would serve? What good for the community?
    What is wrong with the law as it stands has been examined at extreme length in this blog and elsewhere. Try being a pregnant person past the cutoff mark but lacking an “approved” indication; try being a person who lives in a remote community and doesn’t have access to two different doctors to complete the WA legal requirements (and ours are less onerous than a lot of Australia!); etc etc. We’re not talking, for the most part, about a simple “I’m six weeks pregnant and have the means to acquire an abortion here in the city” – we’re talking edge cases.
    Secondly, on a less practical note but an important principle, there is no reason abortion should be singled out, out of all medical procedures, for criminalisation.
    If you want pennyroyal banned, advocate for banning pennyroyal. Not for criminalising all abortions except in certain cases. That’s using a wrecking ball to stomp a gnat, no? Secondly, by far the best way to reduce the incidence of shonky people selling pennyroyal abortions is to make safe medical and surgical abortions legal and accessible to all.

  21. I’m not advocating banning pennyroyal; I’m supporting a continued medical monopoly on abortion. Criminalising all abortions not performed by medical practitioners is a fairly clearcut way of enforcing that monopoly.
    Within the constraints of that monopoly, however, who is the arbiter of right? Should the profession be self-regulating, or does the public (via the government) have an interest in the regulation of the profession? (I’m all for self-regulation, but I recognise that this position may not be entirely popular.)
    Abortion is not the only medical procedure which is criminalised when not performed by medical practitioners; what about the supply and injection of morphine?
    In the Leach case, abortion was decriminalised, it was readily available (with Cairns being one of the first sites to have mifepristone available in a public clinic), and yet she and her partner still elected to undergo a potentially very dangerous unsupervised termination. I don’t think that’s desperation so much as stupidity.
    If you don’t have access to two doctors, you won’t have access to safe abortions (either gynaecologist & anaesthetist, or GP and radiologist).
    I’m very uncomfortable with late term terminations, where the thomson argument no longer holds sway; in this case the primary purpose of a termination (as opposed to early delivery) is the divorce from parental responsibility. If preterm labour happened on that day, you would not kill the newborn on request of the parents; so why privilege the physical location of the child (inside vs outside) for the purposes of decisionmaking?

  22. Wow the unicorn of late term abortion is alive and well and whinnying I see. If you don’t want to have a baby why FFS would you wait until it was nearly time for the baby to be born to decide to do something about it?

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