Mathias Cormann on the same-sex marriage postal survey

August 20, 2017

When the government didn’t get the numbers to pass legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite they put the wheels in motion for their second best plan: a postal survey.

Since announcing that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) would be responsible for carrying out the same-sex marriage postal survey, acting special minister of state Mathias Cormann has had no shortage of questions from journalists and on social media.

In the absence of normal protections offered by the Australian Electoral Commission, Cormann says the government is developing legislation to ensure the respective ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns are respectful.

Similarly, issues around accessibility to the postal vote are being worked out by the ABS, with a paperless option being created for certain circumstances.

On the High Court challenges tabled for August 24 he says that while no forms will be sent out until September 12 - after the issue is resolved - any money spent preparing the postal survey will have been spent. “We believe the course of action we have chosen is constitutional and legal but this is now a matter for the High Court”.

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Derryn Hinch on surviving the Senate

August 10, 2017

After spending a year immersed in the parliamentary machine, broadcaster-turned-senator Derryn Hinch is keen to see a more efficient Senate.

His suggestions include shortening the length of speeches – and thus the opportunity for filibusters – and trimming supplementary questions. He’s frustrated by the government’s “Dorothy Dixers”. “It’s a waste of time,” he says.

As the debate around same-sex marriage continues to affect the government, Hinch has made clear his support for reform.

But he found himself receiving some flak when he voted with the government in a division – which was defeated – to allow debate on its plebiscite bill. He had every intention of voting against the bill, but thought discussion should have been permitted.

On the dual citizenship imbroglio, the former New Zealand citizen made sure he put his affairs in order before the election. He got a backhanded compliment: “If the Human Headline can check it out and fix it, it can’t be that hard”.

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Tiernan Brady on same-sex marriage showdown

August 3, 2017

The issue of same-sex marriage is derailing the government’s attempts to promote its agenda as tension mounts ahead of a special Liberal party meeting on Monday and parliament’s resumption on Tuesday.

The executive director of The Equality Campaign, Tiernan Brady, a leader of the successful ‘yes’ referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland, has been working with activists in Australia to get marriage equality over the line.

He says the majority of MPs and the opposition just “want to find a solution” and that the five Liberal “rebels” trying to get an early parliamentary vote have been “really brave and shown real leadership.”

Brady says the best outcome would be for the government to facilitate a free vote in parliament; a popular vote would be “politically unnecessary, legally unnecessary and legally unbinding”. “The day this happens nobody is going to be less married, and nobody is going to be more gay and the world rolls on, the sky doesn’t fall in.”

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Michael Cooney on an Australian republic

July 28, 2017

Malcolm Turnbull, perhaps Australia’s best-known republican, declared himself “an Elizabethan” during his recent visit to London. Turnbull insists the quest for an Australian republic is on the backburner until Queen Elizabeth’s reign ends.

But Bill Shorten is pushing for an earlier timetable, as is the Australian Republic Movement (ARM). The ARM’s national director, Michael Cooney, argues that becoming a republic would give Australians, who are facing a political system that is breaking if not broken, important new symbols of national unity.

The road to a possible Australian republic has steep obstacles. One is getting an appropriate model. Cooney admits that even within the ARM there are differences over whether the president of an Australian republic should be directly elected or chosen by parliament.

Another challenge is that the younger royals have given the Crown a rather more modern image. But Cooney is confident that when it comes to making decisions about Australia’s head of state, the public will make judgements on the substance. “Australians know the difference between celebrities and the Constitution,” he says.

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Peter Jennings on the home affairs department

July 19, 2017

The new home affairs super ministry announced by Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday is considered by some experts to be unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Peter Jennings, says that while the department would present an array of bureaucratic challenges it is largely a “sensible step”.

Likely benefits include the potential for a much needed improvement to Australia’s ability to address cybersecurity issues and foreign interference. But he says success will depend on how effectively the ministers can work together.

Jennings notes that the “absence of obvious process” behind the announcement of the home affairs department - unlike the “carefully worded, well-researched” Intelligence review - means that the details of the roll-out are unclear.

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Graeme Samuel on data governance

July 13, 2017

Many Australians are worried about the proliferation of data businesses and the government knowing too much about them.

Data Governance Australia chairman Graeme Samuel hopes that a self-regulatory code of conduct will raise the standards among data-driven organisations. Despite the pervasiveness of data in our daily lives, he argues most people don’t understand the extent to which organisations use it.

As a former regulator, Samuel regards government regulation of data as “second-best” and is “there to step in when there is market failure”. In drafting the code, he has consulted closely with businesses and the public to try to “anticipate community concerns into the foreseeable future”.

On the government’s My Health Record – which has been rolled out very slowly – he argues the benefits of a centralised system outweigh privacy concerns, although every effort needs to be made to protect the privacy of health records.

While data offers an opportunity for improved safety, trust in processes is paramount. “We need to be careful, of course, that the issue of security in terms of international terrorism and the like is not used as a superficial excuse for the collection of data to be used for other purposes.”

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Anna Krien on the climate wars

July 3, 2017

Melbourne-born author Anna Krien’s latest Quarterly Essay explores the debates on climate change policy in Australia and the ecological effects of not acting.

She interviewed farmers, scientists, Indigenous groups, and activists from Bowen to Port Augusta. She says climate change denialism has transformed into “climate change nihilism”.

Krien says the Finkel review provides another opportunity in a long line of proposals to take up the challenge of legislating clean energy. “We just need to get that foot in the door. The door has been flapping in the wind for the past decade.”

On a current frontline battle – the planned Adani Carmichael coalmine – she found the people who would be affected were being ignored and blindsided.

Meanwhile, the potential for exploitation of local Indigenous peoples through “opaque” native title legislation was high. “Outsiders are not meant to understand it and to tell you the truth you get the sense that insiders aren’t meant to understand it either.”

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Alan Finkel on the future of Australia’s energy market

June 23, 2017

Despite the government still considering his proposal for a clean energy target (CET) – after endorsing his other 49 recommendations – Chief Scientist Alan Finkel is optimistic the CET remains firmly on the agenda.

Finkel’s challenging task has been to put forward a scheme to bring Australia’s energy market into the future, providing certainty for investment and supply. His plan has required a balance between appeasing consumers on prices and meeting Australia’s commitments on climate change.

This is made harder by the desire of many in the government to push on with developing new “clean-coal-fired” power stations, a term Finkel describes as “a murky concept”. “There is no prohibitions in any of our recommendations. The government has to decide whether to license new technologies,” he says.

Asked about the concept of “reverse auctions” – better called competitive tenders – he says this is “widely recognised to be the most cost-effective means of bringing the lowest cost solution into the market”. But that’s dependent on the wisdom of the entity running the auction rather than the wisdom of investors.

Overall, Finkel acknowledges there’s a hard road ahead for policymaking on energy. “Transitions are always painful,” he says.

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Gladys Berejiklian on the need to reform federal-state partnerships

June 23, 2017

NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian is alert to the challenge of operating in today’s difficult electorate. “The digital age has brought a sense of empowerment. It’s brought a sense of greater appreciation of democracy and the political process and we need to not only respond to it but adapt to that and make sure that we are listening during our term in office, not just at election time.”

With her government having just handed down a budget with an enviable surplus, she says the federal government’s Gonski legislation will leave NSW better off “in terms of dollars”.

But she is very concerned about what she sees as an urgent need to review the numerous and “clumsy” federal-state partnerships. She’d prefer a more fundamental overhaul but that’s not on the horizon. “I don’t want piecemeal reform - I would prefer to have wholesale reform but I can’t see that happening in the near future and for that reason I think as a state leader I have to deliver as much as I can under the existing circumstances”.

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Josh Frydenberg, George Christensen and Mark Butler on the Finkel review

June 14, 2017

Malcolm Turnbull declared on Wednesday he'd "provided decisive leadership on energy". It is a claim perhaps better cast in the future tense.

The debate over the Finkel panel's recommendation for a clean energy target (CET) is just beginning, and already it is clear that reaching an outcome that brings the certainty the business community needs to invest will be a hard slog for Turnbull, who will be undermined by critics on his own side.

In this podcast we talk Finkel with Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, Nationals backbencher George Christensen, and opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler.

Frydenberg, charged with the detailed heavy-lifting, tells Michelle Grattan: "We have to work together as a team to land this difficult policy area."

Christensen proudly wears the agrarian socialist title as he advocates for radical changes to the regulation of Australian energy prices. "Being bold is the answer and market intervention has to happen." He's sceptical of a CET without seeing the modelling and data.

Butler believes a CET is workable but it has to be consistent with principles, which means such a scheme shouldn't incorporate so-called "clean" coal. "The discussion of the Finkel report shouldn't include concessions for the hard-right-wing," he says.

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