Lowy Institute’s Jonathan Pryke on APEC 2018

November 19, 2018

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) ended with no agreed communique and unresolved tensions between the United States and China on open display.

Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands program director, Jonathan Pryke, who observed the forum in Port Moresby, said: “it is distressing for all parties that they weren’t able to find common ground. There is a fear that we’re losing the middle here.”

Pryke told The Conversation “the desire for a convergence of China into the international liberal order seems like a bit of a fantasy now.”

But he says “whilst the summit has left everyone on a pretty sour note” because of the state of the communique “it is still important for all the middle powers to find more ways in which they can communicate and work together to maintain this liberal order.”

On Australia partnering with America to develop a naval base on Manus, he said “the devil will be in the details … but it does send a strong symbolic message to China.”

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Andrew Giles on the growing issue of loneliness

November 7, 2018

Ahead of the release of the most comprehensive data on loneliness in Australia - by the Australian Psychologists Society - Labor frontbencher Andrew Giles speaks to The Conversation about this “contagious phenomenon”.

Loneliness is a growing issue, Giles says. It’s not just among older Australians, as often conventionally thought, but also a problem for young people - with social media, paradoxically, a contributing factor.

Giles who is working on a loneliness policy, thinks it is an area where politicians can “reach across the aisle”. He will co-sponsor a motion with Liberal MP Julian Leeser on the need to better understand the policy challenge.

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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Anne Summers on #MeToo and women in politics

November 2, 2018

Anne Summers, who has worn many hats during her career - journalist, editor, activist, senior public servant, and prime ministerial advisor - is concerned about the slow progress in Australia in addressing sexual harassment and assault.

“I don’t know what it is that is holding [MeToo] back here,” Summers tells The Conversation. She believes there should be more naming of perpetrators, with the proviso that “obviously it’s got to be justified, obviously you don’t do it rashly and without and very credible evidence”.

“I don’t see why you can’t name somebody who has been shown to have abused his position like that,” she said.

Summers, who’s long campaigned on the issue of violence against women, declares “a forensic approach is urgent”. “I worry some of the research is not really problem-solving and focusing on how to end violence. It’s seeking more to understand the impact - and I think we already know the impact.”

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Satirist Jonathan Biggins on sending up the pollies

October 30, 2018

Jonathan Biggins, who has been sending up politicians as part of The Wharf Revue for almost two decades, has some sharp words about social media - “the enemy of democracy, not its ally” - and a warning on political correctness.

“We are entering an age of a new puritanism that is actually not only driven by the censorious right but by the equally censorious left who are saying this is no longer acceptable,” he tells The Conversation.

“We’ve always had a free rein at the wharf but I can see shadows looming at the door”.

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Barnaby Joyce on facing the drought and rural women

October 23, 2018

Some in the Nationals would like Barnaby Joyce back in the leadership before the election. Joyce speaking to The Conversation repeats that if the leadership were offered, he would be up for it - though he insists he is not canvassing.

But his critics think he would have a “woman problem” - and Joyce acknowledges that to win support back from rural women he “would certainly have a lot of work to do”.

The former deputy prime minister is the government’s special drought envoy, and ahead of Friday’s Drought Summit he says there’s still a lot to be done. While there’s been some recent rain, even for those farmers who have received it “the real relief does not become evident until such time as the money turns up at the bank”.

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Peter Jennings on Morrison’s Jerusalem move

October 17, 2018

Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Peter Jennings, says it would be "silly" to claim - as Scott Morrison does - that there is no connection between this week's announcement about the possible relocation of Australia's embassy to Jerusalem and Saturday's Wentworth byelection.

This kind of decision would not have been considered by Malcolm Turnbull, Jennings says and if Julie Bishop were still foreign minister she "would have put up quite a fight".

On Morrison's general foreign policy approach so far, Jennings says the new PM seems to be taking a more "conciliatory tone" to China. "If we see the Prime Minister moving away from the relatively hard line position that Malcolm Turnbull evolved over several years about China, that to me would be a concern."

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The battle for Wentworth

October 10, 2018

The government’s majority is at stake in the October 20 Wentworth byelection, when the Liberals face voters still reeling from the loss of their member Malcolm Turnbull.

ABC election analyst Antony Green says there’s likely to be a 10 per cent swing “as a start” - the result of losing Turnbull’s personal vote and a generally more intense battle. He says “the only danger” to the Liberals not winning the seat is high profile independent Kerryn Phelps but she may have made it harder for herself by “mucking up her preference comments earlier”.

Liberal candidate Dave Sharma recognises the public’s disappointment and disillusionment with politicians and if elected is keen to “help improve the tone of the debate in Canberra”. He accepts “absolutely” the science of man-made or anthropogenic climate change and believes in Australia “keeping our international commitments” on Paris.

Labor’s Tim Murray is “quite confident” he will finish second on the primary vote (although the ALP’s best chance of ousting the Liberals is to run third and help elect Phelps with its preferences). On the issue of asylum seekers, which has dogged his party, Murray says a Labor government should press for New Zealand to take more than its original offer of an annual 150: “Taking 300 would go a long way to resolving the problem of children being held in detention”.

Phelps says she has received a lot of thanks for putting her hand up for Wentworth but has also been subject to “dirty tricks”. Despite her confusing messages on preferences, she’s confident she can come second if enough “disaffected Liberals and people who agree with my progressive policy agenda are prepared to put their support behind [me].”

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Clare O’Neil on Labor’s listening tour for banking victims

October 3, 2018

Shadow minister for financial services Clare O'Neil, who is leading Labor’s “roundtables” for victims of the banks and other financial institutions, says the ALP exercise will give a voice to people in areas the Royal Commission hasn’t had time to visit.

“There’s vast swathes of the country where the commission hasn’t been at all.” she tells The Conversation. “I just utterly reject that this is a political exercise”, she says in answer to government criticism.

O'Neil says she has “a lot of confidence” in Commissioner Kenneth Hayne but is concerned that with only four months until the final report there have not yet been any policy proposals. “It’s just that I think we will get to a better result if the government gives the commissioner more time.”

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Brendan O’Connor on Labor’s industrial relations agenda

September 26, 2018

With Scott Morrison flagging his government will take a hard line on industrial relations, especially the CFMEU, Labor’s shadow minister for employment and workplace relations, Brendan O'Connor will have a tough job ahead of the election.

O'Connor says Labor remains totally opposed to the government’s Ensuring Integrity legislation, which the Coalition wants to resurrect. “I can’t see this bill in any way being salvageable, and that’s why of course it sat for a year without the Senate debating it,” he says.

O'Connor acknowledges there have been problems with “civil breaches” by the Construction division of the CFMEU but insists the claims of bad behaviour have been “highly exaggerated”. “It is very hard to take this government seriously when it politicises institutions it establishes and uses those institutions for political purposes … this government really has no standing and no regard for the rule of law when it actually acts unlawfully itself and then wants to attack other institutions for acting unlawfully,” O'Connor says.

With his brother Michael the CFMEU's national secretary, O'Connor indicates that in government he would recuse himself from decisions made specifically by the minister – though not from general workplace policy relevant to the union. "I would consider the situation and if I thought there was a perceived conflict or a conflict I certainly would of course absent myself," he said.

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View from the crossbench: Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie on the role of community candidates

September 13, 2018

Independent Cathy McGowan and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie share more in common than just sitting on the crossbench. The members for Indi and Mayo respectively have dug in to retain their seats - they believe there is “a mood” in the community for alternative candidates.

McGowan and Sharkie have given the government their confidence until the Wentworth byelection - after which they will consult with their electorates. They think Kerryn Phelps would have “an excellent chance” of winning the byelection if she runs. Sharkie said “I would certainly be keen to support her in any capacity and that just might be phone calls just to give her some support”.

Even a few weeks after the leadership spill, Sharkie said “there is still a lot of grieving in Mayo for the loss of Malcolm Turnbull”. The feeling in Indi was “very similar”, McGowan said “except there was another level” - the loss of an energy policy.

On the Liberal’s problems with unity and women, McGowan said “It’s not just the bullying it’s how they work together as a team. In making themselves into a much better party they might open themselves to greater diversity and to better systems and practices for managing conflict.”

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