Sarah Hanson-Young on the Greens Batman setback

March 20, 2018

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has strongly backed party leader Richard Di Natale’s push to purge those who leaked against candidate Alex Bhathal in the Batman byelection.

Hanson-Young told The Conversation it was clear that the party infighting played on the minds of voters. “I don’t think there’s a place for people who want to undermine our party like that. This selfish act by a small number of people in Victoria has ramifications for all of us … because of that these individuals need to face the consequences.”

On the future of the Greens, Hanson-Young admitted that while nobody could match Bob Brown’s legacy, it was important the party get behind Di Natale’s leadership - which has been criticised by some Greens figures outside parliament.


The Batman byelection battleground

March 13, 2018

Byelections are not just important in the obvious sense of their results, but also for the confidence of political players.

On Saturday Labor and Bill Shorten face a major test in the Melbourne seat of Batman, traditionally Labor but with the Greens now threatening the ALP’s hold.

A Labor loss would be a blow to the morale of the opposition - it would also open some debate within the party about Shorten’s performance and what should be done to combat the Greens at the next election.

On the other hand, if the ALP’s Ged Kearney came home victorious Labor would be well placed to put the heat on Malcolm Turnbull if as is expected the prime minister loses his 30th newspoll in a few weeks.

We went to Batman in the final days of the campaign and spoke to Kearney and the Greens candidate Alex Bhathal as well as former deputy prime minister Brian Howe, who once held the seat, and former Greens leader, Bob Brown.


Politics podcast: the “X factor” in the South Australian election

March 7, 2018

The South Australian election will be held on March 17 - the same day as the federal byelection in Batman. 

In SA Labor is pitching for a fifth term, with former senator Nick Xenophon's SA-Best party injecting a high element of unpredictability into the result.

Jobs and power prices are to the fore in voters' minds while the gambling industry is investing heavily to try to fend off the "X factor".

The Conversation spent two days in Adelaide; we interviewed Dean Jaensch, emeritus professor in politics from Flinders University, Carol Johnson, politics professor at the University of Adelaide, Premier Jay Weatherill, Nick Xenophon, and South Australian federal Liberal cabinet minister Christopher Pyne.


Politics Podcast: Jacinda Ardern on her political life

February 28, 2018

Ahead of her second Australia visit, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern spoke to Michelle Grattan about the toughness of Australian politics, her ambitious policy plans and the demands of being a young high-profile female leader that everyone wants to know about.

On the New Zealand refugee offer Ardern told The Conversation it “still obviously sits on the table but it’s absolutely Australia’s prerogative as to whether it is taken.”


Peter Dutton on balancing interests in Home Affairs

February 26, 2018

The recently-created Home Affairs department, headed by Peter Dutton, is a behemoth that its critics fear will compromise civil liberties.

But Dutton argues there should be no basis for such concerns. “There are no greater laws or arrest powers that have been introduced or a lessening of protections that have been provided for under this new arrangement,” he tells The Conversation.

On the growing area of cybersecurity, Dutton says there is a need to “get the balance right” between protection and privacy.

In an interview that canvasses the immigration debate sparked by Tony Abbott and the changing face of a department once focused on nation-building to one prioritising national security, Dutton also defends the time taken by the investigation into Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg, on paid leave since July. “I’m certain of the fact that this has been dealt with in the most expeditious way possible,” he says.


Brian Howe on revisiting Henderson, poverty and basic income

February 12, 2018

How to increase wages and tackle inequality are live political and economic debates. Many Australians are feeling the cost-of-living squeeze.

Speaking ahead of a conference in Melbourne this week to revisit the landmark Henderson inquiry into poverty, conducted in the 1970s, former deputy prime minister Brian Howe says the targeted nature of Australia’s contemporary social security system goes hand-in-hand with stigmatising welfare recipients.

Howe, a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, says a universal basic income scheme “topping up” the resources of unemployed and low-income workers would provide them with much-needed confidence and dignity. He is especially concerned about the difficulties and vulnerability of young people trying to get a start in the labour market.

Howe also urges a rethink on housing and home ownership, including more public housing and a combination of public subsidies and private investment for affordable housing and rental schemes.

“Access to housing becomes a major cause of poverty, that’s why Henderson had two poverty lines – one a general poverty line, and then a housing costs poverty line,” he says.


Mark Dreyfus on refining foreign interference legislation

February 7, 2018

Introduced in the final hours of sitting last year, the government’s foreign interference legislation have been criticised for being too broad and draconian.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says Labor acknowledges the need to do more about espionage activity and foreign influence in Australia but argues changes need to be made to the “hastily” and broadly drafted bill.

On the security legislation, he says despite a narrow defence journalists risk being sent to jail for handling classified information. He also expresses concern about the bill prohibiting foreign based charities from doing advocacy work.

Dreyfus says the foreign register is “much needed” and the foreign donations ban is a step in the right direction but the threshold for disclosing political donations needs to be drastically lowered.


Bill Ferris on Australia’s innovation mission

February 1, 2018

Innovation has been a buzzword of Malcolm Turnbull’s government, but the public reception of this message has been less than enthusiastic.

Innovation and Science Australia chair Bill Ferris launched a report this week setting out a plan over five key areas – education, industry, how government can be a catalyst for change, research and development, and culture and ambition – that seeks to put Australia into the top tier of innovation nations by 2030.

Ministerially, the innovation area has had much churn, with five ministers since Turnbull became prime minister. Ferris acknowledges this has meant losing some continuity but is pleased with the dramatic increase in venture capital supply under initiatives that have been launched.

Education, he says, is key to the blueprint – it’s a complex area requiring “a cocktail of things” to be tackled. This includes a change in the way that industry supports schools, and an urgent review of the VET sector, which has suffered from educational snobbery.

In industry policy, Ferris says there is a pressing need to rebalance business incentives to use more direct incentives to ensure Australia is competitive. He also says the government’s announcement to increase defence exports should focus on innovative products.

The blueprint also includes proposals to improve the commercialisation of research, a quest of successive governments.

Then there is the matter of moonshots – big ideas that would make Australia stand out – such as promoting genomics and precision medicine to help make “Australia the healthiest nation on Earth”.


John Blaxland on new foreign interference laws

December 6, 2017

The government’s new foreign interference laws propose broad changes to political donations, counter-surveillance, and lobbying in Australia.

ANU professor John Blaxland has some real concerns about the unintended consequences of the legislation for academic debate. He says there’s a real chance that good people engaging intellectually with issues might get caught up in the broader crackdown.

On the controversy surrounding Sam Dastyari’s dealings with a Chinese businessman, Blaxland says its been a “sobering” lesson for politicians but we needn’t be overly worried about this particular instance. “When we expect a conspiracy it’s usually just a stuff up.”


Matt Canavan on divorce in the LNP and discipline in the Coalition

November 30, 2017

The Liberal National Party's loss in the Queensland election has sparked demerger discussions, while at a federal level it has emboldened the Nationals to take a more independent line.

Nationals federal cabinet minister Matt Canavan, who is a Queenslander, doesn't agree that breaking up the LNP would solve any problems politically: "you can't unscramble the egg."

Despite being an opponent of a royal commission into the banks, Canavan says the government's change of tune to support it demonstrates the strong ability of National backbenchers to push their agenda.