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Issue #1666      November 26, 2014

Abbott government dogged by splits

The Abbott government is engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to cover up dissension and splits within its own ranks. The rot set in after the May budget, when federal members of the coalition realised they could never persuade the public of the need for its savage impact on ordinary working families.

Liberal MP Cory Bernardi and Queensland nationals MP George Christensen publicly advocated the banning of full face coverings in public.

Rather than admit to any error, Abbott directed his “Team Australia” troops to sell the budget initiatives more effectively, show unity during public appearances and avoid “thought bubbles” that would contradict the government’s policies.

However, the subsequent performance of Abbott and his ministers made relations with their colleagues even worse. Treasurer Joe Hockey was forced to apologise publicly after claiming that raising the fuel excise wouldn’t hit the poorest taxpayers because they either didn’t have a car or only drove short distances.

Hockey attempted to gain ground by hiring author and former government critic David Hunt as his speechwriter, but that didn’t help either.

In late August Abbott’s colleagues became irritated when he failed to attend the coalition’s annual gathering and chose to attend a fund-raising dinner in Melbourne instead. The mood turned to anger the next day when he airily excused his late arrival for the parliamentary meeting because he had to attend a function at a Melbourne cancer centre so that his flight in the government plane would meet parliamentary travel rules!

The government received criticism from within its own ranks of its demand that unemployed people seeking relief should apply for 40 jobs a month, by applying for one job in the morning and one in the afternoon. However, in late August after complaints from employers that the policy would load them up with a massive extra workload, the government was forced to abandon it.

In September Abbott rejected a demand from MP Christian Porter for a greater share of the GST revenue for Western Australia. Joe Hockey then launched a verbal attack on WA Premier Colin Barnet, saying that the state’s financial performance was the worst in Australia. Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop both contradicted Hockey and defended the state government.

Things go from bad to worse

The next issue of dissent was industrial relations. Some MPs want penalty rates to be cut quickly, and oppose the government’s policy of letting the Fair Work commission determine them.

In September the government attempted to appease them by declaring its commitment to changing workplace relations laws on pay and conditions, union militancy, workplace “flexibility”, penalty rates and the impact of the Fair Work Act on employment.

Late in September Liberal MP Cory Bernardi and Queensland nationals MP George Christensen publicly advocated the banning of full face coverings in public. That forced Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to warn that attacks on Muslims would play into the hands of terrorists.

Abbott urged the public not to “fret” about people’s religion or clothing, and opposed a proposal by Bernadi and Lower House speaker Bronwyn Bishop to ban the wearing of burqas or niqabs in parliament.

The government’s pathetically ineffective “direct action” climate change policy is opposed by some members of the government. Significantly, cabinet minister Malcolm Turnbull has never been offered a portfolio that concerned energy or the mining industry.

Last month the government applied considerable pressure on the Australian National University authorities to modify or abandon their previous decision to divest the university of its shares in fossil fuel companies.

However, various Anglican dioceses joined the divestment campaign, and the International Panel on Climate Change has now declared that the use of fossil fuels must be phased out this century to avoid a catastrophic 2 degree rise in average world temperatures. Climate change emerged as a major issue at the Brisbane G20 meeting.

The government recently took the chairman of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) to task for suggesting that Australia was becoming a paradise for white collar criminals.

However, Nationals senator John Williams has called for a royal commission into white collar crime in the wake of revelations about the widespread use of tax havens by Australian corporations and overseas businesses operating here.

That may not go anywhere. ASIC had its funds cut by $120 million over four years in the May budget. In order to monitor the financial planning activities of the big four banks as well as AMP and the Macquarie Bank, it has now had to dip into the special fund reserved for taking cases to court, so if it finds evidence for a prosecution it may not have enough funds to pay for it.

The government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme is opposed by virtually every coalition MP, and discussions with the state governments over integrating state parental leave programs into the federal PPL scheme have broken down.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister found himself involved in a bitter row within his own electorate, over the government’s approval of plans to convert former military buildings at Middle Head on Sydney Harbour to an aged care home. The plan is opposed by the PM’s own sister, a local resident, and the largest Liberal Party branch in the electorate recently passed a motion calling on the government to reject the development.

And now tensions are simmering between the two coalition partners. The Nationals bitterly resented the government’s wooing of the Palmer United Party to gain its support for the “direct action” climate change plan. The Nationals are concerned about implications of the “carbon farming” aspects of the policy, and are also fully aware of growing opposition within rural communities to coal seam gas mining, which the government wholeheartedly supports.

The government is dogged by splits and dissension, but it only has itself to blame. As someone once remarked, be sure your sins will find you out.

Next article – The role of US and Turkey in battle of Kobani

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