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Archive for January, 2019

Bad budget won’t drive Turnbull to early poll

Gone are the three-word slogans and misguided captain’s picks. What Malcolm Turnbull does with his newfound power remains to be seen, but ns will get their say at the ballot box next year. As with the high-riding Kevin Rudd through 2009, Malcolm Turnbull leads the opposition by an enormous margin heading into an election year and will therefore be mulling over when to capitalise on that and cement another three years in office. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Technically, we could still be 13 months from the next election. Thirteen months that is, if the announcement is delayed to the last possible moment, setting a poll date two weeks into 2017.

Of course, a Christmas election won’t ever happen, but other apparently unlikely possibilities may not be so easily dismissed.

Consider the newbie Prime Minister’s election options. As with the high-riding Kevin Rudd through 2009, Malcolm Turnbull leads the opposition by an enormous margin heading into an election year and will therefore be mulling over when to capitalise on that and cement another three years in office.

And like Rudd, he’s being urged by some senior colleagues to jump early, consistent with an old truth in politics: successful prime ministers go to the polls when they believe they can win.

Rudd foolishly ignored this wisdom – after initially satisfying his inner circle at the close of 2009 that he would pull the election lever in the new year. We know how that ended. More importantly, we can imagine how much more favourably it might have gone had he stuck with plan A.

Turnbull’s calculations are not so very different to Rudd’s. He could take the advice of supporters and ask the Governor-General for a March poll, or leave it for a bit longer and go for a May election.

In either case though, he would have to convince the Governor-General that the government was unable to function due to Senate intransigence, thus necessitating a full dissolution of both houses.

Constitutional justifications, or “triggers”, are there now, but the assessment of whether using them would be politically wise is less straightforward. In essence, he must consider public trust – or more pointedly, the risk that an early election would be perceived by voters as opportunistic, and thus as a breach of faith.

Why? Because Turnbull has explicitly flagged going full term on many occasions since taking over. Indeed, from the moment of victory – having delivered up yet another explosive news day in Canberra – his instincts told him voters are weary of the spectacular and are now yearning for boring. More than anything, they want politicians and governments, to stop being so interesting, to get off the front pages, and stay out of their lives. Restoring such orderliness is more or less explicit in Turnbull’s justification for seizing power.

Self-evidently then, a snap poll in the first half of 2016 justified by a legislative crisis bad enough to trigger a double dissolution, would be the antithesis of a new disinterested calm.

All of which points to Turnbull waiting for a standard House and half-Senate election “in the second half of 2016”. Yet the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook unveiled by Treasurer Scott Morrison on Tuesday, has, if anything, rekindled the embers of an early election fire.

The reasons are twofold. First, that the statement itself appeared to duck the hard tasks of budget repair, suggesting the government is already becoming conflict-averse. And second, because it showed that delivering a budget in such difficult circumstances is problematic, whereas an election would obviate such a challenge.

And there’s a third reason, which is more political: an election would necessarily quiet internal dissent coalescing around Tony Abbott and supporters.

The government’s economic narrative, is now more confused than ever. What had been a sacred mission of Abbott and Joe Hockey, to restore balance in 2019-20 and build that to a strong surplus equal to 1 per cent of GDP by 2023-24, has been abandoned.

Morrison used a curious holiday metaphor of kids in the back seat asking “are we there yet?” to explain (to those simpletons among us who thought there was a budget emergency) that the fiscal repair task should be viewed as a road trip, a journey – thus taking time. Labor immediately asked if the driver knew where he was going.

In any event, Morrison’s mental picture did invoke that childhood dream of driving towards the horizon, which of course turns out to be impossible. The idea of something never getting any closer is hardly an ideal foundation from which to sell a credible fiscal recovery strategy.

But the government’s political problems extend well beyond some poorly drawn analogies. For example, the forces that made MYEFO so lacklustre are only strengthening. These include flat wages growth, and falling iron-ore prices, both of which have hit revenue hard.

Then there’s lower overall economic growth with forecasts downgraded from 2.75 per cent to 2.5 per cent in 2015-16, and by 50 basis points in 2016-17 slipping from 3.25 per cent to 2.75 per cent. This latter figure, incidentally, is the new normal, regarded as “trend growth” in Treasury-speak.

In short, the budget repair task has become as politically complicated as it has always been economically. Turnbull has to weigh the greater prospects of an early election win, against the breach of faith it would represent, and the risk it would be painted as avoiding a budget concealing hidden nasties evident only upon re-election. That charge would provide Labor’s sharpest attack.

Tellingly, Turnbull does look to have genuinely changed, having displayed more patience in the February spill attempt than most expected. His judgment then was that Abbott’s structural flaws would inevitably bring him down without outside help. It was a bold non-call and one that turned out to be correct. He is now preparing to make another one.

Mark Kenny is Fairfax Media’s chief political correspondent.

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APS wage deal falls short by 62 votes

More public service newsCash’s public servants vote-no, just
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A new wage deal for more than 4400 public servants at the Agriculture Department has been rejected by a wafer-thin margin of just 62 votes.

The department’s bosses were expected to have got their proposal over the line with an improved wage offer and by cutting a separate deal with the department’s most militant group of workers, the meat inspectors.

But Agriculture’s staff were told on Thursday morning that the proposal had fallen agonisingly short, with 80 per cent of the department’s public servants casting ballots, in a result that will send both sides back to the negotiating table in the new year.

The result follows another close-run vote this week at the Employment Department where workers voted by a 55 per cent to 45 per cent margin to reject the deal on offer.

Agriculture’s lead negotiator frankly conceded in an email sent out to thousands of workers on Thursday that the result left the department searching for answers.

“The outcome leaves us in a quandary,” the senior executive wrote.

“As you know, at each stage we have made the best possible offer and unless there is another change in the government’s bargaining policy, the department’s current pay offer will not be able to be improved in 2016.

“As you would also know, beyond the current offer, there are more difficult questions about affordability and the impact on staffing levels.”

Technical union Professionals , which represents veterinary and agricultural scientists working at the department, said the rejection meant that workers there were still worried about cuts to conditions and entitlements.

“Scientists and engineers sent a message to Barnaby Joyce in the Murray Darling Basin Authority and they are sending him a further message here from the Agriculture Department,” union official Dave Smith said.

“It’s not just about general pay increases, which aren’t good enough, it’s about valuing and recognising veterinary and agricultural science expertise.

“If this government is serious about an innovation agenda they need to ensure that they value their own expertise as a starting point.”

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Who goes to a midnight screening of Star Wars?

Excited fans at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Premiere. Photo: Matthew Tompsett Nothing would keep these fans away, not even the bad weather. Photo: Matthew Tompsett
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Costumes bright and beautiful on display at the first fan screening. Photo: Matthew Tompsett

Star Wars fans stay awake for midnight premiereWhy the Force Awakens is a triumph and a tragedyReview: Hugely fun and hugely derivative

You could correctly predict most of the emotions governing those gathering in Sydney’s cinemas for the first midnight screenings of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – excitement, impatience, a devil-may-care attitude to office punctuality this close to the end of the year – but mixed in there was one distinctly un-Jedi-like element.

Fear.

Yes, we all know that it leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, but even those clad in brown robes and waving plastic lightsabers around admitted that their optimism was tinged with caution about the first Star Wars film under the Disney umbrella, directed and co-written by JJ Abrams and – most significantly of all – made without the involvement of its creator, George Lucas.

And that was because so many of these people had been in this situation sixteen years ago when the first of the prequel trilogy came out.

In 1999 there were similar midnight screenings for The Phantom Menace, the film that gave Star Wars fans Jar Jar Binks, pod racing, and the news that the Force wasn’t a mystical energy field so much as the excrement of bacteria in Jedi cells. So, like divorcees returning to the dating world, their willingness to love again was coloured by the still-raw knowledge that hearts had been broken before.

At the Randwick Ritz the midnight screening featured a full-size Jabba the Hutt in the foyer (complete with a Princess Leia in her slave outfit, naturally) and a pre-film nibbles and drinks accompanied by a band pumping through a Star Wars-themed repertoire including such classics as The Imperial March, The Cantina Song, That Horrible Funk Number From The Special Edition of Return Of The Jedi and… um, Superstition by Stevie Wonder, for some reason. However, it was encouraging to see fully-uniformed Stormtroopers getting down on the dancefloor with frantically gyrating Jawas, symbolically demonstrating that yes, we can all get along.

And a straw poll of people nursing pre-film drinks on the balcony – caffeinated softdrinks for those determined not to miss a thing, beers for those just delighted to be out on a school night – reinforced the message that this would be amazing, that they’d been looking forward to this for months, and dear God please JJ don’t screw it up.

“There’s no way that this can be bad,” Tim explained, as a scowling person dressed as Darth Maul pushed past toward the toilets. “You just know there’s so much riding on this, they’re going to have worked so hard to make it good.” His point was perfectly punctuated by the sound of horns outside as two men in a giant cardboard AT-AT made their stately, traffic-blocking way across St Pauls Street.

The pair received a hero’s reception before the screening as they comfortably took out the prize for best costume (much to Darth Maul’s visible annoyance), and the cheer as the lights went down and the iconic words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” flashed up on the screen was genuinely spine-tingling.

And that’s because this sort of charming, heartfelt nostalgia is probably on show for the last time.

There’s going to be a new Star Wars film this time next year, and the one after, and the three after that, and so on infinitum, or at least until the franchise stops being a license to print money. People will still be excited, sure, but Star Wars will gradually cease to be a cherished childhood touchstone and start being that thing that turns up every Xmas and takes over two entire K-Mart toy aisles.

Still, the overwhelming response after the film was joy: beaming faces, animated conversations about the return of obscure background characters, and genuine, palpable delight – except for Maul, who was loudly complaining to sympathetic listeners that the AT-AT guys “…turned up in the same thing last time”.

Take heart, doomed Sith Lord. Hate leads to suffering.

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Katherine health suffers $6.1m loss after rehabilitation funding redirected

IT HAS been 12 monthssince temporary beat locations were launched in Katherinewith overwhelming results.
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But the success has come at a cost to the Katherine community after Health Minister John Elferink revealed that the money allocated for a proposed$6.1 million mandatory alcohol treatment facility in the town had been lost to government coffers.

In April, the government announced plans for the facility had been scrapped after statistics showed that only 1.3 people per month in the region qualified for mandatory treatment in light of the success of the TBLs.

Mr Elferink told the Katherine Timeson Monday that the money had been reabsorbed into the NT budget as part of standard procedure.

“Any leftover from any budget in government at the end of the year is then reabsorbed into the central holding authority, which most people would call consolidated revenue,” he said.

The money was reabsorbed prior to this year’s budget, but Mr Elferink said there was no way to easily trackwhatit would now be spent on.

“It won’t be mentioned in a way that you can track a dollar from there to there,” he said.

“We will have rebudgeted for the next year alcohol mandatory treatment or other health services, such as [Katherine’s]very recently developed oncology unit.”

The unit Mr Elferink referred to was primarily fundedby the federal government, with the NT government only committing$500,000 towards the facility.

Shadow Minister for HealthLynne Walker slammed the loss of the $6.1m.

“The [Country Liberal Party] should not be taking away money they promised Katherine;it must be invested into actual legitimate health initiatives,” she said.

“This is Katherine’s money and the CLP have no right to take it away.

“I call on the local Member for Katherine, Willem Westra van Holthe, to stand up for Katherine and stop taking his electorate for granted.”

Mr Westra van Holthe countered thesuggestion andsaid the $6.1mwasnot a significant loss for Katherine, as the scrapping of the facility proved that TBLswere a successful initiative.

“$6mback into the general health budget means there is every likelihood that some of that money would come into Katherine health through other avenues,” he said.

“Really, that’s a great result.”

Katherine Times, NT

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens: European premierephotos

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: European premiere Myleene Klass and a guest pose for a selfie with Stormtroopers at the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
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Mark Hamill and Marilou York attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Daisy Ridley attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Romeo Beckham and Brooklyn Beckham attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Carrie Fisher attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Harrison Ford attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Lupita Nyong’o attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

John Boyega attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Mellody Hobson and George Lucas attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Anthony Daniels attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

J.J. Abrams attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Carrie Fisher attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Brian May and Anita Dobson attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Greg Rutherford attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Sara Macdonald, Noel Gallagher, Anais Gallagher and Donovan Gallagher attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Kenny Baker attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

John Boyega attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

ohn Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Gwendoline Christie attends the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford attend the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. Pic: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

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