March or July — does it really matter? Nick Xenophon clearly is enjoying his last few months of fame as he milks for all it’s worth the “will-he won’t-he” suspense about the planned Queensland flood tax. The South Australian Senator wants the Commonwealth to make the states take out disaster insurance rather than rely on federal funding for repairs caused by natural disasters. “I’m still in discussions with the government,” he said this morning. “The government knows my position, it’s important that we get this right. If there is going to be a flood levy this needs to be the last disaster levy Australian taxpayers need to pay for.”

Given that the result of the Senator Xenophon insure-at-all-costs approach would mean higher total cost to taxpayers than the current government self-insurance system, it is time to call the man’s bluff when it comes to a vote in the Senate. If he wants to defeat the tax/levy that is to raise $1.8 billion, let him. Then reintroduce it when changes to the numbers in the Senate make him an irrelevance.

Meaningless rhetoric from Andrew Robb. I have no idea whether Australia will end up with a carbon tax. What I do know is that if we do, it will be well nigh impossible to scrap it. The promise by Liberal Finance spokesman Andrew Robb that after the next election “if we get in we will scrap it” qualifies at least for one of the “probable lie” stickers I wrote about on Friday and probably deserves the “certain lie” categorisation. Only under the most extraordinary of circumstances will a Liberal-National coalition government have the numbers in the Senate after the next election to guarantee anything.

Words of truth from Ireland. Some words of truth for Australia from the Irish election aftermath “Fine Gael is tipped to end up with about 78 seats [84 are needed for a majority]. But Michael Noonan, a former party leader and the Fine Gael spokesman on finance, said he was not inclined to do business with independents “because they are high maintenance”. And wouldn’t the ALP and Julia Gillard agree with that.

Labor’s risk on multiculturalism. The findings of a major public opinion survey in the United Kingdom should be concerning to the Australian Labor Party now that it has courageously decided to come out as an unashamed supporter of multiculturalism. If Australia is anything like the UK, the finding that there is an appetite for a new right-wing political party that has none of the fascist trappings of the British National Party or the violence of the English Defence League suggests that the climate is right for a more sophisticated form of One Nation. Or, more frighteningly for Labor, that the Liberal Party will totally embrace the Scott Morrison view of racial and religious politics.

Searchlight Educational Trust commissioned the polling organisation Populus to explore the issues of English identity, faith and race.

It concludes that there is not a progressive majority in society and it reveals that there is a deep resentment to immigration, as well as scepticism towards multiculturalism. There is a widespread fear of the “Other”, particularly Muslims. With a clear correlation between economic pessimism and negative views to immigration, the situation is likely to get worse, says the Searchlight report, over the next few years.

Of course attitudes and identity are fluid, and multilayered. Attitudes held today may not be held tomorrow. There are also many positive findings from the report. Young people are more hopeful about the future and more open to living in an ethnically diverse society. The vast majority of people reject political violence and view white anti-Muslim extremists as bad as Muslim extremists and there is overwhelming support for a positive campaign against extremism.

A detailed report of the Populus/Searchlight survey will not be available on the web until Tuesday morning (Australian time) but there is a summary of the findings on Crikey’s The Stump website.

A quote about business that should be applied to politics too. I have been quite surprised by the comments of many readers to a little piece I wrote for Crikey’s The Stump blog expressing my disappointment that Julia Gillard so wilfully decided that there was nothing wrong about breaking a pre-election promise. Clearly there are many people who think that because the other team acts dishonestly it is quite permissible for our lot to do the same.

For my part I prefer the advice that Warren Buffett gave to the managing directors of the companies controlled by his Berkshire Hathaway in his last biennial memo:

Sometimes your associates will say “Everybody else is doing it.” This rationale is almost always a bad one if it is the main justification for a business action. It is totally unacceptable when evaluating a moral decision. Whenever somebody offers that phrase as a rationale, in effect they are saying that they can’t come up with a good reason. If anyone gives this explanation, tell them to try using it with a reporter or a judge and see how far it gets them.

Cut down on those TLAs. Kevin Rudd would be in trouble at the British Ministry of Defence. Rules brought in since the start of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government include a ban on rhetorical questions in official submissions. But the style instruction I liked best among those contained in a weekend survey by the Sunday Telegraph is staff at the Department for Communities and Local Government, being told to cut down on their use of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations).

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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