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Jul 6, 2012

The Coalition’s leaked policy notes: what you found

Readers have been running the ruler over the Coalition's "speaker's notes" leaked by Crikey yesterday. Here are the best responses ...

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

We received plenty of responses from readers after our call for some crowdsourced analysis of the “Coalition’s Speaker’s Notes” (yes, yes, we know, the apostrophe).

To read more than a couple of pages of the document is to enter a world where nothing good of any kind has happened since November 2007, and everything bad that has happened is entirely the fault of Labor. For example, the financial crisis receives one mention (in the corporate law section), while the document lists the Coalition’s handling of the Asian financial crisis as one of its achievements.

After a while you realise the special genius it takes to see everything through such a prism. On the Productivity Commission’s aged care report, for example, the Coalition’s primary commitment on this important issue is that it “will not engage in the disgraceful sort of scare campaign that Labor mounted against the Howard government on aged care in the late 1990s”.

But there’s a reason why such documents aren’t meant to be “circulated in raw form”; they’re like political concentrate doled out to backbenchers to enable them to stay consistent with party policy. A bit like endlessly-cycling cable news services, they’re meant to be dipped into, rather than for immersing oneself in. What we ideally need is a similar document from the Labor opposition from 2006, which would have been every bit as unremittingly bleak and negative in its assessment of the Howard government. It must be very drab only seeing the world in black and white.

Here are some of the best pieces of reader analysis …

Indigenous Australians

One reader noted the absence of any “mention of support for the Federal Working on Country (Indigenous rangers) or Indigenous Protected Areas programs. Both programs have been outstandingly successful against environmental, social, economic and cultural criteria. While not perfect they are ticking all the boxes that the Coalition always claims it wants to tick. And they were invented by the Coalition … It would appear from this document that either the Coalition has forgotten that they invented these programs in the first place or they are in fact getting ready to cut their funding. Given that they represent probably less than 2% of the overall Indigenous spend that would be a shocker.”

Another reader notes “I went straight to the ‘indigenous Australians’ section after this morning reading Senator Brandis’ disgraceful politicking of not supporting the constitutional amendments unless it was introduced by Tony Abbott as prime minister. Page 99 duly states: ‘The Coalition has a proud history of seeking to secure indigenous recognition in the Constitution. Since 2007 it has been Coalition policy to hold a referendum on the addition to the Constitution of a preamble recognising indigenous Australians. We also support the repeal of obsolete racially discriminatory provisions.'”

Immigration

Charles Berger of the Australian Conservation Foundation points out “on population, the Coalition ‘recognises that Australians are looking for immediate and direct action to get our population growth under control. The Coalition will commit to the production of a White Paper on immigration that will reframe the structure and composition of Australia’s immigration Programme to address the policy challenges of sustainable population growth. This process would work in parallel with the work undertaken by the Productivity and Sustainability Commission — and will adopt as its starting point the task of achieving the Coalition’s first term population growth target of 1.4 per cent …’. The thing is, according to the ABS, Australia’s population growth rate in 2011 was 1.4%. So the Coalition will respond to Australians’ desire to ‘get population growth under control’ by maintaining the current rate of growth? Regardless of whether you think population growth is a problem or not, surely this part of the notes is internally inconsistent.”

Another reader: “Labor has strangled the 457 visa programme in red tape and has effectively locked many regional areas out of the programme. As a result, business has been frustrated and inconvenienced in its attempts to use the 457 visa programme. Publicly available 457 visa stats from 2006-07 (30 June 2007): 46 680 visas granted, 74,400 primary visa holders living onshore. Average salary is approximately $86,000. Average visa processing time: 31 days. In 2011-12 (31 May 2012): 64,560 visas granted (in 11 months), 90,280 primary visa holders living onshore. Average salary approximately $94,000. Average visa processing time: 22 days (July 2011).”

Defence

“Manoora and Kanimbla were rust buckets when bought and have now been prematurely retired; the contract for Navy Super Seaprite is cancelled. As for ‘free basic health and dental care to all dependants of ADF personnel’ — the huge potential cost of this policy would see it as one of the first broken promises. There is no mention of any form of replacement for the criticised military legal system. There is no mention of CPI fixing of ex-service pensions or welfare benefits, nor any mention of rehabilitation for people either wounded or otherwise damaged on military service.”

Communications

Jamie Benaud of the NBN Myths blog dissected the chapter on broadband and communications. “The [call for a cost benefit analysis of the NBN] is a regular one. Bottom line is that you cannot do a valid CBA on a tech like the NBN, because you cannot possibly value future unknown uses for the NBN, which will inevitably be developed over the life of the network. Perhaps the best example would be to ask someone to do a CBA for the copper network, valuing only uses that were known in 1950. Essentially this means the only use that could be valued would be basic voice telephone, since telex, fax, data, internet, broadband, alarm systems, etc, had not yet been invented. So, the question is would a CBA of copper in 1950 have recommended the rollout take place, given the only known use would be basic voice?

“… Far from being ignored, most of the recommendations from the NBN implementation study have been incorporated into the NBN … In fact, I couldn’t see a single recommendation from the study that has been ‘ignored’. Nice cherry-pick from Greenhill-Caliburn. They also said:

‘Based on our preliminary review, as more fully described in our Report, and subject to the assumptions contained in the Corporate Plan itself, Greenhill Caliburn believes that, taken as a whole, the Corporate Plan for the development of the NBN is reasonable. In general, key assumptions underlying revenue and cost projections appear to be in line with a range of available domestic and international benchmarks, and are consistent with the stated policy objectives of the Government with respect to the NBN. Accordingly, we believe that the Corporate Plan provides the Government with a reasonable basis upon which to make commercial decisions with respect to NBN Co.'”

Human rights

Another reader points out the section on human rights is “misleading”. “The terms of reference of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee were not confined to considering a charter. Indeed, any constitutionally entrenched bill of rights was expressly excluded. The Committee’s ultimate report did include a recommendation that Australia adopt a Human Rights Act, based on the ‘dialogue model’ (like the Victorian Charter). However, this recommendation was amongst many the Committee produced.

“The Government did not accept the recommendation that a Human Rights Act be created, but it did not ‘abandon’ the proposal as suggested above. It accepted the recommendation that all bills be subject to a human rights compliance review, and as a result earlier this year the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 commenced. All bills must now be assessed for their compatibility with human rights, also a feature of the Victorian Charter.”

“They also suggested that the Coalition’s proposals for the Human Rights Commission ‘would appear to be the politicisation of the Commission and the removal of its independence’. The functions of the AHRC are focussed on upholding and promoting the rights set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, along with preventing discrimination. To describe this as ‘educating the Australian public of the shortcomings of liberal democratic values’ is laughable. ‘Liberal democratic values’ to any reasonable person are those in the ICCPR: equality (Art 2), right to life (Art 6), liberty (Art 9), freedom of movement (Art 12), presumption of innocence (Art 14) and so on. These principles are, to a large extent, protected by the common law in the same way as a Charter based on the ‘dialogue model’.

“There are various other absurd assumptions about what the Commission really does built into these questions — essentially they assume that all human rights advocates are interested in is social change by another name, and Australia-bashing. This partisan perspective would completely undermine the good work of the Commission in previously uncontroversial areas.”

Education

Another reader noted the “Coalition apparently hasn’t got any policy on vocational education. The speakers’ notes on higher education are lamentably light. The Coalition claims: ‘Labor … are moving ahead blindly, removing limitations on number of students without providing universities with additional funds to cater for increased infrastructure and teaching needs’ (page 95). But this is wrong: the majority of capital funding for teaching was rolled into the operating grant from 1994. In 2010 the Coalition promised to cut $227 million from higher education equity funding: ‘The Coalition will save $227 million until 2013/14, by maintaining the 2010/11 ratio of funding to Support Low SES Participation as 1.687% of the Commonwealth Grants Scheme funding for each year over the forward estimates.’ This cut doesn’t appear in the Coalition’s speakers’ notes: does that mean it has been withdrawn?”

Another reader points out “[e]ssentially they are promising nothing other than to repeal the Student Services and Amenities section of the Act. It’s interesting that they are critical of the ALP for introducing the Bradley reforms without any planning or forecasting (which is frankly rubbish), but aren’t promising to re-cap the number of Commonwealth-supported places. That, combined with a glaring absence of a commitment to new money and the dreaded phrase ‘Ensure … funding is simpler, fairer and more flexible’ is a strong indicator that the current higher education funding scheme under the HESA will get a shake-up if they take government. Without seeing any details (three dot points does not a policy make) it’s hard to know where they are heading, but the simplest way would probably be to decrease the CGS-funded component of subjects and increase the student contribution cap (ie: students pay more for subjects and the government pays less). At any rate, promises to ‘restore the integrity’ of the EIF are meaningless smoke and mirrors.”

And finally a sceptical note: “I reckon the Libs have leaked the notes. How better to get your policies, framed as you want them, out into the conversation? And watch the journo0s fall for it — it will be quoted through to the election. Have you seen what Frank Luntz did for the Republicans? … In particular, hike on down to page 132 — the appendix. Words to never use.”

*Have you spotted any other anomalies or points of interest in the Coalition policy notes? Drop us a line, use the anonymous form or leave your comment below …

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53 comments

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53 thoughts on “The Coalition’s leaked policy notes: what you found

  1. Kevin

    What a giant waste of time this exercise is. I’d be certain any Party opposition to the Govt of the day, be it Commonwealth or State will have prompt sheets available to them.

    “To read more than a couple of pages of the document is to enter a world where nothing good of any kind has happened since November 2007, and everything bad that has happened is entirely the fault of Labor”. You can alter the dates and name of Party in Govt mentioned and isn’t it always the case over the years? OK some-one in Coalition goofed and was careless with their copy. It’s good to let us look at it – but big deal otherwise. If the samples of reader response, in-depth analysis of brief stats, are anything to go by – ho hum! I suppose it is the Parliamentary Winter break and not so much happens to write about, time for Bernard to take a holiday!

  2. green-orange

    There’s really not much new here.

    The rather dubious proposal to “suspend” (for how long ?) the dole for young people in areas where “there are unskilled jobs available” (says who ? will employers be forced to employ the unemployed ?) was announced about six months ago.

    Look how much the Nationals carried on about Youth Allowance. I don’t think they’d let that pass.

  3. Cuppa

    Lazy bozos!

    Here is how commenter, Bushfire Bill, put it at another Crikey blog:

    “…they have an obsession with doing no work, with using back-door methods to achieve power instead of just formulating policies and letting the people decide in the approved manner… an election, at the proper, scheduled election time.

    They have not changed their position since 2007, which is: “We are the only rightful party of government in Australia.” This attitude permeates every thing they say and do. “

  4. Michael de Angelos

    Agreed- no policies just opposition. The Coalition believing that is it’s role apparently.

    So the unemployed are to be published because of events out of their control in an “on your bike” fantasy. Or are they taking talking points from Today Tonight as they hunt down ‘dole bludgers’ (who it seems talk for all) and perpetuate the old Byron Bay myth of hundreds moving to an area that has only multi-million dollar houses available, and then that stern looking bloke from Centrelink comes on breathing fire and threatening retribution.

    Lord help us if Tony succeeds.

  5. Seasprite

    It’s interesting how Malcolm Turnbull used the Leaked-Luntz-Republican-Playbook style of words that managed to fool a lot of people into thinking he wont cancel the NBN.

    [“Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband Malcolm Turnbull told IT Pro firmly this week: “No, the Coalition will not cancel or roll back the NBN. The NBN will continue to roll out but we will do so in a cost-effective manner in particular in built-up areas.”]

    A few posters on The Poll Bludger were suckered in.
    [The Finnigans
    There is no way Malcolm will demolish the #NBN. It’s not in his DNA.]

    [Tom Hawkins
    NBN safe…. the first of many retreats to come.]

    “APPENDIX: THE 14 WORDS NEVER TO USE”

    Sounds a lot like Real Estate agent speak, don’t say “a run down termite infested rotting shack that should be bulldozed” say “A renovators delight”

    There’s a sucker born every minute and if Tony Abbott is elected those suckers will experience a bad case of Buyer’s remorse.

  6. Paddy Forsayeth

    It’s tragic that there is almost no public discourse on policy based on available data and agreed facts. CUPPA is spot on…Abbot’s lust for power seems to be predicated on the “born to rule” mentality. The Liberal document under discussion is simply the Conservative Catechism; it doesn’t need to be correct; it simply has to be believed in and preached to all and sundry. Like religious dogma, if belief and fact coincide it’s not the intention of the author. Lies, deceit, dissembling, distortion etc are the order of the day. To paraphrase an earlier English politician “I would not suggest that T Abbot be put in a chaff bag and throw in the ocean, but I would LOVE to read about it!”

  7. Gocomsys

    Poor Tony. Why are people so unkind to the unscrupulous and feeble minded? Not fair!

  8. Patriot

    What is the premise of all this, Bernard? That Oppositions – the alternative government – should not oppose and challenge the merit of government policy? That is precisely the prism through which Oppositions must view the government in a healthy multi-party democracy.

  9. AR

    If this is the concentrated wisdom fed to backbenchers, small wonder that it not meant to be generally available. To paraphrase, “the passenger on the Enfield omnibus (were there such a beast)” would start screaming outragedly if this crap should fall out if the sports section of the daily rag.
    Yet the pack of lobby fodder that is fed this crap is almost half of the House & Senate?

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