Harsh lessons from Greens cash splash

Janet McCalman writes: Re. “Education union’s $1m Greens splash drives division in ranks” (yesterday). After two decades of membership of the NTEU and as a senior academic, I am horrified that the NTEU council, despite 40% opposition, voted a $1 million to support the Greens in strategic campaigns, predominantly Adam Bandt’s allegedly  cash-strapped campaign for the seat of Melbourne. This seems nothing other than a waste of money for members. The Greens’ holding the seat of Melbourne will achieve nothing to protect universities and research. Indeed, the Greens’ poor image in the wider Australian community will only harm the cause of pleading for higher education amid the rapidly growing demands on public investment and support in difficult economic times.

The Greens campaign for the seat of Melbourne is far better funded than that of its opponents, and universities have nothing to gain from  the union  propping up a minor party that will not be holding the balance of power in the next Parliament: certainly not in the lower house and probably not in the Senate. The differences in policy between inner-city Green and Labor votes are wafer thin — they are really simply rival sub-bands of the same tribe — and the only benefit to universities of saving Adam Bandt’s seat in Parliament is likely to be sparing a nearby institution any obligation to offer him a professorial fellowship to cope with his career disruption.  He will not be able to make any difference to the funding agendas of the incoming Coalition nor to the public debate about the university sector and the economy. A lone voice representing a fringe minority is a lone voice heard only by its own fringe.

Professor Douglas Kirsner writes: As a longstanding member of the NTEU, I am very disappointed with the decision by my union to spend $1 million of our members’ money in support of one minority party, the Greens, at the forthcoming election. Like other unions, the NTEU has traditionally reflected its membership’s broad general support for the ALP over a wide range of policies. Support for the Greens is a minority position, even among academics. However, led by Greens operatives, the council, by a 60%-40% majority, has decided to unilaterally ditch this longstanding generally trusted approach with no prior consultation with the membership on this seismic shift from the mainstream. However good the Greens’ policies may or may not be on higher education, the Greens are so extreme and irresponsible on so many others that supporting them in such a partisan way is way beyond the pale. The NTEU will now mainly help to bleach seats from the ALP, punishing the ALP and not the Coalition. (Unlikely, but it might even help create another hung Parliament we all so crave!) Is such an extreme stance in line with what university staff want from their union?

Negotiating with the Taliban is a disgrace

James Burke writes: Re. “Kingsbury: no peace with honour in Afghanistan” (yesterday). The Taliban negotiations are a disgrace. Pull the troops out, admit defeat, but don’t legitimise that monstrous bunch with formal negotiations. Is Obama getting his advice from the Wahhabi-friendly Bush clan?

Whatever develops, Australia should (again) withhold recognition from any government that includes the Taliban. Unless, perhaps, they agree to hand over Mullah Omar for prosecution for crimes against humanity (cue crickets).

Though I can imagine how an Abbott government will view the issue — purely through a “border protection” lens. If the Taliban want Australian recognition, maybe they should make sure no one gets away this time.

No constitutional crisis

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Anne Twomey: the constitutional conundrum facing Rudd” (yesterday) Anne Twomey might be a constitutional law professor, but she’s wrong. There is no constitutional problem with Rudd becoming prime minister because the PM is not mentioned in the constitution. Twomey is confusing the PM with the government. It is the government that is confirmed by a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives. By convention, the PM is the leader of the government, but a change in PM is not a change of government and doesn’t need to be confirmed by a vote in the House of Representatives. For example, when John Curtin died, he was automatically replaced as PM by his deputy Frank Forde, who was replaced by Ben Chifley eight days later when the Labor caucus voted. Both were duly sworn in by the governor-general without a vote of confidence. Hence it is misleading for Twomey to say the “G-G cannot be advised by the Labor caucus”.

The fact that the current government is a minority one doesn’t fundamentally alter the picture. If the independents and the Greens don’t want Rudd as PM, they could bring the government with a vote of no confidence — if they wanted to, which is unlikely, and if Parliament were recalled, which is also unlikely. In any case, there would be no constitutional crisis. The Whitlam example is not relevant, as Whitlam did not lose a vote of confidence. And that’s my opinion as a highly experienced barrack-room lawyer.

Peter Fray

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