NZ Greens – quick on the photocopiers

Environment Victoria have got a rather clever print campaign going in support of renewable energy. This went to print in The Age yesterday… [via Twitter]

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It didn’t take the NZ Greens long to get their solar powered photocopier up and running…

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Imitation really is the best form of flattery 🙂

Good news for Bill Shorten

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Unlike the recent volatility we’ve been seeing in the polls in New Zealand (and I highly recommend Rob Salmond’s piece on the latest Herald poll), here in Australia we’re seeing a very strong trend emerging, with the Labor opposition under Bill Shorten rapidly taking over from the Government in popularity stakes. This morning’s Age reports

In a double blow to the Prime Minister, it found the only honeymoon is actually being enjoyed by his direct opponent, Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.

In fact, Mr Shorten’s personal approval continues to climb with fully two-thirds of voters viewing his performance as either satisfactory (41.5%) good (15.9%) or very good (9.2%).

The ReachTEL/Seven News survey of more than 3500 voters was taken on Sunday afternoon, the eve of the 100-day milestone.

It confirmed the findings of the most recent Fairfax-Nielsen and Newspoll surveys revealing that Mr Shorten’s ALP Opposition already leads by 4 percentage points at 52/48 over the Coalition.

Even on primary votes, Labor is virtually level pegging with the combined Liberal and Nationals parties at 40.4 per cent to the Coalition on 41.4.

Returning officers

The Australian Labor Party often gets a bad rap when it comes to internal democracy, words like “faceless men” are used so often they become meaningless. I’ve been in Australia for less than two months however, and there are some aspects of ALP internal democracy that I think we could learn from in New Zealand.

The one that has really surprised me has been the party’s returning officers. From what I can tell (and I might be wrong, their rules are just as Byzantine as those in NZ), each party branch, from an electorate level right up to the federal executive, has to have a returning officer as a special officer – separate to the rest of the executive. They tend to be long-standing esteemed and very neutral party members. This is quite unlike New Zealand where the returning officer is the relevant secretary, or in the case of national-level elections, such as the leadership, the General Secretary. Given political positions, such as the General Secretary, are inherently going to have skin in the game – removing them from this vitally important role seems like a no-brainer.

As I said, I have no idea how they go about appointing their returning officers, but from what I can tell both sides of the factional divide in Australia think that it is one of the better parts of their system.

Should Joe Hockey be looking up to Bill English?

My new local cafe stocks a range of newspapers, and I’ve been finding myself reading things like the Australian Financial Review (Australia’s equivalent of New Zealand’s NBR). Yesterday I almost spat out my morning coffee while reading an incredible op-ed from Jennifer Hewett.

She spent several hundred words extolling the economic skills of Bill English, claiming that the New Zealand economy should be the envy of Australia.

I have to give her credit for originality – it’s certainly not a line of logic I’d heard before.

My friend and fellow ex-pat New Zealander, Marcus Ganley, has written an excellent piece for Crikey pulling the op-ed apart. Read his full post here.

While National have got the treasury’s books on a path to surplus (made far easier due to the strong fiscal management of the 5th Labour government), they’ve done it at the expense of actually looking after the economy. Growth has been stifled and unemployment is simply too high.

As Marcus says…

Taking the size of the economy in 2008 (when the National Party was elected) as the base, the New Zealand economy is 1.18 times bigger today. This compares with Australia, where the 2013 economy is 1.25 times bigger than in 2008. Growth under the previous New Zealand government averaged just under 3.5% per year.
Under Clark’s government from 1999 to 2008, unemployment in New Zealand was continually below Australia’s. From 2005 to 2007, unemployment in New Zealand was below 4%. In 2005, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics unemployment was in New Zealand was 1.2 percentage points lower than Australia. This has changed completely under the National Party. On the latest OECD figures unemployment in New Zealand is nearly 1.7 percentage points higher in New Zealand than Australia. At the same time, the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand has increased by nearly $NZ90 per week since the election of the National Party government.
At its essence government is about priorities. Strong fiscal management is important. It ensures government services are sustainable and avoids placing undue burden on future generations for the services provided today. However, fiscal management is not everything. Before heaping too much praise on New Zealand’s National Party, it is worth looking at the economy as a whole.
If Joe Hockey took the time to visit New Zealand, I can’t say he’d be impressed with our economy. It’s a country full of empty shop fronts, low value exports and dire unemployment.

Labor storms ahead in Victoria

There are many things about Australian politics that don’t make a lot of sense from a New Zealand perspective. One is the separation of state and federal governments. It’s funny because here in Melbourne, people seem to be far more interested in state politics, particularly at the moment as the Liberal government is limping along and trying to cling to power. It’s so fascinating that the state parliament’s website crashed on Tuesday because so many people were watching the stream of question time!

As you might expect, most of the state and territory governments are currently held by the Liberal/National coalition. Labor is only in power in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. Both SA and TAS come up to their elections soon, and it’s not looking good for the long standing Labor governments in those states.

However, here in Victoria, we’re seeing the opposite. After the Bracks/Brumby government lost power in 2010 Labor has been working their butts off in opposition, and its starting to pay dividends. Leader Daniel Andrews is often criticised for not setting the world on fire, but the solid performance from him and the entire Labor team is really paying off.

Today’s Age had a state political poll, and it’s great news for Labor. The opposition is now 8 points ahead of the government on a two party preferred basis. They lost a number of marginal seats in the lower house on very small margins, and with a swing like this, you’ll be seeing a landslide victory to Victorian Labor in 2014. Still, the election is a year away, and a lot can happen in politics. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens, and being part of the action!

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Defending the legacy?

One of the great challenges of moving from government to opposition (and trust me, there are many), is deciding where to draw the line under defending the record of your party while in government.

It is not an easy thing to get right. It becomes even more difficult when your opposition leadership and senior members are all former cabinet ministers, who feel, understandably, that their own personal reputations are on the line.

I watched from outside Parliament in the period 2008-2011 when the New Zealand Labour Party, then led by very senior, able and extremely hard working former ministers at times really struggled with this. I’m not sure how obvious it was to the casual observer, but being able to attack the Government, while maintaining respect for the record of your previous administration, can be extremely difficult.

It has now been over two months since the conservative coalition took power at the Australian Federal election. And it hasn’t taken long for Tony Abbott to have to face his share of political crises. Very shortly after the election there were reports of some rather dodgy expense claims, mainly from coalition polticians. This was followed by the inevitable political scuffle that will eventuate when a party that campaigned against debt tries to raise the federal debt ceiling.

This week we’ve seen a major diplomatic crisis following revelations that Australia tapped the phones of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife, and eight Goverment ministers.

It’s been a sorry state of affairs, and the diplomatic situation between Indonesia and Australia is rapidly deteriorating.

From a political point of view, aside from the conservative’s showing that international relations is all a bit too complicated for them, I’ve been most surprised by the very strong opposition that Labor has shown.

To his credit, Labor leader Bill Shorten was quick off the mark to call for the Australian Government to apologise…

I believe, for instance, that the example of the United States in the way that it handled a similar issue with Germany provides the opportunity for us to consider the same course of action.

He’s really gone out on a limb – putting aside the fact that this spying happened under a Labor government, and putting the onous back on Tony Abbott.

He followed it up the next day with this classy op-ed in the Guardian:

I can assure the Australian people that the opposition will fully cooperate in the task before Australia. We are willing to join the Abbott government in any effort, briefings or discussions in pursuit of the task of rebuilding trust within this key relationship. Labor wants the Australian government to be successful in restoring our vital relationship with Indonesia. That is what all sides need and want in Australia’s national interest – a recovery of trust.

To be honest, I’m really surprised that federal Labor is taking such a strong oppositional stance just months after a such a solid electoral defeat – but I think it sets a very good precident for things to come.