The South Australian by-elections

I was perhaps the most boring person at a party on Saturday night while I refreshed the webpages for South Australian news websites on my phone. The occasion: there were two by-elections for state parliament seats, vacated by former Labor premier, Mike Rann, and his right-hand man, Kevin Foley, both MPs since 1993.

Labor’s candidate in Rann’s former seat of Ramsay, Zoe Bettison won very comfortably with 54% of first preferences. They’ve also retained Foley’s former seat, Port Adelaide, where Susan Close won with 53.2% on two party preferred.

The commentary in some of the South Australian press has been pretty negative for Labor, despite winning both seats under trying circumstances. The numbers in Port Adelaide in particular were not looking so good on election night, and new Premier Jay Weatherill’s Party has been criticised for coming so close in that seat. Their main competitor, “indepenedent” candidate Gary Johanson has been quick to put the boot in

Mr Johanson was in no rush to concede defeat.

“At this stage, I would say the numbers probably favour the government, but I’ll prolong the agony,” he said.

However, even if Labor won the seat, it had lost the support of the people, he said. “It’s hard to see that as a victory,” he said.

Hard to see a victory as a victory?

Putting a more positive spin on the situation, a friend of mine has said…

Labor appears all but certain to achieve a stunning victory in the Port Adelaide by-election. In a hard fought campaign that saw the ten year old Labor Government face the local Mayor and an independent who was secretly given permission by the Liberal Party to use their branding, Labor is more than 1,000 votes in front after all booths have been counted. Labor’s candidate, Susan Close, is touted as a rising star and is expected to play a significant role in influencing progressive policy in South Australia over the next decade.

And this is what they think of us overseas…

BoingBoing, one of the largest blogs on the internet, have posted about the leak of the teapot tapes

Here’s the utterly inconsequential recording that resulted in NZ PM John Key ordering raids on the free press

New Zealand media were raided by police last November just before the general election, after the incumbent centre-right Prime Minister John Key made a criminal complaint over a recording of a conversation in a cafe between him and far right-wing politician John Banks during a staged media event. The country’s biggest broadcasters and newspaper were raided by police, who requested unpublished material and sources for interviews as well as the recording itself. Radio New Zealand covered the “Teapot Tapes” scandal and was raided too even though it didn’t have a copy of the recording.

The comments are also well worth a read.

USC, Article II, Section 3 – 2012 update

In case you missed it, President Obama delivered his third SOTU address yesterday afternoon (NZDST).

As the US Constitution requires:

[The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

and as political theatre goes, the nearly hundred year old tradition of addressing a joint session of the US Congress in January to deliver the State of the Union (SOTU) address is a pretty good one – well at least for junkies like me.

I enjoy them greatly – even the really bad ones – though they are not often inspiring speeches.

The SOTU is an opportunity for the President to use his position to set out the case for his legislative programme, and then over the next year try to get it passed. Something this Congress will make very difficult. It’s not the same as our Speech from the Throne, which much more clearly states what the government will do.

So why all the attention and bother if nothing much is going to come from it? Politics of course.

Continue reading “USC, Article II, Section 3 – 2012 update”

“Put childcare at heart of Labour’s agenda”

Labour’s children’s policy may not have resonated with the New Zealand public, but it looks like someone noticed it.

From the UK political think tank Progress

Britain faces a major fiscal sustainability challenge over the coming years, exacerbated by the chancellor’s failure to secure growth and get unemployment down. This means all political parties will be faced by the reality of significant fiscal constraint. However, one way they will signal their differences is in the choices they make about how to allocate scarce resources. In this context, the centre-left should prioritise spending which helps families with the cost of living and boosts jobs and growth in the long term. And it is hard to think of something that meets these criteria more directly than high quality, affordable childcare and early years services.

For all these reasons, progress towards universal childcare – including the tough spending decisions that will be necessary – should be near the top of any future centre-left agenda.

North Korea: What Might Happen Now?

Bruce Hawker’s excellent blog has a guest post up from Dr Emma Cambell from the ANU talking about the possiblities of what might happen in North Korea. Essential reading.

There is only one certainty following the death of the North Korean ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong Il yesterday – namely that the Korean peninsula and its neighbours; the Asia-Pacific region more generally; and Australia in particular are completely unprepared for the possible outcomes that might befall the desperate people of North Korea. The effect of those outcomes cannot be limited just to the Korean peninsula.

Kim Jong Il and Where Now?

A guest post by our Korean correspondent, James Barnett.

As widely reported, Kim Jong Il is dead. It’s not surprising given his health has been poor for at least three years now, which is perhaps why I’m not as worried as I could be (living in South Korea). I think that Jong Il and his leadership hierarchy will have been planning this for at least the last three years.

The likely new leader is set to be Kim Jong Un but how much actual power he will have remains to be seen. Jong Un is still very young (expect to see him be 30 this year so that Kim Il Sung is 100, Kim Jong Il 70 and Kim Jong Un 30 – they like their symmetry in numbers) and therefore inexperienced, also he still has a relatively low profile (although my guide in NK said “I really hope Kim Jong Un is our next leader” when I asked him) since he has only been known to the people for about a year. I think the actual power is going to lie in the hands of Jang Song Taek, Kim Jong Il’s brother in law, who is already number two in the country. Basically I think Jong Un will be a figure head until he gains more age and experience (age being very important in Korean culture).

However there is the alternative route…

Kim Jong Un has not undergone the same grooming as Kim Jong Il did. Jong Il was handling the internal running of the country for at least two years before his father’s death as well as being the head of the army. Yet it still took him 3 years to consolidate power when Il Sung died. So it is not unreasonable to think that things could go horribly wrong. Don’t go expecting a popular revolt though, I’m not sure those two words exist in North Korean vocabulary. The people will follow whoever eventually takes power. If there is a power vacuum then I’d imagine the very large military will fight to fill it. That scenario is scary, there are three outcomes:

  1. A group of military leaders succeeds in gaining control quickly and things return to normal.
  2. A long bitter power struggle erupts, bad for the people and the country (possible civil war!?)
  3. China steps in and “influences” things. China only entered the Korean war in order to prevent US soldiers being on it’s border. It is in China’s best interests to preserve North Korea as a separate state. Therefore they will do all that is necessary to stop an implosion.

The last question I guess one could have is: will there be a war? No. Why would there be? For many reasons, the South is not going to invade; and starting a full scale war (which they will lose) is not going to help anyone in North Korea consolidate power. So, I for one feel quite safe sitting here in the South.

Jobs and targeted tax cuts as economic stimulus

President Obama’s weekly address focuses on growing private sector jobs and the use of strategic tax cuts aimed at the middle class, and small business, to grow the economy. It’s working, and the Republicans aren’t happy.

Firstly, on jobs…

We need to keep this growth going and strengthen it. That’s why we’ve been fighting to pass a series of jobs bills through Congress – bills that independent economists say will create more jobs and grow the economy even faster. Because now is the time to step on the gas, not slam on the brakes.

One of the most insulting aspects of conservative attacks on welfare is that they see it in isolation. New Zealand’s economy contracted and hasn’t recovered. The unemployment rate has continued to rise. This isn’t because the Nats have made welfare more appealing – far from it. The issue is they are not creating enough private sector jobs.

You see, last year, both parties came together to cut payroll taxes for the typical middle-class family by about $1,000. But that tax cut is set to expire at the end of this month. If that happens, that same family will see its taxes go up by $1,000. We can’t let that happen. In fact, I think we should cut taxes on working families and small business owners even more.

Tell them not to vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays. Tell them to put country before party. Put money back in the pockets of working Americans. Pass these tax cuts.

This sort of counter-cyclical economic stimulus works. The Rudd Government in Australia were even less targeted, with a massive cash injection into the economy by giving $800 to every Australian. Tax cuts targeted at the lower end gives money directly to people who will spend 100% of it. It’s not going to go overseas in investments, and it’s unlikely to be used on luxury products. It will go straight back into the local economy.

The answer to welfare problems is not to mess around the edges trying to look tough on the issue. The answer is to create jobs for these people to go to.