New concerns surround the government’s increased use of legislative powers to bypass the parliament and create laws that cannot be amended or overturned. The federal government has embedded special powers in new Covid-19 laws to make unilateral changes to non-pandemic-related legislation, using what are known as ‘Henry VIII clauses’ – named for the unchecked power they involve.
Political cycle just spin
Much has been said already of the hypocrisy of the Abbott government’s pre-budget announcements (Paul Bongiorno, “The man who knew to mulch”, May 9-15). Where once there was an emergency that demanded drastic action, we now need only to spread a little fertiliser over the economy to watch it blossom. The reason for the change of heart and policy is simple – the polls have consistently showed that the Coalition was heading for a thumping at the next election. But what if the polls are wrong? What if, as in the recent British election, they are no longer a reliable indicator of political sentiment? What if political parties had to make pragmatic policy decisions that were based on what was the right thing to do and not what was the most popular? For too long the short three-year political cycle has been dominated by polling and has led to quick fixes instead of effective and sustainable reform. I don’t doubt the 2015 budget will be a more popular document than last year’s horror, but will it produce the outcomes we require?
– John Bailey, Canterbury, NSW
Next election the one to lose
Since Tony Abbott became the leader of the opposition in 2009, he and his party have been relentlessly talking down Australia’s economy and its political stability. These dumb slogans when repeated over and over for six long years have eventually had their effect, so much so that we are now perilously close to a recession. I’d rate the likelihood at about 70 per cent. A recession would end the Liberals’ reign, so they have belatedly realised that it’s something they must prevent at all costs. Hence this attempt at an optimistic, expansionary budget. The question is, will it be enough? I’m not convinced it will. Their only real option if the budget doesn’t work and the economy doesn’t improve is to have an election before the recession hits. The commentators have already started to talk of an early election, which is enough in itself to sap confidence from the economy – it’s one of the very tactics Abbott used in opposition. So it seems to me that the die is cast. An early election followed quickly by a slip into recession. Who would want to win that one?
– Marc Sassella, Coledale, NSW
Keeping up pressure on asylum seekers
We read the letter of Peter Breen, of Byron Bay, (“Remember injustices on our soil”, May 9-15) with interest. As well as the injustice of keeping New South Wales “life” prisoners in conditions that would make them wish for the death penalty, there is the question of keeping Australia’s 5000 asylum seekers imprisoned for no crime, such that many attempt self-harm or suicide.
The ill-treatment of desperate people who have come here seeking our protection has been going on for so long, since 1993, that it has become “part of the furniture”. The ABC no longer reports on it and the commercial media regularly feeds the racism that makes it possible. The imprisonment of asylum seekers is an abuse of human rights. We will not be satisfied until all asylum seekers are free, and the detention centres are closed forever. We demand that refugees who arrive here are received according to the 1951 Refugee Convention we are signed up to, and that our humanity dictates. Ten billion dollars has been squandered on this destructive bipartisan policy since 2007. That money should have gone into schools and hospitals and proper care of refugees. An untold aspect of the story is how many navy personnel now suffer post-traumatic stress disorder after being ordered to turn boats back, and to let people drown at sea.
– Stephen Langford, Paddington, NSW
Dark side of social media
Mike Seccombe’s article on “The hashtag crusaders” is timely (May 9-15). I was particularly interested that this article links Helen Caldicott’s activist career with the question of social media because Dr Caldicott has, for the past three years, been the victim of a sustained character assassination campaign via Twitter. While social media is seen as a forum for the young, and for activists, we’re inclined to see them as progressive or anti-establishment. Not necessarily so. Well-funded agencies such as the nuclear lobby use various algorithms to send out hundreds of Twitter messages from fake Twitter addresses 24 hours a day. Having studied the tweets on #thorium #nuclear for three years, I find that they are repetitively tweeting advertisements, often linking to YouTube ads, and anti-Caldicott attacks. Twitter enables people to report attacks on another person. I’ve done this in relation to Dr Caldicott, and it seems the attacks have become less vitriolic. Tony Abbott recently dismissed social media as unimportant “digital graffiti”. The walls along Melbourne’s railway lines were once decorated with wonderful signs – “Pig Iron Bob” and “Stop Uranium Mining”. Graffiti had its impact then, so its modern equivalent has its impact now. But people should be aware that corporate lobbies are using it, too.
– Noel Wauchope, Caulfield South, Vic
Green vote put in context
Last week’s editorial (“Buon Di Natale”) charts the falling primary vote of the Greens, lamenting that: “Half a million voters have left the party in recent years”. Sophie Morris (“Inside the Greens’ deliberate coup”) also writes of the votes “shed” under Christine Milne’s leadership. While no doubt accurate, these statistics become misleading when sheared from their context. The Green vote was basically the same in 2007 and 2013. In 2010 it surged as voters, especially Gen Y, punished Labor’s intransigence on climate action. It does not take a psephologist to spot 2010 as an outlier, and 2013 as less than disastrous. Using 2010 as a reference is reminiscent of Andrew Bolt’s uncanny ability to cherrypick data on global warming. The outlier serves only to obfuscate an inexorable trend.
– Dave Lisle, Mullumbimby, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 16, 2015.
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