Tuesday, 9 July 2013


There is every prospect that the upheavals in Egypt will prompt many to try to escape poverty and persecution and come to Australia, writes Peter Reith.

Bob Carr has finally worked out that many of the boat people who want to come to Australia are economic refugees.

What is amazing is that 12 years after the Tampa a senior member of the Labor has finally recognised the obvious. It demonstrates that Labor's policy on boat people has been delusional or perhaps merely driven by political expediency.

None of this is to deny that there are many groups of people who are persecuted. Of course they are persecuted; particularly women and various ethnic groups, and many are desperate.

And understandably all they want is a free society where individuals are free of persecution, where the parents can get a job and the children an education. These are the most basic hopes of anyone.

Australia has a long-standing humanitarian policy that acknowledges these basic wants. And the Australian people, most of whom are themselves migrants, support that policy as long as the fabric of Australian society is not put off-balance by so many arrivals that we can't manage the intake.

Labor has clearly undermined public confidence in the management of the immigration program and this has undermined public support for immigration more generally. A strong immigration program is a key ingredient to Australia's future and that policy should be free of discrimination and it should not be buttressed by the sort of xenophobia now being exercised by Labor's policy on foreign workers.

There is no antidote to Labor's dismal failure to manage Australia's borders. The reality is Labor is still delusional about various elements of the boat people issue. Only in the last week, Kevin Rudd and the new Immigration Minister Tony Burke (see The Australian, July 6-7, 2013) were trying to rewrite history by claiming that Rudd's mistake as PM was that he acted too slowly to the arrival of boat people from Sri Lanka. Rudd's mistake was to deliberately overturn Howard's policy.

There will always be people who want to come to Australia for economic reasons and most of the time they will be able to claim that they are being persecuted. The issue for Australia will continue to be, how many refugees can we afford to take? It is a decision for Australia to make, as stated by John Howard and derided by Labor.

Bob Carr has been questioning why Iranian refugee numbers have increased strongly in the last 12 months. The next pressure could easily be from Egypt. There is every prospect that the upheavals in Egypt will prompt many to try and escape the poverty and persecution that is everyday evident in Egypt. Right across the Middle East there are many poor countries where poverty is normal, where women are daily abused, where religious freedom is at best a theory, never a reality, and where the only hope of a better life is to escape to a first world country like Australia.

I said on the Drum on August 11, 2011, "I doubt that Egypt will turn to democracy." Two years later, despite the promise of the Arab Spring, the military still runs a police state. The experiment with democracy has come to an end, for now.

The military and its elitist supporters has long convinced itself that Egypt could not allow democratic freedom because this would open the door to well-organised Islamic extremists. They talked about economic reform as a means to deny extremists from gathering support from young disaffected unemployed, but their reforms were so slow and insignificant that there has never been enough economic progress to meet the needs of a growing population. Egypt has an old style socialistic economy full of loss-making enterprises, red tape, and corruption. As a result, Egypt has never established a vocal moderate middle class to act as a counterweight to minority extremism.

An Egyptian government that was secular and liberal would be more likely to respect the basic human rights of women. And a government committed to economic reform would offer the prospect of more jobs and higher living standards.

This is Egypt's best option but it was not the option taken when the Muslim Brotherhood won the election only 12 months ago. Egypt has no experience of a democratic society. It is not surprising that it is easy to whip up a crowd when unemployment is over 50 per cent for young people (as suggested by John Lyons in The Australian, July 6-7, 2013). President Morsi had the chance to change Egypt for the better but he needed to remain popular. He needed to bring the public along with him. It is an essential ingredient of any democracy. As soon as the military saw that Morsi had lost public support, the military knew it had the window of opportunity to reinforce its power. The military have been a lot more politically savvy than ex-president Morsi.

You don't need to be rich to be democratic. Look at India; it is poor but still democratic. Nor does religion have to bar the way forward to a freer society; Turkey and Indonesia have both shown that democratic reform is possible despite many obstacles.

At least the former president Mohammed Morsi did not have the power to wage war on his own people.

The most likely outcome is that the military will revert to all its usual police state activities. Unfortunately, many Islamists will reckon that the attempt at democracy was ill-advised and many will think that violence is their only path back to power.

AP reported over the weekend there were 36 dead and Mr Morsi is still in gaol. We can only hope that the latest events turn out to be a mere part of the transition to democracy, that violence does not escalate, and that Egypt finds its own formula for a more liberal and economically successful society. Of course only time will tell if Egypt becomes another Syria or Libya. I hope not.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


When you factor in the special circumstances of individual electorates, we see that Labor's election campaign under Kevin Rudd is starting from the back foot, writes Peter Reith.

Labor has been good at making heroes of their leaders but let no-one forget: Julia Gillard's term as PM was terminated because Labor decided she was a such a liability that they would be thrashed at the 2013 election if she stayed.

This was exactly the same justification for Gillard knifing Rudd in 2010. It was no great compliment for Gillard back then and not now for Rudd, especially given the reality that so many senior ministers have decided to either leave Parliament altogether or take their bat and ball and refuse to help the Rudd campaign.

When your party is going into an election, the obligation of all MPs is to work for the return of their side. It is a betrayal of Labor's collectivism to refuse to assist. The same goes for the ministers who are going altogether; they have had plenty of time to announce their departure.

Normally MPs leave and give ample time for their successors to work the electorate and prepare for the election. The truth is that many are going now, after Rudd's return, because they can't stand Rudd or else they think he is certain to lose. It is disingenuous for ministers to say that they will sit on the backbench because it is a matter of honour. Never before has there been such an en masse spit the dummy by so many ministers.

Already some in Labor are running the line that Gillard was a good leader. The truth is that Gillard was a disappointment from the start. Labor and its faceless men installed Gillard in the expectation that she would be much better than Rudd in the forthcoming 2010 election. Labor's glum faces on the night of the 2010 election were testimony to that disappointment.

Only a few days before the election Gillard had promised there would be no carbon tax under her government. After the election she announced the carbon tax and decimated her reputation in the eyes of the public. To make matters worse, the tax was a massive impost on the economy and has done little for the environment.

Two outstanding claims with their attendant boasts are uncertain. In respect of Gonski and DisabilityCare, the proposals have been legislated, but DisabilityCare is now in trials and until they have been assessed, the success of the scheme is unknown.

Gonski is based on the proposition that spending more money will improve educational outcomes; that claim is highly questionable. Similarly, to say that more federal control over education will be a positive for education is also highly questionable. In both cases, there are also major questions about the funding. Gonski may never get off the ground and it will be some years before DisabilityCare is assessed by its beneficiaries.

The poll result was what Labor wanted. The first was from the Fairfax ReachTEL poll, published in Saturday's Fairfax newspapers. It showed a big swing to Labor in four of Labor's key seats. It was not surprising that Labor supporters were seen returning to Labor. The Galaxy Poll and the Newspoll both showed swings to Labor and two party preferred outcomes that were neck and neck. Time will tell if these first results are realistic. It will be at least a month or so before we get a better sense of public opinion.

Follow the polls by all means, but if you want to assess election prospects, you need to look at each seat. In all the excitement of Labor's internal fights, there was little comment on the announced departures of Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. Windsor was as strong a Labor supporter as any Labor backbencher. Oakeshott was similar although not as wily as Windsor. But their announcements were important because they seal two seats for the Coalition.

Rudd has got off to a shaky start. In his first press conference he said he wanted better relations with the business community. Fair enough, but the next day, there were pleas by business for Rudd to step in and stop two of the worst aspects of two pieces of legislation that were unceremoniously being pushed through for the unions. One was Labor's xenophobic laws on foreign workers and the other was on union rights of entry. A mere gesture to business could have been easy for a new PM. But instead, he decided now was not the time to upset the unions.

The House of Representatives has 150 seats. Of those seats, 73 are held by the Liberals and Nationals, 72 by Labor and five by independents. Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott have returned both of their seats to the Coalition. If you assume Andrew Wilkie (MP for Denison) and Adam Bandt (Green) survive, then they will support Labor. Bob Katter would remain genuinely independent but support the Coalition. The bottom line is that Abbott will start the election with 76 seats and Labor will have 74.

The special circumstances of Craig Thomson suggest another seat to the Coalition in Dobell where the margin is 5.1 per cent. That would make it 77 versus 73.

Then it also pays to look on a state-by-state basis e.g. SA and Tasmania. There is not usually many swing seats in SA. According to the Australian (June 28, 2013), based on work by the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, "Labor's last mainland state has fallen into recession after South Australia recorded its worst economic slump since the State Bank collapse in the early 1990s." To me, that suggests it will be difficult for Labor to pick up a seat in SA.

Or look at the polls in Tasmania. The polls have been showing fairly heavy losses in at least three seats. If that is right, then the margin will be 80 versus 70. Even on this rudimentary calculation, Rudd needs 10 seats elsewhere. It's not obvious where they might come from. Of course, no-one knows the outcome but it certainly looks like a hard slog for Labor even with the resurrection of Kevin Rudd.