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Saturday 13th February 2016 - 7:28 pm
Comments Off on A fresh spark in Federal politics as PM announces his new cabinet

A fresh spark in Federal politics as PM announces his new cabinet

by Alan Thornhill

Malcolm Turnbull declared that his new cabinet “combines youth, new talent, and experience” as he announced its membership at a press conference in Sydney today.

The truth, always, is a little more complicated.

The reshuffle that the Prime Minister had announced, just months before the next Federal election, was not his choice.

It was forced on him by the resignation of a minister, Stuart Robert, who had held the Human Services Portfolio.

Until Labor pursued him relentlessly in Federal parliament.

It alleged Mr Stuart had used his public office to promote the interests of a company that donates generously to the Liberal party.

And that he did so while on a private visit to China.

Meanwhile the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, was cheered enthusiastically at a Labor conference, also in Sydney.

That happened as he explained new tax policies meant  to make new home purchases more affordable for young Australians.

Beyond that there was a sense, in the conference room, that Labor’s fortunes might have changed.

And  that it might now have at least some chance of defeating the government in the forthcoming elections, even though it has been trailing the Coalition in the  polls for several months.

But who has found a place in Mr Turnbull’s new Cabinet?

The Prime Minister congratulated Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash on their respective elections as Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party, the junior partner in his Coalition government.

And he said:” Barnaby Joyce will consequently be sworn in as the Deputy Prime Minister and he will retain his portfolio of Agriculture and Water Resources.

“His Deputy, Senator Fiona Nash, will be sworn in as the Minister for Regional Development, Regional Communications and Rural Health.”

Mr Turnbull also said:” I’m appointing Andrew Robb as a Special Envoy for Trade between now and the election so that he can support Steven in the transition into the new portfolio and ensure that Andrew’s remarkable range of international contacts will be introduced to his successor.

Darren Chester will take on Warren Truss’s responsibilities for infrastructure and transport. Darren will make a formidable contribution in this portfolio.

He has been one of the younger stars in the Parliament and recognised as such for a long time.

Mathias Cormann will retain his responsibilities that he’s taken on in an acting capacity but he’ll retain them formally as the Special Minister of State in addition to being the Finance Minister.

“As you know, Mal Brough informed me earlier today that he did not wish to be considered for a position in the new executive line up given the fact that the police investigations are continuing and will continue at least for some months, as he understands.”

Senator Scott Ryan will be sworn in as the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills.

Now this ministry was previously, has been held by Luke Hartsuyker and he is not featuring in the National Party’s ministerial line up on this occasion.

‘I want to thank Luke for his contribution in that portfolio.

“He also has made a great contribution to the Coalition in opposition as well and we worked very closely together when I was the Shadow Communications Minister and he was the Shadow Minister for Regional Communications.

“He’s a great parliamentarian, a great coalitionist and he will be missed.”

“Alan Tudge will be sworn in as the Minister for Human Services.


“Dan Tehan will be sworn in as the Minister for Defence Materiel and the Minister for Veterans’ Services.


“Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells will be appointed and sworn in as Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

“This is a very exciting promotion for Connie and recognises her extremely successful and very important work as the Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.


“Senator Matt Canavan from Queensland will be sworn in as the Minister for Northern Australia.

“He will work closely with the senior minister in that portfolio, Josh Frydenberg and the Cabinet Minister.

“This is a policy area of Northern Australia, of northern development which is absolutely central to Australia’s growth and future prosperity.


Mr Turnbulll said the changes ‘in the  Assistant Minister ranks would be:-


Keith Pitt will serve as the Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister.


Craig Laundy will become the Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.


Jane Prentice will be the Assistant Minister for Disability Services working with Christian Porter.


Angus Taylor will serve as the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister with special responsibility for Cities and Digital Transformation. These are two key whole of government areas and they will be taken, continued to be driven through my leadership and my department in the future.


Dr Peter Hendy will serve as Assistant Minister in the Finance portfolio supporting Mathias Cormann and also as Assistant Cabinet Secretary.

Senator James McGrath will continue to serve as my assistant minister but will take on additional duties supporting Peter Dutton as Assistant Minister for Immigration.”

The Prime Minister said his new team would be sworn in on Thursday morning.













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Tuesday 9th February 2016 - 12:59 pm
Comments Off on Our big energy users:some surprises

Our big energy users:some surprises

by Alan Thornhill

Australian families spend more on energy than some of the nation’s most important industries.

This is confirmed in figures the Bureau of Statistics published today.

These showed that the energy bills Australian families paid in 2013-14 totaled $47 billion.

They included the $18 billion we spent on electricity and the the $25 billion we  spent on petroleum products.

Many of us spend quite a lot  on energy.

The Bureau noted that between 2008-09 and 2013-14 Australian families spent more on energy than the mining, manufacturing or service industries.

However Steven May, ABS Director of the Centre of Environment Statistics, also said:”More productive use of energy is also occurring across the board with industry. ”

“Energy intensity (the energy consumed to produce one unit of economic output) has leveled off after four years of decreases.

“Decreases in manufacturing, transport and mining were offset by increases in agriculture, construction and services.”

Mr May also said our use of renewable energy sources is still quite small at 2 per cent of total supply.

However , he added,  our use of these sources did increase rapidly between 2012-13 and 2013-14.

“In terms of our energy assets, we have approximately 660 years of brown coal, 230 years of uranium and 10 years of crude oil left under current production capacity.” Mr May said.

This does not take possible new discoveries into account.

“Today’s figures are part of the ABS environmental accounts program which produces integrated energy supply and use tables in physical and monetary terms,” Mr May said

The program is also used in the production of the Australian National Accounts.

Friday 18th December 2015 - 9:19 am
Comments Off on Turnbull pressed to seek an end to Japanese whaling

Turnbull pressed to seek an end to Japanese whaling

by Alan Thornhill

Labor says the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, must demand that Japan must end its illegal whaling program while he is in that country today for talks on trade and regional defence.


This is Mr Turnbull’s first visit to Japan since he became Australia’s Prime Minister in September.


Labor’s appeal today came in the form of a joint statement by three senior Labor figures.
They are its Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for the Arts, Mark Dreyfus and the Shadow Minster for Climate Change, Mark Butler.
They said:”Labor deplores the decision of the Japanese Government this year to ignore the ruling of the International Court of Justice and to re-commence the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean.”


“Malcolm Turnbull must use his meetings in Japan with Prime Minister Abe to bring all pressure to bear on Japan to follow the ruling of the International Court of Justice.”
Less than two years ago Australia won a resounding victory in the International Court of Justice.


The Court agreed with Australia that Japan’s so-called ‘scientific’ whaling program in the Southern Ocean was in truth commercial whaling dressed in the lab coat of science, and was in breach of Japan’s obligations under international law.


“At the time, the Japanese Government said that it would comply with the ruling of the highest court in the world.


“Japan’s decision to resume whaling this summer, and its declaration to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice with respect to whaling, is completely inconsistent with that undertaking.”


“If Japan refuses to comply with its clear international legal obligations, then Labor calls on the Turnbull Government to immediately commence further legal action,” the three shadow ministers said.

Wednesday 9th December 2015 - 8:58 am
Comments Off on Warming up for next year’s election

Warming up for next year’s election

by Alan Thornhill

Speculation on tax reform has peaked ahead of a meeting between the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, and State premiers on Friday.


The Federal government has insisted, in the lead up to this meeting, that “everything will be on the table” as these talks progress.


Labor has responded by alleging that Malcolm Turnbull is secretly planning to increase the GST.


Opposition strategists know that an effective campaign on the GST will be their best chance of defeating the still popular Prime Minister, at the Federal elections expected next year.
Lingering divisions in the Liberal party – mostly flowing from the September coup in which Mr Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, might help.


Especially as Mr Abbott is finding it difficult to remain heroically silent, about his loss.


But Mr Turnbull knows, deep in his political heart, that his own scare campaign, on the carbon tax, is also the best card he has in his hand.


And – perhaps for that reason – he has been reluctant to say – flatly – that his government won’t increase the GST if it is re-elected next year.


There are several good reasons for not doing so.


After all, coalition governments don’t have a particularly good record, when it comes to keeping pre-election promises, particularly on tax.


Why draw attention to that?


Then there would be recalcitrant premiers to convince, if a Prime Minister did want to increase the GST.


Why give them time to organise, too?



Much better to keep mumbling about “everything being on the table” when it comes to tax reform.

There are risks, of course.


That was illustrated – all too well – today when Fairfax newspapers claimed to have a secret document showing not only that massive increases to the GST are likely, but that the Medicare Levy could rise as well.


There is an old game, in politics, called “frightening the horses.”


And our politicians – on all sides – are quite good at it.

Sunday 6th December 2015 - 9:46 pm
Comments Off on Climate:advice from our neighbours

Climate:advice from our neighbours

by Alan Thornhill

As you read this, a delegation of Australian politicians will be flying out to the Pacific to meet local islanders


Steven Ciobo, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who will be leading the group, said it would be visiting Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Solomon Islands.
He said the delegation would be observing the outcome of Australia’s aid and investment in the region.
Its aim would be to strengthen Australia’s relations with its Pacific neighbours.
But that’s only half of the story.
Members of the delegation may well find themselves spending more time listening than they expect.
Australian aid is welcomed – and highly valued – in the Pacific.
But that has never meant that it is above criticism.
One senior Pacific politician, for example, liked to talk about what he called “boomerang aid.”.


His point was that too much of the money that Australia sets aside, to help the people of the Pacific, actually ends up in the pockets of Australian aid workers, instead.


So who is going on this trip, for Australia?


Mr Ciobo said the members of the bi-partisan delegation he is leading are Nola Marino the Chief Government Whip, Jane Prentice, the Federal Member for Ryan, Sharon Claydon the Federal Member for Newcastle and NSW Senator, Deborah O’Neill.
These are serious people doing an important job, in Mr Ciobo’s view.


As he says:“the delegation underlines the strength and breadth of support in Australia for closer relations with our region.”
That declaration will be welcomed in the Pacific.



Tongans, in particular, often feel their geographically isolated position in the world very keenly.


So they won’t be allowing these Australian politicians to fly back home without knowing how they see the great issues of the day.
And for Pacific Islanders, no issue is greater than climate change.


For they know, all too well, that if rising sea temperatures, cause the Antarctic ice sheet to melt, many of the beautiful islands they call home, would simply disappear beneath the sea.
The BBC reports that World leaders, meeting in Paris last week, approved a draft text they hope will form the basis of an agreement to curb global carbon emissions.
The 48-page document will be discussed by ministers today.
They will try to arrive at a comprehensive settlement on outstanding issues this month,
Some of them will be tricky.
The French climate ambassador has warned that major political differences still need to be resolved.
Delegates from 195 countries worked through the night at the conference centre in Le Bourget, conscious of a Saturday deadline imposed by the French president.


The aim now is to turn this draft text into a long-term agreement.


And although they are on the other side of the world, Pacific Islanders are determined to make their voices heard, in support of that objective.


With good reason.



They have already seen what can go wrong, when many people feel compelled to leave home, for whatever reason.



These include civil war.


That’s what happened in the Solomon Islands, when 30,000 islanders from Malaita took to the sea in canoes, intending to settle on the island of Guadalcanal.
That gave the world an early glimpse of what the results of large population movements can be.
So Australia – and the world – have good reason to press  their climate change negotiators for a tight agreement.

Monday 30th November 2015 - 5:38 pm
Comments Off on Pollster says support for Turnbull government still strong

Pollster says support for Turnbull government still strong

by Alan Thornhill

The Turnbull government has maintained its lead over Labor in the latest Morgan poll.


It would easily win an election held today.


The poll results, published today , give the government 56 per cent support, on a two party preferred basis, to Labor’s 44 per cent.


They also show confidence in the government up 2.5 points to 122, its highest level since March 2011.


Pollster Gary Morgan said the study showed the Turnbull Government’s honeymoon continuing  as Australia heads towards Christmas.


This week Prime Minister Turnbull has travelled to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta – his first meeting with the Queen since becoming Prime Minister – and on to the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris.


“However, despite the issues of Global Warming and terrorism dominating the news headlines lately, Turnbull’s most important task as Prime Minister is to ensure a growing Australian economy which provides gainful employment to as many Australians as possible.”


“Ultimately it is job creation and sustainable economic growth in Australia which will decide the success or otherwise of Turnbull’s Prime Ministership,” Mr Morgan said.
“To be a successful Prime Minister Turnbull needs to take advantage of the boost to confidence his ascension to the top job has created …. and not allow Labor and the Greens to obstruct the implementation of overdue reforms to the Australian economy.


“If they continue to hold-up needed reforms, Turnbull must bypass this ‘blackmail’ and let Australian electors decide by calling an election early in 2016.” Mr Morgan added.

Sunday 29th November 2015 - 3:31 pm
Comments Off on PM’s political honeymoon heading for a rough spot

PM’s political honeymoon heading for a rough spot

by Alan Thornhill

As Malcolm Bligh Turnbull prepares to lead his conservative coalition into the last week of scheduled parliamentary sittings for this year, the honeymoon gloss on his Liberal leadership is starting to crack.


It has been real enough.


Over recent weeks, his Liberal-led coalition has consistently been in a position in the polls which suggests that it would easily win a Federal election, if one was held now.


That has been a sharp turn-around from the previous situation, which saw the Labor opposition persistently ahead, over many months.


But the next scheduled election is not due until late next year and – with quite ordinary delays – it could easily be held over until early the following year.


Between now and then Mr Turnbull’s leadership will be thoroughly tested.


There will be a big test this week, when the still new Turnbull administration takes what are – essentially – Tony Abbott’s climate change policies to Paris.

If he has any new ones, in this area, no word of them has leaked out yet.


That would be unusual, for Canberra.


After all, the other international leaders, who will be attending the Paris talks on climate change are not likely to be impressed by policies based on the principle of subsidising big polluters in the hope that they will mend their ways.


Why should they?


Australian leaders are no longer dismissing concern over climate change as “absolute crap,” as Tony Abbott once did.


But it is still seen internationally as a friend of heavily polluting fossil fuels, like coal and petroleum.


So Mr Turnbull could easily find himself branded, even more deeply, this week as yesterday’s man in this area.


It is arguable, at this point, that even some of world’s biggest energy companies are taking the very real threat of global warming more seriously than the Australian government.


For, as the BBC reports, the leaders of 10 of the world’s biggest oil companies have offered their qualified support for a new global treaty on climate change.
The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which made this commitment, represents major producers including BP, Shell, Saudi Aramco and Total among others.
Predictably, Green groups are sceptical, saying arsonists don’t make good fire-fighters.


But there would be political risks for Mr Turnbull, too, if he allowed himself to be seen globally as a climate change denier.


It is, also, conventional wisdom in Canberra that “disunity is death” in politics.


Traditionally, that warning has been uttered most frequently, in relation to Labor.

However, there are signs now that it might be applicable to the Liberals, as well.

Tony Abbott, certainly, has not been taking his loss of leadership gracefully.


Nor have his supporters, in the Liberal party’s hard-right, like Cory Bernadi and Eric Abetz.


They, too, could present Mr Turnbull with serious problems next year.


Which, in all likelihood, will be an election year,


Friday 27th November 2015 - 7:30 am
Comments Off on Malcolm;s big statement

Malcolm;s big statement

by Alan Thornhill

Some might call it a mini-budget.


All the Prime Minister said, in an interview with Leigh Sales on the ABC last night, though, is that his government would release “an innovation statement” within the next two weeks.


Well, perhaps he did add a little dressing, to make the prospect enticing.



By promising, for example, that he would would “set out a very large number of substantial measures. to drive the innovation that would ensure that Australians, their children and grandchildren, will have great jobs.”


“…better jobs in the future that will drive our economy,” he added.


Then he laid it on the line.
“I don’t think anybody has any doubt that if we are to remain the high wage, generous social welfare net country, first world country that we want to be then we need to be more innovative, more competitive, more productive and the innovation statement will be a good example of the measures the government is undertaking to achieve that.”


Yet Mr Turnbull, himself, has some catching up to do in this regard.
He saddled Australia with the pursuit of an internet system which, even if achieved, would offer speeds be well below those of many other first world countries, such as France.
Of course, with its vast expanses to connect, Australia does have difficult – and expensive – problems to overcome, in building anything that could – even remotely – be called a fast internet system.


Yet the picture emerging from Mr Turnbull’s attempt to do so – on the cheap – has not been impressive, so far.


Long waits for connection.

Cost over-runs.


There can be no doubt about one thing.


This “innovation statement, when it appears, will be drawn up to underwrite Mr Turnbull’s bid for re-election next year.


Politically, his situation has its difficulties, despite what some are calling his initial “honeymoon” period.


He is still the man who became Prime Minister, without a popular mandate.


And he is not short of opponents who stand ready to remind him of that fact, if he starts making mistakes, as most Prime Ministers do, as they start to settle into office.

Mr Turnbull also declared during his interview last night that he is “comfortable” in his new job.


But make no mistake.


His handling of the Brough affair is already being watched very closely.


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A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.

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Alan Thornhill

Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.

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