Archives for July 2013

Where’s the commitment to help our tortured and oppressed West Papuan neighbours?

Aussie Diggers will tell stories of Papuans running under heavy Japanese fire during World War II to pick up wounded Aussie solders bringing them to safety.


But for over 40 years, Australia has been ignoring the plea for help of the very people who risked their lives with outstanding bravery to save our own.


If you want to read up on a brief history of what has taken place in West Papua all this time, you can read this. But be prepared to be shocked.


Just recently, The Age published an article on the genocide happening on our doorstep in West Papua, named in the article as “Indonesian Papua”.


Why are some of us, but most especially our politicians, too afraid to use the correct name “West Papua?


Back in 2006, the then Howard government signed the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia, reaffirming Australia’s recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua, a position held by successive Australian governments to this day. Indeed, this was reiterated by Kevin Rudd in a meeting with the Indonesian president in July 2013.


Arguably, this was against the national interest. A Newspoll survey in 2006 found Australian support for West Papuan self-determination to be over 75%.


When it comes to West Papua, all we have done over the years is express ‘concern for human rights in the region’, but not once have we taken it as the serious issue it is.


Let me be crystal clear: Australia has moral and legal obligations to pursue, through its close relationship with Indonesia, an end to the atrocious human rights abuses happening there.


Thankfully, there are some members of our Parliament who doing what they can to help our abused, oppressed and forsaken Papuan neighbours.


Two minor parties in Parliament have found in each other unlikely allies: the Greens and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).


Last year, DLP Senator John Madigan moved a motion that the Senate expresses its condolence at the death of Ms Vikki Riley, a campaigner who dedicated her life to helping refugees and the people of West Papua and East Timor. The government and opposition failed to support the motion, because Ms Riley’s involvement with West Papua was “in conflict” with Australia’s foreign policy.


And all because the motion contained the name “West Papua”, instead of the Indonesian name “Irian Jaya”.


The DLP and the Greens have continuously been questioning the Foreign Minister on Australia’s involvement in promoting and encouraging human rights in West Papua. The usual responses have been less than satisfactory, no surprise there.


Unfortunately, one of these two parties has been playing politics and not the issue.


In November 2011, DLP Senator Madigan supported a Greens motion in support of West Papua, which was knocked down by the house, but the Greens did not return the favour when Madigan put up a similar motion only moments later. See Hansard pages 9502-9504.


While the Greens website outlines a general commitment to human rights and justice, the DLP website clearly shows the Party’s commitment to West Papua, with practical steps that can be taken.You can read the DLP policy here.




By Vince Stefano

Do we need a bigger defence force?

Choosing the Australian Defence Force (ADF) we want is like choosing an insurance company – if we pay too high a premium, we may be wasting money on what is not needed; yet, if we pay too low of a premium, we mightn’t get the payout required when needed.

It’s for this reason that the cornerstone of investment in the ADF should be based on ensuring that it is self-reliant and capable of defeating any credible threat to Australia’s geographic security as well as insuring regional stability.

Australia’s defence should be based on three critical elements: being Australian, being a credible defence to Australia, and having a strong forceful capability. In order to develop an effective, robust and resilient ADF, we must recognise how these three elements support the other.


Being Australian

Being Australian is not simply about having Australian front-line personnel; it’s about the whole supply chain. It’s the idea that the boots the military marches on and the food that it eats are produced in Australia by Australian firms which recognise their contribution to Australia’s defense force by providing a quality product.

It’s the idea that the ships we sail, the vehicles we drive and the guns we fire are produced in Australia and only in exceptional circumstances are built overseas with Australian components – such as fighter aircraft.


A credible Defence to Australia

Determining the credibility of Australia’s defence ability should be done from an exterior perspective. While how we communicate our defence capability has psychological influence to potential foes, the credibility is more based on hard fact – on its actual capability. This is heavily linked with operational equipment, the ability to procure through an Australian reliable supply chain, advanced training of personnel, and appropriate geographical positioning of our forces.


A Strong Forceful Capability

The forceful aspect of our military enables us to offer deterrence from any potential adversaries. The pointy end can be expressed through the quantity and quality of our ‘blue water’ navy, our fighter aircraft, coupled with our AEW&Cs and aerial refuelling capability, as well as the interoperability of our army with the other two branches of our defence force.

Although on paper Australia has a strong forceful capability, the capacity has been neglected by successive Governments, leaving submarines to be unreliable, the bulk of our fighter aircraft to be out-dated and our forces not being remunerably supported as they should be


The DLP Difference

The ADF currently needs the Government’s support to address all three elements of what makes up our supposed military middle power status.

This can only be done by ensuring as a minimum, that the defence budget is kept at 2% of GDP, not including those costs required when on operations overseas. This forms the foundation of the DLP’s defence policy, which you can read by clicking this link.

We need to bring forward vital procurement projects. In my opinion, this means projects such as constructing of 12 new conventional submarines and purchasing three squadrons of the F-22 to operate in conjunction with 100 F-35s beyond 2020.

Self-reliance is good for Australia, it is good for our allies and it is good for the region. For other countries to know that Australia has the capability and the credibility to alone hold its own and support the region in times of need will provide a certainty and bedrock for other nations to peg their own concerns about the balance of power in our region.

Australia must value its existing military alliances, but must not sell out the defence of Australia to the United States, as this will simply be seen in the region as a power imbalance and provide potential adversaries with reason to believe that Australia’s motives are not peaceful.



By Matt Restall

To invest in our universities is to invest in our future

Earlier this year, the Federal Government announced cuts of $2.8 billion to the expected funding for student support and universities, already on top of a $1 billion in cuts announced late last year.


I don’t know about you, but to me it really makes no sense.


According to OECD figures, our public investment in universities ranks just 25th out of 29 advanced economies. Meanwhile, the strongest nations in our region are investing more and more in universities to drive skills, science and research.


That is, nations in our region are investing into their best resource – their minds – while we are going in the opposite direction.


As a student at RMIT University where I recently completed an undergraduate degree, I became well aware of the financial situation. RMIT’s primary analysis suggested that the funding cuts would cost the University more than $25 million over the next four years.


Even with the government’s promise to maintain indexation, the massive reductions have made the framing of future budgets increasingly difficult, as RMIT is still carrying the effects of cuts imposed on higher and vocational education in 2012.


Australians have the potential to transform our economy and indeed the world.  Despite having less than 0.3% of the world’s population, we account for over three per cent of the world’s scientific research output.


The Bionic Ear, Black Box Flight Recorders, spray-on skin for burns victims and WiFi are just some Australian innovations that come to mind.


Who do you think drives the innovation behind such products and services and industries? Our universities.


Furthermore, the Australian Workforce Productivity Agency found that each extra one dollar invested in tertiary education grows the economy by $26 and grows tax revenue by $8. I really can’t think of any public funded investment which pays itself off better than investment in tertiary education.


To invest in universities is to invest in our future.


I don’t understand politicians. I don’t think most people do. But to me it’s clear: the Federal Government needs to stop cutting and start investing more into our tertiary education.




By Vince Stefano


Asylum seeker issue: it’s time for our politicians to grow up

The failure of the major parties in relation to illegal immigration reform is nothing short of astounding.


On one side you have the Australian Labor Party who promised to create a more humane system which would better balance the rights of boat people and the Australian population. While they undoubtedly meant well, the reality is that under their leadership more boats have arrived then ever before, more asylum seekers have died at sea than ever before and conditions for refugees in detention have not improved dramatically from the Howard years.


Their attempts to fix the problem have stunk of political necessity rather than a genuine want to resolve the issue.


Now Kevin Rudd has come out and tried to claim that turning back the boats could cause war with Indonesia in an attempt to gain back ground from Indonesia, yet again proving that he is more interested in scoring political points than actually coming up with a workable solution.


On the other side of the aisle you have Tony Abbott who has simplified one of the most complex issues facing Australia today down into three words: “STOP THE BOATS”. I mean, honestly, how can he expect us to take him seriously when a catchy campaign slogan is all he wants to ever say on the issue.


It is an insult to those who have died, to those in detention and to all Australians when he takes such a pivotal issue for our nation and pretends he can fix it as if by magic. The policies he is willing to talk about often lack detail and again reek of political opportunism.


While turning back boats may not be about to cause us to go to war with Indonesia, it certainly isn’t as simple or as straightforward as the opposition would have you believe.


Finally, you have the Greens who’s irresponsible policy of getting rid of mandatory detention all together clouds the issue and makes finding a bi-partisan solution much harder. Not only are their policies politically unworkable, they are not practical in the real world. Obviously we cannot allow just anyone who comes on a boat strait into the Australian community, security checks and the like need to be done.


By taking a holier-than-thou attitude, what they are actually doing is making a resolution harder to come to and the lives of boat people harder.


Everyone needs to stop using the asylum seeker issue as a political play thing. There is no easy answer. There is no quick fix and the reality is that while everyone treats this as a partisan issue it will never be resolved.


We are talking about peoples lives here, it’s time Australian politicians grew up and gave the problem the respect it deserves.

Small business is shockingly underrepresented

There are more than 2.4 million small businesses in Australia which collectively employ around 7 million people. That is over half of the Australian workforce.


Small business is one of the greatest contributors to Commonwealth and State revenue. Yet, consecutive federal governments have made life harder and harder for Australian small business people.


The Council of Small Businesses Australia states that political parties and most bureaucrats “acknowledge the role played by small business in the economy but over the last twenty years they have not shown that they understand that a small business is different from big business and must have different policy responses and different process and rules.”


A look at the current make-up of our federal parliament is not very encouraging. In the House of Representatives, only a dozen out of the 150 members have experience in owning/operating a small business (5/71 ALP, 4/59 Liberals, 2/11 Nationals, 1/5 Independents).


The Senate is not much different. Out of 76 senators, such experience is only found in 7. One of them is a particular highlight – DLP Senator John Madigan stands out with over 25 years’ experience in operating a small business. And if this year’s DLP Victorian senate candidate Mark Farrell joins him, you can add an extra 16 years on top of that.


That would mean the DLP would be holding the balance of power in the Senate, with a combined total of over 41 years of experience in owning and operating a small business. Indeed, this would create refreshingly new dynamics to Australian politics.


The ALP government should be commended for establishing a Minister for Small Business portfolio, the first in a decade. Unfortunately, the Minister the Hon. Gary Gray has no experience in small business what-so-ever. Ludicrous? You betcha.


Looking to this year’s federal election, I must say that the prospects for small business aren’t great. The ALP aren’t offering anything new, the Liberals sound great but in reality are not convincing. The Greens don’t even have a small business policy. Don’t believe it? Take a look at their 2013 election website to see for yourself. The DLP have some really good ideas, but they need to gain the balance of power first.


Who’s going to be flying the flag for small business after this year’s federal election?


I will go through a more detailed overview of these parties’ small business policies in the next small business blog post.

‘Balance of Power’ … what is that again?

The ‘balance of power’ is a term we often hear in politics. But while many of us may be familiar with the term, we may not be as familiar with its definition or implications.

In this post I will discuss three things. First, I will provide a simple explanation of what the ‘balance of power’ is. Second, I will provide examples of the balance of power occurring in Australian politics. And third, I will discuss the likelihood of who will be holding the balance of power following this year’s federal election and what implications that will have for Australian politics until at least the next election.


The ‘balance of power’ is the position held by a minor party, group or individual when their vote is necessary for bills or motions to be passed.

Consider this basic scenario. There are 76 seats in the Australian Senate. Let’s say there are 36 reds (the government), 30 blues (the opposition) and 10 yellows (minor party).

Now, anything that is voted on in parliament requires a majority in of total votes in order to pass. In this case, that would be 39 votes (76/2+1).

Therefore, if a bill is introduced by red, and not supported by blue, it will require the votes from yellow in order to pass with a majority of total votes. Yellow holds the balance of power – any bill or motion can’t pass without yellow’s approval.


The scenario of balance or power occurs often in the Australian Senate (upper house), but is very unlikely in the House of Representatives (lower house). That is because government is formed in the lower house, and in order to attain government, a party must secure a majority of seats in that house.

We experienced the rare case of a hung parliament following the 2010 federal election, when neither the ALP nor the Liberal/National Coalition won more than half the seats in the lower house.

There were 5 independents and 1 Greens, and the ALP managed to gain the support of 4 of them, giving the ALP the numbers to form a minority government. In this case, the 5 independents and the Greens MP held the balance of power.

A minor party holding the balance of power in the Senate has occurred several times over the years in Australian politics.

Between 1955 and 1974, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), a minor party formed by a number of anti-communists who split from the Australian Labor Party, held the balance of power in the Senate, having between one and five seats in the Senate during that period.

In 1981, the balance of power in the Senate was secured by the Australian Democrats, which they managed to hold until 2008 when their 4 Senators failed to be re-elected at the 2007 election.

In 2010, the Greens won a Senate seat in each of the six states at the election, bringing them a total of 9 senators and giving them an outright balance of power in the Senate, similar to the red-blue-yellow scenario painted above.


2013 Federal Election
It is very likely that a minor party or group of individuals will be holding the balance of power in the Senate following this year’s federal election.

The political pundits are tipping DLP Senator John Madigan to be holding the balance of power in the Senate, either in his own right or together with another Senator like Independent Nick Xenophon, depending on how things go on polling day.

However, it is worth noting that if the DLP gain another senator at this year’s election, then it would be the DLP holding the balance of power in the Senate, without a doubt.

Senator Madigan has already gone on record saying, “what we will be doing if we find ourselves in this position is encouraging transparent discussion on issues and the Senate operating as a true house of review and scrutiny.”

You will often hear Senator Madigan say, “play the issue, not the person.”