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Tag Archives: Barry O’Farrell


Posted July 26, 2012 15:36:52

It’s a pity about the timing of last weekend’s Melbourne by-election. It’s a pity it wasn’t being held this weekend, and in a seat where the governing Liberal National Party was forced to contest.

While it was useful academically to get a sense of the relative strengths of the ALP and the Greens in inner-Melbourne, it would be far more illuminating right now to get a steer on how the electorate feels about the near collapse of the disability insurance system.

On the face of it, the failure of the richest states to cough up a relative pittance towards the trials appears to be the dumbest – and meanest – act by leading politicians in a very long time.

Perhaps there is a plausible explanation to the intransigence of Barry O’Farrell, Ted Baillieu and Campbell Newman; perhaps it does go beyond the suspicion that they are merely playing a political game, denying the Prime Minister a “win” no matter what the issue.

If it does go beyond that, then so far the premiers have done a lousy job of putting the record straight.

The most offensive contribution came from Premier Newman, pleading poor while presiding over resource-rich Queensland. Even at its most basic – the argument that they don’t want to lock themselves into a future funding model that will become unaffordable when it is extended – doesn’t hold water.

What’s wrong with a separate arrangement simply allowing trials to go ahead, with a view to thrashing out the longer term deal down the track, especially given that everybody agrees the scheme is first class and essential?

Make no mistake, the politics of this are all negative for the state premiers. This is not a situation like asylum seekers, or the mining tax, where the competing parties can at least make an argument on policy direction. There is no dispute here, no issue and no alternative proposals being put.

Now, whenever a state premier spends $10m or more, and they often commit to these sorts of sums between budgets, that money will be lined up against money for the disabled. The premiers’ priorities will be put to the test every time: no matter whether it’s money for public events like a grand prix, money for lobbyists or overseas trips, the comparison can and will be made as a regular test of the values of the government.

Here’s one hot off the press. Just this week, the Baillieu Government committed to spending – according to media reports – $5m to install automated boom gates at a level crossing in well-off Brighton. That was after spending $2m on a feasibility study.

The politics are baffling to say the least, but not inconsistent with the level of public discourse that the country has been enduring for some time now.

What on earth drove the premiers to think they could go down this path and emerge unscathed politically?

The alarm bells would surely have been ringing if advisers were listening to 2SM’s John Laws as he interviewed the Minister for Families and Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin.

After listening to her presentation, he said: “I really don’t understand how anybody could argue with that …”, and again after a pause, “I really do not understand.”

“It’s a tragedy,” he said, “because, I mean, as Australians … we are a very compassionate race of people … we should be looking after people who simply can’t look after themselves.

“This place is not Bangladesh, it’s Australia; one of the greatest countries – the greatest in my mind – in the world, yet we can’t look after people properly with disabilities.”

A test of the State Government’s strength in Victoria would have been interesting even before the rejection of the disabilities insurance scheme.

Even though the Baillieu Government won just a single seat majority at the November 2010 election, the shock of the defeat of a well-established Labor Government had most pundits assuming the LNP would grab incumbency by both hands and consolidate for years to come. Few of them believe that any more.

The decline started with the virtual neutering of one of the government’s finest performers, the deputy premier, Peter Ryan, over the plot to get rid of the chief of police, Simon Overland.

Along the way there were extremely messy pay negotiations with well-regarded public sector workers like teachers and nurses.

Then the coup de grace: the budget decision to cut into TAFE in some of the most politically sensitive regions in the state.

Now the momentum is running against the government and the opposition leader, Daniel Andrews – considered by some up until now as a stop gap leader – is re-energised and hitting targets.

None will be as easy to hit as the one erected when the premiers of the biggest states shirked their responsibility to the disabled.

Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of ABC programs Insiders and Offsiders. View his full profile here.

May 3, 2012 – 5:11PM

The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, says his government will seek to pass urgent legislation to ensure an administrator can be appointed to the NSW branch of the Health Services Union after doubts were raised about the Federal Court’s jurisdiction to make orders relating to a state union.

But the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplaces Relations, Bill Shorten, said the proposed legislation could prolong the factional dispute plaguing the HSU East branch, which is haemorrhaging hundreds of members a day.

As the state and federal government argued today over how to handle the scandal-plagued union, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions announced it would forward a report from Fair Work Australia into financial impropriety in the HSU’s national office to police.

Mr Shorten has asked the Federal Court to appoint an administrator to take over the day-to-day functions of the HSU East and to declare all offices vacant.

He said he has received legal advice that the offices of the NSW Union would be similarly vacated.

However, Federal Court judge Geoffrey Flick questioned the jurisdiction of the court to take action regarding a NSW organisation.

During a hearing this morning Justice Flick said a federal minister had not made such an application “in 100 years”.

Under the leadership of the HSU acting national president, Chris Brown, six branches of the HSU have also applied for an administrator to be appointed to the HSU East branch.

The court heard the jurisdictional issue could be resolved by the minister intervening in this application, rather than initiating his own.

Mark Irving, for Mr Brown, said the branch had ceased to function effectively, evidenced by the mass resignations and harassment and intimidation of members and the disruption of meetings.

Shortly after the hearing was adjourned, Mr O’Farrell told the NSW Parliament he did not want a “legal technicality to stop the appointment of an administration to a union that so desperately and badly needs one”.

In question time, Mr O’Farrell said the government would introduce urgent legislation to allow “an administrator proposed by the NSW government under NSW law to a NSW-registered union”.

The NSW Finance Minister, Greg Pearce, criticised Mr Shorten for not consulting him before “significantly intrud[ing] into the NSW industrial relations jurisdiction”.

In response, Mr Shorten said he welcomed Mr O’Farrell’s “belated support” for an administrator but stood by his decision to launch action in the Federal Court.

Justice Flick ordered the parties enter into mediation. If an agreement on an administration scheme is not reached, he will preside over a three-week hearing beginning on June 5.

He said the dispute should be heard as quickly as possible, given the damage being done to the union.

Earlier, the acting national secretary of the HSU, Chris Brown, said the branches had told the court that the East branch, covering NSW and parts of Victoria, was “dysfunctional”.

Outside the court, Mr Brown said if the application failed, he feared the other branches would withdraw from the HSU, which would spell the end of the union.

“If the application doesn’t work there will be so much reputational damage that it’s probably impossible to recover.

“If this fails, we’re probably pretty close to saying game over.”

An administrator would run the union from day to day in matters including finances. All elected positions would be declared vacant.

Justice Flick is also hearing a legal challenge by the National Secretary of the HSU, Kathy Jackson, to the voting entitlements of salaried members of HSU East.

She alleges up to 20 of the 70 members of the HSU East branch are not entitled to vote at union council meetings.

Justice Flick said he feared that hearing could become futile if the HSU East branch was placed into administration.

He said he was inclined to defer Ms Jackson’s case until the question of administration was heard.

Outside the court, Ms Jackson said she would not enter mediation with Mr Brown, despite the court order.

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