Replacing Kevin Rudd as Australian PM a bad move for the long term of the ALP

In a little over an hour it is about 95% likely that Australian PM Kevin Rudd will be replaced by deputy Julia Gillard. This will see Julia Gillard becoming Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

While it is a historic moment for Australia to have its first female Prime Minister it is a terrible move for democracy and for the reputation of the ALP in general.

Firstly, Democracy. Kevin Rudd was elected by the people as the leader of the country. Sure technically he was elected by members of the Labor Party to be their leader and then Labor was elected, but the reality of it is at the election he put his face forward as Kevin 07 and the election became a cult of personality which the voters endorsed. So as much as the election in 2007 was a Labor win it was also a Kevin Rudd win. If anyone should have the ability to vote out Labor and Kevin Rudd it should be the voters not just the caucus MPs.

Second, the reputation of the ALP. For the last few years Kevin Rudd has been the most popular Prime Minister in Australia’s history only in the last few months and weeks has things start to go wrong. All governments experience moments of popularity and moments of dislike by the general population. However, the instant that the gloss has come off Kevin 07 factions within the ALP have moved to get him dumped and this has completely undermined his leadership. The worst thing about Julia Gillard becoming the Prime Minister is time and again she has said that she does not want the role. This is not her saying that for political stability it has been clear that she genuinely meant it, even last night she did not look happy that she was contesting the spill this morning rather that she had been forced into it.

What this all shows is that the internal workings of the ALP have absolute contempt for the general population. They believe that because Kevin Rudd is not pushing their agenda to the letter of what they expect they can replace him with a puppet who will. Furthermore this sets a very bad precedent for the leadership of the ALP, essentially what this move is showing is in order to lead the ALP you must be popular and the instant you begin to hit a storm you will be rolled. This isn’t going to bring stability to the party or seek out the right kind of candidates for the top job.

Finally whatever the outcome of this mornings vote I hope that the Liberal Party moves a vote of confidence against the government and the government loses confidence and election is forced immediately. Julia Gillard needs to face the voters of the general public, not MPs and background lobbyists.

The mess that is the UK Elections

It is amazing how much technology can change the shape of history, can shape our future, and can shape the outcome of elections. A little over a year ago we saw the election of Barack Obama to the United States Presidency off the back of a massive campaign using new media. Now thanks to two televised election debates we are seeing a mini revolution in UK politics. The only problem is this mini revolution may be the biggest political revolution that never happens because with the UK still using the First Past the Post voting system the party that wins the most number of votes may fail to govern.

Like Australia, the United States, and many other countries the UK has traditionally had two major political parties, the left leaning Labour Party, and the right leaning Conservatives. For a few parliamentary terms the Labour Party will rule and once the voters get sick of them the Conservatives will rule until the cycle reverses. The way in which these governments are elected comes down to local electorates rather than voting for the party you want to win you vote for your local MP. The party that has the most number of electorate MPs elected will get to govern. This is different from NZ politics where under MMP you have two votes one for your local MP and one for the party you wish to govern with the parliament being made up with a mixture of local MPs and party list MPs.

Now the reason a mini revolution has occurred in England is because for the first time Nick Clegg, the leader of the Social Democrats a small minority party, has been included in two televised leaders debates alongside the leaders of the both the Conservative and Labour parties. And in both of these debates Clegg has won. This has seen the Social Democrats rocket up the polls on the popular vote to a position where they are beating Labour and in some poles even leading the Conservatives. This has also thrown the May 6 election wide open with the real possibility of a hung parliament.

The biggest problem with all this analysis though is it may amount to nothing all because of the way FPP operates. The NZ Herald puts it this way:

The really surprising thing about the Nick Clegg surge is that almost nothing has changed.

That may seem an odd thing to say after 10 days in which Labour has been forced into third place in the opinion polls and the Liberal Democrats have broken through for the first time since the formation of the Social Democratic Party nearly three decades ago.

But the way votes translate into seats means that, unless the Lib Dems get up to 36 or 37 per cent of the vote, they remain the third party in seats.

And while Clegg’s party remains the third party in the House of Commons, the outcome of the election is decided by the gap between the Conservatives and Labour.

The shape of politics will be transformed on May 6. That may be the beginning of the end for the Labour Party. And yet the outcome of the election remains surprisingly unchanged.

The reason is that Clegg’s surge has been uncannily even-handed in its effect on the other two parties. The Conservatives have fallen 4.5 points in the polls, on average, since the first debate, and the Labour drop has been the same.

The gap between the two is therefore unchanged, at about 6.5 points, which suggests the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament – which is where the country was before the Cleggshell was dropped on this campaign.

The voters are likely to end up, therefore, with David Cameron as prime minister, leader of a minority Conservative government.

All of this screams out that the who democratic process of FPP is wrong, for a party to be able to gain the most number of popular votes and not govern is wrong, for a party to be able to govern on only 30% support is wrong. And focusing on New Zealand for a second this is the exact reason why we should not move back towards FPP or change away from MPP. It is often argued that MMP gives small parties too much power, but I would rather have good, cross party support for well written laws than be ruled by a minority forcing their sole thoughts on the nation.

This morning the Green Party posted a good video about the problems with the UK election to their blog:

Keith Locke’s Head of State Referenda Bill Voted Down

It is a great shame that the National Government along with the support of the Act, Maori, and Progressive parties tonight voted down Keith Locke’s Head of State Referenda Bill.

The sooner New Zealand becomes an independent nation the better. I do not mind if we become a state of the larger nation of an independent Australia or if we become an independent nation in free association with an independent Australia. But there is one thing I feel strongly about and that is New Zealand should no longer be a colony of Great Britain.

Some may argue that we already have independence through the Statute of Westminster however this is not full or true independence.

What has particularly got my back up tonight though is the arguments of the Maori Party in the debate. Below this post is the full speech given by Rahui Katene in which she argues that any move towards becoming a republic would run foul of the Treaty of Waitangi.

What a missed opportunity this is. The Treaty of Waitangi has been a source of much argument and problems for years, the founding of the Maori party was birthed in a disagreement over the Treaty of Waitangi on matters to do with the foreshore and seabed. There are a number of factions within Maoridom who do not agree with the treaty and some iwi who did not sign it and to this day do not want to!

A move to a republic gives the nation of Aotearoa New Zealand a chance to make things right, a chance to get a second go at creating a nation. However, the very politicians who represent a party that was born out of a disagreement over the interpretation of a badly worded treaty do not even want a discussion on the issue at a select committee.

I want to know if the Maori Party was forced by the National Party to vote against the bill, or if it did so on its own merits. In either case I have lost a lot respect I had for that party as a party of free thinkers. You can’t always fix the past, you certainly cannot hang onto the past, the best way forward is to always do what is best for the future and that is an independent republic of New Zealand.

SUBMISSION on the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill

Submissions on the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill closed earlier today. This is the full text of my submission and why I do not support the introduction of Voluntary Students’ Association Membership.

To the Education and Science Committee

Introduction

This submission is from Bradford Heap. I am a PhD student at the School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. From 2005 – 2007 and 2009 I was a student at Massey University’s Albany Campus. During 2006 – 2008 I was on the Executive Committee of the Albany Students’ Association Inc. In 2008 I served as the President of the Association and as the internal students’ association representative on Massey University’s Council.

I do not wish to appear before the committee to speak to my submission.

I can be contacted at:

Summary

I oppose the intent of this bill because:

  • Freedom of Association is already secured through section 229A clause 5 – 7 of the current Education Act 1989. There is no need to remove compulsory automatic membership of students’ associations when there is already a working and effective mechanism for students to object to membership.
  • This bill will result in the loss of student representation on both a local and national level. Currently at a local level many students’ associations organise and run independent student representation through such mechanisms as class/paper representatives, college boards, university committees and ultimately the Council. On a national level students’ associations work together through the likes of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations Inc., University Sport New Zealand Inc. and Student Job Search Inc. to provide representation and lobbying for students in a unified manner.

If compulsory membership of students’ associations is removed this unified and centralised organisation of representation will be lost. At this point there is no guarantee that the university will have an independent body of students to consult with. In lieu of this there are two outcomes:

1)                        Universities will no longer consult students. The outcomes of this would be very bad for good decision making, or

2)                        Universities will consult focus groups of students. However, there is no guarantee that these students will not be handpicked by the university to represent the views that the university wants to hear.

Most importantly there will be a loss of an independent student voice. If tertiary institutions have to start directly funding student representation groups there will be a perception of collusion over the outcomes of that representation and engagement that is not currently present.

  • There will be a loss of advocacy. Not all problems faced by students are representative of all students or need to be dealt with at a university committee level. Many issues faced by students are at relatively small scale and can be resolved through speaking to a particular lecturer or head of department. Unfortunately most students do not know the correct means for raising an issue, or if any issue is raised and there is not a satisfactory response how to take the issue to a higher level. Independent advocacy services provided by students’ associations help to deal with these issues and ensure that issues are resolved as quickly and effectively as possible, student advocates both employed and volunteers are trained in problem resolution and know the processes of the university and who to deal with to resolve problems. If Voluntary Student Membership is introduced the loss of funding from a decrease in student levy income will put these vital services under threat.
  • The most important service that students’ associations provide is clubs. Student Clubs are the lifeblood of student life and culture in New Zealand. There are many established clubs within universities that have stretched back many decades. However, these clubs are under threat with the introduction of Voluntary Student Membership. The primary source of funding for the continued running of these clubs is through the allocation of club grants provided by the students’ associations. Without funding many of these clubs would become the realm of the rich who can afford high membership and equipment fees while ordinary students will be locked out of the true university experience.
  • Most importantly I oppose this bill because of the direct effects it will have on all students as already seen through the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism in Australia. It is this last point that I would like to address in detail.

The Current Australian Situation

In 2010 I have begun my PhD and have been studying on the University of New South Wales Kensington Campus in Sydney for the previous two months. During this time I have become a member of the students’ union, a number of clubs, and been elected a postgraduate student representative for Computer Science and Engineering.

I should state clearly that the sky has not fallen in through the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism in Australia. However, it is clear that there has been a dramatic loss of representation, advocacy, and services provided by the student union.

The only representation provided by the student union is through the Student Representative Council, effectively the same as the Executive Committee at most New Zealand students’ associations. This committee is democratically elected each year and each member of the committee has a portfolio role – e.g. women’s rights, environmental issues, etc. This committee liaises with the University over issues, but there is no legal or guaranteed framework for any representation or dialog.

Furthermore any representation at a college/faculty level is not organised by the students’ union. Within the School of Computer Science and Engineering, where I am studying, there is a committee of student representatives, this committee while voted for by students, is organised by the university, and operates on an ad hoc basis advocating for students by bringing issues to the attention of the school but there is no framework in place for how issues are dealt with.

On the student services side of the union there are not many services that are provided free to students. The big events held like bands, dance parties, and other student night type stuff are all user pays and run on a competitive basis against other local venues. But more importantly it is the student clubs that have suffered. All clubs charge a membership fee and in the past where a lot of funding has come from students’ associations, instead there are heavy membership fees upfront and additional funding is provided to some clubs by university faculties. Again the biggest problem with university funding of student bodies is that they are at the whim of the university for continuation of this funding from year to year and for the most part there is little in the way of set policy or openness surrounding the allocation of these funds.

Conclusion

At the end of the day the issue of voluntary verses compulsory membership of students’ associations comes down to two components, money and ideology. One ideology says that students’ associations should be entirely voluntary and user pays, the other is those who see the benefits of a compulsory system where the collective greater good is advanced. The largest problem with a user pays argument in students’ associations is what about those who get up against the wall with their finances at university and are not able to pay the bills and face the prospect of being forced out of university or their accommodation, when they go to their students’ association for financial or food help; is it expected that they be asked to pay for that help up front when they can’t afford to pay anything more?

Letter to Hon Steven Joyce regarding Benzodiazepine Ban

To: s.joyce@ministers.govt.nz
Date: Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 8:52 AM
Subject: Benzodiazepine Ban

Dear Hon Steven Joyce,

I am outraged at the news this morning that the Government last night rushed through a ban on Benzodiazepine while driving without any public consultation.

I have been using Lorazepam for the past two years to control an anxiety/panic disorder which is primary associated with flying. For instance in August I flew to Christchurch to go skiing. I flew out of Auckland at just after 6am and landed in Christchurch around 8am before hiring a car and driving an hour to the ski area. Under this new law I would be unable to drive because I would still be under the influence of the Benzodiazepine.

This is where the law fails and the lack of public consultation shines through. I would suspect very few users of prescription Benzodizepines would be silly enough to take the medicine and then immediately drive. In fact the label on my container of it clearly states that it may cause sleepiness, to limit driving and the operation of heavy machinery, and to limit alcohol. The reality of this medicine, however, is that it takes a long time to wear completely off. While I would never drive within two hours of taking it, any time beyond that I would consider myself safe to drive provided I took the same precautions as when you have taken any other medicine (cold/flu tablets, anti-depressants, pain killers) or any other issue is affecting your ability to think straight (for instance an emotional crises).

It makes me very angry and annoyed that the Government has passed this law without weighing up all the facts. As the Act party as highlighted “an ESR study of deceased drivers from July 1 2004-June 30 2008 showed that only 22 of the 826 drivers deceased during this period had benzodiazepines in their bloodstream, and of those less than one percent had benzodiazepines alone.” What the government has done is turn ordinary New Zealanders who rely on this medication to manage a major but controllable problem in their lives into criminals.

It should be noted that one of the reasons the previous administration was voted out of office was the failure to listen to the public over issues. It became arrogant and instead of listening to the people as a democracy it appeared to be acting more like a dictatorship. I hope that this new government does not head down the same path.

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards,
Bradford Heap

Albany,
Auckland,
New Zealand

Left or Right. There is no centre.

This is a summary graph of the political polls over the past three years. Look at the recent end. National is dropping. But so is Labour. Who is rising? The Greens and Act. What does that mean?

a) The minor parties matter!

b) A vote for Act or National will result in a right wing government. A vote for the Greens or Labour will be a left wing Government.

The choice is yours! This election is not all over. It is not a done and dusted result. It is wide open and your vote matters.

Rock the Vote. November 8 2008.

Green Party Billboards

Yesterday the Green Party launched its billboards for the upcoming election. I particularly like this one:

The problem however is that New Zealand is not on the centre of the earth. It must be!

So in setting out on resolving this problem I decided to be inclusive of all and therefore put the entire globe, spinning behind it. And viola!