Category Archives: ideology

US Elections – Explained, Sort Of

hill-and-donWhile Mike from Ethical Consulting Services is embedded in the US Presidential election campaign, he’s found a few articles that explain some of what’s going on.

Some of these might interest you, but feel free to suggest interesting articles of your own!

If you want some background on what’s going on this election cycle, try this article.

On the major differences between US elections and Australian Elections, try this one.

For a discussion about the impact of voluntary voting on US elections, this might be useful.

And here’s a summary of what it mans to have to rebuild a US Presidential campaign machine very four years.




US Elections – What’s Happening?

hill-and-donThis year, US Presidential election day is 8 November.

Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – is off, shortly, to embed within the US Presidential campaign, in Philadelphia.

This blog is nearly always the best summary of where the competing Presidential stand in the polls.  It’s easy to pick which states are critical, by checking out their maps and the blog.

Other elections are going on, as well:

Mike is hoping to blog about his experiences while he’s away, but these campaigns are hard work and he’s not promising.

And, why Philadelphia?  Pennsylvania is usually a highly competitive state for the Presidential ballot, so campaigners get to see world-class campaigning (Mike was there in 2004 for John Kerry’s campaign, and 2008 and 2012 for the two Obama campaigns); plus, the polls are very tight in Pennsylvania right now, and Donald Trump has previously said he’ll target the State.

This also means our “Last Week in Queensland” weekly blogs and newsletters will be having a break, from 4 October to 21 November.

Queensland State Budget 2015 Right Now

Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt

Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt

Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt is delivering his first State budget right now, 2.30 pm on Bastille Day, 14 July, 2015.  It is a critical first budget for his political future, and the future of the new Labor Palaszczuk Government.

For tactical reasons, the Government embarked on a program, in the week before Budget delivery, of releasing important Budget announcements to the media. This meant that the Government dominated the good news component of media reports for most of the week and a half before Budget Day.

These announcements included significant information about major Budget strategy decisions such as

  • basing budget strategy on expectations of economic growth and economic recovery, with no increase in debt and a return to surplus in four years;
  • seeking private sector involvement in infrastructure development – a revised PPP approach;
  • using Government-Owned Corporation payments to shareholders to pay down general Government debt
  • the budget is to deliver a net operating surplus;
  • separating Government-Owned Corporation balance sheets from other parts of the Whole of Government balance sheets, and transferring GOC debt to GOC balance sheets (~ $4bn); and
  • focus on operating debt and surplus, vs. the LNP Government’s use of total debt and fiscal surplus.

They also included significant announcements about policy and program initiatives, and funding commitments such as

  • education, health and tourism will be key spending priorities;
  • releasing the Treasury analysis of the State finances;
  • Advance Queensland, a multifaceted program of sunrise industry facilitation (~ $50m);
  • vocational education and training package ($750m);
  • re-commitment to merging five energy Government Owned Corporations into two;
  • infrastructure assessment streamlining;
  • development of a Queensland Gas Action Plan to be commenced in 2016;
  • car registration increased of 3.5 per cent on July 1 confirmed;
  • pensioner concessions for electricity, water, gas and transport will be fully funded ($347 million) by the State Government, after the Federal Government withdrew funds;
  • Great Start Grant ($15,000) for first home builders to stay;
  • new Positive Parenting Program to be made available (estimated at 140,000 families, $6.6m);
  • a fund to help fight Banana disease Panama Tropical Race 4 ($9.8m);
  • a new netball centre at Nathan with eight indoor courts, player facilities and administration ($30m);
  • payroll tax holiday for new businesses;
  • no forced redundancies in energy Government-Owned Corporation mergings;
  • package of actions designed to reduce domestic violence (~ $31m);
  • setting minimum proportions of nurses to patients (~ $212m);
  • Social Benefit Bonds to fund social programs – pilot scheme (~ $3m).

Significant claims made by the Government, in support of major budget decisions included

  • Repudiation of austerity as an appropriate response to current economic circumstances;
  • Meeting election commitments;
  • $3bn collapse in royalty and other resource-sector related revenue;
  • A stabilising State economy;
  • Refusal of the Federal Government to fund State infrastructure development without asset sales;
  • Separation of Government-Owned Corporation balance sheets from Whole of Government balance sheets is warranted by virtue of their
    • commercialised nature;
    • (allegedly artificially) low gearing ratios;
    • borrowings being devoted to income-generating activity.

Budget papers, including the Treasurer’s speech, which will include many more details, will be available here later today – then we’ll get to see what else is in there, and how it all fits together.




Labor Party National Conference – Preview

Don’t believe what you read in the mainstream media (e.g. or what’s on Facebook.


The Australian Labor Party’s triennial National Conference* is in Melbourne in a month – 24 to 26 July – and most analysis you’ll see is desperately shallow, aspirational, malicious, and/or tainted by faction, politics, or Rupert Murdoch’s evil.

The real dynamics of the Conference are much more nuanced than commentators are so far acknowledging.

It is true that all but about 1.5% of the 397 voting delegates are lined up with either the Right or the Left factions, and on raw numbers no group has majority support.  Solid numbers for each of the Left and Right sit somewhere in the 190s, but each are below the magic 199, and unaligned numbers are around four to six.


BUT it’s also true that on many issues the numbers float, hence “somewhere in the 190s”, and on key issues there is often a leakage of votes: the factions are pretty rigid at National Conference, but there is plenty of scope for votes to fragment.  For example, there are two Right factions in Queensland,** but the smaller of the two pride themselves on some degree of autonomy, and might be attracted to vote with the Left on several issues.  And there are at least two Lefts and two Rights in Victoria.

When you add in the unions who sometimes split from their usual factional colleagues when they see an issue as being of particular interest to their members, and the restiveness of some unions who are increasingly attracted to autonomy, there is plenty of scope for votes to be determined other than along strict factional lines.

So what does that mean for the Conference, for the ALP, and for Australia?

Both factions will see the imperative of unity and discipline, to maximise their influence: this will be more important than at past Conferences because of the tighter numbers, and impose greater strains on both Left and Right, over specific policy and Party reform issues, as they try to craft positions that will keep “their” votes united.

Numerical uncertainty will force negotiation and compromise – no one wants to go to a vote if they don’t know what the outcome will be.  That’s likely to mean very few real debates or fights on the Conference floor – consensus around difficult compromises, and tense behind-the-scenes negotiation is probably the order of the day.  While these deals will often involve the non-aligned delegates, their rejection of caucusing or voting collectively makes it difficult to get enough of them on board any particular proposition, so it is much more likely that the Left and the Right will be the most frequent deal-makers.

Those passionate about heart-felt issues will do everything they can to win over the handful of votes that might secure success, and will be furiously lobbying anyone who can command a handful of votes – which is mostly union officials, as union members at the Conference often vote in a bloc with their union’s leadership.

The Right’s past dominance of Conference has meant they sometimes dump a controversial issue on the agenda with little notice and no negotiation, and claim the Left are party-wreckers if they oppose whatever it is.

While that might be tried at this Conference, it’s already been discussed within the Left that no such manipulation should be accommodated, regardless of the proponent – that bad behaviour should not be rewarded, but punished.  On the other side of the ledger, Right faction leaders have been discussing how they ensure Conference isn’t seen as moving the Party leftwards.

This Conference is the last before the next Federal Election, so delegates will be aware that it needs to positively position Labor and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for the campaign – so taking procedural or policy risks may prove unwise.

Every delegate will have their favourite issues and passions, but the imperative to negotiate, and to demonstrate unity in the run-up to the next election, might well mean that very few of those passions and issues-based divisions are paraded publicly.  There will be at least one issue, and often more, in every chapter of the draft Platform where the differences between and within Left and Right will make it very hard for agreement to be struck.

Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water is the newly elected National President, in a ballot that confirmed the Left’s appeal to the Party’s rank-and-file membership – Left candidates secured 67% of the vote.  He’ll be chairing the Conference, and can influence the agenda and process – his strength as a factional leader means he can to some degree force the factions to behave.

The draft Platform was considered by Labor’s National Executive on 19 June 2015 and should be released the week that this is published, and while the Rules report is likewise close to completion, many key participants are barely ready to list the key and potentially divisive Party reform or policy issues, let alone working out what can be done with them.

Of the ballots to be conducted at the Conference, the Left seems likely to increase their representation on the powerful National Executive, from nine out of twenty, to ten.



* This is the supreme governing body of the Australian Labor Party, and the decisions of the conference are binding on all members.  It elects the National Executive, and determines Rules and Platform.
** Some members of the “soft” Right, the smaller Labor Unity faction, will vigorously dispute this description, but historically they have been part of the Right in Labor’s Federal Parliamentary caucus and at National Conference.  Labor Unity, though, has developed a positive and stabilising relationship with The Left in Queensland, and recent history – a loooooong story – is likely to make them less comfortable siding with the national Right caucus on some issues.



Queensland Election: Liberal National Party Review Released

Campbell Newman & Jeff Seeney - from Jeff's website

Campbell Newman & Jeff Seeney – from Jeff’s website

On January 31, 2015, Queensland’s Liberal National Party lost State Government by a small margin, after having taken Government in 2012 with a record swing and a huge majority in the Queensland parliament.

Today the LNP released their review of what went wrong for them, and you can download it here:

It is too soon to review the Report in depth but it finds, inter alia:

“The overwhelming election win of 2012 led to hubris and a false sense of security consolidating an energetic and reformist government leadership team but without parliamentary experience. The huge influx of inexperienced new MP’s and a leader without parliamentary background contributed to a lack of corporate history in the conduct of parliament and the party room.

“Broad based disappointment has been expressed with the campaign and the election defeat. Undoubtedly, the leadership of the government contributed to the election loss including:

  • the breaking of the promise that public servants had ‘nothing to fear’;
  • the perception of arrogance arising from not listening to the people;
  • pursuing the large scale privatisation of assets to which the majority of voters opposed or had serious reservations;
  • the alienation of key stakeholders in the decision making process; and
  • the two year discordant relationship with the organisational wing.

“The campaign itself, the responsibility of the central campaign committee had inherent problems such as failing to:

  • address the perception of the Government’s arrogance and to turn this weakness into strengths;
  • promote the government’s considerable achievements in fixing “labor’s mess’ and growing the state’s economy;
  • launch an attack program to rebut the deceitful and untruthful propaganda of the party’s opponents;
  • engender confidence with local campaign committees; and
  • manage the expectation that the party with its large majority would hold government at the poll.”

The Report makes 39 recommendations:

  1. The Borbidge Sheldon review report and recommendations must be released to party units at the same time it is given to the state executive and made public thereafter.
  2. The review committee notes the actions taken by the parliamentary party to address the lessons learned from the 2015 election defeat.
  3. The review committee notes the over-riding need to improve the relationship between the parliamentary and organisational wings of the party and recommends:
    1. The parliamentary party members retain the right to select their leader from within their own ranks.
    2. A compact be established to define the relationship between the parliamentary and organisational wings of the party.
      1. That the compact be prepared by a party member nominated by the parliamentary leader who should be a previous parliamentary leader of the LNP, the liberal party or the national party, a party member nominated by the state president who should be a former president of the LNP, the liberal party or the national party and one other, jointly nominated by both.
      2. That the compact be agreed to by the parliamentary party and the state executive and signed by the parliamentary leader and the party president.
  4. That the state executive address as an urgent priority meaningful connectivity and communications with the grassroots membership.
  5. That the LNP Integrity Paper should be updated and implemented and all candidates should be required to acknowledge and accept its requirements. That the LNP in government or opposition be required to adhere to the principles which include:
    • broken promises will not be tolerated by the public;
    • corruption and lack of accountability will not be tolerated;
    • the institutions of state must be respected.
  6. That major policy issues proposed by the parliamentary party where possible be subjected to debate at either the state council or the state convention or, if found to be urgent, be considered by the president’s committee/state executive for comment.
  7. That a party platform detailing the party’s principles and policies be finalised for distribution to members as a matter of urgency.
  8. That the president and the state director, in the LNP Annual Report indicate that the administrative, organisational, financial and policy responsibilities as required under the LNP’s constitution has been complied with.
  9. That the central campaign committee be restructured to include party policy and decentralised representatives as determined by the president and parliamentary leader.
  10. The position of campaign director should be separate from the state director and report to the state president.
  11. The review committee notes that a limited number of federal issues impacted adversely on the state campaign, in particular the controversy over the awarding of knighthoods, the GP co-payment and the defence pay issue and recommends:
    • That close consultation be establish between the central campaign committee and the federal leadership to minimise adverse impacts on state campaigns of federal issues and that a liaison unit be established between central headquarters (CHQ) and the federal leader’s office.
  12. That a central campaign strategy allow increased decision making for local campaigns.
  13. That state elections be avoided during the month of January as it is a recognised holiday period.
  14. The review committee notes with concern:
    • The absence of a marginal/target seats campaign at the 2015 state election and recommends that the strategy be reinstated for future state elections,
    • the absence of a negative advertising campaign, the want of the central campaign committee to exploit the weaknesses of the prime opponent, and
    • the lack of third party endorsements in support of the party’s policies and actions in the campaign.
    • It is recommended that such strategies be included in future state election campaigns.
  15. Sitting MPS, recontesting the poll should be permitted to handle PVA’s for his/her electorate, whilst candidates PVAs should be managed by the central campaign.
  16. It is essential that booth advertising material should arrive prior to prepolling; booth signs should be of a size that enables them to be easily and safely transported.
  17. The centralised banking system and the campaign funding/ budgeting process should be reviewed specifically to provide party units with increased financial control and campaign committees with the latitude to make funding decisions – whilst maintaining the link to CHQ budget/systems/agreements. It recommended that:
    • That the treasurer report to state convention or council, as a matter of urgency, on measures that can be implemented to provide SEC’s with greater responsibility for their funds and budgets.
  18. The Just Vote 1 strategy should be reviewed to ensure that it is applicable to the political and election circumstances.
  19. The review committee notes the enhancements to the applicant review process for the endorsement of candidates and recommends that the processes be monitored to ensure they are robust to meet any issue that may emerge.
  20. Plebiscites should be the preferred method for the selection of candidates.
  21. That the CHQ organisational structure be reviewed to improve efficiency with emphasis on communications, policy development, membership services and the delivery thereof.
  22. That the gender balance of the state executive be a consideration of members when electing persons to roles on this body.
  23. That all appointments made by the state president or the state executive be subject to confirmation by state council.
  24. That the composition of the president’s committee be widened to include the parliamentary leader or his nominee.
  25. That members of state executive recognise the responsibilities associated with their dual roles of governance and communications to and from party units and ensure they act as conduits of information.
  26. That a membership customer relations manager be appointed.
  27. A permanent strategic research office should be established in CHQ to undertake electorate and policy research.
  28. A membership development strategy should be developed to grow the membership which should include the introduction of online membership applications.
  29. A new category of family membership should be introduced.
  30. State convention or state council resolutions be categorised to reflect the three levels of government so that the responsible minister/shadow/councillor or other office holder may be present for the duration of the debate.
  31. State convention and state council attendance by the parliamentary leader and members of parliament be required unless in extenuating circumstances.
  32. Meetings of the LNP state council and state convention and shadow cabinet meetings should be held, where practicable in regional centres as well as the capital city.
  33. That ministers/shadows meet regularly with party policy chairs and their committees and attendance or otherwise conveyed to the parliamentary leader and the state president.
  34. That CHQ prepare a data base of membership expertise as a resource for MP’s and policy committees.
  35. That the LNP establish an independent review of its social media strategy and its effectiveness compared to our political opponents.
  36. That social media training should be introduced for MP’s, senior staff and party members.
  37. That an ongoing social media strategy be developed.
  38. That members of parliament and candidates not be directly involved in the soliciting of funds.
  39. That the LNP consider the full public funding of election campaigns and the banning of trade union and corporate donations.



What Makes A Policy Good?

good_sml“And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good—
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”*

If you roll up not-good policy to Government, there’s every chance they will tell you so: your time and theirs will have been wasted.

You need to know how to ensure what you construct to take to Government is good policy, but “good” is often in the eye of the beholder, and Governments of different styles (e.g. authoritarian/bullying, consultative, conservative, reforming, neo-liberal, or socialist) will see the same policy proposal through quite different prisms.  So too will individual decision-makers who are unable or unwilling to consider policy proposals dispassionately and objectively, and who bring their particular passions to bear upon whatever is before them.

So, you need to know with whom you are speaking, in order to craft a proposal they will see as good:

  • What are their politics, objectives, and priorities?
  • What are those of the Party and of the Government they serve?
  • How do you cast or modify your proposal in a way servicing those layers of priorities, politics, and objectives?

For example, if your proposal needs to pass through a Treasury Department, where the official religion is usually “Market Mechanisms Rule, OK?” your proposal will attract suspicion and opposition as a matter of course, if it interferes with a free market or market-based pricing mechanism.  Benefits will be seen as, at best, secondary.

The text books tell us there are objective criteria any policy must satisfy, if it is to be considered good; for example, it must be all of these:

  • Effective and efficient: so scarce resources aren’t wasted;
  • Equitable: remedying social injustice, providing a “fair go”;
  • Comprehensible: avoiding uncertainty, misapplication, compliance failure, evasion, avoidance;
  • Accessible: avoiding inbuilt exclusions caused by false assumptions;
  • Practicable: avoiding policies made just for show; and
  • Stable: so the outcomes endure and frequent changes aren’t required – this might include consideration of community popularity and/or political sustainability (e.g., would the next Government reverse the policy?).

The Policy Analysis chapter** of The Australian Policy Handbook*** by Althaus, Bridgman, and Davis will give you a good understanding of what lies behind each of those terms.

Original uncaptioned photo: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (RobertHannah89)

Original uncaptioned photo: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (RobertHannah89)

However, in dealing with ideologically driven Governments of a neo-liberal bent, then you will find they treat some of those principles as subordinate to some or all of these principles**** below:

  • Custom and practice: don’t lightly change what has gone before;
  • Precaution: identifying thoroughly the true long-term impacts;
  • Choice and freedom: don’t impose stagnation and uniformity unnecessarily;
  • Personal responsibility and mutual obligation: ensuring individuals take responsibility for their own choices;
  • Small Government and lower Government expenditure: the smaller the Government the greater the freedom of citizens, and you are entitled to the full fruits of your labour;
  • Competition, market-based mechanisms and contestability: competition and free markets deliver efficiency, quality and lowest cost; and
  • Mainstreaming: avoiding ongoing disadvantage by eliminating stigma and policy ghettos.

On the other side of the political fence in Australia, a leftish or centre-left Government tends to regard those text-book criteria above, together with consistency with their own policy manifesto, as the starting point for assessing policy quality.  Governments closer to the centre will demonstrate affection for some of those neo-liberal policy principles listed above, while retaining a commitment to the text-book criteria.  Individual members of centre and centre-left Governments might regard the impact on such things as, for example

  • community empowerment,
  • income redistribution,
  • social safety net,
  • jobs and working conditions,
  • infrastructure investment, and
  • environmental sustainability,

as additional key tests for the quality of policy.

But don’t be fooled by these apparent ideological categories and constraints: you have to do the research so that know your audience, because, to cite two examples, some centre-left politicians are concerned to ensure personal responsibility and mutual obligation, while some on the right have a commitment to community empowerment.



* No, not Phaedrus by Plato, but Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
** If we could find our copy (long story) we would provide the Chapter number.  Sorry about that.  I know you’ll forgive.
*** It’s pretty easy to get as it is the prescribed text for several courses at and, and across Australia
**** These words aren’t necessarily our words!



Politics Needs Fewer Sales Staff, More Business Development Managers

business-development-sign-smallOne problem with Australian politics – and most UK and US politics too – is most Party leaders* are sales staff, not business development managers.

They’re after the quick business/quick sales so that their sales cycle numbers – the next election – look good, but it is at the expense of long-term customer acquisition:

  • current marginal seat campaigning tactics,
  • small target “leadership”,
  • technocratic fiddling around the edges of policy differences,
  • and similar practices

all work to ensure there can be NO growing of a solid base of voters, inspired by a leader’s vision.

When was the last time you saw an Australian political leader grab a big, bold, forward-looking, new, idea or agenda, and then try to get the community broadly on board with it?  Gough Whitlam in 1972John Hewson in 1993?  Does Tony Abbott’s “Stop The Boats” count?**

Most are satisfied to claim a mandate for something even when voters have been clearly opposed, when they survive in spite of its advocacy – Mike Baird’s unpopular commitment to asset sales come to mind.

There’s so many important issues out there begging for a long-term perspective, matched with solutions capable of inspiring Australians, but there’s an unwillingness to put in any kind of a concerted effort to explain and persuade – so until we have political leaders prepared to put an effort into business development rather than sales, we seem locked forever into two things:

  • a downward spiral of lowest-common-denominator policies that pander to existing prejudices and demons rather than voters’ better angels, and
  • a cowardly concealment of real intentions, behind ambiguous platitudes.


* Party officials, Members of Parliament, political advisors … they’re all leaders, though many don’t act like it.
** I don’t think it does, because I don’t believe it was bold or new – it was mostly pandering to prejudices already in voters’ minds.  Feel free to disagree!


Abbott Government Reshuffle Sets Up A Battle Of Whys

Photo: Charles Haymond U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia

Photo: Charles Haymond U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia

As the new Abbot Ministry ages, commentary about the reshuffle and it’s implications has remained depressingly shallow, mostly mere regurgitation* of the Government’s talking points; analysis has been almost non-existent.

This is the best I’ve spotted so far, because it includes research, depth, thought, evaluation, nuance and analysis**: – it is well worth a close read***.

With the poor standing of the Abbott Government in polls, now consistent and long-standing, they’re obviously in need of change: a change of direction / policy / priority, a circuit breaker, improved communications, or other options, depending on where you see their problem lying.

If this report is correct Prime Minister Abbott and his advisors have decided their problems are principally with communications:; we’ll know soon enough, if the predictions in James Massola’s article are borne out.

When you hold the Massola article up to Paula Matthewson’s, you see a consistent picture: a Government committed to their political and ideological agenda, and convinced they can recover their standing with voters by better explaining what they are about.

This makes the run-up to Australia’s next Federal Election a fascinating contest between utterly incompatible views: whether current poor polling numbers for the Abbott Government reflect:

  • discontent with what the Government are doing or how they are doing it, vs.
  • misunderstanding of what they are doing and why.

The next election is likely to tell us which explanation is true.


*  I imagine the Government isn’t as depressed about this as am I.
**  Unlike most Australian reporting and commentary …
***  as is a lot of Ms Matthewson’s stuff: