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Using The Media: What’s In Today’s Financial Review?

Australian Financial ReviewPolitics is nothing if not a topical subject.

The newspapers, electronic current affairs and internet sites remain an important means of reinforcing knowledge of key political ideas and keeping up-to-date with current events.

This page looks at how an edition of the Australian Financial Review can be of use to students and teachers of Politics. The selection of articles and commentary can be applied to any newspaper on any day.

A selection of 8 articles has been chosen for this exercise:

  1. Bush tells PM: let’s talk trade, by Brendan Pearson
  2. Counting the cost of the numbers game, by Andrew Clark
  3. Labor play for business support, by Steve Lewis
  4. GST eats at McDonald’s profit – by Simon Evans
  5. Don’t try to explain – just get the advice out, by Paul Cleary
  6. Nats tied in Windsor knot, by Katharine Murphy
  7. Tightening up on donations, Financial Review editorial
  8. Howard’s pick squares the circle, by Tony Walker
***

Page 1 – Foreign Policy

Bush tells PM: let’s talk trade – by Brendan Pearson.

This article reports on a letter delivered yesterday to John Howard from President George W. Bush. It concerns the possibility of a free-trade deal with Australia. Bush is reported as saying “a free-trade deal between the countries would need to be truly substantive and comprehensive and deliver tangible benefits for both countries.”

The article says that “as a quid pro quo, the US would expect a comprehensive deal to address issues of broadcasting, quarantine and the textiles sector, where Australian interests would face greater competition under a free-trade deal.”

The article points out that “the US is Australia’s second-largest trading partner behind Japan. Exports to the US account for 1.4 per cent of Australian Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Two-way trade is about $32 billion annually, but the US enjoys a healthy surplus, selling product worth $23 billion and buying nearly $9 billion in Australian goods.”

The article points out that Australian ministers will continue lobbying Washington over the next week. Treasurer Peter Costello is expected to raise the issue at meetings in Washington of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Relevance to the Foreign Policy topic: Trade is a significant feature of Australian foreign policy. Since the end of the Cold War, it has become more so. Many of Australia’s foreign policy objectives are based around its trading relations with the rest of the world.

Australia’s participation in international organisations is also important. Membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Asia Pacific Economic and Co-Operation Forum (APEC), in addition to the United Nations, are cornerstones of Australia’s international involvements. The IMF and World Bank form part of this web of involvements. This article also highlights the importance economic ministers such as the Treasurer have in Australia’s foreign policy. Equally, relations between heads of government (Bush/Howard) are as important as those involving the Foreign Minister.

***

Page 1 – Political Parties

Counting the cost of the numbers game – by Andrew Clark.

This article is the first of a major series over the coming week about how factions operate in Australian political parties. Clark begins with a comment from the former Liberal Senator Noel Crichton-Browne in which he says of John Howard: “I don’t think anyone is going to save that little bastard, with that little jaw of his jutting out saying ‘I’m not going to do anything I don’t believe in.’ Nobody gives a stuff about what he believes in.”

Clark comments that the significance of the remarks is that “their virulence underlines the danger that personality-based factions pose for the Liberal Party and John Howard. Beyond the polls, State results and political rodomontade (boastful talk or behaviour), factionalism is threatening Australia’s political fabric by throttling much of the talent out of the system.”

Clark quotes one former ALP State secretary as saying that factionalism is “killing the Labor Party right throughout Australia.”

In a number of related pieces, Clark traces the history of factions in the Labor Party and details the current factional make-up of each State branch.

Clark quotes ALP frontbencher, Wayne Swan, and Clem Lloyd, professor of post-graduate journalism: “Real power in the ALP now lies in faction caucuses.” They argue that the national factions “have increased the vulnerability of the ALP to the charge that it is now a careerist party and no longer a mass-based party.”

Clark argues that the factional problem is urgent: “How long can factional mayhem on both sides continue in a country where a sullen electorate has little tolerance for political games and no longer genuflects before the altar of traditional party loyalty?”

Relevance to Political Parties topic: Factionalism is an important element of any examination of Australian political parties. They highlight the way parties work in practice, as well as suggesting ideological differences within the parties. The operation of factions is important to any understanding of how power is exercised in the Australian political system.

***

Page 3 – Political Parties & Pressure Groups

Labor play for business support – by Steve Lewis

This article is extracted from a longer interview with Lawrence, published on page 80 (“Getting aggressive about industry policy”).

This article discusses the ALP’s plans to overhaul the Federal government’s $12 billion procurement budget. Federal, state and local governments spend about $60 billion annually on goods and services, a substantial contribution to the nation’s economy.

Dr. Carmen Lawrence, the ALP’s spokeswoman on Industry and Innovation, has announced plans to offer more generous Research and Development incentives, including a possible 200 per cent “premium rate”. The policy reforsm are aimed at shifting purchasing strategy towards support for local investment and jobs.

Relevance to Political Parties & Pressure Groups and Voting & Elections topic: Earlier this year, the Government announced its $2.9 billion Innovation Statement. This ALP policy gives some indication of the battle for the business vote in this year’s election. It also highlights the ongoing significance of questions concerning globalisation.

Lewis says: “At the heart of the debate over ‘globalisation’ is the concern that small firms, locally based and domestically focused, face an uphill battle competing against the multinational giants.”

The article claims that Lawrence is pursuing a more interventionist approach to industry policy than the coalition, highlighting an important difference in the philosophical approaches of the major parties: “One thing for certain is that Labor will keep bashing away at the big end of town in what is a calculated and populist attack on the banks and over-zealous corporations aimed at firming up the Opposition’s support with Mr and Mrs Parramatta.”

***

Page 6 – Political Parties and Voting & Elections

GST eats at McDonald’s profit – by Simon Evans

This article details a drop in the profit for McDonald’s Australia from $87.3 million a year ago, to “$72.9 million for the 2000 calendar year. It quotes the director of public affairs for McDonald’s as saying: “The GST did have an impact on out business.”

The article points out that Coles Myer’s Red Rooster chain also suffered lower profits in the first half of the current financial year.

The introduction of the GST last July meant that fast food operators and restaurants attracted GST on their offerings for the first time.

The impact of the GST remains an important issue in the forthcoming Federal election. This article suggests that the impact is slowly becoming apparent, perhaps supporting Kim Beazley’s argument that it would be a “slow burning” issue.

***

Page 11 – Parliament & the Executive

Don’t try to explain – just get the advice out – by Paul Cleary.

This article reports on the retirement of the Treasury Secretary, Ted Evans, who ended a 33-year career yesterday. The Prime Minister, Treasurer and Shadow Treasurer all spoke in honour of his departure.

Cleary says: “Although senior ministers claim the bureaucracy’s advice on tax reform will be the undoing of the Howard Government, the Prime Minister’s comments specifically credited the Evans advice on tax reform.”

Cleary says that under Evans the Treasury was “about getting policy outcomes without paying much attention to explaining the need for reform.”

Moreover, Cleary says “Treasury seems to have alienated itself from the community with this style of operation. Mr. Evans probably liked it that way, but Treasury compares poorly with the Reserve Bank, whose four most senior officials maintain an active public profile.

“Treasury also succeeded in shutting down alternative sources of economic advice to the Government under Mr. Evans, such as the Industry Commission, which was swallowed by the Treasury portfolio, as were the Bureau of Industry Economics and the Economic Planning Advisory Council (EPAC).”

Relevance to Parliament & Executive topic:
The role of the public service in providing advice to the government and then implementing government decisions is an important element of the operation of the executive arm of government in Australia. The influence of senior public servants is rarely discussed in the Australian media, yet people like Evans and the current secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Max Moore-Wilton, wield significant power.

***

Page 21 – Voting & Elections

Nats tied in Windsor knot – by Katharine Murphy

This article discusses the independent member for Tamworth in the NSW Parliament, Tony Windsor. Windsor first won his seat in 1992 from the National Party and has held it ever since. He is now considering contesting Gwydir in the federal election. Gwydir is currently held by the leader of the National Party, John Anderson.

According to Murphy, Windsor is in no hurry to declare his intentions in Gwydir, partly because he knows that the National Party will “throw everything at him to hold the seat, which is important in an election that will require only a puff of wind to change the government.”

Windsor is quoted as saying that “there’s money being thrown around all over the place up here… When there’s real competition, politicians can do great things for country people. The pity is they are doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Relevance to Voting & Elections topic:
The role of independent candidates in the forthcoming election could be crucial to the final result. In recent years, the number of people voting for minor parties and independents has risen to around 20% or more in various polls.

Windsor refers to the Government’s decision this week to block the takeover of Woodside by Shell as “evidence of growing competition in the political market-place from non-mainstream groups, but at the same time says there’s a bigger issue to be resolved – a decision about how people want to be represented.”

***

Page 80 – Voting & Elections

Tightening up on donations – Financial Review editorial.

This editorial deals with Australia’s political donations disclosure rules. It argues that the major political parties are all guilty of indulging in schemes to allow donors to remain anonymous.

“One particularly distasteful payment … is the fee paid by industry representatives to meet ministers or shadow ministers. The major parties require paymnets from people who wish to meet ministers and shadow ministers at party conferences, who want to dine with ministers or who hope to work with ministers in the development of party policy. There is even a suggestion that some invitations to dine at the Lodge in Canberra will not be extended more than once unless an appropriate contribution has been made to the party.”

The editorial argues that the Australian Parliament “should develop legislation that makes public the source of all material donations to political parties or candidates, now defined as payments of $1,500 or more, whether the money is paid directly or indirectly, or whether it is a gift, sponsorship or fee for service. Parliament should also ban ministers and other parliamentarians from misusing their office for private purposes.

The Financial Review also discusses recent problems with the AEC’s website where errors have been made in the posting of information about political donations.

This editorial argues that the Australian Electoral Commission “should ensure that political parties have identified all donations reported to the commission and that donors have accounted for all donations included in the returns of political parties. The commission should also support the prosecution of those who should have, but did not, advise the commission accurately of their donations.”

The editorial concludes: “But the urgent task is to safeguard Australia’s democracy by improving the law on political donations. The Federal Parliament has ample time before the federal election to enact bipartisan legislation. The only question is whether the major parties in Parliament believe in full disclosure and appreciate the limitations on those who occupy positions of trust.”

Relevance to Voting & Elections topic:
Electoral laws are an important element of this topic. The laws on public funding and disclosure of political donations contribute to the overall fairness in our electoral system. Attempts by parties and wealthy contributors to disguise the source of party funding strikes at the heart of Australian democracy.

***

Page 83 – The Constitution

Howard’s pick squares the circle – by Tony Walker.

Walker discusses the appointment this week of Archbishop Peter Hollingworth to the Governor-General’s post. Walker says that “there is a chance, as the flaws of this decision seep in, that it will irritate more people than it please, especially those on the mushy Left of the Liberal Party, leaving aside non-Anglicans across the spectrum.”

Walker discusses what Hollingworth might do if he was required to give royal assent to a law “which he found morally repugnant and against the teachings of his church.”

Overall, Walker says that the appointment of Hollingworth is “off-key”, and that Howard should have appointed someone “whose nomination speaks to contemporary Australia”.

“Hollingworth might be a widely respected and eminent Austrlian, as we have read repeatedly over the past few days, but there is something very dated about this appointee. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is an opportuntiy missed – and lost.

“Why Howard did not choose this moment to appoint a woman is mystifying. This, let it be clearly stated, would not have been an appointment for reasons of tokenism, or because it was politically correct, but it would quite simply have been the right thing to do at this stage in our history.”

Walker also discusses the issue of the separation of church and state. He debunks Howard’s argument that Hollingworth’s religion is not an issue because Sir William Deane is a Catholic and Bill Hayden was an atheist. This is disingenuous, says Walker.

“Surely the point is that, of whatever religion the incumbent might have been over the years – and the residents of Yarralumla have included both Protestants and Catholics and two Jews – not one was a man of the cloth. And a reason for that is related to an acceptance of a clear division between church and state, which is a basic tenet of our constitutional system.

“Hollingworth’s appointment risks blurring the edges between the two because, whether fair or not, he will be regarded first and foremost as bishop of the Anglican Church (a position he cannot separate himself from under canon law), and therefore a head of state with non-secular characteristics.

Walker concludes: “The Queen, enjoined by law to ‘join in communion with the Church of England,’ must be delighted – Australia has squared the circle.”

Relevance to The Constitution topic: The position and role of the Governor-General is part of this topic. The appointment of Hollingworth raises a number of interesting questions about the position and power of the Governor-General as representative of the head of State and head of the Executive arm of government.

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