Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – Abbott’s Budget heralds an early federal election

This week’s Federal Budget was not about Australia’s economic future. And it wasn’t about the future of the country either.
Its overriding purpose was to rescue Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It was the “Save Abbott” budget.
It sets the stage for a snap federal election between now and the end of the year. He has to cut and run before the economy tanks further and the wildly optimistic Budget forecasts turn sour.
His utter desperation was palpable in every scripted line of the Budget Speech. It was a reversal of everything contained in his first budget which had bluntly expressed his adherence to the reactionary philosophy of “free market capitalism”.
In the lead-up to the current Budget, Abbott toured every State and Territory talking to backbenchers and campaign donors. There was a photo opportunity every day – Abbott with farmers, fishermen, school students, pre-schoolers, pensioners and small factory owners. (No university students, however, and every venue carefully selected and the media informed at the last minute to avoid alerting protesters.)
His national tour was like a mini-campaign. He used it to tell active party members that he had “learned” from February’s party room challenge – the “near-death experience” – and he had “changed”.
Abbott’s hope is that Labor, the Greens, the remaining PUP and the other mavericks frustrate his Budget in the Senate.
This will provide the trigger for him to call a snap election saying the Government’s second budget is being sabotaged, the economy is being held to ransom and the nation’s security is being undermined.
It is high risk. The Mad Monk is distrusted within his own Liberal Party and disliked by most Coalition MPs and many Liberal voters, particularly women, older voters and young people.
But with Labor’s Bill Shorten offering no serious alternative, Abbott reckons he can bulldoze his way to a second term. English Prime Minister David Cameron’s victory over the anaemic Ed Miliband has only strengthened his crusade.

Editor’s call to alms

Peter Rose, editor of Australian Book Review, has committed his monthly magazine to doubling the rate it pays to contributors.
For a cash-strapped literary publication that survives on the generosity of private patrons, corporate partners, readers and publishers’ advertising this is a grand, courageous and highly commendable decision.
In this month’s editorial, Rose says that ABR’s rates for book reviews have doubled in the past two years but are still inadequate.
He is critical of magazine publishing in general, writing: “Young aspirants tell me how rare it is to be paid at all [his emphasis]. Too often, young critics are expected to write for nothing, with some hazy promise of payment down the track.
“Outstanding young critics have talked to me quite openly about having to give up reviewing simply because they can’t afford to keep on doing it.
“What other industry holds that the most effective way to foster talent, to advance young careers, and to loyalty is by withholding payment for years?”
Rose will start to double ABR’s rate “incrementally” because “we have a will and a responsibility”.
“If we don’t do something to correct this neglect, we will alienate young writers and end up with a diminished literary culture.”
ABR, which was launched in 2010, is a wonderful publication. Its reviews are the best in the country chiefly because they don’t carry the flavour of “doing old mates a favour” which is woefully evident in book pages of our much-diminished newspapers.
What can you do? Subscribe to ABR and send it a donation if you can afford it. It will be a mind-liberating experience.

Oz art to Palestine

Ali Kazak, the former PLO ambassador to Australia, has donated his remarkable collection of 32 paintings and 450 posters and historic photographs to the Palestinian Museum being built at Ramallah on the Israel-occupied West Bank.
Kazak began collecting Palestinian embroidery and handicrafts such as wood and mother-of-pearl engravings, ceramics, old Palestinian money, stamps and jewellery in the early 1970s.
Over the years the exhibition has been shown at major Australian museums and universities including the Sydney Opera House, the Power House Museum, the Canberra Museum and Gallery and the South Australian Museum.
The paintings are by Australian, Arab and Palestinian artists, including Janet Venn-Brown (whose partner Wael Zuaiter, the Palestinian representative in Italy, was assassinated by Israeli Mossad spies in 1972), Robert Birch, Michael Fitzjames, Memnuna Vila-Bogdanich, Kamal Boulata, Vladimir Tamari, Yousef Asar, the renowned Australian cartoonists Bruce Petty and Alan Moir.
The photographs are by Frank Hurley, who was the official photographer in Palestine in 1918 with the Australian Light Horse and Flying Corps, from the collection of the Australian War Memorial of Australian troops in Palestine during World War One.
Kazak, who now lives in Canberra, said: “When I arrived to Australia I was shocked to find so much ignorance on the Arabs in general and the Palestinian question in particular.
“The Israeli narrative and their falsification of history and the conflict were completely dominant and this is what prompted me to actively educate the Australian public on the Palestine question.”
You won’t be surprised to learn that the exhibition’s passage to the Palestinian Museum in the Occupied Territories was subjected to frustrating delays and Israeli Army red tape. Happily, it is now home.

Dental fraud revisited

In August 2012, then Health Minister Tanya Plibersek faced the media standing alongside Greens health spokesman Dr Richard Di Natale to announce a new policy for dental care.
They announced a jaw-dropping $4 billion dental health package. It offered subsidised dental care to children and adults on low incomes and those living in rural areas.
Plibersek said three million children would be eligible under the scheme but there was an additional catch – the six-year plan would not start until 2014. In other words, the Labor Government would have to be re-elected if it were ever to be implemented. It wasn’t, and the long-promised dental reform crashed and hasn’t been heard of since.
Plibersek was able to make the headline-grabbing announcement – some media called it Denticare but it wasn’t – because she had the backing of the Greens who were still in a quasi-coalition with federal Labor.
As the Greens health spokesman, Dr Di Natale supported the $4 billion dental package but at a price – he backed the axing of the Medicare chronic disease dental scheme costing about $1 billion annually.
In other words, Di Natale was prepared to give Labor a $1 billion Medicare “saving” to grab some kudos for a “pie in the sky” scheme which fell well short of a universal dental scheme under Medicare.
To make matters worse, the existing chronic disease dental scheme had been operating for many years very successfully and with the cooperation of the dental profession. In short, Plibersek and Di Natale were axing a primitive but promising scheme and replacing it with …. nothing.
As announced, the chronic disease dental scheme was axed on 30 November 2012 (by Labor and the Greens) and not resurrected by Abbott, a former health minister, who always regarded the scheme
as “too generous”.
There was a further downside. The Plibersek package was only available for those between two and 17, i.e. unavailable to poor people between 18 and 65.
As health writer Amanda Briggs noted at the time: “A number of issues were not fully addressed at today’s announcement. These include what happens to those patients with chronic conditions with the closure of CDDS (chronic disease dental scheme), who may not be eligible for the expanded public dental services.” (Flagpost, 29.8.2012)
I hope Di Natale’s involvement in this tawdry affair doesn’t foreshadow the calibre of his leadership style.


  1. I was talking about the chronic diseases dental program with my nursing students recently and they said that some of their mental health patients are still getting the benefit of it. But yes Alex, Labor announced this knowing that it depended on them getting re elected. And Di Natale’s interest in talking to Abbott is worrying.

  2. I think you are right to suggest the Budget is more about saving the Abbott government rather than saving the nation. It takes courage to think long-term, an d this concept is absent from Australian politics. Bill Shorten was even worse, his spending trajectory make’s Gillard look cautious. Silly Fran Kelly complimented Shorten for showing bipartisanship in supporting the small business package. That’s not what he did, he was saying, “look at me I can spend even more than you!’. Two points lost in all this (a) the government( or rather the states) gets back immediately $2000 in GST for every $20,000 spent by small business, and most businesses won’t be able to claim 100% of the cost of every item purchases, and (b) the move won’t create entrepreneurship, because successful entrepreneurs usually go overseas, as there is no satisfactory finance system for them in this country.

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