Tag Archives: James Paterson

Would you like voter suppression with that?


Many Australians are still mightily impressed with the state of our nation, especially when we compare it with our rich and powerful ally, the USA. We have managed to somehow avoid the utter chaos and devastation, which they have endured now, for close to two years, during a once in a century pandemic.

Our Government(s) made plenty of mistakes in handling the pandemic, but nothing on the scale of the criminal negligence President Trump and his Republican Party allies were guilty of. Even now, with Joe Biden attempting to salvage the situation, vaccination appears to be the only way out.

But there are gathering signs that we have a particularly immature, and sadly ill-informed set of ‘parliamentarians’, and their fellow travellers, mainly from the loony-right think tanks, who are keen to import some really bad American ideas. Of course the loony-right think tanks are another import we could do without, but that is another matter entirely; suffice to say we are stuck with them.

One reason the American system has faltered recently is that the traditions and the myths of their origin story have been hi-jacked, and politicised, and the myths have won out, over common sense.

Some bad American ideas

Some examples include the notion of personal liberty outweighing the public good, the belief  that public health systems are socialist, the idea that education is not a basic human right, but something to be purchased.

Other caustic ideas include the notion that imposing regulations and limits on the private sector are always bad, that global warming is rubbish, that welfare paid is money wasted, that citizens should have the right to bear arms, that any relationship, or family, based on anything other than the classic nuclear family is immoral, that reducing taxes on the rich does nothing other than to increase inequality, and that poverty is a sign that a vengeful god is punishing the poor.

There are many other silly ideas, but I want to highlight the matter of voter ID, aka voter suppression, which is definitely on the radar for our very own Trumpist Government.

Voter suppression is a first step to authoritarianism

Voter suppression is an ancient, and honoured tradition in America, and it continues today. Since 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, all men (later broadened to include women) were guaranteed the right to vote. This included men of all races, and specifically former slaves. Southern states, still smarting from their loss in the Civil War, set about limiting black access to the vote. These methods included a poll tax, which charged a fee to lodge a vote. Poor whites could gain an exemption from paying the fee, but not poor blacks.

Literacy tests were also routinely applied, with many more black Americans being excluded than white Americans. This often related to the level of education achieved by black Americans, which was in most cases inferior, if it was even available. But in other cases, the tests applied were selective, with African-Americans often receiving more difficult tests. These measures were gradually phased out during the 1960s, but not before they had disenfranchised generations of otherwise entitled voters.

More recently the Republican Party has refined its methods, to suit the times. In Florida, for example, until recently convicted felons were ineligible to vote. Many with similar names to felons were wrongly purged from the electoral rolls.

That law was reversed in 2018, but the Republican State Government managed to circumvent the intention of the statute, known as Amendment 4, by making restoration of the right to vote almost impossible. In the election of 2000, George W Bush won the country by less than a thousand votes, while convicted felons, and some of those with similar names, were purged from the electoral rolls. Convicted felons were, by a huge margin, more likely to be black, and to vote Democrat.

Although the election last year was not decided by a tiny number of votes, Florida voted for Trump. As many as 1.4 million voters were eligible to be restored to the rolls, but only 300,000 were allowed to register. That is 1.1 million voters disenfranchised. That would make a difference to the result.

That couldn’t happen here

Of course that could never happen here, or could it? We have no voter fraud here, so there could be no reason to change the voting rules. Well, yes it could happen here. As Caitlin Fitzsimmons reported in the Herald Sun in January this year, the federal government’s joint standing committee on electoral matters recently included a recommendation to require ID to vote, and another recommendation to require ID to enrol or change address. The chair of the committee is Senator James Paterson, an ex-IPA director. He thinks if he has to show ID in a club, why not when voting?

Liberal members of the committee made similar recommendations in their reports on the 2013 and 2016 elections as well. They quoted several submissions in support, from the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), and others. Labor and the Greens opposed the recommendations, but they were outvoted.

There is a cynical reason for such a simple rule. The more disadvantaged you are, the more difficult it is to conform to what look like petty requirements. And the ID of choice for the majority of Australians is the driver’s licence. Petty for you, and me, but not if you have insecure housing, or are forced to live on the starvation line, or if you are fleeing domestic violence. And many disadvantaged people do not own, or drive, a car. That means they probably don’t own a licence, and yet they may need to buy some form of photo ID, in order simply to vote.

The Liberals think that the disadvantaged are more inclined to vote for Labor, so any measure which makes voting or registering to vote more difficult, is a good thing. There is a reason why most Australians despise the IPA and its ilk. They appear to be staffed by strangely inadequate individuals who dream of making life difficult, in a range of petty ways, for the vulnerable.  

In the case of instituting Voter ID for Australia, we would need to accommodate Australia’s system of compulsory voting, and compulsory enrolment to vote. That would arguably force the Electoral Commissions, state and federal, to implement inclusion measures such as provision of regulated photo ID for anyone who needs it. Obviously that would send the cost of elections through the roof. This is another example of unintended consequences, caused by allowing inexperienced, or simply shallow twits, to write policy.

Meet John Roskam, our real Prime Minister


I had heard bits and pieces about the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) for years, but I had always associated them with tired old culture warriors, like Gerard Henderson, maybe Bob Santamaria.

What were the 75 ideas about?

Three members of the IPA had written a ‘manifesto’ or wish list, which they had addressed to Tony Abbott, a year out from his elevation to Prime Minister. It was ‘delivered’ online, in 2012. Read it here https://ipa.org.au/ipa-review-articles/be-like-gough-75-radical-ideas-to-transform-australia

It invoked Whitlam as our most transformative leader, but not in any admiring sense. Its message was that, for Abbott to be remembered well, he needed to be the antidote to the ‘poison’ that Whitlam had injected into Australia’s political system. He needed to emulate Whitlam’s prompt actions, if elected. He would need to act with speed, as they had a program, ready to go.

What was Abbott’s response?

One would expect that he would thank them politely for their advice, and then proceed to do exactly as his party wanted. That would include governing for all Australians, and sticking to his, and the party’s, policies and the expectations which they had aroused. Australians have always voted for the ‘sensible centre’, and they were certainly not voting for any sort of ‘radical’ party.

Abbott’s response was both shocking, and surprisingly open. He responded during a speech, delivered at the IPA’s 70th Anniversary Dinner at the National Gallery of Victoria, which included the immortal line, “So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big fat yes to many of the 75 specific policies you urged upon me.” Of course, he became Australia’s Prime Minister the next year.

But thank God for the IPA – here they were with a shopping list of neo-liberal ideas, and, being unelected, their ideas were, in many cases, borderline sociopathic.

Abbott appears to have taken their ‘manifesto’ more seriously than the writers had. They had presented it as a wish list, and the tone suggests their expectations were not high. They even outlined the ‘softer’ option, which consisted of a ‘steady as she goes, probably win another term, then act’. That was included in the paper, should he find their suggestions too radical.

Why did he accept their plan?

Abbott was never known for his abilities in the policy area. He was more of an attack dog, very able in the area of creating slogans, and engendering fear in the community, but policy – not really.

It is difficult to explain why Abbott was so accepting of such a radical makeover of Australia’s political paradigm. I have always thought of Tony Abbott as something of a time-server, a careerist, and being on the right side was enough for him. He was never a reformer. He was for, or against, things. His religion often set his priorities for him.

The best guess I can come up with is that he woke up one day, and discovered that he was the Leader of the Opposition. Remember the ridicule and the outrage when he won that particular vote? It was typically shambolic, like most of what Abbott has done – he ascended to the leadership by tricking Joe Hockey into believing that he would not run, and then he did. [Something of a playbook for a later run by Scott Morrison.]

Part of the outrage was that he had defeated Malcolm Turnbull, who was seen as a gentleman, an urbane and distinguished lawyer, who had decided to provide, pro bono, some adult supervision for the country. So Abbott had climbed the greasy pole, almost by accident, and then we saw him at his instinctive best – a wrecker, by three word slogan.

So, watching the Labor Party self-destruct, Abbott, over time, firmed as favourite to succeed to the top job. Notwithstanding his quiver full of degrees from Sydney, and even Oxford, he was given very little respect, or credibility, for his abilities, other than as a political brawler. The only work qualification he had was as an unremarkable journalist, and then a long term [19 years & counting, in 2012] as a parliamentarian.  

Maybe he was just lazy. He had a stellar education, but all he had really achieved was to be, at the time, known as the world’s worst health minister, called out by Julia Gillard for his misogyny, a series of really embarrassing public gaffes, and a penchant for punishing physical exercise. He had a reputation as a Catholic warrior, and he was a climate science denier. Why not go along with a ready-made basket of policies, something put together by boffins, from a respectable conservative outfit. He could claim them as his own, and proceed into power.

How did that go?

It was disastrous. The list, translated into an actual budget, caused chaos. It was never anything but a ‘boys’ own fantasy’, put together by three young men whose work histories consisted  mainly of working for think tanks, or for politicians.

James Paterson was 24 years old in 2012, which suggests that he was a little inexperienced to be writing a grown-up country’s political plan. Chris Berg is an academic, I think, of unknown age, who is an ‘expert’ in Block Chain Innovation. He is also a think tank veteran. John Roskam was 44 years of age when the plan was written, and he has worked for several politicians, and two think tanks. He also did PR for a mining company.

He has tried for Liberal Party pre-selection, but he has failed to win. One wonders why he would bother, considering he has an entire Government at his disposal. One thing he does well: He is very good at getting on the radio and television, and considering his seeming fear and loathing for the ABC, he has managed to obtain lots of exposure on the national broadcaster. Is that known as biting the hand that feeds you?

What are some of the things they succeeded in?

It is eerie to work one’s way through this simple, simplistic shopping list, because so many of the items can be ticked off, as having been completed, or at least attempted. I would describe most, if not all of them, as reactionary, elitist and nasty. I can’t say if that nastiness is intentional, or just not thought through.

Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it. Tick

Abolish the Dept of Climate Change. Tick

Cease subsidising the car industry. Tick

Repeal the mining tax. Tick

Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states. Tick

Cease funding the Australia Network. Tick

Privatise Medibank. Tick

It seems like the sort of list that very young, privileged brats would produce, before they actually encountered some real life. Let us just say it is a work of stupendous lightness, and the Liberal Party has been captured by it for nearly eight years now. I have sometimes idly wondered where Abbott got such a witches’ brew of pettiness for his 2014 Budget.

I do not see one thing that would materially improve the life of a single citizen. All I see is self-aggrandisement writ large, with not a thought for the weak or the vulnerable. We have been blaming Abbott, Hockey, Cormann, Morrison and Dutton for a long time, but they are just dupes of three would-be intellectuals, who wouldn’t know what the words mutual obligation meant.

So the IPA gave Abbott a plan for Australia. And he bought it!