Gillard’s Renewal and her Golden Day

Dylan Caporn – Opinion

What’s that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No, it’s Julia Gillard and the ALP. Sound surprising? Well, they’re on a roll. The Prime Minister and the Government are flying high today after the final week of sittings for 2011.

US President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Gillard, First Bloke Matheson and Leader Abbott | Source: White House

Gillard looking like a Prime Minister

The week began fresh off the back of the international summit season, which concluded with the East Asian Summit last weekend. The season allowed for Gillard to step back from the tiresome domestic policy debate, and stretch her legs on the international stage, she’s strengthened her perception, and she was recently praised by British Prime Minister David Cameron in a somewhat unorthodox way (Well it was praise nonetheless.)

Last week, the visit by US President Barack Obama saw Gillard also receive a perception boost. The Prime Minister stood next to Obama as they commemorated the 60th anniversary of the alliance between Australia and the US. While Abbott politicised a state occasion (and according to Phil Coorey at the Sydney Morning Herald  has revealed that the speech made some Liberal MPs nervous).  Their relationship together looked warm, and made Gillard seem welcoming and most importantly, Prime Ministerial.

Last week also brought welcome news for the ALP with the latest Newspoll showing that the ALP would only lose the next election, as opposed to being utterly annihilated.

So, buoyed by a successful week last week, Gillard and the ALP were no doubt optimistic about the beginning of the final sitting week for  2011, and with good reason.

Opposition Disunity

The day began with continued discussion of the opposition and its internal stability. Firstly, The Australian revealed that Queensland MP, Peter Slipper, might be shown the door from the party, after not attending a state campaign launch with former PM John Howard, rather opting to show former PM Kevin Rudd around a local school. Secondly, reports  of disunity within the Liberals over their opposition to the mining tax were brushed aside by Tony Abbott in a press conference today. The rumours stem that the MPs are questioning the stance even when a majority of Australians and mining companies support the tax.

Plain Packaging

The government had its first win when the House of Representatives accepted the Senate’s amendments to the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011. The bill –

  • prohibits the use of all tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text on the retail packaging of tobacco products. It allows for the use of a brand and variant name in a standard colour, position, font size and style.
  • mandates that retail packaging of tobacco products be a standard drab dark brown colour, with the exception of health warnings, the brand and variant name and any other relevant legislative requirements
  • makes it an offence to sell, supply, purchase, package or manufacture tobacco products in retail packaging that does not comply with the requirements of the Bill.

Since the legislation’s announcement, the plan has faced fierce opposition from tobacco companies who have vowed to challenge the Government’s ability to remove trademarks from packages.

Philip Morris spokeswoman Anne Edwards says the company has been left with “no option” but to pursue legal action.

“The Government has passed this legislation despite being unable to demonstrate that it will be effective at reducing smoking and has ignored the widespread concerns raised in Australia and internationally regarding the serious legal issues associated with plain packaging,” she said.

Philip Morris says it will seek a suspension on the plain packaging laws as well as compensation for the loss of trademarks.

Mining Tax

However, the issue of the day was the government’s mining tax legislation, which was finally given some security today when Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie ended their Ross and Rachelesque “will they, won’t they” and threw their support behind the legislation.

While Oakeshott and Windsor secured a $200 million package designed to boost environmental safeguards around coal seam gas development, Wilkie sought and received a concession to raise the threshold of the tax from $50 million to $75 million and phase in another increase to $125 million for small companies which the Member for Denison estimates will cost $20 million a year or $100 million over the full five-year estimate.

It is this deal that has the Greens now questioning their support for the legislation with Greens leader, Bob Brown, demanding the tax be “revenue neutral” and the extra money be accounted for.

“Twenty million dollars is 200 or 300 nurses or teachers sacked off the payroll. Andrew Wilkie might explain that to the nurses at the Royal Hobart or the teachers at Ogilvie High,” Senator Brown told reporters.

“Giving a free $20 million back to the mining industry – and these are corporations turning in a profit of over $100 million a year – isn’t something we are going to entertain.

“The bill will have our support if it’s revenue neutral, so it’s up to the Government to be creative in these circumstances. We’re sure they can be.”

Government sources have told PM the Government will offset the $20 million-a-year concession to small miners from somewhere else in the budget and will reveal the funding source when the budget is updated soon and Andrew Wilkie has said that he doubts the Greens will follow through with such a threat.

The mining tax is expected to be put before the House on Thursday, the final day of sitting for 2011.