Abbott’s slippery slope

With the Coalition looking scandalous after the Slipper case, it's time for it to focus on policy not sleaze. It can start by making the Energy Savings Initiative a major component of 'Direct Action'.

Well we’ve now got through yet another shameful episode in Australian politics over the Peter Slipper affair, but it’s not a government that has “died of shame”, rather it is the Coalition that looks scandalous. 

One hopes that this will finally signal the end of Abbott’s ridiculous campaign of drama and exaggeration on matters better left to a soap opera than our Parliament.

Instead we might finally get some focus from his party on policy detail. This might include, for example, how Australia will address its appalling performance on energy productivity – something that is being largely ignored at present by both sides of politics. 

In reading through the judgement from the court on Slipper’s request to have Mr Ashby’s sexual harassment case dismissed as an abuse of process, one has to think it would come as a wake-up call about the dangers of engaging in sleaze rather than policy.

The court in particular noted that Ashby’s claim included information that was clearly designed to harm Slipper’s reputation, rather than support Ashby’s claim of harassment. The judge noted:

“I am satisfied that these proceedings are an abuse of the process of the Court. The originating application was used by Mr Ashby for the predominant purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper. It contained the scandalous and irrelevant 2003 allegations [that Slipper has sexually assaulted another staff member] and assertion about intended reporting of the Cabcharge allegations [that Slipper misused government-supplied Cabcharges for personal gain] to the police.

“ Even though Mr Ashby has now abandoned the 2003 and Cabcharge allegations in their entirety, they did the harm to Mr Slipper that Mr Ashby and Mr Harmer intended when those allegations were included in the originating application. A party cannot be allowed to misuse the Court’s process by including scandalous and damaging allegations, knowing that they would receive very significant media coverage.”

This court case has ultimately acted to tarnish the Coalition more generally. This is because Ashby’s court action was aimed at assisting the Coalition and in undertaking the action he sought the input of senior members of the LNP, including Queensland Energy Minister, Mark McArdle, and former minister in the Howard Government, Mal Brough. In his judgement the judge stated:

“The evidence established that Mr Ashby acted in combination with Ms Doane [a Coalition adviser] and Mr Brough when commencing the proceedings in order to advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough. Mr Ashby and Ms Doane set out to use the proceedings as part of their means to enhance or promote their prospects of advancement or preferment by the LNP, including by using Mr Brough to assist them in doing so.”

Abbott’s poor popularity in the polls is clearly a function of his constant negativity and efforts to focus on drama rather than policy substance. He must urgently shift attention to real policy if he is to lift his standing with the electorate.

On this point there is a prize opportunity for the Coalition to seize the idea of providing better incentives for the uptake of energy efficient products and services in this country.

A few days ago the government released a range of reports providing detailed analysis of the potential for cost effective improvements in energy efficiency in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. The opportunity for households and businesses to save money from more efficient use of energy is huge.

But at present these opportunities are not being taken up because, for the most part, people and businesses focus their limited time and attention on things that have a larger impact on them than saving a few bucks on their energy bills. For all the whinging and moaning about energy bills, the reality is that for the vast majority of households and businesses, the 3 per cent of their budget going to electricity and gas isn’t big enough for them to put much effort into how to use it more efficiently.  

The public service has been beavering away in the background developing a detailed policy design for how we might better tap this opportunity. Yet it is an unloved orphan. The government prefaces each policy document it recently released with the statement,

The Australian government is undertaking further design work on a possible national Energy Savings Initiative (ESI). Reports, such as the one which is provided below, have been prepared by consultants to assist with this work. However:

-- No decision has been made about whether a national ESI will be introduced;

-- The report should not be interpreted as reflecting government thinking on the design of a possible national ESI (for example, comments by consultants about the eligibility of activities for creating certificates should not be interpreted as a proposed list of eligible activities under a possible national scheme); and

-- The report should not be interpreted as a commitment by government to a policy or course of action.

The Coalition could very easily take this Energy Savings Initiative and integrate it as a major component of its Direct Action policy. In addition it could be taking the government to task on why it has let this initiative languish, when it could provide practical assistance to households and businesses facing large electricity price rises.

This is where the Coalition should be focussing its attention, instead of the very slippery approach of sleaze and smear. But it means they need to stop trying to label everything as an electricity tax.

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