Steve Fielding may block Labor rule

Dennis Shanahan and Patricia Karvelas  - The Australian
The Senate is emerging as a new threat to a stable minority government.   Steve Fielding is threatening to put a Labor government in gridlock next year and Nick Xenophon is vowing to force a new national crackdown on poker machines.   Victorian Senator Fielding, who can hold the Senate to ransom until July 1 next year by voting with the Coalition, has declared the "voters are not happy with Labor", and he has to decide whether to block everything it does.   Anti-poker machine campaigner Senator Xenophon said yesterday he would align with radical new Tasmanian lower house independent MP Andrew Wilkie to create new alliances between the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Smooth sailing for John Brumby after cutting free from Rudd anchor

Milanda Rout - The Australian
Victoria has cemented itself as the nation's Labor state.   The popularity of the Brumby government has increased significantly since dropping to 18-year lows during the last days of Kevin Rudd's tenure.   Despite Julia Gillard's disastrous campaign for the federal election, which has produced a hung parliament, the latest Newspoll figures show that this has not had a negative effect on Labor in Victoria.   The polling, conducted exclusively for The Australian this month and last, shows that Labor's primary vote has increased from 34 per cent to 38 per cent and the Coalition vote has dropped from 40 per cent to 36 per cent since the previous survey. The Greens vote has remained largely unchanged at 17 per cent.

Aussie aid workers under threat

Amanda Hodge  - The Australian
Australian aid workers in Pakistan's flood-devastated southern Punjab region face the stress of militant attack.   This follows new intelligence that the country's Taliban insurgents plan to target foreign relief operations.   In Kot Addu -- the epicentre of the flood area -- heavily armed Pakistani military yesterday lined the perimeter of the football field where Australian Defence Force workers have begun setting up a hospital camp for thousands of residents.   Southern Punjab is already known for militancy, as the birthplace of Lashkar-e-Toiba, the insurgent group strongly suspected of being behind the deadly Mumbai attack of November 2008.

Impatience mounts over slow counting but the numbers look to be with the Coalition

Sid Maher - The Australian
Staff are still going through the last of 11 million votes    The Coalition looks increasingly likely to finish with 73 seats and Labor 72 after the latest counting increased the Coalition's lead in the key seats of Brisbane in Queensland and Hasluck in Western Australia.   While the Coalition had a good day in Hasluck and Brisbane, Labor's Darren Cheeseman increased his lead in the Victorian seat of Corangamite, making Labor likely to finish on 72.   If the trends hold, Julia Gillard will have to win the support of the three country independents, Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, as well as Greens MP Adam Bandt, to retain office.

Devastation gives way to disease in Pakistan

Amanda Hodge  - The Australian
For weeks there has been only water - angry, dirty, destructive.   Now as the floods recede, leaving vast tracts of rural Pakistan covered in still, shallow ponds, a new threat has emerged: malaria.  Hospitals in the country's flood-affected areas are already under intense strain, treating many hundreds of thousands of people with acute gastroenteritis.    New areas across southern Punjab are flooding daily as the waters continue to outrun the capacity of emergency and aid workers to treat the litany of calamities the floods bring.

Tony Abbott risks forcing three independents to the Left, says Bob Brown

Sallie Don - The Australian
Greens senator Bob Brown has called for both parties to include the independents as active players within government.   And he warned Tony Abbott that he risked driving the three independents into the Labor camp.   Senator Brown suggested that the Opposition Leader and Julia Gillard should consider cabinet roles for Green MPs or the three independents.   "If Tony Abbott had his marbles, which he does, I think he would go to those three experienced crossbenchers and give them an active role in government," the Greens leader told the ABC's Lateline program last night.

Coalition plan for rental vouchers

Jacob Saulwick -  SMH
Home owners and renters struggling to pay bills would be handed vouchers under the Coalition's housing policy, potentially marking a radical shift away from state-provided accommodation to direct subsidies of private home ownership.   The Coalition's plan, which does not have a price tag, is to corral state governments into redirecting housing budgets towards vouchers that families can use in private rental or even to pay off their mortgage.    The policy was released on the Liberal Party's website last Thursday night and given little attention in the countdown to Saturday's poll. While the Coalition says the idea is not developed enough to contribute extra money to, it concedes more funding would help make it work.   ''The idea is one that obliviously needs to be negotiated with the states, because effectively it is their money we are talking about, although I suppose the implication is that the Commonwealth would help contribute to this over time to sort of make the idea work,'' the Coalition's housing spokesman, Gary Humphries, said yesterday.

Howard's men and Hawker to advise

Phillip Coorey  -  SMH
After a bout of confusion yesterday, the Liberal Party agreed that two of John Howard's former advisers will advise the three independents on behalf of the Coalition about possible reforms to Parliament, including options for changes to cabinet.    Arthur Sinodinos and Grahame Morris, both of whom served as chief of staff to Mr Howard and who are highly rated as advisers and strategists, will assist the three independents to develop options.   Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter have demanded from each major party a commitment to reform the processes of Parliament. When they met the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, on Wednesday, they requested Labor make available its election strategist, Bruce Hawker, to help them develop options. Ms Gillard agreed.   When they met the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his deputy, Julie Bishop, the trio requested Mr Morris. Mr Abbott did not object but he suggested Mr Sinodinos might be more appropriate given he had a deeper understanding of parliamentary process.

GetUp! open to limits on donations

Tom Arup - SMH
The left-leaning advocacy group GetUp! would welcome limits on its ability to raise money from unions and other groups as part of a reform package for political donations being negotiated between the Coalition and Labor and three key independents.   As part of their seven requests to the parties to help them determine who should form the next government, independent MPs Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter and Tony Windsor are seeking to reform political donations.   The opposition wants that reform to include controls on donations to third-party organisations like GetUp!.

Doctors' religion affects time of death

Julia Medew  - The Age
Non-religious doctors are more likely to make decisions that could hasten a terminally ill patient's death than are religious doctors, a new study suggests.   A survey of 4000 British doctors found that those who described themselves as ''very'' or ''extremely'' non-religious were twice as likely as religious doctors to have provided deep sedation until death, even if it could speed up the patient's dying process.   The results of the survey, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, also showed that non-religious doctors were more likely to have discussed life-shortening measures with patients.   Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics director Justin Oakley said the results suggested religious doctors might not be having frank and open discussions with patients and that some patients might be denied access to care such as deep sedation because of doctors' religious beliefs.

Bandt heralds gay marriage debate

Carol Nader  - The Age
Greens leader Bob Brown has given his strongest indication yet that his party is interested in being part of the next government.   Last night on ABC TV, he said that the Greens had very experienced parliamentarians such as senators Christine Milne and Rachel Siewert.   ‘‘If I were  Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard, I would be thinking what an asset it would be to have talent like that in government,’’ he said.   Today Senator Brown and newly elected Greens member for Melbourne Adam Bandt will have another meeting with the Prime Minister. Mr Bandt has not ruled out accepting a ministerial position in a Gillard government.

Beyond the selfish election

Andrew Hamilton - Eurekastreet
The language of ethics can sometimes sound as arcane as the results of elections are confusing.   One of the sharpest questions for Catholic ethical frameworks, for example, is whether an 'is' can generate an 'ought'. In other words, is it legitimate to argue from a study of the nature of human beings and of the world to the ways in which human beings should behave? For example, may we conclude from the sexual and gender differentiation between women and men and the part that this plays in child rearing that marriage ought to be a stable relationship between a man and a woman?   In the Catholic moral tradition this kind of argumentation is generally accepted. Some other moral traditions claim that it is invalid, and that ethics must proceed differently.   I shall leave that question for the ethicists. But the election campaign and its results also raised sharp questions about the relationship between 'ises' and 'oughts' in the political sphere. They made it clear how fragmented is the political reality of Australia, and how those who orchestrated the campaigns simply worked within the confines of that fragmentation, and indeed jemmied the fault lines further apart.

The Greens plan for Australia: A big Tasmania

Brendan Darcy - The Punch
The Australian Greens is a political party that comes to wreck and to not build.   Their grand plan is to turn Australia, the fourteenth largest economy in the world into Tasmania writ large.   Modern Tasmania lives off the redistributionist largesse of Commonwealth subsidies and public service salaries. Two thirds of the island State is locked up in national parks and its population growth has been historically anaemic for many decades. Through the Hare-Clarke system, development and entrepreneurialism is gridlocked – a happy outcome if you are an advocate of zero population growth and genteel poverty.   Tasmanian Senator and Leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, to my mind, is a real deal deep-green greenie. His first priority is to lock up as much our natural resources and to change our consumerist habits into frugal permaculturists.   His worldview along with his most ardent followers is a mixture of Roussean primitivism and old fashion Puritanism.

Christmas is back on the cards

Parramatta Advertiser
Political correctness has been shown the door at Parramatta Council, with Christmas 2010 promising to be full of Christian messages.   There will be a giant Christmas tree with all the trimmings in the mall and messages of Merry Christmas rather than Seasons Greetings, in a bid to make Parramatta “the Christmas capital of Australia”.    After some councillors baulked at the non-Christian, politically correct message in street decorations and Christmas cards sent out by the council last year, they decided to go all-out to put the “Christ” back into Christmas this year.   And none could be happier than Cr Michael McDermott, who called for the turnaround last year, too late in the season for the Seasons Greetings signs to be changed.   But this year, councillors decided to have new banners with the Christmas message, as well as hire a 9m-tall tree to dominate Church St mall.

Shared care laws damaging many children

Belinda Fehlberg  - The Age
Relationship breakdown affects many Australian families. About 40 per cent of marriages end in divorce and the rate of de facto relationship breakdown is higher. The family law system has a more direct and personal impact on our lives than most other areas of law. Yet in the lead-up to the election, we heard almost nothing about family law reform.   In the meantime, the Howard government's 2006 shared parenting changes to the Family Law Act continue to damage a significant minority of children.   For example, a case recently before the Full Court of Family Court of Australia, known as "Collu & Rinaldo", involved a four-year-old child who had been travelling month-about between Sydney (where his father lived) and Dubai (where his mother lived) for 14 months, while the case awaited court hearing. Why is our family law system so poorly resourced that a case like this must wait so long to be heard? And what encouraged the parents and their legal advisers to think the care arrangements for this child were acceptable, until the appeal was expedited after "medical evidence was presented bout trauma the child suffered during a flight from Sydney to the UAE"?