Electioneering comes first
Last Wednesday's National Press Club address by Julia Gillard, billed as an outline of the government's policies before the 2013 federal poll, was eclipsed by her surprise announcement of a September 14 election - as she must have known it would be.
For the record, the speech did foreshadow a number of policy initiatives: the release of an industry and innovation statement "in coming weeks'', an attempt to get agreement at April's COAG meeting for the implementation of the national plan for school improvement, and the announcement of structural savings before and in the budget. Also flagged was the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in July, though this hardly counts as a "new'' policy goal.
"This is the work of 2013,'' intoned Ms Gillard. "Governing first, electioneering second.''
Actually, as the many motherhood statements in the Prime Minister's speech made clear, the government considers its primary work of 2013 to be winning re-election. Ms Gillard might have argued to the contrary, declaring that it would be "clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning'', but it is obvious to most voters that last Wednesday marked the start of a 228-day election campaign. With everything that has occurred since - the arrest of former Labor MP Craig Thomson, the extraordinary revelations at the ICAC inquiry in Sydney, and the retirements of Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans - being seen through the prism of electoral advantage and disadvantage, it is hard to argue otherwise.
On Tuesday, before Parliament had sat for the first time in 2013 (and ignited by weekend opinion polls revealing that Labor's vote is going backwards), speculation swept Capital Hill that Kevin Rudd was again dusting off his leadership ambitions. In question time, in response to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's query about when the government expected to produce a budget surplus, the Prime Minister could do little better than repeat trite statements about maintaining a focus on jobs and economic growth.
The chances that Labor will govern for a full term with firm resolve and a preparedness to make tough decisions, as Ms Gillard pledged in 2010, now look remote. In this era of the 24-hour news cycle and constant opinion polling, all parties are guilty of occasionally putting political survival ahead of the national interest. But no party has ever sought to institutionalise politicking for seven months. Voters have every reason to feel peeved.
ccording to the outspoken Dick Smith, wealthy Australians - particularly merchant bankers and businessmen/entrepreneurs flush with cash from a liquidity event - are not particularly given to public philanthropy. A growing number of Australia's nouveau riche have made significant bequests to cultural, medical or educational institutions in recent years. Others have set up private foundations similar to those established by noted American philanthropists Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates and with the intention, like them, of giving away most of their fortunes before they die.
The latest is Graham Tuckwell, a financial entrepreneur whose foundation (set up together with his wife, Louise) has just given $50 million to the Australian National University for the establishment of an undergraduate scholarship fund.
The new scholarship scheme will enable 25 students from across Australia to study at the ANU each year, with the bursaries worth $100,000 per student over five years.
His is not a familiar name to many Canberrans, though he was born and educated here. But those people who read the financial press or who are aware of the growth in global exchange-traded commodities (in which Mr Tuckwell was something of an innovator) certainly know of him - along with the fact that he entered the BRW Rich 200 list last year with an estimated fortune of $775 million.
Australians as a group place a premium on reserve and modesty, but when wealthy Australians are willing to give back to the nation and society that gave them the opportunity to create wealth it is only right that they be applauded - and emulated.