return to Hot Off the Press list

More on the need for Labor to DO SOMETHING, including by current ALP President but she says nothing about policies.

ACTU head rightly sees trouble coming from the Royal Cn, which starts today. Note that former Victorian President of AWU, who spent 3.5 hours with RC, claims Shorten was involved in a “cover up” when head of AWU.

Action taken by FWBC to prevent rights of entry of leading union officials in the building industry points the direction in which reforms are needed across the board.

More detail on trade agreements indicate that Abbott/Robb have achieved better access than expected but the Japanese still retain considerable protection in the agricultural area.

Important Indonesian elections start today and suggest shift away from the current President’s party. Not clear what the implications are but not one of the five Islamic parties.



Somebody tell Labor it’s in big trouble

Article by Dennis Shanahan published in The Australian, April 9, 2014

JUST what does have to happen to the Labor Party to convince its parliamentary leaders they are in trouble and have to change?

It’s as if Labor’s worst result on record in Western Australia is some bolt out of the blue that is now the excuse for internal ALP reform and policy reappraisal.

That the WA Greens are on parity with the ALP in the Senate is not a revelation, it’s the predictable result at the end of a long line of disasters.

Indeed, Labor won only one seat in the Senate in Western Australia on September 7 last year when the ALP was thrown out of government.

It’s only because Kevin Rudd convinced Labor and the public that because the thumping loss wasn’t as bad as it could have been that there has been a lack any real moves towards reform or change within the ALP.

In Rudd’s own seat Labor lost ground at the by-election and since then Labor lost Tasmania and barely held on in South Australia. What’s the surprise about the West Australian Senate election re-run?

Labor has been too slow to accept reality and start the hard work of changing internally and looking afresh at its policies.

To his enduring credit Labor elder John Faulkner has spoken out publicly against the corruption in Labor ranks.

He has acknowledged that the corruption in NSW is not a “few bad apples” but the result of a culture dominated by factional war lords and union bosses.

With a long history of fighting corruption and urging reform he has again called for Labor to become relevant and vital. Policy changes and recognition of defeat must follow.

ALP president Jenny McAllister calls for party reform

Article by Troy Bramston and Stefanie Balogh published in The Australian, April 9, 2014

LABOR faces increasing pressure to overhaul its archaic candidate selection processes, with national president Jenny McAllister calling on faction and union bosses to cede power to members as elder John Faulkner urged rule changes to stamp out corruption.

In the wake of Labor’s disastrous performance in the re-run of the West Australian Senate election, Ms McAllister is pushing for an end to the system of union bosses and faction leaders selecting upper house candidates.

Ms McAllister describes Labor’s Senate preselection process as “broken” and argues the test of any internal reform must be whether it increases the party’s membership and delivers “the best candidates” to advocate progressive ideas.

Writing exclusively in The Australian today, Ms McAllister calls for “fundamental reform” to the party’s rules and culture, ­urging the party’s members be given a greater say in internal decision-making.

“Labor’s vote in Western Australia’s Senate election suggests we have a long way to go to meet our two goals — winning elections and fighting and winning the battle of ideas,” she writes.

“Union leaders, parliamentarians and faction leaders who exercised enormous power under the old model need to accept that the old ways have to change. We need to move to a system that allows far more people to have a say in who represents Labor in the Senate.”

Critics within Labor have blamed the preselection of lead Senate candidate Joe Bullock, the secretary of the WA branch of the powerful Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union, for the loss of votes in the state.

Senator Faulkner, one of the key figures behind Labor’s 2010 post-election national review and a long-time advocate for internal reform, has echoed Ms McAllister’s calls to reform the party’s top-down preselection processes.

The Labor elder said he would pursue ambitious rule changes in NSW at the July state conference to break the stranglehold of factions, increase transparency and democracy and improve integrity measures. Senator Faulkner wants to open the party’s preselection processes for the NSW Legislative Council and the Senate to all members “so as to transfer the power of preselection from just a small number of faction leaders into the hands of all the members of the party’’.

“We must introduce rules changes not just to stamp out corruption but to strengthen the future of our party and our capacity to government,’’ he said.

But the push to empower Labor’s rank-and-file members to elect the party’s upper house candidates is already facing resistance, particularly within the party’s Right faction. Ms McAllister and Senator Faulkner are from the party’s Left faction.

“NSW Labor has led the push for internal party reform,” NSW Labor secretary Jamie Clements told The Australian last night.

“We are very proud of our Senate team. The current system sees upper house candidates elected by over 800 people at our ­annual conference. This process has produced senators of the calibre of Bob Carr, John Faulkner, Sam Dastyari and Deb O’Neill.”

Bill Shorten had planned to deliver a major speech two days ago to kickstart a campaign for party reform, but was forced to postpone it after the sudden death of his mother, Ann.

The Opposition Leader has said he will take up the issue when he returns from leave.

His first step had been to flag a proposal to loosen the link ­between unions and the ALP by allowing non-union members to the join the party.

NSW Labor is reeling from the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption revelations involving former factional warlord Eddie Obeid, from the Right, and former state minister Ian Macdonald, from the Left.

“Corrupt individuals have tainted our party and diminished the contribution of the hard-working men and women who belong to and support Labor, right across NSW,’’ Senator Faulkner said.

He warned against “window dressing’’, saying the party needs real change because its preselection system “rewards intrigue, trading favours and doing deals’’.

“Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald or their ilk would not be able to win preselection in a genuinely democratic process where all party members cast a vote. Their success depended on nothing but factional anointment; they required no support beyond the leadership of a faction,’’ he said.

The pressure on Labor to ­reform its candidate selection processes, make the party more transparent and broaden its membership comes as it is consigned to opposition federally and in every state apart from South Australia.

On Saturday, Labor secured just 21.8 per cent of the vote in the re-run of the Senate election in Western Australian.

The selection of Mr Bullock as Labor’s lead candidate has been attacked within the party by MPs from the Left and Right factions. There is also criticism of Labor’s campaign messaging, led by the party’s national secretariat. The slogan “restore the balance” has been widely ridiculed.

Ms McAllister backs Mr Shorten’s goal of more than doubling the party’s membership to 100,000, but says this ambition will not be achieved without opening up the party’s processes to more internal democracy and undergoing cultural change.

Union boss Dave Oliver lashes probe ‘circus’

Article by Ewin Hannan and Brad Norington published in The Australian, April 9, 2014

Dave Oliver said the commission’s terms of reference showed its narrow focus and unions had no confidence that the “sword will cut both ways’’. Source: News Corp Australia

TONY Abbott is delivering for “radical ideologues that hate unions’’ by proceeding with the Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption, ACTU secretary Dave Oliver has declared.

Mr Oliver last night accused the federal government of using the commission, which begins hearings today, to create a “political circus’’ to smear and damage the union movement.

Unions have complained that they have been given an unrealistically short timeframe to submit up to seven years of financial records.

It is understood some have been given a “grace period’’ of two weeks to meet the deadline to submit a huge amount of documents.

Union officials expressed concern yesterday that critics with an “axe to grind’’ would be given a platform to air damaging allegations designed to embarrass current senior officials.

The ACTU has written to royal commissioner John Dyson Heydon expressing concern that restrictions have been placed on the cross-examination of witnesses who give evidence.

Mr Oliver said the commission’s terms of reference showed its narrow focus and unions had no confidence that the “sword will cut both ways’’, as promised by Employment Minister Eric Abetz.“

As the commission is requesting specific details of “slush funds’’ set up by unions, many in the labour movement believe the real target of proceedings is Bill Shorten, who led the Australian Workers Union and was involved in fundraising and factional politics before entering parliament at the 2007 federal election.

The Opposition Leader attended fundraising dinners for Industry 2020, a slush fund run by his successor as Victorian AWU secretary Cesar Melhem with at least $500,000 in contributions from employers, unions and law firms.

Also of interest will be what Mr Shorten might have known about the history of a slush fund run by Bruce Wilson, a former Victorian AWU Victorian secretary and ex-boyfriend of Julia Gillard.

Ms Gillard insists she had no knowledge of the fund’s operations, and Mr Shorten says events involving Mr Wilson occurred before he was a senior AWU official.

One whistleblower, former AWU Victorian president Bob Kernohan, says Mr Shorten “was there at the time it happened’’.

He said yesterday he had spent almost 3½ hours with lawyers assisting the royal commission this week to tell them what he knew.

He claimed Mr Shorten’s role should be examined because he had “done the wrong thing’’ by participating in a “cover-up’’.

A spokesman for Mr Shorten said Mr Kernohan had made similar allegations in the past that were “completely untrue’’.

Union leaders banned from building sites

Article by Stephen Drill published in the Herald Sun, April 9, 2014

BUILDING and electrical union leaders have been banned from construction sites across the country in the latest crackdown on illegal entry.

The building industry watchdog has listed 18 people on its website, including CFMEU secretary John Setka and ETU secretary Troy Gray, who do not have valid right-of-entry permits.

The permits allow union leaders to visit a building site to conduct meetings.

It comes after the Master Builders Association listed photographs of CFMEU officials on its website in February to allow building companies to stop them from coming on to sites.

And CFMEU officials Mick Powell and Joe Myles, who are on the FWBC list, have both been arrested in recent weeks for trespassing on building sites.

Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate director Nigel Hadgkiss said union officials must have correct permits.

“Since I started as FWBC Director in October 2013, we have seen several very serious alleged breaches of Right of Entry,” he said.

Mr Hadgkiss said that employers had a right to demand to see permits before union officials entered a site.

“It is within your right to request to see and inspect the original permit. It is not enough for the official to flash the permit at you. You are entitled to, and should, inspect it,” he said.

But Mr Gray said that the list included “hard working” officials.

“It’s no surprise that some of the hardest working officials in Victoria are on that list,” he said.

“We’ll continue to defend the living standards of our members.”

CFMEU agrees to slash wages in WA

Article by Jonathan Barrett published in the Australian Financial Review, 9 April, 2014

The CFMEU’s draft enterprise bargaining agreement for WA, obtained by The Australian Financial Review, offers employers reduced wage rates and cuts to redundancy, union training levy and income protection contributions.

Western Australian construction workers are facing a dramatic post-boom correction to wages and conditions, with a new union-agreement reducing labour costs for employers by up to 20 per cent.

The CFMEU’s draft enterprise bargaining agreement for WA, obtained by The Australian Financial Review, offers employers reduced wage rates and cuts to redundancy, union training levy and income protection contributions.

The proposed agreement is widely seen as a conciliatory and necessary response by the CFMEU that had arguably priced itself out of the market during the past half decade, and ceded major projects to non-unionised builders such as Leighton Holdings’ John ­Holland division.

Master Builders Association of WA industrial spokesman Kim Richardson said the draft EBA recognised the “reality” of the market conditions.

“It’s an unusual position for the CFMEU to make a concession,” Mr Richardson said. “The union, to its credit, has taken on a more pragmatic approach. The most recent union draft EBA is a major step forward in the union accepting the reality of the market that employers who sign up to a union EBA and employ union members have to compete and work in.”

Hourly rates are reduced, with ­carpenters taking a 9 per cent hourly cut, from $37.72 an hour under the old EBA to $34.26 an hour.

Building representatives who have analysed the draft agreement say the total labour savings are closer to 20 per cent, given reduced payments to expenses that include the union training levy, which falls from $27.80 a week per employee to $12 a week.

Wages and conditions rocketed in WA during the iron ore boom, as record mining project investment created a shortage in construction staff for both the resources and building sectors.

Many commercial builders blamed mining companies for not training enough of their own workforce, which led to unsustainable wage increases for the construction sector.

Union agreements reflected the rapid increases, before non-unionised workforces started pinching major Perth construction contracts that would traditionally go to CFMEU-­preferred builders, such as Brookfield Multiplex.

CFMEU WA state secretary Mick Buchan said in a statement that he recognised there needed to be a “structural adjustment” due to the contraction of major construction work. He said there had been a “race to the bottom on wages and conditions” and that the union could help establish one level-playing field to create as many jobs as possible with good wages and conditions.

AMP capital chief economist Shane Oliver said it was unusual for EBAs to offer a reduction in pay.

“Typically they go up in the good times, and are flat in the slow times,” Mr Oliver said. “But this was an unusually strong cycle, and wages had to come off such a high rate.”

The draft agreement, which is being distributed to major builders and sub-contractors, is designed to replace the CFMEU’s 2011-2014 EBA.

The new agreement would expire in June 2017.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive Deidre Willmott said CFMEU-negotiated wages and conditions were still too high, with some union builders being undercut by rivals by up to 40 per cent on major project bids.

“They still need to be more realistic,” Ms Willmott said.

“Where wages have gone up unrealistically, they will need to come down.”

Non-unionised employers appear to be able to undercut the CFMEU agreement by offering fewer, or no rostered days off – as opposed to the union’s ­fortnightly RDO.

Rail workers win $9000 annual bonus

Article by Mathew Dunckley published in the Australian Financial Review, 9 April, 2014

Engineering workers building Sydney’s new $8.3 billion rail line will get a $9000-a-year bonus for turning up to work.

The North West Rail Link will stretch across northern Sydney and includes 15 kilometres of rail tunnels, Australia’s longest.

A workplace agreement governing the civil engineering and tunnelling on the project worth $1.15 billion was approved this week at the Fair Work Commission.

The work is contracted to a business owned by Leighton Holdings subsidiaries Thiess and John Holland, and Dragados, a subsidiary of Leighton’s parent company ACS.

Under the deal with the Australian Workers Union, employees will qualify for a $5.50 an hour “productivity” allowance for every hour on site they spend doing their jobs.

According to the agreement, the ­payment will be withheld only if work is called off, or if the worker is on leave or taking industrial action.

In a regular 36-hour working week and taking away four-week annual leave, the payment will be worth about $9000 plus any overtime.

AWU state secretary Russ Collison said the productivity payment combined many allowances that had previously paid on large projects.

“Confined spaces [allowances] and this and that, and other allowances that have always been in there.

“Employers see this as rolling them up,” he said.

It also reflected the substantial flexibility in the agreements as well as a solid working relationship between employers and the union, he said.

“People understand that these ­payments aren’t made lightly. Companies don’t agree to these payments unless they have got some runs on the board. I’m very proud of the outcome,” he said.

A ‘standard provision’

Sources said the clause had been a standard provision in agreements for a number of years.

Mr Collison said that combining the payment into the standard hourly rate would be opposed by the ­employers because it would increase the cost of overtime.

Under the deal, wages will start at $24.75 an hour for unskilled workers with less than three months’ experience in the industry.

A universal $40 a day travel allowance combined with the productivity payment will boost that to about $35.25 an hour.

The agreement also builds in a 4 per cent a year annual increase over the life of the four-year agreement.

Mr Collison agreed that seemed like a lot of money “when you say it quickly”.

He also stressed that workers at the bottom of the pay scale were not unskilled in the traditional sense.

“Yes, they do get a few extra bob,” he said.

But he said the work was hard and often done in difficult conditions. It was also of a limited tenure because projects ran for relatively short periods of time.

A Productivity Commission review of infrastructure costs has flagged concern over labour costs.

NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said provided laws were met, employee conditions were a matter for the joint venture.

The company declined to comment.

Clive Palmer’s original believers losing patience

Article by Jamie Walker published in The Australian, 9 April, 2014

IN the heart of Palmer country they’re puzzled by their local MP.

Clive Palmer is here, there, everywhere except in his electorate of Fairfax on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast — and the voters who sent him to Canberra are losing patience with it.

Former federal Treasury mandarin and Nationals senator John Stone, who unsuccessfully ran for Fairfax in 1990, has a warning for Mr Palmer: don’t take the locals for granted.

By his reckoning, the Liberal National Party did just that at last year’s general election, and look what happened. Mr Palmer pulled off a majestic upset in Fairfax and squeezed out the LNP favourite, securing his start-up Palmer United Party a foothold in the House of Representatives along with the balance of power from July 1 in the Senate.

But Mr Stone believes Mr Palmer is at risk of being a one-term wonder if he doesn’t pay ­attention to his own back yard.

“It is essentially a Liberal Party seat and if they put up a decent candidate … at the next election I think Mr Palmer will find it difficult to retain,’’ he told The Australian.

“He just won it this time. They were quite unprepared for his ­onslaught … they took the seat for granted and he showed them they were wrong. They won’t take it for granted next time.’’

On the streets of Buderim yesterday, where Mr Stone lived when he was a senator for Queensland, newly retired as secretary of the Treasury under Malcolm Fraser and for the first term of the Hawke Labor government, it was a case of deja vu as far as Mr Palmer was ­concerned.

Taking the pulse of local opinion, we were unable to find anyone prepared to say they had voted for him last September.

LNP supporter Joan Perry, 80, was scathing of his performance to date as local MP.

“I don’t think he will be in for long. I think he will be out next term,’’ she said. “Well, he’s not in parliament to represent us, is he? He seems to be interested in other things.’’

Her friend, Kate Jackson, 83, a past Liberal Party member, voted for the LNP’s Ted O’Brien and was disappointed he lost by 53 votes. “He was very good; at least we met him,’’ she said in a dig at Mr Palmer’s local presence.

Buderim is a genteel melting pot populated by retirees from south of the border and young voters who lean Green. Until Mr Palmer came along, it was held for the Liberal Party for 23 years by Alex Somlyay, who retired ahead of the 2013 poll .

Former Sydneysider and boutique operator JulieAnn Fenwick-Symons said Mr Palmer had failed to live up to the expectations he created: “He’s a turkey. He’s not a real-world person.”

Younger voters were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. At the Birds and the Beans cafe barista Joshua Channer, 21, said Mr Palmer was too focused on being “ostentatiously political’’ and he would like to see him drop in for a coffee, as local state LNP MP Steve Dickson did from time to time. “That’s nice, it reminds me he is still a person,’’ Mr Channer said.

Assistant nurse Malisse Dyer, 25, of Mooloolaba, one of the precincts that voted most strongly for Mr Palmer at the election, said she didn’t have a problem with her new MP. “I think he’s got some valid points,’’ she said.

Rejecting Mr Stone’s accusation of complacency, Mr Somlyay said he would not have been elected for eight terms had he taken voters for granted.

Trade deal with Japan will help some farmers, not all

Editorial published in The Australian, 9 April, 2014

THE antecedents of the Abbott government’s trade deal with Japan date back more than 60 years. Two years into his second government in 1951, Sir Robert Menzies laid the groundwork for an effective bilateral relationship, renouncing the right of Australian prisoners of war to pursue reparation claims against Japan. As the photo album given by Tony Abbott to his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Monday recorded, Menzies and former Japanese prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, Mr Abe’s grandfather, signed a foundation economic pact in Canberra in 1957. By the mid-1960s, Japan had eclipsed Britain as Australia’s largest export market. It is now Australia’s second largest trading partner, behind China.

At a time when both nations need to lift growth, the deal negotiated by Trade Minister Andrew Robb and his Japanese counterparts will strengthen both economies. It is the culmination of negotiations that began in 2007 under John Howard and were pursued by Labor’s Craig Emerson.

Freer trade boosts prosperity and jobs and the deal struck with Japan will add billions of dollars to Australia’s economic growth. But while the agreement exceeded expectations, it has little to offer significant sectors of Australian agriculture, including the sugar and dairy industries. Even in the beef sector, where significant tariff reductions were secured from the Japanese, the full benefits will take years to be felt. From the current level of 38.5 per cent, the tariff on frozen beef will fall by eight percentage points within a year and eventually to 19.5 per cent. The tariff on fresh beef will be cut by six percentage points in the first year and fall to 23.5 per cent over 15 years. As Victorian Wagyu beef producer Nick Sher said on Monday, that is not free trade. But it is good progress. Australia’s sugar growers are bitter, however, that the agreement provides no improvement in access to the Japanese for sugar or in the terms of trade for sugar growers. They point out that while Australia has been supplying a specialised grade of sugar to the Japanese market for many years, the tariff on that grade will remain unaltered under the agreement, at 70 per cent.

Australia’s quota of cheese for the Japanese market will almost double under the deal. But the Australian Dairy Industry Council says the agreement will produce just $4.7 million in the first year of implementation, increasing to about $11.6m by 2031. According to AIDC calculations, out of an export market of $511m, the change will represent just 0.1c per litre for Australian farmers in 20 years’ time.

On the positive side, the agreement should encourage new investment in Australia. The threshold for Japanese investments needing clearance by the Foreign Investment Review Board will be lifted from $248m to more than $1 billion, other than for farms and agribusiness acquisitions.

Economic and cultural exchanges will be stepped up through an updated version of the Colombo Plan. Australian universities will accept more Japanese and other Asian students, and more Australians will be able to study at Asia’s top universities.

The agreement to drop the 5 per cent tariff on three quarters of Japanese imported cars within a year, the remainder within three years and on car components within five years, will help consumers. So will price reductions in whitegoods and electronics. The loss of tariff revenue will damage the budget. But with carmakers leaving Australia, there is no justification for maintaining tariffs on cars from any nation.

Bilateral trade deals do not promote regional prosperity as effectively as multilateral agreements. But they are simpler to negotiate and serve Australia’s interests. While negotiations towards a 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, including Australia, continue, the Abbott government has made important headway by securing trade agreements with South Korea and Japan and is pursuing others.

As in 1957, an important deal has been struck with Japan, but scope remains for improvement.

China beyond black and white

Editorial published in The Australian, 9 April, 2014

ON the eve of his first official visit to North Asia, Tony Abbott pointedly said that our nation’s prosperity depended upon the continued growth and strength of China, Japan and Korea. The three countries are interdependent and so anything that damages one of them, damages all of them. “My message is that making new friends doesn’t mean losing old ones,” the Prime Minister told an Asia Society gathering. Our relationships in the region are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Based on our economic power — especially natural resources wealth — and our peaceful orientation, Mr Abbott emphasised that we “are strong enough to be a useful partner but not so strong as to be a threatening one”.

The announcement of new security ties between Canberra and Tokyo is a natural development. Although it is not an alliance or formal pact, the move will be greeted with suspicion by Beijing. Last year, Mr Abbott described Japan as “Australia’s best friend” and then sided with it in a bitter dispute with China over a group of islands in the East China Sea. Canberra earned the ire of the emerging superpower when Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called in the Chinese ambassador to express concern over the extension of a strict military zone over the islands; on her next visit to Beijing, Ms Bishop was publicly rebuked.

As Mr Abbott arrives in China today with a high-powered delegation of premiers and business leaders, misguided critics of his government’s approach to the region, and China in particular, are on the hunt for an open microphone. Strategic policy wonk Hugh White has lately characterised Canberra’s Sino diplomatic method as “trade now, friendship later” and argues this model is not acceptable to Beijing. Of course, Professor White is an obsessive proponent of a false choice and peddles a cartoon view of our security situation. He absurdly argues that Australia needs to choose between our US strategic alliance and our Chinese economic partnership. As well, he argues that Canberra must distance itself from Washington, while urging it to withdraw militarily from the region, to accommodate a rising China. US bashing is a forlorn activity and only a mug punter would bet against its genius to adapt and prosper; sucking up to China is not a dignified posture, commercially or strategically.

The Australian does not accept these phony choices; there is no need to choose between the US and China or between strategic and economic interests. As a mature and confident nation, Australia’s relationships with both countries are multifaceted — witness our cultural, economic and historical connections — and are mutually beneficial in different ways. As with all other countries, we garner respect in the Asian region by pursuing our national interest in a realistic way. Obviously, trade is a key part of our relationship with China. In his Asia Society address, Mr Abbott spoke of the country’s transformation, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, as “a watershed in human history”. Some of it achieved through the use of Australian iron ore and coal. The inaugural “Australia Week in China” trade show and push towards a free-trade agreement will both proceed under highly favourable conditions, despite gloomy, kowtowing professors.

Australia must always be realistic and on its feet. Sure, the US “pivot to Asia” could use some revitalising resources. Our major trading partner should expect further growing pains in its financial, property and product markets, which could see its stunning economic growth rates curtailed. As in Japan and South Korea, we should be opening our markets and looking for fresh opportunities right across Asia, especially in India, whose rise could rival the Middle Kingdom’s by mid-century. As well, China is likely to experience more political instability in coming years as its systemic rigidities are challenged and ultimately give way to a more open society. As Mr Abbott has pledged, Australia will be a valued friend and strategic partner in this welcome transition for a great power.

Joko’s step on path to power

Article by Peter Alford published in The Australian, 9 April, 2014

MORE than 130 million Indonesians vote today in legislative elections widely expected to springboard popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo towards the presidency.

Votes cast today elect a new House of Representatives (DPR) but also determine the parties able to run tickets in the July presidential election.

Mr Joko, 52 and known as ­Jokowi, was last month confirmed as its candidate by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), rated by all credible opinion polls this year as the top vote-winner.

Golkar, the former Suharto machine which in campaigning has harked back to the stability of his New Order regime, is expected to run second, establishing a base for its presidential candidate, the 67-year-old former business leader Aburizal Bakrie.

According to most recent polling, PDI-P will achieve at least one and possibly both thresholds for nominating its own presidential candidate, 20 per cent of the 560 seats in the new DPR or 25 per cent of the valid votes cast.

Its ratings buoyed by the ­selection of Mr Joko, a populist reformer who has been on the national stage less than three years, PDI-P has been predicted to achieve between 21 per cent and 33 per cent of the national vote, which generally translates into a higher proportion of seats.

Golkar, traditionally the best-organised party of the 12 competing today, is thought a good chance also to reach the seats threshold.

Gerindra, the Great Indonesia Movement Party, is likely to struggle for third position with retiring President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and Crescent Star, which is expected to do best among the five Islamic parties.

However, Gerindra, the party purpose-built by businessman and former general Prabowo Subianto, 62, is unlikely to reach the threshold, so will need to coalesce with one or more smaller parties to support Mr Prabowo’s presidential ambitions.

Tempo, the well-informed news magazine, reported this week Mr Prabowo has reached out to several religious parties, including Co-ordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa’s National Mandate and the traditional Islamic flag carrier, United Development.

The Democrats and Dr Yudhoyono won the 2009 legislative and presidential elections but their popularity has been smashed by waves of corruption scandals, with former minister Andi Mallarangeng currently on trial and former chairman Anas Urbaningrum soon to be arraigned.

Dr Yudhoyono, whose popularity remains reasonably high, is statutorily limited to two terms and will retire in October.

About 187 million Indonesians are eligible to vote today, including up to 10 million under the legal age of 17 years — qualifying for adult status because married. A turnout of about 70 per cent is expected.

Political scientist Djayadi Hanan said yesterday strong enthusiasm for Mr Joko and to a lesser extent Mr Prabowo was largely negated by widespread scorn for the DPR, which a majority of voters regard as one of Indonesia’s most corrupted public institutions.

Only 40 per cent regarded the DPR as a worthwhile institution in its current state, said Mr Djayadi, research director of Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, and 70 per cent had a “very negative” view of the representatives. “Our data shows perception of the DPR, compared to other political institutions … is much more negative.”

The problem was compounded by very low voter recognition of candidates — less than 10 per cent even in their own districts, according to SMRC analysis.

“When people vote they will be thinking of the (presidential) candidates and the parties more than they will be thinking of the DPR,” said Mr Djayadi.

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