Sunday, August 1, 2010

Election 2010: Day 16 (or let’s ask some questions)

I just got home from watching Inception and so I’m not sure if everything is real or some dopey dream because today I kept hearing on ABC news and other assorted outlets that Julia Gillard was being dogged by more claims about Kevin Rudd – this time that 10 years ago he had conspired with the Alexander Downer to leak information that would embarrass Laurie Brereton. Apparently Julia was dogged by the issue even though Rudd denied it – and it threatening to sue – and also by around 8:30am this morning Alexander Downer – the very person the Sunday Telegraph had used as its primary source – was saying the story was a load of bull:

"The interpretation placed on my comments to the Sunday Telegraph is wrong," he said.

"Kevin Rudd was not used by me or other members of the Liberal Party as a so-called 'double agent' to leak material against other members of the Labor Party."

But did we need to hear Downer say that? Anyone with a skerrick of intelligence could see that the story smelt of bullshit.  downer

First off, Alexander Downer probably hates Kevin Rudd more than he does anyone on this planet. Kevin Rudd thinks the same of Downer. To think that these to vicious enemies would ever work together on anything is utterly preposterous. And thus whenever Downer says anything about Rudd you need to make sure you’re  taking it with about a shipping container load of salt.

But here’s the real kicker. If this story was true don’t you think Downer might have used it earlier – you know at a time when he and the Liberal Party were fighting for their political lives, like oh I don’t know… the 2007 election when Kevin Rudd was actually leader of the opposition?? For someone to believe this story they have to believe that Downer decided not to tell this damaging story in the 2007 election because he was waiting to tell it when Kevin Rudd was no longer leader of the ALP or PM, but was in fact just a back bencher.

Yep, because of course the Liberal Party left so much in reserve when it came to attacking Kevin Rudd in 2007.

Sometimes you want to give the media in this country a collective Biff Tannen slap to the head and say “Hello!! Anybody home?? Think McFly! Think!”

I’d also like to give them slap for giving Andrew Robb any credence for suggesting the ALP giving journalists copies of things said by Tony Abbott constitutes a “smear campaign”.

That’s a smear campaign? Please, that’s just giving journalists free research – any journalist worth their salt should already have those quotes on hand and be ready to use them – like Laurie Oakes did today. In his interview with Oakes today Abbott was squirming and umming and ahhing his way through as Oakes threw more and more of his old quotes back at him. Abbott has a terrible poker face – when he is in trouble it’s obvious, and it is even more obvious because he ramps up the umms and ahhs as his mind tries desperately to think of a way to squirm out.

Anyone interviewing Abbott one on one who doesn’t get the ums and ahhs, should know she or he has been beaten.

In fact a good majority of the Canberra Press Gallery should have been watching the Oakes’ interview this morning and looking down at the ground wondering why they hadn’t asked any of those questions. Because I have to say, while it was a good interview, it’s not like Oakes was dragging stuff from the never-never. This was all stuff that Abbott has said in the last three years or written in his book. Yesterday when he was announcing his dental plan for ADF families Fairfax journo Latika Bourke asked him about the national dental plan policy he had written about in his book Battlelines. It was a good question – journalists should know his book off by heart – it’s a gold mine of things to throw at him.

ANDREW_ROBB_wideweb__470x312,0The best journalists have memories like elephants. When a politician says something that contradicts a previously stated position, the good ones jump on it – the best ones will have gone through second reading speeches, or boring on the stump speeches to nobodies. There’s gold to be found there.

If Robb thinks that telling journalists about things candidates said in the past is a smear, then I guess he’d be worried if someone reminded the media that back in 2007 Robb was the idiot going around telling journalists that there was a stack of ALP candidates who were ineligible because they hadn’t resigned their Government positions. The only problem was that Robb it seems had based all this on a Google search of names and that his claims were completely bull. I always remember that little episode whenever someone tells me Robb is a sharp operator. And so should we all – just because Andrew Robb says something does not make it so.

But you know what is a smear campaign? How about talking about whether or not a PM has children, or is married, or whether her partner had speeding fines incurred prior to his meeting her. That’s a smear.

If the ALP was engaged in really attacking Abbott they might be reminding the media that in February 12 2009 Abbott missed five crucial votes on the economic stimulus plan because he was asleep in his office after drinking a couple bottles of wine….

But I digress…

Yesterday on twitter there was a little discussion about my Friday post on the press packs following the leaders. News.ltd journalist, Ben Packham, put out a tweet asking for questions that we’d like them to ask. At the time I was busy doing real life stuff, but I said to him that it was hard to come up with questions without knowing what the press conference was to be about.

This of course is wrong. Abbott has one policy that he should be asked about with regard to whatever he is announcing, because he mentions it at every press conference. Namely:

“Pay back the debt”

I’d like someone to ask him “WHY?”

Why do we need to pay it back when interest rates are now 2.25% lower than they were when John Howard was in power and Australia was in surplus?

Why do we need to pay back the debt when inflation is falling – meaning the deficit is obviously not putting pressure on prices?

Why do we need to pay back the debt when we obviously are paying it back already? Does he think people who have a mortgage should stop everything and pay it all off now?

Why is it that he says the Government can’t afford to spend on infrastructure or disabled education because we have a deficit that is actually only 6% of our GDP, and yet families with a total mortgage that is around 618% of their annual income still find the money to buy a car, spend money on kids schooling, go on holidays, and even buy luxury items?

If he says that Governments have to make choices and can’t spend everything they’d like to, ask him doesn't that mean that he is just using the debt as an excuse when the real reason he is not spending more on disabled education is because he would rather spend the money elsewhere on more Liberal Party constituent friendly spending – like ADF dental coverage?

If he mentions the $100m a day debt figure ask him why that matters when Australia’s taxation revenue is around $881.5m a day? Does he think Australia is in danger of defaulting?government debt graph

If he or Hockey mentions the concerns over “crowding out” ask him why given Australia operates in an open financial system where we borrow and lend on the international market, and that given the international annual debt market is around $82.2 trillion dollars, why does he think the total Australian Government's bond issue of $151billion (or about 0.18%) is crowding out borrowers?

Ask Abbott why do we need to pay back the debt when the Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens says "There is virtually no net public debt in the country at all in contrast to much of the developed world. The most recent figures out of Canberra was a peak of five or six per cent of GDP. So far from that being the highest in history, it is closer to the lowest."?

Ask him if he thinks Mr Stevens wrong? Ask him if he thinks he and Joe Hockey understand Australia's financial position better than does the head of the leading financial institution in the country?

Ask Abbott why if the debt is putting pressure on prices why aren’t interest rates going up this week? Why isn’t the Reserve Bank agreeing with him? Hell, ask him why aren’t the ABS inflation figures agreeing with him?

Ask him why does the Liberal Party advert mention cost of living pressures featuring a woman in a supermarket when food prices over the last 12 months have risen by less than the CPI average? If he mentions electricity prices ask him how will he do anything to reduce them? If he mentions a carbon tax ask him what did a carbon tax have to do with electricity prices going up in the past 12 months when there is no carbon tax yet?

Ask him why do we need to pay back the debt when under the entire period of the Menzies Government we had Government debt of over 20 percent and yet we had a period of strong prosperity? 

And when Andrew Robb or Tony Abbott says utter bullshit like:

Six interest rate rises in a row, much of it due to the reckless spending which is added to the debt at the rate of $700 million a week. That’s a new hospital a week we’re borrowing as a country.

Instead of saying “thank you”, how about pull him up and (once again) point out interest rates are 2.25% lower than under John Howard when the budget was in surplus, and also ask if that means when he is in Government and the budget is in surplus they will build a hospital a week? Why when John Howard was in Government and the budget was in surplus didn’t they build a hospital a week? Or it is just that Robb's comparison is utterly stupid?

I mean geez, guys! Tony Abbott should be getting drilled every day on this stuff. It’s important stuff; it’s the whole box and dice. If you don’t understand how an economy works then you shouldn't be in  power, and Abbott’s own inane policy of “Pay back the debt” in itself reveals he doesn’t understand how the economy works.

And look let’s just quickly go over to IR and Workchoices, because it again goes to his honesty and ability to exaggerate when under pressure. In his recent 7:30 Report appearance he said:

TONY ABBOTT: But, Kerry, no democratic politician can or should defy the wishes of the electorate.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But this is the wishes of the electorate that you suddenly came to a view about a week and a half ago.
TONY ABBOTT: But, I am a party leader now. I'm not just a philosopher, I'm not just a pundit. I'm not just a speculator in a university department. I am a party leader. And party leaders have to respect what they're hearing from the electorate and also from the people who will be impacted by any change.

Ask him was he party leader when in his Budget Reply speech in May he said:

We all know that the former government’s workplace reforms went too far but they also helped to create more than two million new jobs, lift real wages by 20 per cent and more than double net household wealth between 1996 and 2007. The coalition will seek to take the unfair dismissal monkey off the back of small businesses, which are more like families than institutions. We will make Labor’s transitional employment agreements less transitional and Labor’s individual flexibility agreements more flexible because we have faith in Australian workers who are not as easily pushed around and exploited as the ACTU’s dishonest ad campaign is already making out.

Ask him if they can’t believe what he said only two months ago in a carefully prepared statement, why should they believe anything he says during the campaign?

And then get him onto climate change – ask if he thinks we need a price on carbon to reduce carbon emissions. If he says that we can reduce them through incentives, ask him why he does not support a market based mechanism but instead prefers a system that was shown to completely fail under the Soviet Union during the entire twentieth century. Ask him if he believes the best driver of innovation in the private sector is the profit motive or Government incentives? Are there other sectors of the economy that could do without a price signal and instead operate just on Government incentives?

Look I don’t have the ALP’s list of statements by Abbott – these are just easy economic 101 type questions that need to be asked – the trick though is to be able to follow up any fob offs – perhaps the media pack should act like a pack. One of the reasons I complained about the lack of policy questions from the media is mostly because policy questions are the ones that really bring politicians unstuck.

A good sharp policy based question (and it needs research and understanding of what you’re asking – so yes, there is a bit of work required) can utterly destroy a politician. And I don’t mean “how much will the MRRT increase the price of a loaf of bread”. I mean questions like “why are you proposing to sell Medibank Private to pay off the debt when the debt is already projected to be paid off in three years time, and your selling MBP doesn't mean you’ll pay off the debt any sooner?” Would you sell your car to pay off part of your mortgage even though you were already able to afford the repayments AND if your selling the car wasn't actually going to enable you to pay off your mortgage any sooner? I seriously can’t believe Abbott hasn’t been drilled on selling MBP yet.

So there you go, there’s my questions. Maybe Abbott can answer them – if so well done.

***

Everyone has pretty well been in raptures about The Chaser returning. And yes it’s good to have them back. But I have to say their first effort was pretty light. At their heart they go for the easy laughs – nothing wrong with that, they do it brilliantly, but let's not pretend it’s brutal satire. Personally, I always liked them best when they destroyed ACA and Today Tonight. Australia needs a Jon Stewart – the Chaser are the closest we got it would be nice to see them try on the role. Would that they would do something like Stewart did last week on Obama going on the TV show The View:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Leader's Digest
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

***

I know I’m pretty late on the bus with this but geez it’s funny, and after this weekend I needed a good laugh:

Best of all though is Neil Young’s take on the video. And of course because it’s Neil Young, it’s absolute genius (I defy you not to be humming this song later in the day!):

[Have just been told this is actually Jimmy Fallon doing a Neil Young impersonation – which I should have realised given it says it on the Huffington Post page where I got the video!! Oh well that’s some (ok a lot of) egg on my face. But geez he does it pitch perfect – and it’s still a cool song!!]

***

As I wrote earlier, my Friday post got some attention on twitter. When I wrote it I didn’t think too much of it – it was just a post that had been running through my head that day and I bashed it out as usual after doing the dishes and before saying goodnight to my daughters. But on Saturday morning I woke up and found that The Age journalist Tony Wright had retweeted it with a pretty complimentary comment attached. From there, given all journalists of any worth would follow him on Twitter, my blog started getting a bump in readers. To give you an idea – here’s my hit states for the last 30 days:

www.easycounter.com

Prior to the election I was averaging around 350 hits a day (early July I was on holidays and not blogging). Since the election I’ve been getting around 500 hits a day. On Saturday I got 1838 hits and today 1634.

That is the power of Twitter right there. If my little blog can generate such a spike, it’s little wonder news organisations are (all should be) encouraging their journalists to post on twitter, to engage, and I guess to write articles that generate interesting debate.

So to those new to my blog, welcome. Hope to see you here again.

16 comments:

Darryl Snow said...

I have a suspicion and a theory why Downer was wheeled out. And it fits nicely with the hasty retraction by Downer of the News Ltd 'scoop' and Abbott's instant inability and unwillingness to back him.

It's about interrupting the news cycle and impairing another campaign day for the ALP.

And its as calculated as it is obvious. Yet the MSM react to the blood spilled by the DT then bite like the burleyed up sharks they are. And right now they seem to echo the almost undeveloped dinosaur nature of a shark, its perfect killing machine build and its sorry lack of intelligence. But, like few other species, it is a survivor in it's undeveloped state.

Downer, a washed up nobody with no teeth captures the news first up with a well timed swish through the baitfish. Downer retracts by about 11 am. Day done. Messages and policy announcements muted.

Your call for the pack of sharks that make up the press to get smart and not be tempted to go into attack mode by sensing one part per million piss, shit and blood has not been heard. Yet

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

As far as I can make out by following the journos tweets, they spend their days in equal parrts thinking about themselves and tweeting about it, going to the gym or jogging to emulate Toned Tony, and boning up on the Libs daily dirt sheet to spew back at the ALP Presser.
Meanwhile, schmucks like you and I waste our life away doing the heavy lifting for them and actually analyse the policies behind the spin and smear from the Coalition, which is working a treat btw, so they're not going to stop it anytime soon, no matter how much we might want them to. This is a serious business to them, they're trying to finagle their way back into power. They have a job to do, and they're executing it with ruthless efficiency. The ALP are Amateur Hour compared to the Coalition.

SM said...

Keep them Grog, keep them coming. Great questions. Any journo that reads them then fails to ask any of them should hand their press pass back.

The relationship of the media to the population is changing due to twitter and the like. I suspect we are discovering just how captured they have become by the interests that they are part of. It's something I've long thought needs some thought put into.

Maybe those mythical ALP "factional warlords" should of checked with His Holiness Rupert about whether their move would meet his approval.

I think there is little questioning of the agenda of MSM generally and a lot of denial from them that they have an agenda at all.

MassiveSpray said...

As always an excellent post Grog.

Keep up the good work.

Matthew said...

I was throwing some of this stuff around on twitter this morning, riffing of the spin this morning that we're going to see a "Let Gillard be Gillard" strategy.

In the end, with a hat tip to @iBleeter, i came to the conclusion that the slogan Labor needs to import from America isn't "Let Bartlett be Bartlett" but "it's the economy stupid." And it should be remembered that James Carville kept that slogan inside the campaign room, it wasn't a line to feed to the media.

Also, Peter Brent has come to some very similar conclusions, worth checking his angle http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/mumble/index.php/theaustralian/comments/a_whack_in_the_polls/

bilgedigger said...

It's not only to ask some questions Grog, but to bell the cat on the "trailers" the Liberal Party is spreading as they go, for example the increased use of the phrase about the $56 billion (or whatever figure they use) Labor "Deficit" is the marker for a claim, if they win Government, that they won't be able to fund promises because of the holes in the Budget etc. that Labor left behind. They should be fronted to explain the make up of any figures they use on any subject.
The announcements on Aged Care have glaring inconsistencies and perhaps we would see the Liberals in power saying they would having to introduce large upfront payments for entry into nursing homes that they tried to introduce during their last term in Government. The allocation of a$30,000 payment to all Aged Persons Home Proprietors is nothing more than a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the Private Sector. The Real Action plan on climate change is another wealth transfer from taxpayer to the private sector, and so it goes on.
The country is being destroyed in order to advance the interests of just a few people who are members of the most powerful cabals in this country.

Trevor (not a possum) said...

"why are you proposing to sell Medibank Private to pay off the debt when the debt is already projected to be paid off in three years time, and your selling MBP doesn't mean you’ll pay off the debt any sooner?"

The debt is not projected to be paid off in 3 years. I think you're confusing debt and surplus.

Grog said...

cheers Trevor - my error there.

Jaybeen said...

Absence a serious debt issue unrelenting annual Budget surpluses = excessive taxation = a lack of ideas for investment for the future no matter which Government has the Treasury benches.

Mr Bearly said...

I have a serious question which should be asked of the ALP Man Made Global Warming evangelists.

Why do we need a price on Carbon to reduce emissions when putting a price on water was so effective at increasing flows down the Murray?

I belive the climate is changing, I don't believe humans are responsible or can "stop" it.

Every time we humans have attempted to control our environment we have stuffed it up big time, can't see any difference this time around.

Putting a price on carbon will only allow those with the most money to make even more.

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2008/06/04/gore-invests-carbon-credit-company-will-media-care

http://nyletterpress.wordpress.com/2009/01/04/man-made-global-warming-a-political-science/

We all know politicians lie to us, what we don't know is what their motivation is and that is the bit we do need to understand.

Grog said...

Trevor you are right - debt won't be paid off in 3 years, just the deficit

Anonymous said...

Technically, you don't "pay off" a deficit - it's the differential between income and expenditure at a given moment in time. It's a flow, not a stock.

For what it's worth, I will be voting Labor - as always - but whoever wins, be it Gillard or (God forbid) Abbot, I am fairly sceptical that the winner will be posting a surplus at any time in the near future. Government isn't really in much of a position to dictate whether it is in deficit or not, the aggregate spending and saving decisions of the private sector determine that for the most part. The total government budget surplus/deficit equalls - as a matter of national accounting - the total private sector deficit/ surplus. A mirror image. For either government to post a surplus in a trade deficit country like Australia, the private sector must be in deficit. We must collectively all pull out the plastic and get back into as much debt as possible to accomodate a government surplus. Not much indication of the willingness to do that at present.

But it is an entrenched meme in the public phyche that posting a surplus is proof of good economic management so our leaders need to pander to pander to that belief or face total rejection by the electorate.

I hope we don't have to re-animate John Maynard Keynes so he can write "The economic consequences of Mr Abbot".

Anonymous said...

I am concerned about what I call the iPhone4 denial.
It may seems not related but it is the same pattern of cheating the consumer because of the lack of choice or tools allowing to select. I talk about Apple but you will se how similar all this is to the political journalism.
After seeing Steve Job's press conference (Apple site) I understood that iPhone 4 is no worse than other top smart phones and likely it is better. SJ gave hard facts exposing how media were taken for the ride of dumbness. I am worried that due to the trend fewer and fewer journalists are what they NOT expected to be. Instead they just a type of repeaters/yes men/women. Much of the media are becoming notoriously unreliable and dumb, like the ones following antenna problem on iPhone4 without bothering to research to recognise that the problem is industry wise. Blackberry and other have it (perhaps even worse), Apple highlighted the point where not to touch yet it was all taken against because of its perceived sensational value. Now after Apple presented the hard facts it actually exposed these as false information carriers yet for them it is just another day. What you describe in your article is the same feature just in different area. These journalists are false information carriers and there is no mechanism to expose it yet. I cannot wait when the pay by article will emerge - it should not be long now. Then lazy mouthing will not get far and some level of intelligence will be required. Perhaps.

Grog said...

"Technically, you don't "pay off" a deficit"

Yes, another good point. We could be in surplus tomorrow if either party decided to slash a heap of spending.

And of course I mean "real spending" not forgoing spending done by the other side.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they could slash spending (and I fear Abbot would) to the bone to post a surplus at that moment in time.

But the most likely result at this point in time IMO would be a rapid economic contraction with the paradoxical result that the deficit actaully grows larger than before. At the onset of the GFC, Ireland went the opposite direction to most others and made harsh cuts to "get the deficit under control". The Irish deficit today is now roughly double what it was then.Conditions are near depressionary with a dreadful unemployment rate approaching 14%. The move to slash government spending while the private sector was retrenching it's spending drained liquidity and demand from the economy. As the economy nosedived, the inevitable result was that tax revenue (a term less applicable to the Australian government owing to our much better monetary system) plummeted and welfare payments spiked up sharply, completely offsetting the "savings" brought about by squeezing the government spending in the first place.

This bit isn't rocket science - if you damage your economy by choking off spending, economic activity shrinks back. "Income" shrinks and expenditure (welfare payments) baloon. You get a self-defeating double-whammy in opposite directions.

Of course, Abbot isn't a rocket scientist, he's probably not even a pushbike scientist. Julia meanwhile, looks to be lashing out in all directions hoping to gain some votes. Her move to give principals more power than they already have will not sit well with the teachers I work with. Nor does it sit well with me - a bad principal with greater power is a scary thought for our blokes. Our bargaining position is incredibly weak and even those of us who know our rights will find it hard to resist exploitation and barstardisation.

I will still vote Labor - an Abbot government is too awful to contemplate. He may well tip us into recession with a misguided massive attack on government spending, then use the floundering economy as a justification to bring back elements of workchoices bit at a time ie "the country just can't afford ".

I am still hopeful that Labor will fall across the line but I get a sinking feeling every time I look and the polls, the biased media treatment and a government that has done a great deal of good but struggles to sell it's message.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they could slash spending (and I fear Abbot would) to the bone to post a surplus at that moment in time.

But the most likely result at this point in time IMO would be a rapid economic contraction with the paradoxical result that the deficit actaully grows larger than before. At the onset of the GFC, Ireland went the opposite direction to most others and made harsh cuts to "get the deficit under control". The Irish deficit today is now roughly double what it was then.Conditions are near depressionary with a dreadful unemployment rate approaching 14%. The move to slash government spending while the private sector was retrenching it's spending drained liquidity and demand from the economy. As the economy nosedived, the inevitable result was that tax revenue (a term less applicable to the Australian government owing to our much better monetary system) plummeted and welfare payments spiked up sharply, completely offsetting the "savings" brought about by squeezing the government spending in the first place.

This bit isn't rocket science - if you damage your economy by choking off spending, economic activity shrinks back. "Income" shrinks and expenditure (welfare payments) baloon. You get a self-defeating double-whammy in opposite directions.

Of course, Abbot isn't a rocket scientist, he's probably not even a pushbike scientist. Julia meanwhile, looks to be lashing out in all directions hoping to gain some votes. Her move to give principals more power than they already have will not sit well with the teachers I work with. Nor does it sit well with me - a bad principal with greater power is a scary thought for our blokes. Our bargaining position is incredibly weak and even those of us who know our rights will find it hard to resist exploitation and barstardisation.

I will still vote Labor - an Abbot government is too awful to contemplate. He may well tip us into recession with a misguided massive attack on government spending, then use the floundering economy as a justification to bring back elements of workchoices bit at a time ie "the country just can't afford ".

I am still hopeful that Labor will fall across the line but I get a sinking feeling every time I look and the polls, the biased media treatment and a government that has done a great deal of good but struggles to sell it's message.