Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Election 2010: Day 18 (or, these are the jokes, people)

Today Tony Abbot was launching his Paid Parental Leave Redux of the Redux of the Over My Dead Body Policy. He surrounded himself with women – his daughter, Sophie Mirabella plus child and others. The problem is he has another woman in his life – Julia Gillard – and today when asked about her challenge to have a debate on the economy he said:

“When she said no, I thought she meant it.”

He thought it was a funny line – seemingly oblivious to the connection with sexual assault despite as David Penberthy on The Punch puts it:

Anyone with half a brain knows that the phrase has only one meaning. It refers to sexual harassment and sexual assault, and dates back to the lawsuit between US Supreme Court appointee Clarence Thomas and the woman he was accused of sleazing onto, Annita Hill, in the early 90s.

Now maybe it was just a slip of the tongue – oh well na harm no … err no he actually thought it was a good line (you could see the little smile on his face) and so he persevered:

“Are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia that no doesn’t mean no ?”

And like a comedian hearing the tweets of crickets who then taps the microphone asking “Is this thing on?” he kept going:

“She said no repeatedly and when she said no I thought she meant no”

Come guys! This is funny, so funny I’ll say it again!

“As I said, she’s surely not trying to say to us that no doesn’t mean no. When she said no I believed her.”

Oh dear Tony. Just stupid. Even more stupid was when he was challenged to defend his line he referred to criticisms of it as a “Labor smear”. Err no Tony it wasn’t. You did it to yourself.

But look in the big scheme of things it is not the biggest gaffe of all, was he joking about rape? Of course not. Has it caused offense? It certainly has. Best just to apologise and move on – don’t try and get offensive because you don’t like the people who say it causes them offense. 

Personally I think his biggest gaffe is his paid parental leave scheme – a scheme which displays he thinks it is right for the Government to give women more money because they earn more money. Think that through – Tony Abbott believes the costs of raising a child are more because you earn more. Of course that not what he thinks, what he thinks is that people who earn more have bigger mortgages and so the taxpayers should help them pay their big mortgage because, you know they were forced to buy it (one can’t be seen to live with the plebs you know…).

He also refers to it as a productivity measure, because he says it will encourage women to go back to work. No one has actually explained the logic of that to me.

imageJulia Gillard on the other hand was talking purely about the economy and also talking about jobs, talking about inflation, talking about interest rates, and challenging Abbott to another debate on the economy. Abbott says he doesn’t have the time, which to be honest is hooey. Sure Julia is now challenging him to a debate because it is now in her interest – but c’mon he doesn't have the time? Please.

The major political/economic news of the day (well not if you were watching Channel 9 news which gave it about 5 seconds of attention) was that the RBA kept interest rates at 4.5%.

Here’s what the RBA statement said:

The labour market has continued to firm gradually, and after the significant decline last year, growth in wages has picked up a little, as had been expected.
Recent data for inflation were consistent with the Bank’s May forecasts, with underlying inflation declining to about 2¾ per cent, the lowest rate for about three years.

The rate of CPI increase was a little above 3 per cent due to the effects of increases in tobacco taxes announced earlier in the year. Through to mid 2011, underlying inflation is likely to be in the top half of the target zone, while CPI inflation will probably be just above 3 per cent for a few quarters due to the impact of the tax changes and increases in utilities prices.

The current setting of monetary policy is resulting in interest rates to borrowers around their average levels of the past decade. With growth likely to be close to trend, inflation close to target and the global outlook remaining somewhat uncertain, the Board judged this setting of monetary policy to be appropriate.

Hmm doesn’t give the Liberal Party much to work with, but what will the ALP do with it? Nicholas Gruen on Club Troppo responded to my “Let’s Keep Working” post by saying the problem with my suggested adverts is that it relies on gratitude and he quotes his old boss John Button (I should say the GREAT John Button – damn that Hawke Ministry was amazing) saying “one emotion the electorate doesn’t possess is gratitude”.

He is right – as Winston Churchill in 1945 would attest – the guy led Britain through WWII and then got kicked out on his arse. Gruen suggest an advert along the lines of:

Tony Abbott’s policies would only have saved a fraction of our very small debt, but we’ve got another 150,000 people. In jobs.
Paying tax.
Paying off that debt.
Who do you want in charge the next time something goes wrong?
Do you want an Australian Government that will put it’s own job on the line to save yours?

It’s a good advert. Time for the ALP to bring out some positive adverts as well as the good attack ones it has on Abbott’s previous statements.

This afternoon journalist Matthew Franklin sent me direct message via twitter saying I had misrepresented him in my post of Friday because his “yarn on disability the other day did cover Abbott's policy detail”.

I had to admit I was surprised by his message, and tried to send him a direct message back asking for clarification, but he doesn’t follow me so I couldn’t. I was surprised by his message because I was sure I had checked The Oz website while I was writing my post on Friday evening, and if I was wrong I would be more than willing to admit it.

And yes I must admit it does seem that Franklin did indeed write on Tony Abbott’s policy on students with disability. The only problem is it was for The Weekend Australian and was posted on The Oz’s website at midnight Saturday July 31, some 3 hours after I posted my blog:

Education card to offer choice for children with disabilities

  • Matthew Franklin and Stephen Lunn
  • From: The Australian
  • July 31, 2010 12:00AM
CHILDREN with severe disabilities will receive up to $20,000 a year towards their education under a Coalition government.

I may claim to be able to do many things, but time travel is not one. If there is another story I am missing, I’m sorry but I can’t find it, and I don’t apologise for not anticipating what Franklin would write after I had written my blog.
My post was focussed on the lack of reporting on the policy at the time I wrote my post, and crucially it was also focussed on the lack of policy questions in the Abbott press conference where he announced the policy.

But I will say this, Franklin (and Lunn) did at least write on the policy announcement. And as far as I have seen they have given it the best coverage, and it is perhaps only right that journalists be given a day to get some quotes and write a decent article on it. Franklin and Lunn in fact seem to have been the only ones (as far as I am aware) who have bothered to ring up some people to get their views:

Sydney mother Heike Fabig said the best outcome for eight-year-old Kai and four-year-old Billie, who both have cerebral palsy, would be if the parties' policies were combined. "I've looked carefully at the policy announcements and I wonder why they aren't joined together. Can't we have both please?" she asked.

The Coalition's policy received strong support from disability advocates and independent schools, but the Australian Education Union warned the Coalition was "blinded by ideology" and schools would not be able to plan their programs for disabled students.

Fabig here is actually voicing my own opinions (which I noted on Friday). So well done to Franklin and The Oz, he and they did give it coverage.

But the problem is his article only serves to highlight my original complaint – namely the lack of policy analysis from the press gallery.

I wrote my post about the lack of policy analysis by the media pack, and I did so knowing that I didn't really need to wait to see any articles that might be written in the future, because I watched the press conference where not once was the policy questioned, and thus knew that one of the articles would do it.

My post came out of frustration because of a selfish reason: Abbott was announcing a policy which by virtue of the fact my youngest daughter has Down Syndrome meant it could affect my family. In short, I wanted to know if my daughter would be eligible for the $20,000 when she starts school in 2 years.

Nothing in the press conference gave me this information, and it sure as heck wasn’t in the media documents the journalists at the press conference were given because the next day The Daily Telegraph journalist Alison Rehn tweeted that she had just asked Abbott if students with Down Syndrome would be eligible. If it was in the policy docs given to the journos she wouldn't have needed to ask.

And I have to say that sorry, but Franklin’s article doesn't make me any wiser either. Here’s what he writes:

CHILDREN with severe disabilities will receive up to $20,000 a year towards their education under a Coalition government.

The assistance would come through the introduction of a new education card allowing them greater choice in where they study.

An Abbott government would seek to expand the subsidies to all children with disabilities in the future -- but it would stop short of introducing a voucher system across the education system.

Campaigning in Adelaide yesterday, the Opposition Leader said choice of schools for the disabled was limited because they could enrol only at schools with appropriate facilities.

His $314 million, four-year scheme would allow 6000 children with profound disabilities greater choice because the funding would be portable -- following them to the school of their parents' choice rather than being absorbed by bureaucracies.

Some questions:
What is “severe disability”?
What is “profound disability”? Are they the same?
Is this physical disability or intellectual or both?
And how about the very basic question of “When does it start?”

You see I don’t think these are minor questions. Because if Franklin’s article doesn't inform the very people who will possibly be affected by the policy then what the hell is the point of it?

But here’s my bigger point (and why this is not about Franklin at all – because as I said, he covered it as good as anyone – but the broader issue of how policy is being treated) not only do I know not know if Down Syndrome students will be included, I’m pretty sure Tony Abbott doesn't either and THAT should have had every journalist worth their salt champing at the bit to get at him. Alison Rehn’s tweet states:

TAbbott dodged question on whether his education card for children with disabilities includes children with down syndrome

He dodged it because he doesn't know. How do I know this? Well if we got to the Liberal Party website to find the media release on the policy we get this:

The Coalition will invest $314 million to provide greater support to students with a disability and their families.

An elected Coalition Government will work at a Ministerial Council level to secure national agreement on definitions of disabilities. Nationally consistent definitions are the first crucial step on the road towards providing greater assistance for all students with disabilities.

These categories will be adopted nationally to ensure consistency for parents, students, teachers, governments and relevant stakeholders.

The Coalition will ensure that this process is complete before 1 July 2011.

The Coalition will commence the Education Card from January 2012, based on agreed nationally consistent definitions, providing portability of the entitlement between schools or school systems. This will provide real choice to parents and a guarantee of a better education for students.

The entitlement will follow the student and will bypass state educational bureaucracies, by being paid straight to education institutions.

It is estimated that the roll-out of the Education Card will initially provide assistance to almost 6,000 disabled children and their families.

The Education Card will be introduced incrementally and in a targeted manner - commencing with those who need it most and with reference to the newly created disability definitions. Students most in need will get help first, with eligibility to be expanded as the federal budgetary position improves.

So what they are saying is there will be a “Ministerial Council” to work out what is defined a severely disabled etc. OK… but let’s work this through. Abbott has released this policy targeted presumably at people like myself who have children with disabilities, but he won’t tell me if my child will qualify until after the election (and presumably after I have voted for him because of this policy). Does that sound fair?

The Coalition will also provide students with portable funding through an Education Card worth up to $20,000 per year, indexed to inflation.

And here’s the really big issue and why I can’t believe it didn’t get asked. If he doesn't know who qualifies for the scheme, how can he say it will cost $314 million?

You see these aren’t just selfish questions I’m asking, this goes to the heart of the policy.

I am glad that Alison Rehn asked the question; the problem was it was a day late. The bus had moved on and the pace of the election campaign is such that yesterday's announcement is forgotten – unless it’s a big one like PPL or the NBN.
If asked now about his disability policy he can easily say “Well… ahh… look… ahhh today I’m here to announce my health policy for families of the ADF and …”. The moment is gone.

But just imagine if on Friday when he announced the policy, instead of being asked about Mark Latham and triviality which no one can even recall now, he had been the following:

  • Which disabilities qualify as “severely disabled”
  • Will it be intellectually disabled, physically disabled or both?
  • Who decides who qualifies?
  • Who will sit on the Ministerial Council?
  • You say it will go to “those who need it most”? How do you define need – is it the costs associated with the disability or the severity of the disability itself?
  • Does that mean someone who is severely disabled, but whose health and educational costs are low will not be classed as severely disabled?
  • How do you compare whether a physical disability is more or less severe than a intellectual disability?
  • You say $314 million and 6,000 students, how do you know that if you don’t know yet who qualifies?
  • Does that mean the number of “severely disabled” will be limited by however many fit within the $314 million cap, or is 6,000 the cut off?
  • Why should parents of children with disabilities vote for you on the basis of this policy if they don’t know if their children will even qualify?
  • Yesterday Julia Gillard specifically stated the disabilities which would qualify for her scheme, why can’t you do the same?
I don’t know about you, maybe Tony Abbott and Chris Pyne would have known all those answers – and if so, great – the families of children with disabilities would then actually have the information with which to make an informed decision, but I have to suspect Tony Abbott might have been ummming and ahhing and quickly his minder would have been calling “last question”.

And then the reports on the policy launch may have actually generated some coverage, and it would have been all because the journalists shone light on the policy and found it wanting.

The right policy questions are gold my friends – it’s where the biggest traps are for the politicians – especially in an election campaign when they don’t have access to the Public Service to provide them with copious briefing, or where they have time to study the policy in great detail prior to the announcement.

And if good policy questions are what the media is focussed on, it means that the politicians must focus on good policy – because their policy, no matter how small, had better be good or they’ll look like fools.


Anonymous said...

you write good.
Love Bucks.

SM said...

I too was wondering where Joe and Barnaby were this afternoon.

I'm sure if the cash rate had gone up they would of been rushing out there "See, see this lot is making your mortgage payments higher with their debts"

Then again they couldn't mention mortgages as that might remind people that you occasionally borrow money (ie run a deficit) to get yourself a long term infrastructure asset with current utility. Then again Economics or even numeracy have never been a strong point for those two.

Of course, I might be wrong but I don't think I heard any journalists asking the opposition if this lack of an interest rate rise meant all the debt and deficit was just a scare tactic and potential excuse to ditch policies once in power.


Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Exactly,SM, and that was exactly the same artifice that Howard and Costello used once they got into power, blame all their jettisoning of worthy Labor policies on debt and deficit reduction. And the gullible guppies in the Australian electorate are falling for it again.

BigBob said...

I'll bet $50 that the Coalition submits less than half their policies to treasury for costing.

Anonymous said...

Telstra shareholders be warned

If The NBN is cancelled, the $11 Billion to be paid to Telstra will impact the shareprice.

Anonymous said...

I could cry over this post and I surely will.
My niece tried earlier this year to enter her disabled son in one of the leading Melbourne Grammar Schools with no success. They "didn't have the facilities available" was the answer.

The entry in Comments relating to Telstra and the possible binning of the NBN means that broadband would be channeled through pay-tv: a carve up of Murdoch-Packer-Telstra interests. Kerry Packer had large holdings in Optus at one time but not sure of the current position but James Packer retains the holdings in CPH.

queenzelda said...

I also fail to understand the logic of paid maternity leave as a return to work measure.

I love the admission inherent in the Coalition's policy that women earn less than men. But we have pay parity don't we?!

I think I would prefer a continued super contribution during maternity leave rather than paid maternity leave. Surely that would go further to address long term wealth disparities between women and men than some middle class welfare in the form of a cash handout?

Jingles said...

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