Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Election 2010: Extra Time (or, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Independents)

Today the three independents put out a list of 7 demands:

  1. 935223-independents-npcWe seek access to information under the ‘caretaker conventions’ to economic advice from the Secretary of the Treasury Ken Henry and Secretary of Finance David Tune, including the costings and impacts of Government and Opposition election promises and policies on the budget.
  2. We seek briefings from the following Secretaries of Departments:
    1. Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
    2. Health and Ageing
    3. Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
    4. Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government
    5. Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
    6. Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water
    7. Defence
    8. Resources, Energy and Tourism
  3. We seek briefings from caretaker Ministers and Shadow Ministers in the above portfolio areas to discuss their program for the next three years.
  4. We seek advice as soon as possible on their plans to work with the Clerks of the Parliament to improve the status and authority of all 150 local MP’s within parliamentary procedures and structures. In particular, we seek advice on timelines and actions for increasing the authority of the Committee system, private members business and private members bills, matters of public importance, 90 second statements, adjournment debates, and question time.
  5. We seek a commitment to explore all options from both sides in regard “consensus options” for the next three years, and a willingness to at least explore all options to reach a majority greater than 76 for the next three years. Included in these considerations is advice on how relationships between the House of Representatives and the Senate can be improved, and a proposed timetable for this to happen.
  6. We seek a commitment in writing as soon as possible that if negotiations are to take place on how to form Government, that each of these leaders, their Coalition partners, and all their affiliated MP’s, will negotiate in good faith and with the national interest as the only interest. In this same letter of comfort, we seek a written commitment that whoever forms majority Government will commit to a full three year term, and for an explanation in writing in this same letter as to how this commitment to a full term will be fulfilled, either by enabling legislation or other means.
  7. We seek advice as soon as possible on a timetable and reform plan for political donations, electoral funding, and truth in advertising reform, and a timetable for how this reform plan will be achieved in co-operation with the support of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Whoah! An amazing list. As Bernard Keane on Twitter said, they’ve asked for “a burger with a lot, a Supreme Pizza and the bucket of KFC”.

Julia Gillard’s response was to ask, “would you like fries with that?”

She agreed not only to all seven items but threw in this nice tasty morsel for free:

Further, with respect to your keen interest in broadband, would you like a briefing with the Chief Executive and Director of NBNCo Mr Mike Quigley? He would be best placed to provide you with the technical information on aspects of the NBN including the rollout and other information you may be seeking.

You know, I’m thinking they might like a briefing! Not very subtle, but a nice move by Julia – in effect she’s saying here’s the books go your hardest – I think you’ll like what you find (and by the way check out that NBN!).9493-6357

Tony Abbott on the other hand played Otto from A Fish Called Wanda as said, “Ummm what was the first part again?”

He gave a press conference at short notice at 7pm where he announced he would not hand over the opposition’s policies to Treasury to be costed. What is his reasoning do you ask? Well try this on for size:

"It is very difficult for the public service to understand Coalition policy with the same depth as government policy."

Yes. Seriously.

I’m not sure who Abbott thought was going to implement his polices if he did win government but I have a slight suspicion it was going to be the public service – the very same ones he is right now saying couldn’t understand them.

Abbott is sticking by his spreadsheet from last week – a spreadsheet which any journalist worth his or her salt could tell then was as useless as all get out (and now it’s blindingly obvious to the rest).

Yeah the numbers add up, but the assumptions behind the numbers are untested except by Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb – the accounting firm they got to “audit” their costing pointedly did not question the assumptions (because they were not asked to).

Now prior to the election, sure Abbott had some justification for not using the Charter of Budget Honesty process – it is a bit of a mug’s game. But the election has come and gone, no one gets to vote on the basis of the costings. The only people who are truly interested are Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott. They are so interested in fact they put it at Number 1 on their list. You think that might mean they consider it important?

And yet Abbott is saying no.

Abbott not wanting the Treasury to go through his costings at his point is a bit like me saying the ATO won’t be able to understand my tax return with the same depth as does my private accountant, so just trust me on what I say I am due as a refund.

Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt.

Now look we all realise that opposition costings are going to be a bit out – they don’t have the public service to do all the work for them. Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter aren’t stupid, they understand this. So if the Libs costing were out a few million – say 100-200 million, it wouldn’t really matter.

But this move makes me think they’re out by a bit more than that. I think we’re in the billions territory.

This move by Abbott has me thinking that the Libs were hoping to get in, and then come out and say the debt is worse than they thought yada yada and so they wouldn’t be able to do all these things they said they would do.

In which case had they won outright they would have got away with it. But now…oops.

Of course maybe everything is kosher and Abbott is just doing this because he wants to tell the independents where to get off.

Yeah right.

Peter Martin this morning almost anticipated this happening when he saw Lenore Taylor’s article in the SMH outlining point one. He wrote:

This will strike terror into the hearts of Abbott and Hockey

It may even finish them politically.

The point is, despite all the talk of auditing, the Coalition's figures were never designed to withstand scrutiny. Such scrutiny will show many of the promised savings do not exist.

It'll show Abbott, Hockey and Robb to be anything but the sober, responsible managers they said they were.

And also a little less than honest.

They will have shot themselves in the foot, once again.

A perceptive man, that Peter Martin.

The actual election news is also getting interesting (ok, it already was, but more so!). Andrew Wilkie has Denison sewn up. Hasluck looks to be a win for the Libs. That will put them on 72. The ALP are on 71, but they are still holding onto Corangamite – on 50.34% with 84.9% counted – if they get over the line they’ll be on 72 as well.

But interestingly the ALP’s Arch Bevis is storming home in Brisbane. As Stephen Spencer (who has been glued to the AEC website for seemingly 100 hours straight) tweeted:

Bevis now under 400 votes behind and winning 56% of absentee and postals. If trend continues he'll win comfortably.

If the ALP win both Brisbane and Coranagamite (big if I know) they’ll be on 73, the LNP on 72, 4 Independents and 1 Greens. With those numbers (and given the fact that the ALP is still on 50.59% of the two party preferred (76.8%) counted, it would be hard not to back Julia Gillard to remain as PM.

It’s a big IF, because if it goes the other way and the Libs win them both – they’ll be on 74 to the ALP’s 71.

If they split them it’ll be LNP 73 versus the ALP’s 72+1 Greens.

There’s still all to play for.

Which is why it is odd Tony Abbott should act like he is going to take his bat and ball and go home.


Today I had a piece on the ABC’s The Drum. If you wish to read it (and defend me against those big meany critics), you’ll find it here.


Shaun said...

I was impressed by JG's letter and have a hope that Labor may have learned their lesson very quickly.

If Labor does become a minority government, it could be the remaking of the party into a positive force again ending the cancerous influence of the NSW right.

Then again, Labor have let me down before.

Interesting times tinged with optimism but despair is hanging around in case it is needed.

Anonymous said...

The coalition may be a bit squeezed. Shonky if they won't let treasury do costings and exposed if they do. Pity it couldn't have happened before we all voted. Thanks again Grog for your great work.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know more about what the independents mean by a 'reform plan' for political donations.

It's all very well for Malcolm Turnbull to strategically criticise corporate and union donations (7pm Project). He would know that there are plenty of millionaires who are likely to make hefty donations to the Libs if corporations are prevented from doing so, but ordinary working people don't have that kind of money.

We need to pool our resources through unions to exercise our political will. And the unions are not exclusively backing the ALP either - some like the ETU and CFMEU have funded the Greens. In other words, they are responsive to their memberships wishes.

Corporate donations and union donations cannot be equated.

Bill said...

Very chuffed to see you writing for the Drum. You deserve it.

At this point in proceedings, the natural character of Labor works far better than that of the Liberals. Labor people tend to be more used to the notion of arbitration while the Liberals will be more likely to just try to buy them off. I think this shows in the way Abbott seems completely lost. He's neither in government, nor opposition, nor running a campaign and you can tell that is just doesn't quite compute. His apology to Andrew Wilkie today is utterly disingenuous.

The irony is that what this is really all about now is ENTERPRISE BARGAINING.
Not so good when the shoe is on the other foot, is it Tony?

Rowan said...

Have been very ill for the last few days, too tired to properly follow the news, so I have relied solely on you to keep me updated!

Good column in The Drum, too. Glad to see you with some serious coverage. Here's to hoping we start getting a media that takes us more seriously.

BTW, has anyone ever told you you look like Joseph Fiennes? You could be his brother!

Alister said...

The Libs need 73 to govern. Anything less and they're screwed. Whereas Labor could do it with 72.

Nicholas Gruen said...

Grog, The Coalition's numbers, and the way they were presented left me with precisely the same smell in my nostrils that Peter Martin is giving vent to. But it's not true that an Abbott Govt would have to break lots of promises. There are always things you've not promised to do in an election campaign that you can do. (though if it's a really really big lot of billions, there are also savings measures in there that they can't deliver - like staff freezes of the magnitude they're after - so it would have to be a pretty sturdy old hunt.

Pip said...

I think one of the Inds. mentioned a govt. funded campaign as opposed to corporate and unions and other donors. Back to the latest turn by Mr. Rabbott, what a laugh after all the "dog ate my homework" quips during the campaign. Looks as if JG had her assignment all wrapped up and ready in smart black folders today.
Another great article Grog, thank you.

Dec said...

I've followed your work closely since about week two of the election, and have loved it. But since the hung parliament you've gone up another level. Well played on the drum article, that was great too

Andos said...

It's good to see your move hasn't adversely affected your abilities to blog, Grog.

Longfulan said...

Shanahan at the Oz thinks we should just forget the independents and have another election. Seems he doesn't want the financial costings to be evaluated by treasury either. Fancy that! So, instead, just embroil the whole country in another election to save the Liberals from scrutiny. Trust us, you know!

BigBon said...

The old phrase involving petards and hoisting comes to mind.

Abbott & Co. thought they were playing hte costings game so cleverly - and they probably were, if they had got the numbers.

Now, it looks like they aren't going to be able wriggle out of scrutiny.

As you pointed out, last night's escuse was the PS couldn't understand their costings, today they won't submit until the Treasury leaker is prosecuted.

Tomorrow may well be the dog ate it, at this rate of obfucation.

Roger said...

One thing, Grog - your accounting at the end of the numbers (ALP v. Coalition) does appear to give Herr Crook to the Coalition. My understanding is that he reckons to sit on the crossbenches. Is there an asymmetry between your treatment of his allegiances in comparison with Bandt's?

Anonymous said...

Anyone notice we have not heard from Barnaby? How long will it last?

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

I think Abbott & Co. have been steadily laying the ground so that on winning the election they would be able to say (as they have previously) that there is a Labor "BLACK HOLE".
To have all the financial cards and figures on the public table pulls the rug out from under their feet somewhat, so in my opinion they will do everything they can to avoid it, hence their refusal to submit a large number of costings to Treasury prior to the election. Although it's probable that the "criminal" Treasury leak they are now emphasising did in fact come from either Treasury or Labor staffers, it would not surprise me if the leak had actually come from their own side so they could avoid further scrutiny on costings prior to the election. If they get up now, how long do we have to wait before we hear about the "GREAT NEW BLACK HOLE IN THE BUDGET". I hope the Independants stick to their request.

Anonymous said...

Now it all revolves around the time it takes
"once a police investigation into the Treasury leak is resolved".

How quickly can Treasury run the numbers?

If a decision is deferred until Friday 03/092010 when the 3 Independent MHRs review their position again, and this is also a time when most electorate results will be declared, we may know more.

Wilkie will have to make a decision at some point other than one that advances the people of his electorate of Denison.

The WA Nat will have to make it clear that he will sit on the cross benches or side with the NATS.

If we have 1 Green (ALP inclined), 4 Independents and 1 WA Nat [that is 6], all sitting on the cross benches, then the major parties will have 144 members.

No one knows how the final votes will fall but it looks more and more like 72 each now that Corangamite is out of Intensive Care.

Who said this was a boring election?


L said...

Hey, I wonder if the "John Birmignham" who commented on your Drum piece is the guy who wrote that book about sharehousing, just slightly misspelled? And that Ralph Fiennes photo seems to be causing absolute chaos. Good work!

Also, hope the move's going well.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Au contraire, el Grogus. It's as plain as the nose on your face why TAbbott & the Cons are behaving the way they are. You almost figured it out yourself, & I'm surprised you didn't draw the logical conclusion based upon your own observations. Ergo, the Coalition have already started campaigning for the next election. The one they believe they will win this time. A sqizz at Shamahan's latest offering would have belled that cat pretty conclusively. Along the lines of, "You will vote again, and again, until you get it Right".
Having known of Abbott from my own days at Sydney University, I can attest to the fact that he has indeed, as he said himself, been working his whole life to get to be Prime Minister. He started back then. A life as one long campaign. And, by gum, he's not going to give up striving for it now that it is so tantalisingly close to becoming his yearned-for reality.
So he's back on the campaign trail again, aided and abetted by his Catholic mafia confreres in Ltd News. This really will be the Heavyweight Title Fight they've been shaping up for. The News Corp Conservative Borg, which has virtually incorporated all the Conservative parties of the world, vs representative parliamentary democracy, the Union movement and the progressive movement.
I'd buy some popcorn if I was you. We've a ways to go yet.

wigmob said...


Thanks for your continuing high quality analysis.

The recalcitrant stance that the Coalition has made regarding the unreliability of the Treasury and or the Treasurer regarding the "leaked" document before the election leads me to suspect that maybe the document was actually leaked by the Coalition itself to create the furphy that the Treasury could not be trusted with analysing the Coalition's election promises.

wigmob said...

Sorry Alistair Baillieu-McEwan, I had not read your post prior to making my own. I do agree with your conclusion.