Monday, September 6, 2010

Election 2010: Extra Time (or, do you want sugar with your tea leaves?)

OK, so it’s going to be tomorrow. We’ll all be told who the three independents will side with tomorrow morning.

The betting market thinks it is going to be Labor – $1.30 to the LNP’s $3.25. To which I say, bull. No one knows how this will go – and there is no form to go by, so any betting market on this is as dopey as putting a market on whether or not red or black will come up in the next spin of roulette and offering black odds on.

Sure there are Libs saying they are “buggered”, and sure some of what the independents have said seems like they might go to the ALP, but anyone who tells you they know which way they’ll jump is just selling you snake oil, and you best ignore them – because neither Gillard nor Abbott will know for sure until they hear from the three that they will or will not be supporting them.

The media is no more help with this than anyone else. They can relate to us things that have been said, but unlike the vote on a piece of legislation or the vote on a spill, there’s no leaking going on here. Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter have all kept silent – because they know they need to or their negotiating position would evaporate.

The media though is most unhelpful when it tries to tell the independents which way to vote. The Australian today reached the nadir of its transparent bias towards the LNP when it put the link to an op-ed piece by Kenneth Wiltshire, a professor of public administration at the University of Queensland Business School on its front page. His piece detailed the philosophy of Edmund Burke and made some suggestions about how his philospohy should guide the three independents to vote for Tony Abbott. It was nice little piece that was interesting reading, apart from minor little point that it completely distorted what Burke said about how MPs should act.

It started by saying:

EDMUND Burke has some good advice to the three country independents holding the future of our nation in their minds.

In his famous speech in 1774 to the voters of Bristol the great British statesman observed that an elected member has four loyalties: "To his conscience; to the wishes of his electorate; to the nation; to his party".

There is the slight problem that Burke never actually said that quote – not even close. So God knows what Wiltshire is quoting, but it ain’t Burke. In my academic days I was always taught that quotation marks mean a direct quote. I guess things have changed since I left.

He then does correctly quote Burke – giving what Wiltshire thinks is definitive proof that the independents should side with Abbott:

Speaking of the constituents Burke said: "Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interests to his own."

And yes if that is all of what Burke had said Wiltshire would be right – if still indulging in some rather spurious logic that because Edmund Burke said something back in 1774, Tony Windsor should do something 2010. But the problem is Burke straight after that sentence said this:

But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

In citing only Burke’s first sentence and ignoring the following, Wiltshire is like a film publicist who says “Critic Joe Blogs said “Many would call this the best movie of the year…’ ” and ignore that the rest of what Joe Blogs said was “… but I think it is the greatest pile of garbage ever committed to film”.

For such a piece of writing to make it to the front page of our only national newspaper, is just one more reason added to the pile of  “why people like me wait until a story is confirmed in another media outlet before they believe what they read in The Oz”.

Here is the part of Burke’s speech for which he is perhaps most famous:

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

If Edmund Burke is their guide the three independents won’t give a damn what a Newspoll of their electorates says. Part of me thinks they don’t, but that’s just pure supposition.

As I have said, nobody knows anything, but let’s look at he tea leaves and see if we can discern if what we think will be will be.

Tony Windsor is in favour of climate change – he “proposed Australia's carbon emissions be cut by at least 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 - and by 80 per cent by 2050”. This has ALP supporters feeling confident, but then he says that it is time to “reconsider, look at the options, you know, the real action that Tony Abbott talks about, the need for a market mechanism possibly, rather than debating the politics of it." This has the Liberal Party thinking, you little beauty!

There’s a lot of that in the independent’s language – like a horoscope it all depends on what you want to read into it.

For example today Windsor and Oakeshott said that if it is 75-75 one of them may need to reconsider. The ALP supporters hear that and take a deep breath because that would mean 2 have gone for Abbott and 1 has gone for Gillard. But given Windsor and Oakeshott are the ones saying they may need to reconsider their vote that could mean both are thinking ALP, and are just wondering what they will do if the other 2 go for the Libs. They were also specifically asked about the 75 all possibility, so it may just be all hypothetical.

We have Abbott and Robb and Pyne and Hockey going nuts over the weekend talking about the far left ALP-Greens Government and how it would be inconceivable for the three independents to back the ALP. This does seem they’re panicking, but they may just be panicking because Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter are good at playing poker. They may be making life tough for Abbott because they feel that they need to play tougher with Abbott because he expects their vote more than Gillard.

Tonight the three have asked Abbott to tell them which way WA National Party MP Tony Crook will be voting. That Abbott hasn’t locked in Crook’s vote is a sad indictment on how Abbott has gone about things. Crook’s vote should have been locked in a fortnight ago. You need to get the basics done, and Abbott hasn’t. Very poor form.

[UPDATE – Crook has confirmed he will support the Libs in a no-confidence motion and supply, but not on policy, and he will not join the coalition. So in effect he’s as much a part of the LNP as Wikie is of the ALP.]

But “what does it mean?” Does it mean that Oakeshott is pointing out that even with their votes Abbott couldn’t form Government, so it’s all over – they’re siding with the ALP. Or are they telling Abbott – look dopey, we want to vote for you, but at the moment there’s no point because you haven’t even got Crook on board.

It could mean either. Or it just could mean the independents want everything nicely squared away before they make their announcement. And given pretty much everyone expect Crook to side with Abbott, is his vote really that crucial?

Tony Windsor says the NBN is the way to go – saying “You do it once, you do it right, you do it with fibre”. This gets the ALP’s hearts a flutter, but who knows, they may have got an NBN type deal for the bush from Abbott.

We don’t know what they have been discussing, anymore than we had any idea Abbott had offered Wilkie $1b until Wilkie told everyone (and I don’t recall reading any journalist giving us the scoop that the $1b had been offered).

I really don’t know what will happen.  I would love to say the ALP are looking good, but I truly don’t know, and like all true believers I am always expecting something to happen to take Government away from us.

Windsor is just as likely to say “throughout the discussions it was always clear that the ALP offered the most stable chance for Government” as he is “we were very close to making a deal with the ALP, but we all feel the Coalition will offer the most stable Government”.

We shall see, and then we shall all be retrospective experts.


Agnes Mack said...

It shouldn't, but it does make me feel better that a smart punter like you is as clueless about the outcome as the rest of us.

If it goes the wrong way I know I'll be miserable tomorrow. My husband predicts that whoever gets the nod will enjoy an immediate jump of around 4% in polls - choice of independent umpires etc. Though I suppose a jump in the polls now has no value other than "feel good", if the next election is as far away as the independents wish.

Oh well, this won't make tomorrow come any faster. Thanks for another sanity saving post.

Anonymous said...

thing i like about you Grog is that you put it all down, and never try pulling the "retrospective expert" line.

Great post. Hope that it all comes to pass in a civilised manner.

(the other)BernardK

Grog said...

I think your husband is right Agnes about the jump in the polls - and I predict a few columns saying the polls show the independents made the right choice!

Kate said...

Well, I do know which way they'll go. If they had wanted to support Labor, they would have done so days ago. The Coalition's costings debacle should have sealed it, and the behaviour of their pit bull front men should have sent the Independents screaming in the opposite direction. But they are looking for a reason to side with the Coalition that doesn't make them look as shady as the party they are aligning themselves with, and the entirely inappropriate leaning on Crook will be it. said...

After listening to Bob Katter on QandA, you can tell that he thought that the Howard era was horrible for his electorate and that the Rudd Government did some good things. If he does side with Labor you can bet a lot of factional warlords will be looking very foolish that the man they dumped because of supposed poor polls was the one who convinced the independents to deliver them government.

If Labor forms government then the real winner will be Rudd.

Dave Gaukroger said...

My gut instinct on election night was that the three of them would be very unlikely to put Abbott into government. I offer no special insight, but that's how it feels to me.

They get to make judgements on their peers without any filter whatsoever and I'm sure if they felt that the Nats and the Libs had anything worthwhile to offer they would have gone back into the fold. Considering the active smear campaigns that the Nationals have been running against Windsor for almost twenty years I find it hard to believe that he would reward them with his support.

In my version of the story, they've been taking the time to ensure that they have a reasonable story to sell to their electorates for not supporting the conservatives, Windsor especially.

The easy option for them would have been to fall in to line with the coalition, no-one would have raised an eyebrow in the media, but instead they've spent over two weeks doing the responsible thing and getting the story from each side.

That said, I admit that I have no more to go on than a hunch and some wishful thinking, just like everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all comments here and Grog - with each comment I nod my head and say "hmmm, good point", then read another conflicting point and, go, "gee, wish I'd thought of that". Very confusing.

Gillard & co have kept a low profile - maybe they know they have it and the return of the 'real Tony' and the hysteria from the media and the Libs for a couple of weeks is enough for everyone to say, yep, they are carrying on like a pack of peas and they dont deserve it - it's the Ali 'rope a dope tactic' - ironic given the pugilist in Abbott, maybe he was just a brawler always holding his breath and swining away hoping to connect, rather than as a tactician who used his brain more than his fists?

Behaviour wise though, Abbott and Murdoch have reverted to the bluster play book - green/left scare mongering, selective quoting of some dude from 200 years ago, puff pieces by Abbott in the Mr & Mrs Stringbag daily. And Robb is looking more and more intemperant each time I hear him mumbling and stumbling and interjecting on late line - he's coming across as shrill and shreiky and DESPERATE.

Katter on Q&A last nite was a revelation - so much passion backed up by facts. But Tony "I'll take that as a comment as it doesn't suit my gotcha narrative" Jones was hopelessly incompetent in letting the costings issue slip, again, away from any real scrutiny bar what the fine bloggers inthe 5th estate have managed thus far. By and away, this is THE most critical issue that should inform the 3 independants, and they must be puzzled at how well they set up the scrutinisation and then how it has been basically ignored as the single most sensational aspect of this campaign!!

Does your average Australian feel so disengaged now about politics now that such a monumental fraud has been perpetrated and no one seems to give a rats?? If it was a shonky car dealer in sydney's west doing dodgy figures or a tax office FUBAR we'd be engaged, but this is the debt & deficit party who have engaged in sloppy, callous pre-meditated and arrogant prep work in the lead up to taking back their birth right, and they wont be held to account and no one seems to care.

I find this absolutley amazing.

Surely failing such a basic 'due diligence' assessment meant that it was all over once Treasury made their assessment????


ernmalleyscat said...

Excellent grog, as usual.

Also agree with Nutra's observation of the rope a dope strategy. I thought Wilkie also did that with Abbott. In one of the News Ltd Abbott love pieces somewhere he was talking about his boxing days, and basically admitted he was just a brawler with no tactics.

The bell rings this afternoon. My hunch - unanimous points decision for Labor.

Anonymous said...

Is there a wrong result? If it goes Abbott’s way, we will watch him struggle with reality of the public becoming aware of his agenda for the first time. There is a lot more to worry about than changes to IR laws. I believe he still has rental and education vouchers in his saddlebag. He would like to make welfare a very last choice, believing that the recipients are unworthy. He will continue to do everything in his power to weaken Medicare. I fear for our first people if he is able to unite with Mr. Pearson. The makeup of the houses will ensure that all legalisation is fully examined and revised. His slogans will no longer be enough. He will have to explain what he means. This he is unable to do, as it will expose his agenda. He has only the ability to opposed and destroy. He has not shown any skills that would enable him to lead, negotiate and work as a part of a team. Ms. Gillard would lead a government that may get some of its agenda through. She has shown for the last three years that she can negotiate and get results. She did this in three important portfolios in spite of having a hostile Senate that left Labor with very little wiggle room. I will be happy with either result.

Anonymous Academic said...

Oh dear. It's terribly awkward when an academic pushes party lines with an opinion piece.

It's even more awkward when that opinion piece contains as many errors as you have pointed out. Have you considered emailing Dr Wiltshire about this? Or possibly the marketing/PR department? It would be nice to see their clarification.

Nonetheless, I would dearly like a resolution and at this point I think either option is fraught with difficulty so I'm not sure if it is that bad should Tony Abbott get in. Obviously it will be a bit horrific, but at least short lived.

The election coverage was far too kind to Abbott and I hope that we get some reasonable scrutiny over what will/won't happen because of the budget black hole. Perhaps a great big new tax to cover the shortfall?

sam said...

A very close result.
Humility needs to be shown.

Rowan said...

Katter backs Coalition and Windsor and Oakeshott back Labor.

Watch the press, we will now start seeing daily stories designed to split the indies from the govt, and plenty of hate pieces on Windsor and Oakeshott. (We've already seen them ad nauseum explaining why they should back Abbott, including the piece in this post.)

I wonder if Katter backed the Coalition, knowing the others were going Labor, to avoid being pilloried in the press. Even if he sides with Labor now to get his share of the pork, he can always claim to be the reluctant one.

RodH said...

Funny , you know. I wrote a comment in response to Wiltshire's article the very morning it was published, pointing out exactly the same omission of the critical part of Burke's famous quotation.

Strangely the Australian can't have been concerned, because they didn't publish it. They don't seem to have published any other comments on the story , either. I wonder why that could be? ;)