The morning laughs started early when Joe Hockey went head to head with Louise Yaxley on AM (so good it is here in full):
JOE HOCKEY: I want the Treasurer to exert the influence that a competent and respected Treasurer can wield and I think the banks do listen when a Treasurer uses all the levers in his armoury to place pressure on them, but this Treasurer's not being listened to and on 30 different occasions he's been ignored.
Yaxley asked the very obvious question:
LOUISE YAXLEY: What levers does he have that he could be using that would make them pay attention?
JOE HOCKEY: Well the banks have a constant interaction with government, be it from a regulatory perspective, a credential perspective or even since the global financial crisis, in a commercial perspective getting government and tax payer support for their own fundraising endeavours. So I would say that the Treasurer is not using the obvious levers available to put pressure on the banks to stop them from raising interest rates outside of the changes brought about by the Reserve Bank itself.
Ah, I see: “obvious levers”. Yaxley ain’t letting that hogwash get past her:
LOUISE YAXLEY: Just to go back to the levers, you've made it very clear that one of them is to point out that what the minutes of the Reserve Bank have said about bank costs, what else should he be doing?
JOE HOCKEY: Well there are a range of different initiatives that are available to a Treasurer. The banking system itself is heavily regulated.
I think you can use a whole lot of levers and as a former financial services minister from time to time, I used them, to persuade the banks not to gouge consumers. It's up to the Treasurer to use those levers.
Oh, a “range of levers”. Nice Joe, you’ve fronted up with out any details. Hmm wonder if that’ll pass muster?
LOUISE YAXLEY: Can you give us any further indication of what you mean when you talk about the levers though, what the things are that he could be doing?
Nope – Yaxley drills him for the third time in a row to come up with some specifics.
JOE HOCKEY: Well there are a raft of levers that are available that may be punitive in measure when it comes to the banks, but the banks ought to understand they rely heavily on a government and a parliament that delivers good will and if the banks trade off that good will to gouge the Australian consumers, then if the Government doesn't move to put pressure on the banks then the parliament will.
A “raft of levers now”? So we’ve got an obvious range of a raft of levers. Gee that sounds impressive. And to top it all off he’s got some ideas for parliament to do some things to the banks… oooh interesting. Yaxley poses a question which you would think Joe would be expecting:
LOUISE YAXLEY: What do you mean by that?
JOE HOCKEY: Well, we'll wait and see.
Wait and see?? Oh dear. Economics policy for Joe has become a bad 1980s two part episode TV show. Oh my God, will Jake get himself out of that trap in time to save the Fatman? Oh wait it’s already 8:29pm, oh no it’s a two part episode! And here it comes: to be continued…
Luckily for us before the second part we had a comic interlude from Liberal MP Don Randall, who arrived at Parliament House to do a doorstop and noticing that the place where the cameras wanted him to stand was an ABC logo he stomped on it and then when someone suggested it was “your ABC” he scoffed and said "Not my ABC. Gay-BC”
Gay-BC? Huh? Seriously, what?
Firstly it would be nice if Randall could explain why he thinks the ABC is particularly “Gay”, and also why is he deciding that using “Gay” as a slur is ok? I guess it is just one of those cases where because he is considered a bit of a nothing; a bit of a colourful character, he’s allowed to get away with such things. He didn't bother to make a personal explanation on the matter after Question Time, so obviously neither he nor the Liberal Party thinks is is that big a deal…
He did however make a personal explanation about the next thing he said at the doorstop when he was asked about the policy to getting parliament to take action to intervene on banks raising interest rates:
“Well, you know, this is typical of, you know, Bob Brown before the election and during the election wanted to talk about a super profits tax on the banks. This is just another one of their, as I said lunatic fringe-type ideas.”
Oh dear. Your day isn’t good when making a joke about Gay-BC is actually a high point.
Needless to say Joe had to come out and front the press before Question Time. He stood in the Parliament House courtyard and gave one of the most baffling press conferences this side of Tony Smith trying to talk about broadband. All that was missing from Hockey’s talk was mention of the opposition having a secret plan to fight inflation.
Now here’s the problem for Joe and the opposition. First off – why was he even bringing this issue up today? The story for the Libs today should have been the MRRT and the kerfuffle over whether or not future royalty increases are included in the deal or not. I mean if Libs are going to ignore the guidance of The Oz, you’ve got to wonder what is the point. Oppositions only need one issue a day – oppositions can focus on the news cycle, they don’t actually have to do anything like govern the country, so all they need to do is pick one major issue each day that they know the Government would rather not talk about.
Poor George Brandis has been battling away in estimates finding out that the Resources, Energy and Tourism Department didn’t know that Treasury was getting legal advice on the constitutionality of the MRRT and yet Joe blows that off. (OK it is pretty irrelevant given RET doesn't need to know if the legislation which is only in the drafting stage might be unconstitutional, but hey, at least George is trying!)
And so firstly Joe is bringing up an issue that could have been left for next week – or at the very least before the next RBA meeting. Secondly, the big problem for Joe is when he did finally get around to coming up with some “levers”, they actually deserved some discussion:
JOE HOCKEY: There are a range of levers that are available to the Government. Well name three; okay: three of them are - they're funding the residential mortgage backed securities market right. They could differentiate between support for smaller banks, smaller entities and the banks, larger banks themselves if they are getting any support.
Step two; fees are paid to APRA and they can be varied as well.
Step three; the banks have new capital and liquidity rules associated with Basel 3. The Government can negotiate on some of those as well with the banks.
Step four; the banks are always looking for greater opportunities through financial services reform to deliver better outcomes, include reducing red tape for the banks themselves and so on it goes on and on and on.
Problem is by this stage he had pretty well blown his credibility. He had wished and washed all over the place, back flipped (or as The Oz calls backflips when done by the Liberal Party – he “shifted ground”) and blathered, before finally saying what he should have been saying when he was sitting across from Louise Yaxley early this morning.
The other problem is his blather about the banks ignoring Swan 30 times is a tad stupid – really they’ve ignored him 30 times? So each time he has told them not to raise interest rates they have raised them? Gee I must have missed that. And he should also stop referring to brave Peter Costello standing up to the banks. The only things that scared the banks back when Costello was treasurer was Rams and Aussie Homes Loans.
So Hockey is right when he talks about the residential mortgage backed securities market – if that is bolstered there is a better chance that the banks will face some competition again.
The other problem for Hockey is his quoting of the RBA saying that borrowing costs are now down and interest margins are up (ie banks are making good money on their borrowing) is that is rather kills his whole “crowding out” thesis.
So only a few problems, for Joe. Not a bad morning’s work.
And so on to Question Time.
The first question was by Abbott on the MRRT. Was Julia troubled? Well no. She was even less troubled by Abbott’s supplementary. Thus far Abbott really hasn't come to grips with the whole supplementary process – mostly because he plans them in advance and thus he asks them even when there is little reason. The other problem is having just one supplementary per Question Time is rather pointless. It’s a bit like only being able to bowl one bouncer per over.
Wayne Swan had the first Dorothy Dixer. To say he had good material to work with is an understatement. Unfortunately he took his free hit and missed. Not for the first time in three years I sighed and wondered what the great PJK would have done with Hockey’s statements. Swan had another go with the next Dorothy and he was much better as he made use of Randall’s stellar morning work. It was obviously better because Chris Pyne was up and down quite a bit:
Mr Ripoll, 2:11:39 PM, to Mr Swan (Treasurer), Point of order, Mr Pyne, 2:13:06 PM, Mr Swan, 2:13:52 PM, Point of order, Mr Pyne, 2:14:50 PM, Mr Swan, 2:15:56 PM, Point of order, Mr Randall, 2:17:37 PM, Mr Swan, 2:18:37 PM
But even still, Swan’s answer really didn’t leave you remembering any of his lines.
Gillard was asked about East Timor (again) and again she did it easy, though her response did stray into John Lennon territory when she started listing the things she didn’t believe in:
I do not believe in three-word slogans, I do not believe in boat phone and I do not believe in the Prime Minister of the nation pretending that he or she is in a better position than a patrol boat commander to deal with a situation at sea.
A few journos rightly pointed out that during the election she was pretty happy to believe in a two word slogan, and they are right – neither side can look back to that four week campaign with much pride.
An interesting aspect to Question Time is to look at who is asking the questions. Here was the line-up today:
You’ll notice after Abbott, only Hockey (who was almost forced to ask a question after his morning work) from the front bench asked a question. Now it is good to give the back benchers some questions to show their electorate they care, but no minister is really going to be troubled by a non-shadow Minister. Where has Turnbull been? Yesterday he introduced a Private Members’ Bill to try and force the Government to do a Cost Benefit Analysis of the NBN and yet he gets no questions?
Chris Pyne has Garrett now as his opposite and yet he gets one question in a week?
I think the Opposition doesn't really know what it is doing yet. It is almost like they are waiting for the Christmas break and then desire to start afresh next year. They certainly don’t seem to have their hearts in it, otherwise their tactics committee wouldn’t let Gambaro bowl up such a long hop to Gillard:
Ms GAMBARO (3.15 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to Solar Wise, a small business in Queensland almost sent broke by the government’s roof batts program. If Solar Wise and other small businesses like it that trusted the government to get its roof batts program right now cannot rely on the government to fix it after it went wrong, why should they trust the government on anything?
Now the first part was fine, but ending with the smarmy “trust the government on anything” gave Gillard the opportunity to talk about “anything” – which she did, with ease.
It all was part of what I guess in retrospect was some sort of a cunning, subtle plan by the Liberals to lead up to a Matter of Public Importance by Abbott after Question Time on “The failure of the Government to keep its commitments to Australian industry”. It is again interesting to see who responds on behalf of the Government. Today to counter the Leader of the Opposition, the ALP put up Jason Clare, the Minister for Defence Materiel. Clare is believed to be a bit of a comer, but it says a bit about how the ALP is feeling at the moment that they didn’t even bother putting up a cabinet minister to counter Abbott.
Perhaps their confidence may have come from them winning the first division called during a questions time. It occurred when Chris Pyne moved that Simon Crean no longer be heard– he had been bagging them for wanting to bring back Work Choices. In the division all the independents except Crook voted with the Government – giving them an easy 75-72 win.
Pyne had worked himself up into a bit of a lather today. During an answer by Albanese he made a point of order in which he said: “I had thought on a general point that these ‘slag and bag’ answers were going to end with the new standing orders”.
Personally, I like nothing more than some slag and a hell of a lot of bag in my QT. But maybe that’s just me.