“It really surprises me that some people in this party think we owe Westpac something, or the ANZ Bank, or the National. That really surprises me… If you want to start talking about equity and fairness you better start talking about unemployment but you can’t do it with a sick economy. Banking is the artery of the economy and we’ve had hardening of the arteries for too long in this country.”
Joe Hockey this morning? Err no. Try Paul Keating at the ALP National Conference in 1984.
This week has been “kick the crap out of Joe” week. And normally I’d be in there first with a new pair of boots all shiny and ready to land their first blow. Last week in fact I went in studs up. But the problem is that Hockey has been saying some damn smart things this week. As I wrote on Monday, his speech to the Australian Industry Group on banking reform pretty much nailed it. Instead of getting anywhere near the respect it deserved it was ridiculed by much of the entire political spectrum. Actually that’s not quite true. For the most part everyone has been ignoring what he said in his speech and focussed on his very bad day last Thursday – as though him coming out too early with a few thought bubbles devalues the thoughts once they have been fully formed and expressed.
Sure last week he foolishly talked about punitive measures, and he has had to step back from those, but his nine point plan deserves a hell of a lot more examination that it has thus far been given.
Today’s editorial in the SMH nailed the issue perfectly:
COALITION clumsiness on policy has given Prime Minister Julia Gillard the excuse to attack the emergence of ''a strain of economic Hansonism''. If opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey and finance spokesman Andrew Robb were guilty of going too far with populist and ambiguous musings on the banks and the currency exchange rate, Ms Gillard is guilty of offering misleading caricatures of their positions. The changes in the financial sector since the global crisis call for a much more substantial and measured debate.
Rob Oakeshott displayed excellent sense when asked on AM this morning about Hockey's views (and he hadn’t even read his speech):
LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you think that Joe Hockey's being populist as the Government has accused him? Or is he taking up an issue that a lot of people have concerns about?
ROB OAKESHOTT: A bit of both. You go back to some of the oldest play books in politics and kicking the banks is one of the easiest plays you can make.
At the same time in amongst that cheap and easy play book there are some real reforms that could be made that make a better and stronger banking system in this country.
Spot on – Hockey has gone the populist route, but that doesn’t mean it all should be dismissed.
Quite clearly the views of the shadow treasurer have not been properly thought through; I mean the economic impact of what he is saying would be catastrophic. This whole idea of being... bank bashing, of having a go at an industry which is actually performing well, and which Australia should be very proud of. You know he seems to be almost on some sort of personal vendetta and I don't really get it.
It would appear he's been taking economics lessons from Hugo Chavez and I don't really see there's much future in Australia for this type of policy; it's crazy.
Call me an old, bleeding-heart lefty, but when the CEO of a Bank that has just recorded a $4.2b after tax profit, starts calling you a communist, you know you’re on the right track.
Hockey this week has been banging on about competition in the banking system, post the GFC. Here’s a view on this same issue, made last year:
"In a crisis, issues around competition are easily thrown aside as public officials look for the line of least resistance - that is to fold one institution into another. It is better more often to support the institution from the outside so that you maintain that competitive structure after the crisis."
Hockey? No, that man Keating again.
The ALP should be owning this issue. The sooner they steal the lead on this and leave Hockey out to dry the better. Because if they don’t, very quickly they’re going to find that others have woken up to the fact that Hockey is talking sense, and they’re looking like being on the side of the 4.2 billion dollar man.
Today in parliament John Alexander gave his maiden speech. It wasn't the dumbest of the maiden speeches given in this parliament – that must surely go to yesterday’s by the new member for Dawson, George Christenson, who outlined a Christmas shopping list of infrastructure spending:
We need a solid commitment from the government to the important Mackay ring-road project.
Along with the road network issues in Mackay, there is a dire need for increased funding for a range of problem areas on the Bruce Highway.
Health is another key area where we are being let down badly by Labor.
Finally in terms of needs for Dawson, there is a noticeable lack of adequate community and social infrastructure for growing populations. Whether it be an upgrade for the Mackay Showgrounds, the sporting grounds of the Mackay and District Junior Soccer Club, the Whitsunday Moto Sports Club’s raceway or the Whitsunday Sports Park, there is a clear need for more social infrastructure.
But then when it came to the vexed question of how the Government would pay for all this he gave us this:
To me, the most hated of these taxes is income tax and there are only a few things more detestable than someone mooching directly off your income, even if it is the state and it is supposedly for the common good. I believe income tax should go.
Good luck doing the maths on that come budget time.
But back to Alexander. He gave a speech that sounded like he had given it a few times before – mostly at sportsman’s night. The first half was pretty well all old tennis war stories, that were somehow forced into a political philosophy lesson:
My education was very different to that of many of my colleagues. Year 11 was replaced with the world as my classroom, and Harry Hopman, the legendary Davis Cup captain, my teacher. Harry was more mentor than coach. He often talked of his friendship with our party’s founder, Sir Robert Menzies, whose daughter, Heather, is here today. We travelled to Europe in 1968, which was plagued with industrial unrest. The Italians had elevated strike action to an art form, which provided them with more time to be Italian, and they did it with such style. The French Open was nearly cancelled because of the strikes. The event proceeded, with an added benefit: as no-one was working, the crowds were great, and so was the tennis. Rosewall beat Laver in the final
Geez, how dare those workers strike for better conditions? Didn’t they know we wanted to play tennis?
Unfortunately he found no time in his speech to mention his great work as referee of Gladiators. When he got to politics, the best he could do was sprout Abbott’s “Pay back the debt”, “Stop the Boats” etc. Though he did ask “Where will we be in 50 Years?” which has me thinking he may be an old Uncanny X-Men fan from the 80s.
The best part of his speech was that it served to remind me that because of his election, we will all be spared his dire commentary at the Australian Open this year. I thank the good people of Bennelong for having performed this act of public service for us all.
I was born in a generation where capitalism and communism struggled across different planes for supremacy and we lived under a shadow of potential elimination. That contest has been closed but I argue that the question of how we organise ourselves to improve society continues to evolve. We are now driven by a new quest to establish a balance between the hunger for individual freedom and the need for us to act collectively. My overarching desire is to ensure our collective actions can help individuals and their communities reap their full potential.
My fundamental world view rests at its core on the notion of balance. I do not just tolerate alternate views; I remain open to them, I learn and grow from them and I value differences in our society and in our debates about the future of our society. We should celebrate our different skills and ideas, while realising that at some point we must combine our energies and effort for the sake of community and country.
And on to Question Time.
The day’s events of course were overshadowed by this morning’s votes, where Andrew Wilkie’s Private Member’s Bill was passed, followed soon after by a Liberal Party Private Members Bill on student allowances.
I;d have to check but I would seriously doubt if there has ever been an occasion where two Private Members Bills were passed on the same day.
The one Private Members Bill that didn't get passed was the Lib’s call for an inquiry in into the BER. Was it because Pyne stuffed up, or because he decided not to bother with a vote? Me thinks the first. Ah well, these things happen.
Then we went to the second bill before the House, the Commission of Inquiry into the Building the Education Revolution Program Bill 2010. We have heard a lot of squawking from the member for Sturt about the BER bill and the need for a royal commission into the BER, but when it came to the crunch he could not even come into this parliament and call for a division on it.
You would not compare him with Rocky Balboa, but it is a bit like a heavyweight championship fight where you challenge your opponent; you go on about it day after day, week after week, month after month; and then you do not turn up when the fight is on.
The big issue for the Libs today was Electricity prices and a carbon tax. They were after a nice quote from Gillard admitting that a price on carbon would increase electricity prices. She of course is far too smart to given them such a grab, but she didn't back away from the actual impacts, and I have to say she is talking more sense on the issue than we ever heard from Rudd:
The reason that you put a price on carbon is to create incentives to engage in economic activity and, when engaging in that economic activity, to not produce the same level of carbon emissions—that is, you want to create an incentive structure so that people reduce emissions. Let me adopt the words of Marius Kloppers to explain this to the Leader of the Opposition, because I think he put it elegantly:
… carbon emissions need to have a cost impact in order to cause the consumer to change behaviour and favour low carbon alternatives.
Marius Kloppers, the head of BHP, goes on:
We also believe that such a global initiative will eventually come, and when it does Australia will need to have acted ahead of it to maintain its competitiveness.
On the question of electricity and carbon pricing and industry calling out for certainty, I would refer the Leader of the Opposition to the words of Richard McIndoe, Managing Director of TRUenergy, who said:
We all would like a price on carbon … If it’s not done in this government and if this uncertainty continues, not for two to three years, but four to five years, and nobody is building, then you will have power shortages and insufficient capacity.
Words that I would recommend the Leader of the Opposition think about
Abbott thought he was smart asking if a price on carbon was so vital and such a great reform, why did she pressure Rudd to dump the CPRS? The problem of course is that Abbott was the one who killed the CPRS. A decision he, and quite possibly some rent-seeking mining companies may come to regret if a decent price on carbon policy gets passed in this parliament.
Gillard in response to a question from that intellectual heavyweight Warren Truss perfectly skewered the Libs’ policy of direct action, which they would have you believe is costless:
GILLARD—I ask the member to accept one simple proposition which is, if we are to tackle climate change, if we are to meet the targets we have set ourselves on a bipartisan basis as a nation, if we are to transform our economy in the way we need to then, yes, there will be some costs and, yes, there is a question of how you work through costs—absolutely. What the member simply cannot do is come into this place and pretend that he stands for a policy that somehow has no costs. If he is of the view that his policy has no costs, he would have been quickly corrected by the incoming brief to the government which would have pointed out the considerable costs arising from his policy.
On the question of electricity pricing, about which I was asked, I refer the member—
This was not what the Libs wanted to hear about and so we got:
Mr PYNE (Sturt) (2.45 pm)—I move:
That the member be no longer heard.
It was defeated (the Libs need to work out that the independents will not be voting with them on frivolous motions)
Julia ended her answer with a beautiful display:
Ms GILLARD—I conclude by saying that serious people understand that to address climate change, you have to price carbon. Serious people understand pricing carbon will change our economy. Serious people understand that not pricing carbon is causing uncertainty for the electricity generation sector and is going to, in the future, constrict supply. Serious people work through these issues in a serious way. People who do not care about the future of the nation play cheap politics and are anti reform.
One final thing about Question Time. Can someone take Harry Jenkins aside and tell him to put a sock in it. Too often he thinks the game is about him, he needs to put away the whistle and let them play.
In the answer above Harry came in with this:
The SPEAKER—Order! The Prime Minister should be very careful—she is entering into debate.
In Albanese response to the Dorothy Dixer on parliamentary procedures he said this:
The SPEAKER—Order! The Leader of the House should not overly argue or debate this question.
For crying out loud, it was a Dorothy Dixer! Just shut up and let Albo rip.
Too often Question Time is held up while Jenkins decides to regale the chamber with his views, before making a non-decision:
The SPEAKER—I have the point of order. The standing orders were changed to add that answers be directly relevant. She is correct, the House of Representatives Practice has indicated, as many people have indicated, that it will not only take a change of standing orders but a change of culture in the whole House to bring about the type of question time and proceedings in this place that many outside would like to see. I will be listening carefully to the Prime Minister’s response. I believe that so far she has been directly relevant, if not giving a direct answer, which the standing orders do not say that I have to ask for because I am not in a position to—and that is something that is also in the House of Representatives Practice. I will listen carefully to the Prime Minister’s response.
In other words, there is no point of order.