Monday, May 31, 2010

On the QT: Mining for Hypocrisy

It was a rowdy start to the Question Time week. During one of Rudd’s answers both Scott Morrison and Chris Pyne were booted. No one missed them.

The issue of today was the Resources Super Profits Tax and advertising – more specially the decision of the Government to circumvent its guidelines on Government advertising to spend $38.5 million on ads the RSPT.

The line directed at Rudd all day was his pledge in 2007 to have the Auditor General take control of approving such advertising. Rudd actually had set up such a situation, but then subsequently revoked it.

The problem however with today’s line of questioning from the Liberals is that is came from the Liberals. This was the party that in Government set new benchmarks (heretofore unchallenged by Rudd) for disgusting wastes of money on taxpayer paid advertising. So whether the question was being asked by Abbott, Hockey or (God help us) Phillip Ruddock, Rudd had a pretty easy response – namely you guys were worse.

LifetimeIt was not terribly edifying – kinda like two drunks involved in a brawl arguing that the other had a higher blood alcohol reading and thus was more to blame. And given that Abbott couldn’t even bring himself to say this morning whether or not he supports legislation to stop such advertising it’s a sure sign that he is just as hypocritical as Rudd – after he was in a Government that effectively ran taxpayer funded adverts for the private health insurance industry (not to mention the plethora of WorkChoices paraphernalia).

The Government was actually quite happy to talk on the issue – the first Dorothy Dixer to Rudd was specifically about the advertisements, and he was in a very upbeat and spritely mood. His attack was also very much to tie the Liberal Party and Abbott to Clive Palmer – which is a good tactic given Palmer pretty much sprouts little of sense in any of his media performances.

Sussan Ley asked a couple decent questions of Rudd in relation to when was the decision made to do the advertising. Rudd said it had been decided while the Government was also making the decision to introduce the tax (and it was included in the Budget). This supposedly was some big scoop, because apparently the Government cited “urgency” as the reason for bypassing the guidelines. But this is not quite the reality. Joe Ludwig when announcing the decision stated:

The Campaign Advertising Guidelines allow the Cabinet Secretary to exempt campaigns for different reasons, including extreme urgency or other compelling reason.

He was just stating the guidelines – but the reasons given afterwards are all to do with “compelling reasons” rather than “urgency”. (I’m not suggesting this gives the Government a pass on the matter, but I don’t think anything ‘discovered’ today contradicts Ludwig’s statement – after all his statement also said:

“The cost of this communications campaign was clearly and publicly announced in the budget papers.” In other words the campaign was planned. The issue is the exemption from the guidelines, not the actual planning of the advert campaign itself. )

All of these questions led up to a motion to censure Rudd. And I have to say at least this motion had some momentum – unlike last Thursday’s pitiful effort.

The problem is it once again gave the public a chance to see Shouty Tony and Angry Joe.

Abbott went back into his 2007 attack-Rudd mode where he referenced Rudd's admiration of Dietrich Bonheoffer. It’s almost as though Abbott gets so incensed that someone else in parliament could be considered more religious than he. It is rather ugly to watch, and also quite pathetic on Abbott’s part. If the only way for Abbott to attack Rudd to is to belittle his admiration for a someone, then you have to think Abbott is basically petty and small minded. We don’t admire people because we think we are like them – we admire them because they inspire us – we may seek to be like them, but seriously if someone admire Martin Luther King, do we belittle him for that admiration purely because he doesn’t always act like him? No doubt Abbott think we should aim lower in our admiration.

Abbott accused Rudd not only of hypocrisy (to which the easy retort, was, well you’d know all about it), but also that he had lied to Parliament, because last week in Question Time Rudd destroyed Abbott’s argument of the impact of the RSPT on the stockmarket. Abbott thought he was on a winner because in Ludwig’s statement the following point was made:

“I have also accepted the Treasurer’s advice that, as the tax reforms involve changes to the value of some capital assets, they impact on financial markets”.

Abbott thought he had Rudd skewered. The only problem is Rudd never said there was no impact on share prices of the RSPT, nor that the RSPT did not afect the value of some capital assets. What he was refuting was Abbott’s statement about the impact. Here’s what Abbott asserted:

Mr ABBOTT (3.41 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister and it refers to the damage already being done by his great big new tax—the collapsing dollar, the falling stock market, the suspension of projects and the evaporation of jobs….

Now to suggest the RSPT was the cause of “the falling stock market” is a hell of a lot more than to suggest the RSPT “involves changes to the value of some capital assets”.

And anyway here was Rudd’s response to Abbott:

Mr RUDD ….The second is this: the stock market. This goes to the other point he has made. I quote him from an earlier remark when he said, ‘Our share market is under pressure because the government has totally mismanaged its proposal of a big new tax on mining.’ He said it was so, at least in part. Let us go to the facts of this matter.

Share prices around the world have fallen because of the crisis in Greece and the honourable Leader of the Opposition would know that. Here are some discomforting facts for him. First of all, if we look at the stock market we see that Australian shares have fallen by less than in other countries over the past month. Since 30 April, the Australian Stock Exchange has fallen by 10 per cent, the London market has fallen by 10.4 per cent, the US Standard and Poor’s index by 11.5 per cent and the Japanese stock market by 12.8 per cent.

That is fact one. Fact two: let us look within the Australian share market itself and the performance of mining shares relevant to other shares. Australian mining shares have fallen by 8.9 per cent but all Australian shares have fallen by more than 10 per cent, the banks and financial institutions by 12 .3 per cent—that is, the second crux of his argument today demolished again by the facts.

Everything Rudd says is spot on, and in no way contradicts Ludwig’s statement. How often though will the Liberal Party accuse the PM of misleading Parliament? It used to be a big call – now they throw it around like it is just a meaningless debating point.

Abbott himself said in his censure motion that the Government had sought a “national emergency exemption” to the guidelines. Yet nowhere in Ludwig statement is there mention of a national emergency. This spin was merely a Liberal Party invention, one that journalists last Friday on twitter were using before they realised that no one in the Government had actually used the term. So by using Abbott’s own logic, I guess you could say he mislead parliament.

6a00d83451f25369e200e54f18e6f08833-800wi Angry Joe followed Shouty (and in bad need of some Strepsils) Tony, and by the end of his 5 minutes I seriously worried for Hockey's blood pressure. He looked ready to burst, and was seriously out of control – kind of like Homer Simpson in Angry-Dad mode.

He even had the temerity to suggest Rudd’s use of the phrase “cancer” when in 2007 describing the proliferation of Government advertising as a “cancer on democracy”  was somehow disrespectful to cancer sufferers. Oh geez Joe, get me a bow and let’s see how long we can draw it…

I’m not sure why they think shouting will win over voters – the only people impressed by shrill bleating and negative attacks are the back benchers and party faithful.

Rudd by contrast used a was loud of voice, but never shouted and definitely not shrill. He had all the numbers of Liberal Government ad spending, and also a few quotes from Clive Palmer – one where Palmer referred to Rudd as a socialist – Rudd joked that he’s been called a few things in the Labor Party, but never a socialist (a line that was perhaps the truest things said in Parliament this year). and he also repeated the line that Abbott and Hockey were for dale, and their policy had been been bought and paid for by the mining industry. He also made much of Abbott’s line on “Gospel truth” – a line that we will hear again and again and again.

I have to say, as much as I am disappointed that the ALP has decided to go the advertising route (or should I say, I’m disappointed with the way they have done it), I have a deal of sympathy with them, especially given how the RSPT is being represented in the media. Take Alan Kohler, who as the ABC TV’s main economics/business guy is held in some high esteem by the public. Today on The Drum he wrote this of the current mining royalty regime

The royalty regime is a delicate web of about 50 different ad valorem (based on value) charges covering a variety of minerals and states. It's arguably a mess, but everyone is used to it and accepts it.

Yep, here’s a guy who holds himself up as bit of a guru on finance and economic matters suggesting we should stick with a mess of a regime, purely because everyone is used to it! Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

Sure the Government could have done a better job selling the RSPT, but when you look at writing such as Kohler’s, you have to admit the media isn’t doing them any favours – especially when it comes to repeating everything Palmer says as though it is unbiased (how often does he have to appear on the ABC?), ditto utterances by Rio Tinto execs or Twiggy Forrest – even George Megalogenis on the weekend was comparing mining companies to unions as though they were similar organisations! Perhaps if the media showed some more reason and less hysteria the ad campaign wouldn’t be as needed.

It’s no excuse of course, but when they say, ‘We get the Government we deserve’, the “we” includes the media.


I only just discovered this one bit of interesting news on the impact of the RSPT in The Age’s online site:

Full steam ahead in the Pilbara - despite tax clash

The big miners may be raging against the proposed resources tax, but it's still business as usual in the booming Pilbara where the plans aren't expected to result in significant losses of future production.

Since May 2, when the federal government announced plans for what it labels a 40 per cent super profits mining tax, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Fortescue and others have made no changes to development schedules that collectively will add 200 million tonnes more for export by the middle of the decade.

The closest thing to a cancellation was a pair of projects proposed by Fortescue penciled in for later in the decade, pending the company's ability to raise the $US15 billion ($17.7 billion) development cost.

If anything, it's full-steam ahead to supply China's ravenous appetite for iron ore imports - which rose more than 41 per cent in 2009 to 628.34 tonnes from a year earlier.

Interesting don’t you think – and not quite agreeing with the advert run by the Mining Council that jobs are set to be lost….


The latest Newspoll just came out – ALP 51 – LNP 49. But the big figure is the Greens’ primary vote of 16%! Given this is double what they scored at the last election I don’t think it is realistic (actually it is completely unrealistic) – but it does show that there is a lot of annoyance with both the ALP and Liberal Party.

Rudd’s satisfaction rating continues to drop – down to 36%, with his dissatisfaction rating up to a massive 54%. And yet on the preferred PM rating there is no change – Rudd still leads 49 to 33. It seems the only person Rudd looks good next to at the moment is Tony Abbot (his satisfaction rating also dropped – 5% to 37%, and his dissatisfaction rating increased 4% to 49%).

If this were any other political year, these numbers would spell certain death for Abbott as the Libs would be stupid not to try and get some of those moderate swingers who seemed absolutely pissed off with Rudd by having a more moderate leader. The problem is Hockey is no real choice as he has gone as feral as Abbott – and so is essentially in lock-step with him – and Turnbull has no backing in the party room.

Interesting times ahead. The one person perhaps most aggrieved at his poll is Lindsay Tanner. He and a few other ALP types in Green friendly seats – eg Tanya Plibersek – may start wondering if there is someone else who may win back some of those disaffected voters. And unlike the Libs, they do have a leader in the wings who has credibility and party room support…

I’ve never thought Rudd would be knocked off so long as the ALP is in the lead (or equal) and so long as he maintains a healthy preferred PM lead. Any party would in past times have been stupid to contemplate such a thing.

But the inner city-marginal seat electoral maths might make such figures a bit old hat – especially if the Greens vote holds up...


Incidentally I’ll be away from home on business tomorrow, so will unlikely blog on QT (though I’ve said that in the past!)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

AFL Power Rankings: Round 10 (or, where’s my farewell game?)

This week will see the last game to be played by the Crows’ Tyson Edwards. One of those players that every supporter would like to have in their side: honest and good week in week out. Will he make the Hall of Fame? Last year I weighed up his chances and had him on the fence. The 320 games should get him in, but the lack of an All-Australian selection counts against him. But as I also wrote last year, the way that the Hall of Fame is currently chosen means it’s all rather meaningless.

This week showed a few things – first that Geelong is the best team in the league (but you knew that already). Second, that Freo is the real deal and will play in the finals (ok, we knew that as well). Thirdly, that Collingwood and the Bulldogs are susceptible and no certainty to play in the Grand Final (yeah, I guess we knew one too). Fourthly, that Hawthorn is still a chance to make the finals, so too are the Lions, and that the Saints are nowhere near as good as they were pre-Riewoldt’s injury, but they’re still pretty damn good (umm, yeah alright they’re points that were known also before this week…)

OK, look this week didn’t teach us anything knew. Except that Brisbane, Essendon, Port and the Bulldogs are bloody annoying team to have to tip.
And yes, I know – we knew that already.

So let’s get to the Power rankings this week – no change in the top three – though next week’s matches could upset a few things- especially if Collingwood goes down to the Bulldogs.  The big movers are the Hawks, who I’ve put into the top 8. With 4 teams on 5-5, this week’s game of Sydney-Essendon, Hawks-Port and North-Brisbane will start to separate the top and bottom halves.



clip_image001[12]11Geelong8-2Far and away the stand out team of the comp. They have won 30 out of a possible 40 quarters – the next best?  Freo on 26.
clip_image001[18]22Collingwood7-3Two losses in a row mean this week’s match against the Bulldogs is shaping as massive test – an an 8 point game in terms of making the top 4 (and also to see which team will start to panic).
clip_image001[6]33Fremantle8-2Whooshka! A 10 goal third quarter put North to the sword. They now get to beat up the Crows in Tyson Edwards’ farewell game.
clip_image002[4]45Carlton6-4Gibbs had a massive 35 touches, 12 marks and 1 goal. My only sadness is I didn’t pick him as my fantasy footy captain this week. With Melbourne and North up next, they should go meet Freo the week after on 8-4.
clip_image001[10]56St Kilda7-3Their last quarter was just brutal – 5 goals in 13 minutes, that had the Crows looking as hopeless as everyone expected them to be.
clip_image001[8]64Bulldogs6-4OK something went wrong there. Is it the end of Akermanis? There won’t be too many saying “I hope not”. If they lose this week, making the top 4 will start to look beyond them.
clip_image001[24]79↑Hawthorn4-6The Hawks led all day and nearly lost it. Their season is still alive – but there’s no margin for error. Port, Crows and Bombers are up before the break. They area big chance to be 7-6!
clip_image001[20]88Essendon5-5Essendon are playing the spoiling role quite nicely. But with 3 wins in a row, they’ll go to Sydney chock full of confidence.
clip_image001[22]912Brisbane5-5Where this win came from I don’t know – but given Fev’s penchant for kicking goals out of his bum, they might do well to look there.
clip_image001[14]107Port Adelaide5-5Wow. Yeah it was underwater, and yeah they have injuries, but only 30 points against Richmond?? Their next three are Hawks, Swans and North. Must win at least two.
clip_image001[4]1110↓Sydney5-5A tough loss at home. The reality of the season has hit the Swans as they have played better opponents. They face Essendon and Port before the annual game against the Pies in the mid-year break.
clip_image001[16]1211Melbourne4-6Honest in defeat, but in defeat they were. They have Carlton and Collingwood before the break. Looking 4-8 in the eye.
clip_image001[28]1313North Melbourne4-6Never really in it against the Dockers. They now face the Lions in a match that will have ramifications come September and the race to see who gets into the eight.
clip_image0021414Adelaide2-8They really were good for two quarters – hard, tough, great marking, good kicking. But you can only keep up a charade for so long. The last quarter fade out showed the Crows for who they really are.
clip_image0011515West Coast3-7For all the raves about Naitanui, the last few weeks have not been good. I don’t think he’ll ever be a week in week out great player – more a flash of genius that frustrates.
clip_image001[26]1616Richmond1-9OK, who tipped this??? And as a reward for their first win, they get to play the Saints. Oh joy. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On the QT: High School Economics and the Solution with no Name

This morning at the bright and early time of 7:50am, the Secretary of the Treasury Ken Henry, fronted Senate Estimates (the pdf Hansard file is here). In the two hours he answered questions he handed out some pretty big (but subtle) smacks to the critics of the RSPT. When asked about various responses to the RSPT he used wonderfully understated phrases like: “I don't want to say the miners are wrong...”, and when Barnaby Joyce said to him that oil drilling was different to mining for minerals he deadpanned: “It's amazing what one learns”. He also had to do a few “If by that you mean …” to try and give the Senators’ questions some sort of logic. ken2

He was at his best when he was talking about two topics – the first that the mining industry kept Australia out of the recession, and the second that the RSPT will increase prices.

He knocked the first one on the head pretty easily saying:

“I've heard it said on a number of occasions, in fact I have lost count, that the mining industry saved Australia from recession. These statements are not supported by the facts”.

He pointed out that employment in the mining industry during the Global Financial Crisis went down 15 percent. And made this rather scary pronouncement:

“Had every industry in Australia behaved in the same way our unemployment would have increased from 4.6 per cent to 19 per cent in six months.”

Sam Maiden noted in her excellent summary of Henry’s appearance that both Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott – ie our prospective PM and Deputy PM (don’t worry, you weren't the only one who just felt a chill run down your spine at that thought) – have recently made claims concerning the brilliance of the mining industry in saving Australia from recession. Here was Bishop on Sky News on May 4:

“Kevin Rudd likes to say that he saved Australia from the global financial crisis. In fact it wasn't his pink batt scheme or his scandalous school building program that saved us from the recession. It was the mining sector that continued to export our resources to booming economies like China.

Then Abbott at a May 6 press conference said:

"It is China’s demand for Australia’s raw materials which has kept us going through the global financial crisis and, more than anything else, prevented us from falling into the recession."

Henry’s response might be worth remembering the next time you hear a friend say Rudd is trying to kill the golden goose.

Henry also dealt with the issue of the RSPT increasing prices. This was something I wrote about yesterday – and I have to say it was rather gratifying to hear Ken Henry point out that my economic knowledge had not led me astray. He said in a very cutting remark:

"I learnt in high school, from the study of economics, that profits-based taxes can't affect prices."

This is because taxes on production – like royalties – increase prices because they shift the supply curve (what this means is the cost of “supplying” or producing a thing – in this case minerals – becomes more expense no matter how much you produce), whereas a tax on profits does not.

The Commonwealth Bank’s economist Michael Blythe put out a report straight after the Budget which showed this nicely. Here’s what the royalty regime does to the industry:scan0008 

Sorry to bore you with economics’ graphs (but I gotta admit I still kinda find it interesting – yes, I know, I need help).

The red line is the supply curve of mining without a royalty regime. The blue line is with it (ie how things are now). As you can see the royalty regime DECREASES supply (ie decreases mining). It doesn't increase prices in this example because the world price of minerals is taken as being flat – that is what people pay for iron ore is the same regardless of whether the iron comes out of Australia or Brazil or wherever.

This isn’t technically true for all minerals as BHP and Rio for eg will negotiate prices fro iron ore with China, but when it comes to minerals such as gold, well there is a gold price (they usually mention it each night) and every gold mine in the world is beholden to it. In other industries such as those which sell minerals to local business it would. Eg if there was a royalty on granite mines.

I won’t show you the graph of the RSPT because it is pretty eco-unfriendly – ie makes sense to economists but is a bit bewildering to those with a life. However what the RSPT will do is get rid of the blue line. The red line will be the only supply curve. So what the RSPT actually does (and I know this is counterintuitive – it’s why Tony Abbott really gets lost when he tries to argue against it) but because the RSPT refunds the royalty regime (ie renders it nul) it will actually be cheaper for miners to mine, and thus this “tax” will increase produciton – that’s because it is not really a tax, but is a rent.

Why then don’t the mining companies want the RSPT I hear you ask? Well the next graph will explain all – because it is the one that shows why the miners love the current arrangements:


The red line is the world the miners operate in now. As you can see the more profit they make the lower the percentage of tax they pay.

Under the RSPT the more profit they make, the higher their percentage of effective tax – pretty much just like income tax – a person who earns $150,000 pays a higher level of income tax than does someone on $40,000. The current arrangement would be like someone on $40,000 paying 45% income tax, but someone on $150,000 only paying 35%. Does that sound fair to you?

Me neither.

And if you follow the blue line right up to its end point you see the mining company would be paying over 5o% effective tax – which is the figure that the Mining Executives like to bandy about (actually they cite 56.8 percent). But have  alook at the bottom axis – to pay that much tax would mean they are making well over a 50 percent return on their investment. Yes well over 50 percent! (Kinda makes your bank account interest seem a bit shabby, doesn’t it!)

In fact Ken Henry pointed out today that You only get a rate of tax of 56.8 if the rate of return is infinitely large. (This is because the blue line actually flattens out – notice the jump in the bottom axis from 25 to 50). Last year BHP made around a 31 percent return. So you can see why they don’t like the RSPT. But does it increase prices of anything? No.


After Henry’s appearance  finished, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison strode into a press conference to announce the Liberal Party's new asylum seeker policy. It essentially was a return to the John Howard Pacific Solution, except they wouldn't call it that. Hugh Rimington on twitter said:

Asked a Senior Lib how the new Abbott asylum seeker policy differs from the "Pacific Solution."  "It doesn't. But we're not using the name."

Just like WorkChoices I guess…

The new policy keeps the Temporary Protection Visas that Malcolm Turnbull had said he would bring back in his dog whistle moment in 2008. This is despite the fact that in the two years after they were introduced in 1999 the numbers of asylum seekers sky-rocketed. Scott Morrison on PM Agenda pointed out that the number of boats didn’t increase – as though that was a good thing, ignoring that this meant more people were cramming on to the same number of boats (I guess he thinks that is a positive). They also stated:

In government, we will commence discussions to establish an off shore processing detention facility in another country.

When asked if this nation would be in the “Pacific”, neither Abbott nor Morrison would answer – so desperate are they to avoid giving the media the “Pacific Solution” headline. Geez, how gutless. It’s not like they’re going to commence discussions with Latvia…

They also said:

We will turn back boats where circumstances allow.

This is of course meaningless bullshit. They won’t turn them back. They only did that on the very quiet back in 2001 and the Indonesian Government was furious. They won’t be able to do it this time, because they won’t be able to do it on the quiet – the media will be watching closely. And also they won’t do it because the Navy won’t do it if there is any likelihood that the asylum seekers will scuttle the boat to stop it happening – which they most certainly would.

It also has this nice little nugget:

The Coalition will also reintroduce temporary protection visas and require those on these visas who receive benefits to make a contribution through a ‘work for benefits’ scheme, as is required of Australian citizens.

Get out in the fields their boy! All we need is some plantations and a “masser” and we’ll be all set for Gone with the Wind Part Two… 

So all in all a stupid policy.

And so to Question Time which was a pretty rowdy Thursday affair. Chris Pyne, Julie Bishop and Bronwyn Bishop all got kicked out (bringing on the obvious chess jokes that Abbott had lost both his Bishops – and I’ll let you decide what piece Pyne represents).

The first up question from Abbott (he was actually allowed two today) was on asylum seekers. It was a long rant of a question that eventually got to some sort of point. Rudd had lots of fun with it, as he read out the transcript of the interview this morning between Morrison and Neil Mitchell. It was obvious that the policy had not gone through the Liberal Party-room and Rudd enjoyed reading out all the umm and ahhs as Morrison dodged the question. And he then tore into Abbott on whether or not this policy was the “Gospel Tony”.

There was not one other question on the issue – perhaps because in his answer Rudd had lambasted them for not asking about the RSPT. Maybe this did not have any influence, but it was odd that Morrison didn’t get a question.

Next up was Greg Hunt on insulation, but once again he had a looooooooooooooooong preamble that meant Rudd could talk about whatever he wanted to talk about. And he did. For a loooooong time.

After that the opposition went back to the RSPT, but their questions were very poor. Hockey kept quoting an Economic Note put out by Swan on 9 May and suggested the pie charts on the note showed that the effective tax rate paid by mining companies in Australia was around 27 percent. The only problem is the Economic Note he kept referring to is one of the best explanations of why the RSPT should be put in place. With any luck his metnion of it will get more people (and media) reading it.

Julia Gillard got two Dorothy Dixers in a row on trades training in schools. Before the second one there was a great hubbub in the Parliament. I distinctly heard Julie Bishop yell out “gutless wonder” to someone, whereupon Albanese called back: “Ask a question Julie, you’ve gone missing!”

Bishop (Julie) was booted just in time to avoid Stephen Smith have another go at her utter incompetence as shadow Foreign Affairs Minsiter, as he pointed out that in negotiations with other countries you are not going to get very far if you are making it known that you will engage in illegal acts.

Sussan Lay came up near the end to ask Swan about reports that the Government is going to change parts of the RSPT. The Australian of course called it a “backflip” except the mining industry view was different:

… all the major mining companies have rejected the new proposals as "tinkering at the edges" and not addressing the main risk to mining investment in Australia.

So it’s either a major backflip or it’s tinkering at the edges – it can’t be both (but The Australian will try).

The “backflip” supposedly involves raising the kick-in price of the RSPT from 6% to 11% and getting rid of the losses rebate. Effectively this would make the RSPT like the PRRT (Petroleum Resources Rent Tax). Now to be honest I have no idea which is a more effective tax, but to suggest it is a backflip is to I think massively over-estimate the attention and understanding the Australian public have of the tax.

In my mind all the public will want to know after any “backflip” are four things:

  • Will the tax still be 40 percent?
  • Will I still get my superannuation increase?
  • Will company tax still go down to 28 percent?
  • Will the Budget still be projected to be in Surplus in three years?

If those four questions still get “yes” then I can’t see the whole “backflip” thing flying. But as I say, the opposition with the support of some in the media, will give it a try – even thought he miners will still squeal like stuck pigs, which will hardly suggest the Government has caved in. And given the Liberals are against any resource rent tax, they are left advocating the royalty regime which no one thinks is any good (including all the mining companies). 

At the end, Tony Abbott got up to ask his second question for the day (and only fifth for the week) and he prefaced it by stating that he knew absolute bugger all about economics, the currency market and he stock market. Ok he didn’t actually say that, but it was implicit in his question where he blamed the RSPT for the decline of the Australian stock exchange, and the Australian dollar and for the evaporation of jobs around the country, global warming, his losing his keys that morning, and also for causing women worldwide to ask their boyfriends if their jeans make them look fat (ok maybe he didn’t suggest those last three).

But yes, he did suggest the stock market has gone down all because of an RSPT that doesn't come into effect for 2 years. You see in Tony’s brain it has absolutely nothing to do with the debt crisis in Greece, the poor job figures in America which led to falls in the Dow Jones and the news from China that they are trying to slow growth, which also led to falls in America, Europe, Japan, Australia….. No Tony, it was all to do with the RSPT.

What a fool. Rudd absolutely “pwned” him.

He pointed out the Australian exchange had fallen by less than the other major exchanges, he pointed out the dollar has fallen because there was a flight to the American Dollar due to the debt crisis throughout Europe and concerns over the Euro, and he pointed out that Australia's unemployment level was the envy of the OECD.

He held up his fingers and counted off Abbott’s three assertions and said “wrong, wrong, wrong”. And any one who thinks Abbott is right really needs to open a high school economics text book and have a read – maybe you could ask Barnaby Joyce to borrow his – because I think you’ll find it is in mint condition…

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On the QT: Looks like there’s been a super profits tax placed on blue steel

Today I viewed Question Time though a drug addled haze from cold and flu tablets and the fumes of Vicks Vapo-Rub that may have influenced my understanding of what was going on. For example I could swear that I heard Liberal MP Judi Molyan asking Kevin Rudd a question about the RSPT based on the words of a self-confessed “simple man” who didn’t know much about the whole tax-thing. But I’m sure that couldn't have happened – that would be far too silly.

I also am sure I heard Bruce Billson ask Rudd about the effect of the RSPT on the price of “baby-bum” powder, but again I must have been temporarily doped up on Codral, because surely the debate about such a massive tax wouldn’t be reduced to such idiocy.

The one thing that has never quite been explained to me is why a tax on super profits increases costs of businesses, and thus an increase on prices – as has been suggested again and again by Liberal MPs. The tax is only charged once all the digging up and selling has occurred. The RSPT will not change the behaviour of miners doing this one bit – it has no impact on how they dig stuff up, nor the price of doing so. It has no impact on the price they sell the stuff because the tax is not a tax on the actual minerals – like for example are the state royalties. All the RSPT does is once this has all been done it takes 40% of anything over 6% profit.

To suggest that this will have a massive increase on prices is to suggest that currently miners are not setting a price to maximize their profits. If they are, then all that will happen after the RSPT is put in place is that they will continue to set a price so as to maximise their profits. All that will change is that that profit will be less because the Government will take a greater share. So this tax is not about increasing the cost of mining, it is about giving the Australian taxpayers a greater share of the profits – and in the process reducing the returns of profits to the miners (compared to now).

So while it may sound good to say the RSPT is increasing the price we are charging mining companies to dig stuff out of the ground, that is not actually how it works – that is how the royalty works – because that is a volume tax – companies pay an amount dependant on how much they dig up – so you increase that and you without a shadow of a doubt increase the cost, and therefore will cause an increase in prices.

The RSPT though does not distort the mining process – which is why economists like it – economists hate with a passion any taxes that distort consumption or production (one reason they hate tariffs and subsidies).

But still what do I know? My Economics Degree is pretty old now, and suffering from a fair bit of lack of use, if only there was a group of eminent economists around to tell me why the RSPT is better than the royalty regime… Oh wait there is! Today, 21 economists and Clive Hamilton (not sure why he was included) penned an open letter advocating a move to the RSPT. They wrote:

There is no reason to expect a net contraction in mining over the longer term as a result of replacing royalties with the proposed resource rent tax. This is because a tax on economic rent of non-renewable resources is a more efficient way of raising revenue than taxing mining production (royalties).

Royalties tax production no matter how profitable. A resource rent tax only taxes production when it is profitable and only after all costs have been deducted. If the project does not make a profit, some of its costs are potentially refundable or otherwise claimable. This means the Government shares the risk associated with exploitation of our minerals resources. So, the proposed design for the RSPT effectively only taxes those profits over and above the hurdle rate of return for a mine (that is, its risk-adjusted cost of capital), after allowance is made for the proposed 40% rebate of the cost of developing each mine.

Anyone think that sounds confusing? Of course according to the media the RSPT is terribly complicated – and of course it’s not their job to explain things…

The letter continues:

The RSPT will reduce the profitability of mining companies and the value of the exploration and mining rights allocated to them by Australian governments on behalf of the public. The current high profitability of these companies means that this is an appropriate time for them to adjust to a more efficient and equitable system of sharing the value of those rights.

The RSPT has been criticised on the basis that revenues are dependent on cyclical fluctuations in mining sector profitability. In reality, this is a substantial advantage of this aspect of the tax. The counter-cyclical nature of tax revenues will help to stabilise both the macro-economy and the level of activity of the mining sector.

This last bit means that when profits are down, the tax return goes down – so it works with the economic cycle, not against it. You can argue about what will happen to the Budget if the “boom” ends, but that is not an argument against this tax – it is an argument against what the Government is planning to do with the proceeds.

But back to Question Time. The first question was asked by Tony Abbott and, in keeping with every Question Time since admitting on the 7:30 Report that he is flexible with the truth when talking, it was his only question. Today Rudd made note of his absence – wondering if the Libs tactic committee would let him ask anymore questions today.

The first two Dorothy Dixers to start proceedings were to Stephen Smith. Both questions might as well been worded, “Please tell us why Julie Bishop is a complete fool”.

bishop300Smith absolutely slaughtered her for her work yesterday; taking her apart bit by bit. It was obvious that she was unsettled by the whole thing because she had a fixed fake smile on her face and she also looked anywhere but in the direction of Smith. As someone on twitter observed she was acting like a dog when it is being told off by its owner. No where to be seen was her “blue steel” look (so called by Annabel Crab), nor was there her standard smug self-satisfied expression. Nope instead she looked down, looked to the side, pretended to find something that Chris Pyne had said was hilariously funny, and all in all looked like the poor little rich girl being told off in the Principal’s office.  

Smith’s approach was calm and reasoned – he laid out the charges, presented the evidence and made Bishop feel about the size of a ant. The opposition hardly raised a peep during his attacks, and Bishop certainly didn’t try a point of order like she does when being slapped around by Julia Gillard. It was a joy to behold.

The rest of Question Time went along with very little ado. In fact the whole RSPT debate seemed to be out of puff. Joe Hockey asked a couple question about the Government's use of the Markle-Shakleford study that Swan dealt with pretty easily, but it all smacked a bit of yesterday’s news. And then apropos of nothing Abbott was up moving a censure motion against Rudd and Swan for quoting the wrong figures over the effective rate of tax paid by the mining companies.

There was absolutely no momentum for such a move; they hadn’t been targeting Rudd at all – all the questions on the issue had been directed at Swan, and yet for some reason they threw Rudd into the censure mix as well.

r573394_3555531 It was bizarre. And all it allowed was to give Abbott 10 minutes to be at his absolute ranty worst. He was incredibly shrill (and given the way my throat was feeling, I grimaced at the thought of the numbers of throat lozenges he’d need to suck afterwards). It was the type of performance that explained why ever since he became leader he has had high unsatisfactory rating – it was off putting and enough to have me searching for the remote to hit the volume button. He seemed so unhinged and desperate that really anything he was saying was lost in the cacophony coming from his mouth.

It was the type of performance you usually expect from a leader just about to be dumped – a real “let’s try and show my backbenchers I can be all tough and hairy-chested”. Not that I’m suggesting he is about to be dumped, just that it was not a performance you’d normally see by someone in control – this is perhaps mostly because the purpose of the motion was to try and ensure the news wasn’t all about Julie Bishop being eviscerated by Smith.

r273686_1153812He was followed by Joe Hockey trying to be equally as shrill – he almost succeeded. “Angry Joe” is not a good look.  As Shadow Treasurer he has to realise that he needs to provide some counter to Abbott – he should be “the calm guy” – the affable one – you know good-cop to Abbott’s bad cop. Instead we just had two angry old men – without wit and full of bile. Great perhaps for Liberal MPs and hard core voters, but a big turn off for any swinging voter.

Wayne Swan responded on behalf of he and Rudd – Rudd obviously deeming it a censure motion not worth his response – and given both he and Swan were the ones being censured, and given Swan had been the one most targeted, Swan was the logical one to respond. He did well – sure he wasn’t able to counter the fact that the Government had overegged the study – but he showed again how much improved he has been this year. ANd his tone of voice was a lovely respite from the shouty Abbott and Hockey (though not quite at the calm and measured Stephen Smith level)

The vote was held and of course the Govt won.

And then Anthony Albanese had a Dorothy Dixer and Peter Garrett was given his first question for a very long while, but I have to say few were paying too much attention – least of all me as feel asleep hoping I’d wake minus my flu-ridden head and in a world where the media regards Stephen Smith as a better Parliamentary performer than Tony Abbott – though I’d probably need to take something stronger before that will happen.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On the QT: Listen, do you want to hear a secret? Do you promise not to tell?

Today’s Question Time was largely uneventful. It began with a lovely question from Tony Abbott that never seemed to end, and which delightfully cited Kevin Markle, the PHD student whom yesterday was just some shonky, undergraduate kid. Not today. After telling The Australian that the data cited yesterday by Swan and Gillard was not to be included in the final paper, he was suddenly a wunder-economist.

I have to say Rudd’s response was pretty weak – especially as he failed to point out the irony of the Libs now citing a source whom yesterday they rubbished. He dealt with it effectively, but it really deserved more fire and brimstone.

The Liberal's questions were, as usual, based on what was in The Australian this morning, and they were ok when they focussed on the American academic paper. Such a pity they rubbished the authors yesterday though. But inexplicably after looking like being able to make Rudd look foolish on the issue, Joe Hockey in the third question suddenly cited a Treasury paper that it had also previously been trying to discredit. Hockey asked that since the Treasury papers showed the Electricity, Gas and Water industry payed even less tax than the mining industry, when would the government start raising the tax on that industry?

It was the type of question which Dennis Shanahan would call logical and cutting, and everyone else would suggest was the winner of the “Dumbest Question asked in Question Time” Award. It allowed Rudd to let loose and talk as long as he liked about the benefits of tax reform yada yada.

Next up Hockey referred to a Citigroup paper which incidentally was written prior to the release of the Henry Tax Review that said:

Overall Australian royalties/taxes are already some of the highest in the world and further increases could curtail investment in and the competitiveness of our resource sector.

The problem is, as Bernard Keane wrote yesterday in Crikey, since the release of the Henry Tax Review, a Citigroup analyst had said:

"that BHP, RIO and OZL may have been sold off too hard given the likely limited RSPT impact, we reiterate our BUYS on these stocks".

Rudd unfortunately did not mention this – he instead cited a different study which found contrary conclusions to the Citigroup study. His response was ok, but seriously, someone has got to get in to him and get him on the attack. Rudd did get somewhat animated at various times today, but the Libs’ arguments could be much better destroyed than they are being. Ignoring one study and instead talking about your own isn’t good enough – especially when there is enough ammunition around to attack such studies as the Citigroup one. Oh PJK, where have you gone? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

The theme of the day of the Libs was to ask all their questions to Rudd, which is ok, but they’re never going to trouble him, and they even worked him into some form. The Liberals were trying to use Wayne Swan’s words from yesterday against him. Yesterday he had said:

Perhaps the most pervasive myth is that every return over six per cent will pay resource super profits tax. I regret to say this is a calculated and deliberate misrepresentation. If you hear a mining executive saying it, they are either lying to you or they are ignorant—either way it should be of concern to their shareholders.

In the Libs’ version this was now translated to Swan saying that anyone critical of the RSPT was either lying or ignorant – which if you read the quote he obviously was not saying. But nonetheless a number of questions involved the Libs citing a critic of the RSPT and asking Rudd whether he thought they were lying or ignorant. It was all pretty stupid, but it reached great heights of idiocy when Sussan Ley cited “respected” economics reporter Terry McCrann. Now McCrann is almost without doubt the biggest critic of the Government outside of those who write for The Australian. Rudd dealt with it smartly saying: “Terry McCrann is critical of the Government? Well hold the phone!” It was such a laughable question, that the Government even allowed Ley to table the article – a sure sign they think the point being made is ludicrously dumb.

Of the Dorothy Dixers the most fun was Craig Emerson who referred to his mate the Member for Dickson, Peter Dutton, as Pig-iron Pete the Share Trader – in reference to the nickname given to Bob Menzies by the ALP for attacking waterside workers who refused to load pig iron being sold to Japan just prior to WWII.

I think “Pig-iron Pete” might stick.

But the very best answer in today’s Question Time was by Stephen Smith, who updated the house on the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat in response to Mossad having forged Australian passports in its operation to assassinate a Hamas leader. Julie Bishop, the shadow Foreign Affairs Minster was given the standard security briefing on the matter, but unlike most intelligent and reasonable shadow Foreign Ministers she didn’t keep quiet on the issue. No she decided to politicise it, telling Sky News that:

"In the absence of proof, it would be appropriate to reprimand, appropriate to chastise the Israeli government. There is a widely held view, there is an assumption that the Israeli government was involved, but there is no actual proof."

Now Smith could not refute the accusation because he can’t show the “proof” as it is top secret. Bishop instead of keeping her mouth shut, as would anyone with any sense of discretion, just went on and on:

"The Government is facing an election. The Government is also seeking to pursue a seat on the Security Council. The Government is keen to curry favour within the Arab community"

Unbelievable. To side with a foreign country when your own citizens rights have been trampled is an amazing thing to do for any MP – let alone the Shadow Foreign Minister. Smith rightly gave her both barrels. But he should have held off, because after Question Time, in an interview with Tim Lester she went further and said that Australian intelligence agencies faked passports as well!

Here’s the transcript of one of the most extraordinary interviews any Shadow Foreign Minister has ever given:

TIM LESTER: Julie Bishop, why on earth is it wrong for a country to expel a diplomat when that country has stolen identities to engage in murder?

JULIE BISHOP: Tim, there is no actual proof that the Israeli Government forged these Australian passports. And there is no connection yet between forge passports and the assassination of the Hamas leader. In fact the Dubai police investigation is ongoing.

[yep, I guess the proof the UK Government cited wasn’t real either…]

TIM LESTER: Just assume for a moment that Australia did have proof, that was absolutely dotted… “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, what would you then have to say about expelling a diplomat under those circumstances?

JULIE BISHOP: I would call the Israeli Government in and present them with the proof, and then ask for their response. But the Australian Government has still not..

[Get that rest of the world? Do bad, and Julie will call you in, show you the proof (even though this may have been obtained through secret means) and ask for you to explain yourselves.]

TIM LESTER: You still would not expel the diplomat?

JULIE BISHOP: I would ask for their response.

TIM LESTER: That’s not expelling a diplomat though is it?

JULIE BISHOP: I may well depending on what their response is. Australia has expelled diplomats in the past…

TIM LESTER: What if they said “sorry, we know… yeah you got us there” What would you do?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Tim, look at the consequences of expelling a diplomat. What’s happening. It hasn't’ even rated a mention in the Israeli press – maybe one line – and Minister Smith has admitted that it’s now going to be business as usual between Australia and Israel.

[Now correct me if I’m wrong, but her big point is that Smith has over-reacted, but here she suggests that it is actually no big thing. So which is it? It can’t be an over-reaction and a trivial reaction.]

TIM LESTER: But aren't there consequences at not doing anything, and isn’t that the problem – if we don’t do anything aren't we effectively putting our imprimatur on the theft of Australian identity?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. You would reprimand, you would chastise, you would ask them not to do it again….

[Oooh reprimand!! Chastise!!! Geez, I hope she wouldn’t tease them, or maybe use sarcasm at their expense! “Ask them not to do it again!?” Would she say pretty please?

But Julie has opened the door to a little secret she knows (and you can tell by the look on her face at the 1:42 mark that she is just busting to tell it]

scan0007…But it would be naive to think that Israel is the only country in the world that has used forged passports, including Australian passports for security operations.

TIM LESTER: What we do?


[Have a look at the tape. Her response is very, very deliberate, and she then has a little smile after saying it – a sort of a self-satisfied, “aren’t I special because I know such things smile”. It is an astonishing thing to admit. And Lester is straight on to it…]

TIM LESTER: We use our intelligence agencies use forged passports for use in foreign operations?

JULIE BISHOP: Our, Australian passports have been used, I said Australian passports, have been used by other countries. Has Australia forged passports before? You’ll have to ask the Foreign Minister.

[Well no Julie you didn’t just say “used by other countries” Lester specifically asked about us, and you deliberately and specifically answered him.]

TIM LESTER: We'll what do you think. You’ve been in government before, you;d have a fair clue of these things

JULIE BISHOP: I believe it has occurred but I wasn’t the Foreign Minister at the time.

[Oh geez, you believe it??? Bloody hell. If you don’t know, you shut the hell up. If you do know, you shut the hell up!!!!]

TIM LESTER: Would you sanction… would you suggest that Australian intelligence should be able to forge foreign passports for use in their overseas intelligence work?

JULIE BISHOP: Tim, I think we’re being very naive if we think that other countries do not use forged passports for their operations overseas. I think we’re being very naive if that’s the case.

TIM LESTER: OK , let’s not be naive…


TIM LESTER: Let’s be up front and honest. Should Australian intelligence agencies be able to forge foreign passports to do their work?

JULIE BISHOP: There are many bilateral agreements between countries in relation to intelligence and security matters and I’m not going to breach any confidences, I’m not going to breach any confidences of briefings I’ve had, but let me get back to the circumstances of the issue…

[Oh that’s good to know, sure as hell wouldn’t want you to break any confidences, Julie.]

TIM LESTER: Answer the question broadly though – should we be able to do it? Is it something Australian intelligence agencies should be able to engage in?

JULIE BISHOP: There are many matters that Australia intelligence agencies do in concert with other governments.

TIM LESTER: And you would sanction them forging passports for use in their overseas operations?

JULIE BISHOP: There are many things that governments do – including the Australian Government – in concert in operations with other countries that would include the use of passports. But what I’m saying…

TIM LESTER: And you would sanction that?

JULIE BISHOP: All governments have. All governments have.

[So do you think “all governments” includes Australia?]

It was an amazing interview – her responses are borderline stupid, irresponsible and dangerous – take your pick.

Obviously she had to quickly retract her comments:

"I did not state that Australian intelligence agencies have forged the passports of other nations, during my interview with Fairfax online this afternoon," she said in a statement. My responses were referring to the fact that forged Australian passports have been used previously, as noted by the foreign minister today. I have no knowledge of any Australian authority forging any passports of any nation."

No of course not, you just answered “yes” when asked if Australian agencies did, and then later said you “believed they did”.

Will Bishop survive this? Probably – the Libs can’t afford to lose her this close to an election – especially as she is from West Australia. But there is no way such a fool could be given a security Ministry in any Government, in fact I struggle to think of a Ministry should could safely be let loose in. You couldn’t even give her Minster for Sport, because she’d probably tell the media that it’s naive to think most Australian Olympians aren’t on steroids.

Back when she lost the Shadow Treasury I lamented that the gift that keeps on giving was lost to the Government. It just came back.

Monday, May 24, 2010

On the QT: People talking without speaking.

Today Question Time was not the only political game in town. This morning Senate Estimates began its two-week cavalcade of fun and delights for political nerds across the country. Over at the Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee, Senator Eric Abetz was getting stuck into the ABC over its use of Lego in the staff cafeteria, designed to boost creativity. So meticulous is Abetz in his questions that he was even demanding to know just how many pieces of Lego were in each box.

But he was just getting started, and he soon moved on to the ABC’s news blog, The Drum, demanding to know why climate change denier Bob Carter wasn’t allowed to have all his articles published on the website. Abetz then had a go at the Science editor of the ABC, Robyn Williams, attacking him for making statements against climate change flat-earthers. Abetz suggested that Williams did not display an “enquiring, scientific mind”. Of course Abetz knows all about enquiring minds, given he was completely duped by Godwin Grech last year in estimates…

Abetz then moved on to good ole’ political bias argument in the ABC by the likes of Tony Jones on Lateline. Abetz pointed out that in interviews with Joe Hockey, Jones spoke for 42% of the time, but in interviews with Wayne Swan he speaks only 26% of the time. Yes, this means that some fool in Abetz’s office has actually counted the words in the interviews and worked out the percentages. No doubt he wrote it all up in a file called, “Dumb things I did today”. But for Abetz, this was all part of the broader “systemic bias” of the ABC.  My Goodness! Systemic?! Better get someone scientific onto that, last thing we’d want is that to spread like happens with stupidity during an Estimates hearing…

To change the subject entirely, up next was Lib Senator Mathius Cormann. He took took things up a notch, wanting to know why the ABC news on twitter was commenting on Tony Abbott’s Budget in Reply speech using the hashtag “#budgies”. For those non-tweeting folk among you, hashtags are used on twitter to enable the tweets on certain subjects to be followed by anyone – even those who don’t follow particular users. So, for example, anyone tweeting on Master Chef will use “#masterchef”, anyone tweeting on a certain footy game may use a hashtag like “#aflpiescrows”. Thus you can click on the link “#aflpiescrows” and see every tweet being made on that subject.

These hashtags usually occur organically – no one can really decide them, they just seem to happen. In the case of #budgies, a tweeter, “Super Opinion” came up with the idea, and it took off like all good ideas do. The ABC in using the hashtag was just being part of the conversation – in effect ensuring it was being heard in the place with the most eyeballs. The discussion of #budgies in Estimates sparked off a bit of a debate on Twitter as well, until everyone quickly realised this was a discussion about a hashtag on twitter. Yep. A hashtag. On twitter. In the grand scheme of things it did not exactly scream importance, in fact I doubt there is little more ephemeral and pointless as discussing twitter hashtags. No doubt journalism students may discuss the merits of the ethics of a news organisation using a hashtag that is humorous, but for Senate Estimates? Please. The phrase, “Pointless waste of everyone’s time” springs to mind.

shackeldSpeaking of which: on to Question Time!

Question Time today could be subtitled “The Graduate”, because a good many of the questions were about a research paper cited yesterday by Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard titled “Do Multinationals or Domestic Firms Face Higher Effective Tax Rates?” The paper is published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and is co-written by Prof Douglas Shackleford (on the right) who is the “Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation of Accounting” at the University of North Carolina, and who has a pretty extensive publication list and Kevin S. Markle, a PHD student. 

Swan and Gillard stated that the paper showed that multinational mining firms (eg BHP, Rio Tinto) paid a lower effective tax rate than domestic mining firms, and that that effective tax rate is quite a bit lower than many other countries in the OECD.

Did Andrew Robb try and destroy the argument with reason and logic? Of course not – instead he attacked the authors. Or should I say, author. He completely ignored Prof Shackleford, and focussed on Markle. On AM this morning, Robb described the paper as:

Well, I've seen the paper it's a working paper by a graduate student at North Carolina University. It's used, you know, data from all over the world. They've spent five pages of assumptions how they sought to correct that data. This is the shonkiest piece of work you've ever seen….

This, this Government's unravelling before our eyes, the desperation of this move, to go out there and get a kid's piece of work from the United States, a North Carolina University

Well having seen Robb’s supposed budget “cuts”, I’d have to suggest he would be the expert on shonky pieces of work.

Kevin_Markle_464_web2x3But let’s be honest, this type of pig-ignorant, knuckle-dragging mindset against academic work is the Liberal Party’s bread and butter. Remember back in 2007 when Joe Hockey attacked a study done by the academics at the University of Sydney into WorkChoices? Joe Hockey at the time said it was “the same old flawed research from the same old union academics”. When attacked by academic research, the Liberal Party does not counter with logic and reason, they attack the author.

By Question Time things were ramping up. Robb in one question referenced Markle as “a graduate”, then in another he was an “undergraduate”, then finally just “a student”, had question time gone on any longer the poor guy would have been struggling to get out of kindergarten. Now here’s a tip Andrew Robb, go into a room full of PhD students and call them “undergraduates” and see if you get out alive. And here’s another tip – ask any Professor if they put their name to just any old student paper? They don’t, believe me. And here’s one final tip Robb, have a look at Markle (on the left), and ask yourself if he looks like “a kid”.

Some people in the media for some reason keep saying Robb has credibility and good judgement. For mine, I have never seen any of this in evidence. To me he is a plodder, who when under pressure and when trying to make a point generally allows ignorance to come to the fore and intelligence to stay in the basement of his mind.

Interestingly by Question Time, a number of media outlets had gotten in touch with Prof. Shakleford. Here’s what he said:

"The paper is joint work between Mr Markle, who will soon graduate from the UNC [University of North Carolina] PhD program, and me. So, charges that it is just a graduate student's paper are erroneous."

Shakleford conceded that there were limitations to using the paper for formulating policy. And that’s fine – but Robb did not try and explain any of these limitations with any even handedness, he merely attacked Merkle (and not of course Shakleford). It was pathetic work, that was treated with the scorn it deserved in Question Time. Swan and Rudd swatted away Robb and Julie Bishop’s questions on the topic with ease. Rudd even came up with a snappy line at Bishop when she questioned the figures Swan and Gillard had cited, saying he welcomed “the Member for Curtin’s new found interest in accuracy”.

[UPDATE: Economist, Joshua Gans has also written about Robb’s line of attack:

Wow. This displays such an astounding level of ignorance that it is beyond belief. First, the paper is co-authored with a leader in the field and so is hardly some isolated bit of student work. Moreover, how does he know who did the work? That appears a baseless assertion. Second, as a result, the paper was put out as a working paper by the NBER. You don’t get to be an NBER associate easily. What is more, the NBER has, as part of its DNA, to place a dispassionate view of the facts without policy advocacy. I should know. I am visiting the NBER at the moment and this gets told to us at every opportunity for anything the NBER publishes. Third, that really means something. The NBER’s existence is to provide evidence to assist in policy-making. It has done it for many decades and is by far the most respected economic organisation in the world. And it is hardly made up of amateurs.]

The interesting thing about Question Time is always the line of attack by the opposition and who asks the questions. Today the attack was on the RSPT, but Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey each asked only one question. Abbott, perhaps wary of the Government being able to get up a running line on his 7:30 Report answer about not being able to trust what he says, kept a low profile. And Joe Hockey only asked one question about something on the ATO website that really did not cut to the heart of anything – in fact I pretty much tuned out half way through. It was interesting that it the week after the Budget and the Liberal’s response that the two supposed leaders of the economic side of the party kept quiet. (Ok, I’m being harsh – no one would ever suggest Abbott is an economic leader).

The Liberal’s tactics were not too poor today – at least they did keep to one topic – but it was badly done. Ian Macfarlane for example asked a question that seemed to attack the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax which was rather odd given that the Liberal Party did nothing to get rid of it in the eleven years they were in office. It merely served to gave Rudd a very easy line of attack.

On the Dorothy Dixer front, the ALP was hammering away on the RSPT, and Hockey and Robb’s budget “cuts” – Tanner had fun pointing out that in the 2 page document the Libs had the fine print line stating: “All previous commitments have been discontinued” which was a rather euphemistic way of saying they’d dumped a stack of policies. Chris Bowne came out later and pointed out they had dumped one policy that was only a month old!

There was also Marn Fersn talking about something to do with the mnng indstry and their grbby choreogarthy (or something) and the Gvmnt’s cmmtmnt to the mnng indstry and Chnese invstmnt. I think.

But the best Dorothy of the day goes to Nicola Roxon for producing a photo of the opening of a GP Super Clinic in Liberal MP, Bob Baldwin’s electorate. The photo showed Bob with his arm around Nicola and to rub it in, she had gotten the photo framed and presented it to him as a gift. She walked across to his spot on the opposition front bench and gave it to him, whereupon he gave her a friendly hug. It was a great moment, that had both sides laughing, and it was a pity that such bipartisan enjoyment had to be interrupted with more Robb idiocy.

It was only late in the day’s proceeding that Greg Hunt got up to ask Rudd about the insulation scheme and the fact that a group of insulation workers had come to Parliament House to protest the Government's scrapping of the scheme. Rudd’s answer was very rote-like – showing that this is one issue he is not comfortable with – no doubt the consequence of dumping it for political expediency rather than defending what had actually been a pretty successful program (if you look at the facts and not the media hysteria). 

The last opposition question was Chris Pyne, back on his old favourite of reading out whatever is written in The Australian on the Building the Education Revolution, and talking about costs per square metre. Julia chided him for plagiarism, saying he should have at least cited The Oz, and then showed some photos of her own of happy people at openings of buildings around the country – lamenting that one Liberal MP had instead sent a staffer – no doubt out of fear of getting the Bob Baldwin treatment.

For the Liberal Party, the only thing that gets them hotter under the collar than being photographed at a BER opening is to read an academic paper that doesn’t support their argument. So on that score, the Orgill Report is going to cause half the Liberal Front Bench to self-combust.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

AFL Power Rankings: Round 9 (or, the Crows won! Quick what are the words to the theme song??)

Have to say I missed a lot of the matches played this round – it was one of those weeks were to be honest there weren’t a lot of matches that captured my interest, and it was also one of those very rare weekends where I got a life and did stuff!

But the Crows won. Am I happy? Well yes of course, but there is also that lament for what this win might have meant had we not started so pitifully.

The big game on Friday between the Pies and Cats certainly showed how far behind the Pies are, and also let the rest of the competition know (if they didn’t already) that Geelong are the ones to beat.

The week ahead has almost no “big matches'”. But there are quite a few “a loss here could say quite a bit” games. For example, the losers of Collingwood v Lions, Hawthorn v Sydney, Essendon v Bulldogs and Saints v Crows will have some big questions to answer (unless it’s the Crows, in which case it won’t so much be an answer, as a confirmation that those hopes should not have been lifted).











The Cats will be the benchmark for the rest of the season – they won by six goals even though Ablett was pretty quiet.






Look, if the Pies had kicked a few of those shots at the start of the last quarter… they might have only lost by a couple goals instead of six.






An impressive win by the Dockers – Pavlich took the game by the scruff of the neck, and showed why he is a certain first year of eligibility Hall of Famer.






The Bulldogs are back playing like we all thought they would. But they’ll have to do it without Barry Hall for a few weeks.






Good ole’ Carlton – always to be counted on to totally stuff up your tipping. You’d think even the ugly-Blues will beat the Eagles this week.




St Kilda


They won as they should. They now face Adelaide, then Richmond, before Fremantle and Geelong (how’s that for a month of 2 halves).




Port Adelaide


Port came home with a rush, and looked have snatched the game from the jaws of defeat. They now return home to beat up Richmond.






They beat Richmond. No it doesn’t count. This week against the Bulldogs will though.






Are they the “resurgent Hawks”? They now have the Swans, Port, Adelaide and Essendon (all bar the Crows game, are at the MCG). They could be 7-6 after that.






A hard loss for the Swans – losing Kennelly in the process. And they’re looking a bit lost game wise as well. They now face a resurgent Hawks. (yeah we can call them resurgent)






They won by a point – but really they were bloody lucky – blowing a 33 point 3/4 lead is almost unforgivable.






Five losses in a row – and they lost even with Fev kicking them out of his backside (almost literally). If they lose to the Pies this week, their season will be looking almost terminal.




North Melbourne


North found that beating the Crows doesn’t really give you much of a form guide.






The Crows played like they actually wanted to score goals – it was great to see. But now they have to play the Saints (which will probably snuff out any chance of calling them –ahem – “resurgent”).




West Coast


The Eagles are done for the year – they’ll just be hoping to win some upsets – such as this week against the Blues in Melbourne. But I can see them doing it too often.






Oh dear. It really is a long season. They now travel to Adelaide to face an annoyed Port.