Saturday, August 28, 2010

Communication breakdown

Just a quick note that I write from an computer terminal in a shopping centre.

As anticipated moving house has caused some issues re internet (and the phone). Suffice to say I have no idea when I'll be back online and blogging.

I of course am taking this enforced layoff from news and blogging in my stride (this is code for, I am pretty much bouncing off the walls and in constant danger of repeatedly banging my head against said walls).

Hopefully I'll be back soon.

Until then, I'll just say how nice it has been of The Australian to look out for the interests of the three independents - especially Rob Oakeshott - by giving them advice on who to choose.

That newspaper is all heart.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Seriously.

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

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

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

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

And yet Abbott is saying no.

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

Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt.

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah right.

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

This will strike terror into the hearts of Abbott and Hockey

It may even finish them politically.

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

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

And also a little less than honest.

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

A perceptive man, that Peter Martin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s still all to play for.

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


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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Election 2010: Extra Time: (or, Will you love me tomorrow?)

In the past couple of day there has been a lot of love from the left for Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. It’s easy to see why. First there was Windsor on Q&A last night, saying things we wish our leader had said, and his analysis of the campaign was acute and was unable to be countered with statements that he was full of sour grapes.

Take a look at his response to the campaign by both sides, and the media’s coverage: 225px-Tonywindsor

TONY JONES: Tony Windsor, you'd like to break the mould, I suspect. I'd like you to respond to the question in terms of what you think should happen in a future government and could you do anything about it as an independent?

TONY WINDSOR: Well, I think the media have got some degree of responsibility in relation to some of the things that went on, as well, but the - this is the worst political campaign that I've ever seen. I think the political hypocrisy in relation to both leaders in terms of some of the issues they misrepresented was appalling.

For Tony Abbott to go into this election campaign with an industrial relations policy written by the union movement is quite odd and for Julia Gillard to let the Liberal Party write the boat people agenda is quite odd and I think we saw a number of those instances right through the campaign and people switched off. They really didn't know what these people actually represented and there's no wonder that there was a bit of a shift to the Greens that people couldn't make a decision as to who was to govern the country and now we're in the circumstances that we are.

But I do believe that the media - this is the worst campaign that I've seen from the media. I think some of the senior commentators were actually creating news out of nothing. They weren't giving - and maybe the leaders weren't prepared to give of their best but the media commentators in some cases were as appalling as the campaign.

Ouch. That is as good and accurate a slap to everyone’s face for his her performance over the past 5 weeks as you could ask for.

When he talked about policy, the lefties got even more excited:

RYAN STUBNA: Mr Windsor, you have said that the National Broadband Network is “the railway of the 21st century”. What role with the roll out of the NBN play in your decision on which party to support?

TONY WINDSOR: Probably not a lot, but I think it will play a role in the next parliament. I think the major issue that we have to look at is stability of governance and not - I don't intend to go into any negotiations with a grab bag of trinkets that I want for the electorate. There are some significant regional issues that have been ignored: health, aged care, some of the water issues that Malcolm raised, some of the renewable energy issues that have been raised and a broadband network is one of those issues. If there's every been a piece of infrastructure, if it's done correctly, that negates distances being a disadvantage of living in country Australia, this is it.

Now, I'm not suggesting that it's a choice between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. I don't trust either of them but I think we've got to get it right and we've got an opportunity in this parliament to actually get it right and if we're talking about the delivery of health services and educational service and business services in the future, and we're talking about population of our major cities, this is the key driver that we've got to have so if there was every one thing that we needed both sides to agree on, in my view this is it.

Then Rob Oakeshott was on Lateline, and lefty women around the country were ready to bear his children when he said this:

LEIGH SALES: Do you have any political hero or role model?

ROB OAKESHOTT: Not necessarily within an Australian political context but I always enjoy seeing people stand on their digs regardless of the consequences. In my university days, I was at University College where the reverend of that college was all but excommunicated from the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales, a bloke called Reverend Peter Cameron.

As a student he was a pretty interesting fellow but standing on his digs over some of the speeches and some of the sermons he used to give. And in his parting speech to the students, he said, "I hope the great lesson I've taught you as the leader of this college is that you've got to stand up for what you believe in regardless of the consequences."

So people like that in history, the Stephen Bikos of the world - but there's plenty of them but not necessarily in a Westminster parliamentary sense because it's pretty difficult to see leaders and find leaders in the way our Parliaments are structured.

“The Stephen Bikos of the world”? Biko is not the anti-apartheid champion usually trotted out by those on the right.

He then said this on asylum seekers:

LEIGH SALES: Okay, on asylum seekers, particularly those who come by boat, what's your view on offshore processing?

ROB OAKESHOTT: I've been very loud in my electorate that we are the moat people. The very fact people have to come here by boat says we've got a huge strategic advantage in dealing with this. skynews_774579483

They've normally come through three or four countries where those countries don't even know that people have passed through their borders. So I think we can manage this and manage it in a strategic sense. Our offshore processing is about $470 million a year of taxpayers' money.

I'm not fussed about Nauru, Christmas Island, East Timor but I would ask that at least we consider onshore processing under UN conventions and 90 day rules. I'm sure we could find a mayor or a council in the North or Northwest of Australia who would be very interested in the 350 jobs that we're currently exporting to Christmas Island because we are driven by some sort of fear of dealing with this issue on the mainland.

And they're 350 well paying jobs. They're Defence. They're ASIO. They're Customs.

So you know, I think we need to put fear in the back pocket, deal with it strategically, deal with it on a regional basis, stick to UNHCR guidelines and targets and really step up and deal with the issue on the mainland as much as trying to farm the problem out to some regional neighbour.

So much sense… Again, those from the right in this country have not exactly been rushing to talk about the UNHCR guidelines, nor about putting “fear in the back pocket”.How could the left not get excited by that?

Today seemed to sense this slant to the left by the two, and so made sure its feeling were clear. We had The Australian going into Windsor and Oakeshott's electorates:

Reject Labor: voters' message to independent MPs

Yep, nothing subtle there.

We found that “Many, but far from all, of those who voted for their independent believe it would be a betrayal if their MPs gave Julia Gillard the numbers to continue governing when they could have installed Tony Abbott”.

Yes, it’d be “a betrayal” if someone who is independent sides with one party instead of another. I wonder if these voters felts the same way when Windsor and Oakeshott voted for the stimulus?

The Daily Telegraph was even less subtle – how’s this for an editorial:

Independents must pay heed to the voices of their electors

The story for Labor is considerably worse in Mr Windsor's seat of New England, where in the last three elections Labor has recorded primary support of 8.7 per cent, 9.8 per cent and 8 per cent. This is even below the national figure for the Greens.

Yet now this resounding rejection of Labor could end up giving the nation a Labor government. Should this happen, democracy will be gravely insulted.

You get that – democracy will be “gravely insulted” if Oakeshott and Windsor were to side with the ALP. What complete and utter bullshit. Democracy would be more gravely insulted if politicians took the advice of The Daily Telegraph’s editorials each day.

Tony Windsor slapped the Telegraph down in as brutal a manner as you would like to see:

"I wouldn't give that paper the time of day," he said, referring to the Daily Telegraph. "It just shows the role of some within the media in terms of the election process that we've just gone through. I won't be taking the Telegraph as one of my political advisers. I don't give the article or the paper any credibility at all."

Isn’t it nice to see what a politician can say when he is sitting on a primary vote of around 62%. The country would be a better place if politicians in the major parties could say such things. But of course they can’t because if they did The Daily Telegraph would devote every single day to bringing them down. (and if Windsor does side with the ALP, I’d expect him to get more than a few editorial snipes).

Tony Abbott could also smell the Windsor of change and came out to give a press conference detailing how he was really on the same page as the independents. Talking like a boyfriend who wants to get back with his ex, he was all about how he could change – you know, it won’t be like it was last time – I’ll be better, I promise.

 Like this:

Mr Abbott, who has a reputation as a confrontational parliamentary performer, described the idea as "radical" but said debate in Parliament could be kinder and gentler.

"I think we can be a more collegial polity than we have been. I think the spirit of Parliament has been needlessly confrontational, especially over the last three years."

Well done Tony Abbott, you just taken out this year’s hypocrite of the year award (though I think you had it sewn up when you said the ALP’s IR policy needed to be given a fair go).

“Needlessly confrontational”?! Does anyone remember Abbott when he was Health Minister. Try this on for size from 7 December 2006:

Mr ABBOTT —Oh, yes! Listen to their words, Mr Speaker. We have the member for Jagajaga, the current failed shadow minister for education, who described the private health insurance rebate—

Mr Danby interjecting—

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne Ports is warned!

Mr ABBOTT —as ‘the worst piece of public policy in Australian history’. We have the member for Perth, the current failed workplace relations shadow minister, who called the private health insurance rebate a ‘public policy crime’ and canvassed its abolition. We have the would-be shadow Treasurer, the member for Melbourne, who called it ‘one of the least efficient programs of all time’. And then of course we have the member for Lalor, the person who does not think she is up to being the shadow Treasurer, who invented Medicare Gold to try to destroy the private health insurance system. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: drop the blame game that you have been playing all week and show me your policies. “Show me the policies!”

Those with memories will recall Abbott doing quite possibly the worst Tom Cruise impersonation history as he shouted “Show me the policies!”

For Abbott Question Time was a shouting occasion. It was all about being confrontational.

But of course we know Abbott means well, but he does not back up his sweet words. 

We know this firstly because in the very same press conference he was pledging a more collegial polity he said:

“You will not get a new politics from an old government, particularly from an old government as riven with factionalism, as controlled by the faceless men as the current government so obviously is.

Any continuing Labor government that emerges from this election will effectively be a Labor-Green alliance and I think that would be very bad for regional Australia. It will mean an increased mining tax. It will mean very significant restrictions with what people can do on the Ocean and it will most certainly mean a carbon tax.”

So collegial; isn’t it great to see the end of the adversarial nature of Australian politics?

I do have to say Abbott’s continuing argument that he deserves to be PM because the LNP got more votes than the ALP is rather odd given the argument essentially treats anyone outside the major parties as irrelevant – a position he should now realise is not quite the case.

But hey, if he wants to make it about primary votes, and he wants to talk up an ALP-Greens alliance, perhaps he should consider that thus far the ALP-Greens primary vote is 50.03%. The LNP primary vote is 43.16%.

How do you like them apples, Tony?

The other reason we know this kinder-gentler Tony is hooey, is because as Mark Colvin, of the ABC’s PM program and Malcolm Farnsworth on Twitter remembered, he has said it all before. Back in 2000 in the condolence motion for Greg Wilton after he had committed suicide Abbott said:

None of us reaches out enough to any of our colleagues, and we should not wait until they have gone to appreciate them. Obviously Greg Wilton was not gentle on himself, and I think the best thing we could do would be to rededicate ourselves to being kinder and gentler to each other, as he would have wished. It is all very well to talk about outside help, but the best help is the help we can provide to each other. Had Greg been able to listen to this debate, I am sure he would have felt much more proud of the parliament that he has so tragically left.

Yep he really heeded his own words so well didn’t he for the next 10 years…

But for all of the warm feelings the left have for Windsor and Oakeshott (and even Katter), I have a feeling it will all end in tears for the ALP. Yes whenever they talk they sound like they favour the ALP, but there is no denying they are from the conservative side of politics. This doesn't make their siding with Abbott the only option, but I think the left should realise it is probably the more likely.

It is horrible to contemplate, because Both Windsor and Oakeshott and Katter are so obviously genuine that which ever side they choose, you have to admit they did it thinking they were making the right decision. It would be a bitter pill to swallow if they were to choose the Libs.

But in the spirit of trying to woo, let me give Rob and Tony and Bob my pitch:

They won’t love you as much as we will. They won’t appreciate you as much as we will. Deep down we know you’ll probably choose Abbott, so if you choose Julia the ALP will bend over backwards in gratitude and will work bloody hard to make sure you guys (and your electorates) are showered with policy and programs and infrastructure.

The Libs on the other hand expect you to choose them – in fact many I bet are wondering why you are even bothering with this charade, hurry up and tell us what we already know! You really think they’ll treat you with respect? Bullshit – they’ll take your votes and then target you in the next election with their usual vicious campaign to get a National Party member to unseat you.

To them you are the ugly girl at school whose dad has a beach house where a party is being held on Saturday night. They’ll be nice to you while they need you, and then once they’re back at school, they’ll tease you just like before. You know this is the case – after all Tony’s best friends Warren and Barnaby are already teasing you, and they still expect to be invited to the beach house party!

Don’t think you can change them, Abbott and Co are set in their ways. They won’t respect you in the morning, we on the other hand will shower you in flowers and make you breakfast in bed.

And we’ll also give you the NBN.


But it could be all for nought. Andrew Wilkie looks set to win Denison, and the gap is closing in Corrangamite with the ALP now only ahead by 637 votes. Lost that and the ALP would be down to 71 seats to the LNP’s 73. And I think that would be a gap too far.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Election 2010: Extra Time (or Think, Know, Prove)

In the excellent tale by Randy Shilts of the early stages of the AIDS crisis in America, And the Band Played On… the medical researchers at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) go through their theories on the causes and nature of the disease by asking what do they think, what do they know, and what can they can prove.

The media at this point should exercise the same practice.

For example many a time and oft this day I have heard how the toppling of Kevin Rudd killed the ALP’s vote in Queensland. This is being reported as a fact. On Sky News one bright talking head mentioned the fact that Rudd had easily retained his seat was evidence that he was popular but his axing was not. Well that may be something that people think, but they sure as hell don’t know it, and they won’t be able to prove – not unless someone does a pre-election poll, and even then it is supposing that those people wouldn't have vote non-ALP anyway.

You see this sort of thing all the time in public policy – a Government initiative give $X million to a program to build widgets. In the year after X million widgets are built and the Government (or whoever) claims it was because of the program , and never considers whether or not that number of widgets would have been made anyway.

It’s the same with the “Rudd-backlash”, people may say that was a reason why they voted against the ALP, but we don’t know that they wouldn't have voted that way if Rudd was still PM.

Well here’s what I know: in his last Newspoll as PM Rudd’s net satisfaction rating was minus 19. That is not popular.

Here’s what I know: the primary vote swing against the ALP in QLD was minus 8.88%. The primary vote swing against Rudd in his electorate was minus 9.11%. That does not suggest he was beloved by his own electorate. The Two Party Preferred swing in QLD against the ALP was minus 5.03%, in Griffith it was minus 4.12%, suggesting he was slightly less hated overall, but not by so much as you would think he was the saviour of QLD for the ALP – especially you consider that Wayne Swann’s two party preferred swing against in Lilley was a pretty similar minus 4.84%.

I can’t prove the ALP would have lost by as much, if not more, but I think you’d be very hard pressed to prove he would have won it for them.

r621210_4171985On the way the three independents, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter will jump, no one can prove anything. Listening to all three on the 7:30 Report tonight had me at times thinking they might be open to Abbott back flipping on the NBN, and then for a good deal of the other time thinking these guys sound like they’re more in tune with the ALP. 

I think, Tony Windsor’s issues of the NBN and e-Health and climate change would most likely have him close to the ALP, but I also know he did not believe Rudd was any great climate change proponent.

I think Rob Oakeshott’s focus on broadband issues put him more in the ALP camp – and he was well served by the ALP Govt under Rudd – especially on health issues. But I don’t know this.

I think Bob Katter is more likely to favour the LNP side, but listening to him talk on the 7:30 Report also showed that he would have no trouble what soever in siding with the ALP if he thought that would give him the best outcome for his electorate.

I also know that while they were all former National members, that you don’t leave a party just because you’re feel like doing something different.

I think that the crucial number is 73. If the LNP gets over that number of seats, I think the independents will side with them regardless – because at best the ALP would be on 72, and possibly 71 seats if Wilkie gets up. And 74 to 71 would be hard to ignore. But if the LNP only gets 73 seats, and the ALP is on is 73, plus Adam Bandt’s seat, then I think the ALP is going to get the votes.

I think after watching the two press conferences given today by Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott that Julia should be Prime Minister. She was clearly tired from the long night, and yet she stood there for a very long time taking every question the journalists fired at her – from ones about Kevin Rudd, to did she get any sleep last night (yes I know, the big issue) and then why should the independents move to her. She cited the two party preferred figure, but did not go overboard on it, only saying “I think this is a critical fact to weigh in the coming days” 531847-julia-gillard-melbourne

She talked about principles and policies, and she importantly talked about how the game had changed:

“I've heard the voice of the Australian people in this election campaign - I think that they have expressed that voice very clearly. I think Australians are saying to us that they want to see a change in the business of politics, the way politics is conducted."

“That is the conclusion. The Australian people are talking about changing politics. I've heard the voice of the Australian people. We are clearly at a historic moment…. It is clear that neither party has earned the right to govern in its own right.”

I think that is the right chord to strike.

Tony Abbott on the other hand gave a three minute long press conference where he railed against the ALP and talked up the fact that the LNP had got more vote than the ALP – thus pointedly discounting the votes of anyone outside of the two parties. An odd thing to do given where we find ourselves. It also completely contradicts his statements about the South Australian election where he thought the South Australian people had been robbed because the Liberal Party got over 50% of the vote but were denied government. He said:

“There was a savage swing against this Government. It is historically unprecedented for a first-term government to receive the kind of rebuff that the Rudd-Gillard Government received yesterday."

Well great, Tony, but here’s the thing – you may think that, but I know and can prove the electorate didn’t vote for you guys to govern in your own right – you only got 49.33% of the vote and (currently looking like ) only 73 seats.

I think Abbott will do anything he can to cut a deal with the power-three. No doubt he’ll try and do a deal on the NBN and maybe GP Super clinics, and maybe even climate change. In other words he’ll have to repudiate half of his polices that differentiated the LNP from the ALP. I don’t know how that will go down, but for mine, I think it would make him the biggest hypocrite in Australian politics – and I hope the media would hold him to account. But I don’t know that they would.

If Abbot thinks swings are important, I know the big swing was not to the LNP, but to the Greens. The ALP lost 4.87% of its primary vote. The LNP picked up about 1.2%, the Greens picked up 3.63%. So in effect we know the Greens picked up around three quarters of the votes lost by Labor.

So looking at those figures I think the ALP needs to care more about its left flank than it has this past three years, if they don’t I think after the next election I’ll be able to prove that they should have… because I think the ALP’s vote will only go down more, and the Greens vote will only increase.

What do we think? What do we know? What can we prove?

Important questions to ponder as we look at what is written and spoken about the events that occur over the next week.


Here’s another thing I think. Tonight might be my last night with access to the net till Friday. I am moving house and because of the whole bundling of internet/phone etc, and because of various issues with communications companies I might have to cancel my broadband account tomorrow. This of course will likely send me insane! It will also mean I won’t be blogging this week; which I guess is ok, given there is nothing very important happening in politics at the moment…

And thus perhaps this is it for me and the 2010 Election, in which case thanks for all your comments over the past five weeks. Glad to have been of service.

See you all on the other side!

UPDATE: Cheers for Rowan pointing out this Downfall parody of the election. It’s very good – and one of the very few that actually bothers to use the word “Stalin”!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Election 2010: Day 36 (or, a hung dog expression)

Well I certainly didn’t think it would go this bad.

QLD – a slaughter, NSW a shellacking.

Victoria good, but not good enough. SA ok, but nowhere near good enough.

AT the moment it looks like LNP 74, ALP 71, Greens 1, 4 Independents. Lets put Adam Brandt in with the ALP, and we’re at 74 –72.

Andrew Wilkie you think would go with the ALP, but if he doesn’t get up the ALP will win the seat, so either way we’re at 74-73.

And then we have Bob Katter,  Rob Oakeschott and Tony Windsor to decide who wins. And tonight they have said they will vote as a block.

I have no idea where they will go though just because they are ex-National Party members does not mean they will necessarily go tot he LNP. There were reasons why they left the National Party – you don’t leave a party an run as an independent for no reason. All three also have such high standing in their electorates that they could side with the ALP and it would not hurt their chances for re-election. As someone on Poll Bludger wrote, Windsor could put Gough Whitlam back as PM and he’d still win his seat in a canter.

Windsor said something interesting tonight:

Tony Windsor, who is on track to retain his NSW seat of New England, says he's "quite happy to talk to anybody" when the final results are in, including other independent and Green candidates. But he cautioned everyone to be patient and "just breathe in for a while", since a hung Parliament could be a "very good thing". "The most important issue here is stability of governance," he told Channel 9.

The only person he refuses to work with is Nationals Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce.
"I won't be taking any advice from Barnaby Joyce on what I should do or shouldn't be doing," he said.

Oakeshott was well regarded and well treated by the ALP in the last three years, so who knows…. What they would also want to bear in mind is that the Greens will (as expected) hold the balance of power in the Senate. So a minority Liberal Party Government with the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate. Yeah that sounds like stable Government.

So maybe Julia will be PM… maybe Abbott. The LNOP will probably have more seats, but as of now (with 74.5% of the vote counted) the ALP is ahead on two party preferred stakes 50.6 to 49.4. (By the way Newspoll seems to have got the 2PP the closest, but Nielsen and Galaxy were better on picking the ALP primary vote of 38% – it’s currently 38.6%)

It’s eenie-meenie, acey-deucey stuff. You’d put money on Abbot though… or Gillard… or...


Now let’s get down to what we really should be doing – blaming people. 

The ALP should have won this by the length of the straight.

Maxine McKew who lost Bennelong (just a shocking loss really, given the demographic of the seat and that her opponent was John Alexander – a guy whose ineptitude at tennis commentary is beyond compare) let fly with a few comments – some good some a bit ranty. But she nailed it with this:

"I think our problems date back to last year when we never really claimed victory over the global financial crisis"

I have said it many times on this blog – the Government's failure to sell the response to the GFC was a disgrace. And for that total blame must go to Kevin Rudd. His, and Wayne Swan’s stupid fear to talk about deficit and debt just gave the Liberal Party’s idiotic economic argument validity. All they needed to do was back in late 2008 was stare down the camera and say we didn’t want to go into deficit, but it was either that or people would lose their jobs, and I couldn’t let that happen.

Instead they talked about saving jobs, but refused to admit it meant going into deficit. Idiots. Weak and gutless idiots.

Karl Bitar. Great campaign. Well done. Now piss off and never darken the door of any Labor Party meeting ever again.

Some will say they it is because the ALP dumped Rudd, but that is for counterfactuals. My belief is he was seriously on the nose. Maybe his incumbency would have got the ALP over the line. But he suffered a 4.43% swing against him in his own seat. That does not reek of love. And anyway, Rudd brought it all upon himself.

So yes maybe you can blame the factional heavies – I certainly did at the time. But I also think if Rudd had understood that you need to work with your cabinet, and also showed a skerrick of ability to sell an economic policy he would have kept his job, and the ALP would be still cruising along.

Sandra O’Malley also made a very good point on twitter:

One certainty tonight - the race to the bottom by both sides wasn't endorsed by the Australian public.

Yep, the ALP need to look at two things: The first preference. The ALP’s went down by around 5.38%. The Liberal Party’s only went up by 0.97%. The Greens vote increased by 3.77%. And secondly the 1.5% increase in informal votes – the people saying get stuffed to both of you.

The Greens are now viewed as being part of the game – in effect part of the centre – the centre-left. The ALP in it’s great desire to take the centre, forgot about the centre-left.

The problem with the ALP is it always wants to win over the centre, which is correct, you need to do that, but it does it by trying to move to the right. The Liberal Party does it the other way round – by convincing the centre that what the Libs stand for is the centre. The problem with the ALP’s way of doing it is going to the right doesn’t work in the long run, because the right will always go with the Liberal Party in the long run, and all the ALP will have done is look hollow. They need to be the centre-left party that convinces those in the centre that they can come into the fold and be safe.

It means actually having someone who can convince the middle Australia that progressive policies – be they socially or economic are part of “middle Australia”. It means having a soul and defending it, not trying to convince the electorate you;re something you’re not. They won’t believe you in the end – and the media sure as hell won’t thank you for it – as Tim Dunlop says – Lucy always takes the football away.

Whatever happens from here, the ALP needs to reform itself – and firstly get rid of those advisors who sit in Parliament House for 16 hours a day watching 4 TV screens and worrying about the 6pm news, then what’s on Lateline, then what’s on the front page of The Oz, then what they’re talking about of talkback radio, then what’s on the 6pm news.  

It’s time for the ALP to work out why it wants to govern.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Election 2010: Day 35 (or, To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow)

Today was the first day of the campaign which I pretty much gave a miss. The idiocy level was just too high.

There were journalists on twitter saying Julia talking about WorkChoices was a sign of her panicking. There was another saying that the MPs behind her at  a press conference starting to look frightened.r623501_4201577

I had to tune out. It was obviously not going to be a day of reason and balance, which is fair enough – after 35 days everyone who has been following the campaign would be a tad frazzled – and this morning’s Newspoll and newspaper front pages had those who favour the Libs all-a-twitter.  

Of course Julia is talking up WorkChoices! Abbott may have said it’s dead and buried, but the polls show most people don’t believe him. The ALP is hoping enough people will get into the booth and think, you know, let’s not risk him bringing it in through the back door.

It is the same reason Abbott has been talking up the mining tax and the Greens-scare. Anyone who thinks talking up fear is a sign of panic hasn’t watched very many election campaigns. (Though I have to say Abbott coming out and saying he would keep the boats to 3 a year was bizarre. Why on earth would he put a number on it?)


This morning there were all the editorials declaring the paper’s verdict – most of the ones went for the Liberal Party (well really? Yeah I know, it is such a shock, given their impartiality for the last 3 years). Easily the dumbest was in The Australian. Check out this pearler:

One thing is abundantly clear, however: Kevin Rudd's big-government experiment was a disaster. Whichever party is returned, this ugly revival of old-style central planning must be buried and cremated.

keynesCentral planning?? Oh geez. Now I see, a stimulus program which stopped Australia from going into recession was just “central planning”, and “a disaster”.

It gets better:

Not since Mr Whitlam has Canberra blindly unleashed such arrogance on the nation. Labor acted decisively when the financial crisis broke, but spent too much, too late for dubious public purpose. Mr Rudd took it as read that the crisis gave him licence to dip selectively into the Keynesian handbook…

“Dubious political purpose”? Ok that implies some pork barrelling. How about you give us some evidence… Oh you don’t have any? Well continue then:

But nothing could save Mr Rudd, not once middle Australia discovered the waste and mismanagement in the school building program and the reckless practices of government-commissioned roof-insulation installers.

Yep the BER waste – 97% satisfaction response. And “Government commissioned roof-insulation installers”? Err no that’s not right, they weren’t working for the Government, but hey, why bring facts into it at this late stage:

The whopper of them all, a $43 billion National Broadband Network, would have delighted Ben Chifley, the prime minister who sought a mandate in 1949 to nationalise domestic air travel and banking. We are as excited as anybody about the internet's potential, but there are not enough megabytes in the known universe to convince us that a state-owned monopoly of the broadband network is a policy for the future. An incoming Gillard government must not go any further with this enterprise without a full cost-benefit study.

Oooh excellent! Can I do the cost-benefit study? I’ll charge heaps and you won’t like my assumptions but, hey, just like the Liberals costing, the numbers will add up on my spread sheet. Idiotic.

She must resist the tertiary Left's moral blackmail and reacquaint her party with the values of middle Australia.

Umm, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but no one anywhere in this country is thinking Gillard has taken the ALP to the left. Imbecilic.Karl_Marx

Over the course of a five-week campaign, he has become a substantial political figure and is the Liberal Party's best candidate for prime minister to emerge this century. Yet he offers only a modest vision for Australia, rejecting the soundly based consensus that immigration should be determined by labour demand and ruling out industrial relations reform.

You have to love that the Lib’s “best candidate for PM this century” is one who only offers “a modest vision for Australia”. Geez, what a wrap for the rest of the party since 2000!

Yet the financial crisis has revived a command economy culture we thought had been purged by Mr Hawke a quarter of a century ago.

The command economy? Geez, you have to love that following Keynes now makes you a communist. 

As Jonathon Green wrote on twitter:

Oz plumps for TAbbott ... to end the curse of a resurgent command economy. And they want to save the Petrovs too I think.


There’ll be some polls out later tonight. It looks like the last polls will be around 51-49 or 52-48.

That means a close run thing.

My prediction? …

Well back on the night when the stories about Rudd being challenged surfaced I wrote:

But that doesn’t matter, the story has taken hold, and Julia might as well take over now – what the hell, due to this, the election is pretty much gone now anyway, she might as well have 5 months as PM.

And then two days later I recanted after seeing Julia perform and wrote:

So I’m jumping on the Julia bandwagon (well I’ve been on it for a while, but you know what I mean) and will declare this far out that the ALP will win with an increased margin.

Which just shows if you’re looking for consistency, you’ve come to the wrong place!

I am by nature deeply pessimistic about my side ever winning anything. In the 1998 Preliminary Final, when the Crows were up over the Western Bulldogs 18.11 to 9.13 at three quarter time, I was still worried they could lose it.

So am I worried that the ALP have blown this one? Of course I bloody well am! I’ve been worried they’d blow this one since about 7am on the 25th November 2007.

And they have done everything they could do to lose it since about then – from Rudd over promising on just about every single thing, to being afraid to say “deficit”, to not being able to sell the fact that going into deficit was the only sensible thing to do, to not defending the insulation scheme against idiotic reporting, to over promising on climate change and then backing down when push came to shove, to not defending the BER against even more idiotic reporting.

So many things wrong, which were actually so easy to solve – because they were not about the policy, but about selling the policy (only the ETS was a dog of a policy, but even there the selling was wrong). Rudd didn’t take the people with him. And that’s why he got rolled. And it’s why the ALP are not romping this in.

But all is not lost – in fact if the Liberals win, it looks very much that they will do so despite not winning the popular vote – something that still seems to be a big ask, and they will also win despite there being virtually zero sense that the country wanted to change Government – a first in Australian federal politics. 

My concern about the Liberal winning is more personal because of this blog. I started it in 2008 because I liked watching politics and love writing. I had been commenting on other blogs, and thought writing my own would be fun – which it has been as I have been able to combine those two areas of interest. I do it only because it is fun. If the Libs win, however, there is no way I would be able describe watching Question Time as fun – especially having to put up with the most economically innumerate PM and Treasurer since Jim Cairns and Gough (sorry Gough your area wasn't economics) at the dispatch talking about the debt and deficit they have inherited etc etc.

Yes I could write about it – and yeah there would be a plethora of material with which to slaughter them. But fun? I don’t think so. I would likely write frustrated rants, and I’ve spent enough time writing angry rants about an ALP Government to want to do it every day. This is not my job, and if it’s not fun, I have to say I’d probably be better off spending some more time on the couch at night relaxing, than angrily banging out frustrated analysis (I know my wife would agree!).

So for that reason alone I hope the ALP wins (though of course there are many, many, many others).

And my prediction? Well it’s based on the fact that last week’s polls all had the ALP winning, and I have to say nothing I’ve seen this week suggests Abbott is storming back (mostly because Julia has done nothing to allow it – she has done well, especially at the RootyQ event). So on that basis I’m going to be very pessimistic and call it:

ALP 78, LNP 68, Indep 3, Greens 1.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Election 2010: Day 34 (or, grumble grumble, tweet tweet tweet)

As we pass the clock tower and reach the final furlong of this the great race that stops a nation for as little time as it does to line up outside a school building, write down 1 to 6, then stop off for a sausage sizzle, it is always good to expect a couple things to appear in the media:

  1. the polls show it will be tight!
  2. internal polls will show it will be tight!
  3. it’ll be won in the marginals, and it will be tight!
  4. the marginal polls show it will be tight!
  5. the internal polls of the marginals show it will be tight!

And so it is today. I was out having some friendly after work drinks and thus missed the commercial news, and I came home to find leaked internal ALP polling showing it was going to lose the election because it would lose in the marginal seats.

Well grab that feather over yonder and come knock me down with it.

The great thing about internal polls being leaked is they are leaked every single time for a purpose. Back two months ago some ALP internal polls were leaked for one reason – to dump Rudd. This time they are being leaked because every other poll and all the bookies are saying the ALP will win – maybe lose some skin, but will win Government nonetheless.

This would scare the hell out of the ALP.

Especially given the last major marginal polling showed the ALP winning, and the national Newspoll and Nieslen polls had them up 52-48 and 53-47 (and then ask yourself again if you think she would have lost votes this week). Hell even the damn psychic croc in Darwin is calling it for her!

The last thing they would want is for voters to think “Oh well she’s going to win, so it doesn’t matter if I vote for Liberal (just to give them a bit of a message)”. Nope, they want every single voter to think – “Hell! Abbott might win this thing! I better vote Labor, and I’ll vote Liberal next March in the state election”.

And thus tonight’s news story.

Make of it what you will, but ask yourself this, when was the last time a party leaked internal polling during an election showing it was going to win?


347273-julia-gillard-at-npcToday in the morning Julia Gillard did a plethora of interviews. She did this because she had to be in Canberra today to speak before the National Press Club. Normally this wouldn’t be too bad because Eden Monaro is next door, so the leader can always go there and try and fight for that tight marginal seat. But this time round Eden Monaro isn’t going to shift. Mike Kelly has a good rep, the APS job freeze and cuts proposed by Abbott are death in Jerrabomberra and Queanbeyan. And the NBN is very much in favour in these regional centres. 

Last time round Howard and Rudd lived in Eden Monaro – this time round, both camps have done just the cursory visit. That tells a lot.

What also tells a lot is body language. Julia at the press conference looked and sounded like a winner. She took on the questions with confidence, humour and feistiness. When quizzed about the citizens assembly idea, she referred to her earlier mention of Bob Hawke as the great conciliator and referred to his tax summit, saying that if he were to have it now the reaction by the cynics would be “grumble, grumble, grumble, tweet, tweet, tweet” (in reference to the very many cynics on twitter, yours truly included!)

She landed a nice blow an Abbott about his ignorance of broadband, saying the he thought fast internet was just about things you can do on Facebook, noting "You can only imagine his excitement when he finally finds YouTube".

She then underscored the biggest difference between the ALP and Liberal Party in this election:

"I will build the national broadband network, Mr Abbott will not.  It could not be clearer."

She ended by saying that the NSW Government had not been exactly fantastic and understood voters anger etc. This got a run in the Sydney news ensuring they all heard the code – I agree with you, your Government is crap, but I’m not them.

She was also good in her defence and selling of the stimulus. She was in short looking like a winner.

Contrast it to three weeks ago when she announced she was to be the “Real Julia”, and her campaign was in tatters due to leaks and what not and a general inability to cut through. And so she got desperate and got on the press bus. It seemed to help show she was doing things differently. But it was obviously a sign that things weren’t going to plan.

Well today Tony Abbott got on the press bus.

369111-abbott-on-busNow maybe it’s a sign things are going well and he just wanted to do things differently because, you know, when things are going well in a campaign you do things differently…

He also announced he was going to campaign non-stop for 36 hours.

He actually wanted this to be his big announcement of the day. He wanted to talk about that at his press conference. Yes in the last two days of his campaign he wants to make a big deal about his campaign. This is somewhat interesting given yesterday the Liberals announced their costings which show that they would have a surplus double the size of the ALPs. You’d think he’s want to brag about that.

But no. The reason being that the Liberal’s costings have about as much credibility as Tony Smith’s grasp of the laws of physics. And so (thanks to the ABC’s PM) we can see how he answered all questions about the costings):

TONY ABBOTT: Well our costings have been certified by a highly reputable, well respected accounting firm. This firm would not put its reputation on the line lightly.

We've submitted our costings to a highly reputable accounting firm. This accounting firm would not put its reputation on the line lightly.

The point I make is that we've submitted our costings to a highly reputable accounting firm. It's put it's reputation on the line to certify that our costings are accurate, that our sums add up.

The problem, Tony is that no one doubts that the sums add up. Anyone can create a spreadsheet and produce some numbers that add up.

It’s the assumptions behind the numbers that don’t add up, and the “well respected accounting firm” is not putting its reputational on the line on that score. Here’s what it said in the covering letter on the costings:

WKH Howarth has reviewed the complete set of recurrent and non-recurrent policy commitments and savings, and is satisfied that based on the assumptions provided, costed commitments have been accurately prepared in all material aspects.

That is, they took the assumptions as they were – which of course they have to, that’s what they were paid to do. The Treasury however, isn’t so particular about agreeing with the assumptions of political parties… such as Abbott’s assertion that they can claim savings on asylum seekers because “we’ll stop the boats”. They also took out about $2.5 billion from the budget contingency fund, because they say they’ll run programs better than the ALP does.  That’s a bit like someone putting in their household budget that they can save money by not paying for car insurance because they don’t expect to have an accident this year…

So we have Julia looking confident, running strongly, but not announcing any changes to her strategy. And we have Abbott talking about going for 36 hours’ straight, getting on the press bus, and doing all he can not to talk about what should be a big economic winner.

Yeah it’ll be close… but for mine, the result is about by how many, not who.


The only odd thing for Gillard today was her answer in The Oz to the question of who she would invite to a dinner party. She said Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela and…. Catherine Zeta Jones… err what??? Maybe Tim’s a fan and she wanted to keep him happy while she chatted to the heavyweights of history.


UPDATE: So another Newspoll is to be out tomorrow. The last one was on Monday. It was 52-48. Let’s see what this one says. No doubt it’ll be close, no doubt it’ll be tight…

And yep it is – in a bizarre poll the Newspoll has polled 1600 voters – and it is 50-50. And yet it says it will publish a full poll of 2,500 voters on Saturday.

So it’s close, it’s tight…

Maybe the question still is “who”, though given the respective weeks by Gillard and Abbott, my question is “why?”.

UPDATE 2: And we also have a Galaxy Poll out which has the ALP up 52-48.

I have say, for mine, the Galaxy smells more credible.

The last Newspoll was 52-48. Now think about this week. Do you really think the “boatphone”, the focus on the NBN and the economy, the ALP launch (which got good snippets on the news) and even the Rooty Hill in QLD thing would mean a swing to the Libs to make it 50-50? – Especially given the Newspoll has the ALP Primary vote dropping 3 percentage points. Three? In a week? In a good week? Yeah right.

For mine this week has been if anything for a win for the ALP, and in polling terms I would have thought no change.

I can believe a 52-48 and a “it’ll be tight in the marginals”. We know some seats will go in NSW and QLD, so 52-48, but we need to watch where the votes are, smells right. Take this line in the Herald Sun regarding the Galaxy Poll:

The final national Galaxy Poll for the Herald Sun shows Labor ahead of the Coalition 52-48 on two-party preferred terms.

But Labor fears it is winning votes in already safe seats and losing support in the battleground marginal electorates in NSW and Queensland, meaning it may win the popular vote but lose the election.

That is believable – especially after the last 5 days.

But 50-50? Hell it required the ALP to have perhaps the worst week in election history for them to go down to that level 3 weeks ago. This last week (and the week before it) has not been bad for Labor – in fact at times it’s been very good.

I’ll go with Galaxy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Election 2010: Day 33 (or Oh, Rooty Q, I love the way you talk)

Today was about two things – the Liberal Party releasing its costings and the people’s forum in Brisbane (or as it was known on twitter “RootyQ” – on reference to this being the Queensland – “Q” – version of last week’s Rooty Hill forum).

The Libs put off releasing the policy till 4pm, and it was then delayed till 4:45pm, which didn't really please the journos who were going to have to file stories for the 6pm news.

It turns out the Libs are going to have a bigger surplus than the ALP. That they left off releasing this information till the last night of the campaign in which adverts are allowed – and also the one night of the week where the ABC dominates the ratings with Spicks and Specks, The Gruen Nation and The Chaser makes me suspect two things:

  1. they aren’t all that confident in their figures standing up to a stack of criticism, and
  2. they don’t really think people care too much that they will have a bigger surplus.

The interesting bit of information from the press conference with Robb and Hockey (Abbott of course was no where to be seen given it was about economics) was that the Libs had hired the accountancy firm WHK Howarth about 2 months ago to do the costings – which kind of puts the bullshit about them not submitting them to Treasury because of the leaks into its proper light . They obviously never intended to go through with the complying to the Charter of Budget Honesty. Now they may be right to do so – the charter is a bit of a crock – but their excuse is as well.

The Farifax’s Peter Martin tweeted on the costings:

Costings just one line per item - no assumptions, no reasoning. Treasury and Finance would have provided a touch more


Tonight’s RootyQ event was a marked improvement on the Rooty Hill version. Both leaders were denied a cheer squad. There were some excellent question, there were some “what will you do for me questions”. 

Abbott went first, and highlighting the advantage of going last, I can scarce remember what he had to say. Julia was good – she tackled the questions about Rudd well, and explained the stimulus as well as she ever had.

I doubt it will have changed a vote. Bugger all will have watched it – ABC24 hardly rates, and Sky News again will get its 90 odd thousand. It will however have done Gillard no harm in Queensland, and likely some good – though it will be interesting to see how the Courier Mail covers it. You could argue because it was in Queensland and because she did so well that she might have really picked up some votes, but again I say not enough people saw it.

Abbott, by virtue of the fact he was supposed to love this format, didn’t go as well as hoped – mostly because there wasn’t the cheer squad factor this time. But he probably didn’t lose any votes either. I seriously doubt he would have won any – especially when he said “$100,000 a year is not rich”.

So was it worthwhile? Yes. But really it would have been much better for them to have been on the stage at the same time.

Two more full days to go before the vote. Julia will be at the press club tomorrow in which she will say absolutely nothing new.

Barring anything unexpected occurring, this campaign is looking pretty much done and dusted.


Today Nicholas Gruen released some very interesting research on the impact of the stimulus. One of the things about the stimulus is the number of jobs it saved, but what is often left out is the impact those jobs have on actually helping keep debt down. Gruen noted that those people whose jobs were saved quite obviously kept paying tax – both income and consumption. But how much have the taxes from those whose jobs were save contributed to paying off the debt? Well Gruen found that

“For every dollar the government spent, tax revenue to Australia’s governments rose by around 22.5 cents, leaving just 77.5 cents to be repaid.”

So the income tax from the people whose job were saved contribute to nearly a quarter of the costs of the stimulus.

When looking at the infrastructure spend Gruen found similarly that:

Every $1 of government infrastructure spending increased output by $1.20 generating 36 cents of government revenue.

What this means he notes is that:

For each dollar of stimulus the Government spent on infrastructure, the debt incurred was only around 64 cents.

All up this means:

Of the $26.5 billion dollars of infrastructure budgeted to be funded in the years 2008-9 and 2009-10 Australian taxpayers will need to service and/or repay only around $16.9 billion of debt via state and federal taxes.

Gruen even takes into account the fact that under the BER scheme there were inefficiencies due to the rushed nature of the work that in turn raised costs. So was this a drain on the budget? Well no. He finds that because the stimulus generated tax revenue that vastly outweighed the “waste” of the BER speediness:

Those inefficiencies cost around $1.5 billion compared with the tax windfall of $9.5 billion from tax collected from who would not otherwise have been employed. The net result leaves Australians better off by around $8 billion.

The important point is this – the stimulus worked. Let’s just say that again. It worked. It worked incredibly well – far better than ANYONE dared hope.

It worked because it was rolled out as fast as possible and thus it saved jobs before they were los. It is much, much harder to get people back to work than it is to keep them working. And those people whose jobs were saved are helping pay back the debt.

In the 1990s recession the stimulus package under the Keating Government came far too late to save jobs, and thus the debt that was incurred was not being paid back by people whose jobs were saved, and thus the debt was greater, and the stimulus less effective. The lessons of the 1990s were learned and applied in 2008-9 – and they worked.

Yes there was waste – but the waste of not acting fast is much greater. As one who attempted to enter the workforce for the first time in the early 1990s I can also tell you the long term costs are also much greater. I did an economics degree – I even had a honours in it. But by the time the economy picked up I was competing with another 2 years worth of graduates, and also experienced people coming back into the industry. I had hoped to become a dealer on the foreign exchange markets – the subject I enjoyed most in my honours year was “international finance”. Well I did end up as a dealer – a blackjack dealer. You do what you have to do. And my 4 years at university were for nothing. I finally paid off my HECS debt for that degree last year…

The stimulus was timely and targeted. Yes there was some waste of Government expenditure because it was so timely. But the waste of waiting and seeing, of taking time, of allowing confidence to decline would have been far greater – both in budgetary terms and in that of human life.

The only bad thing from the RootyQ forum was Julia locking herself into a surplus in three years time. She should NEVER do that, and the media should NEVER expect her to have to. When things go down the toilet, the Government SHOULD go into deficit, and when things are good, you go back into surplus.

That neither Abbott nor Gillard will talk about the prospect of a stimulus package should the world economy go into a double dip recession is a major falling of both them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Election 2010: Day 32 (or, the cost, the benefit and the profit)

Well today a few things happened – the debate debate continued, Tony Abbott tried to give us a reason to vote for him and couldn’t, the Liberals released an infrastructure plan that involved bonds which apparently do not constitute debt and Malcolm Turnbull became the shadow Communications Minister.

First the debate debate. It’s all a farce and was such as soon as Abbott last night challenged Gillard to a 30 minute debate on the economy last night. When you read the proposal from Brian Loughnane you see it says the debate:

“would begin with 90 second statements from both leaders and then a free-flowing discussion of the key issue of the economy and other important issues election campaign”.

Abbott on Q and A last night also let slip it wasn't going to be a debate on the economy at all:

I hope the Prime Minister accepts and to make it easier for the Prime Minister to accept I've agreed to a half an hour debate, largely on the economy, just her and just me, moderated by the ABC's Chris Uhlmann tomorrow night.

Thirty minutes and only largely on the economy? Pathetic.

It seems the Courier Mail (you know that bastion of objectivity), and Sky News (yes that other organisation famed for neutrality of political matters) are going to go ahead with a Brisbane Rooty Hill forum. Well Julia has announced she will turn up. Not sure who will go first – or if David Speers will actually moderate the event and ensure no Dorothy Dixers are allowed. The ALP has put out a statement which was read out on the 7:30 Report saying that she wants to debate but if not, she will appear after Abbott. If she goes on last – well played.


r621338_4173940Next up for the day, Tony Abbott gave an address at the National Press Conference to outline why to vote for him. It turns out the reason to vote for him is because he is not Labor.

His speech, like all Abbott speech es was all negative.

I can’t be bothered dealing with it.


Thirdly we get to the Liberal Party’s infrastructure policy came out. It is, to be honest, a joke:

Under this proposal, the Infrastructure Partnerships Scheme will allow the operators of qualified projects to issue Infrastructure Partnership bonds. These 10 year bonds will receive concessional tax treatment in the form of a tax rebate.

Specifically, the assessable interest income generated from the bonds will attract a 10 per cent tax rebate irrespective of the tax status or rate of the taxpayer. Accordingly, a superannuation fund would generate a saving of two-thirds of its tax payable on the interest from these bonds.

Now in the press conference and again at the National Press Club, both Abbott and Andrew Robb were at pains to say bonds were not debt. Yep “Infrastructure Partnership Bonds” are not debt. I’m not sure what they think bonds are, but for the entirety of history they have been classed as debt by economists.

From what I can gather the policy will involve private companies tendering for infrastructure projects and if they are successful they will be able to issue these “Infrastructure Participation Bonds” which appear to be backed by the Government. People who buy the bonds will be able to claim a 10 percent rebate on the interest they earn from the bonds. Now the problem of course is what will the bond yield be and, if they are backed by the Government will that mean they will be the same as treasury bonds? Who bears the risk of these “Infrastructure Partnership Bonds? Because “partnership” implies the Government is taking on some of the risk.

The other problem is how companies will be able to qualify for these bonds. The policy states:

…infrastructure projects will qualify for the concessional tax treatment through meeting set criteria, including:

  • The project qualifies as a national priority under Infrastructure Australia’s pipeline of infrastructure projects;
  • A public cost-benefit analysis of the project has been conducted; and
  • The project generates sufficient returns such that the debt can be serviced by the revenues generated by levies or charges that relate directly to the project.

Let’s deal with the third point first: In effect the project has to be one which is commercially viable. In fact one that would be commercially viable without these “partnership bonds” so the question needs to be asked, why the hell is the government chipping in for a project which would have gone ahead anyway? Is that a good way to keep down debt?

homerSecondly, the whole point of government infrastructure is that it is spent on areas that are not necessarily “commercially viable”. How many roads in rural areas do you think are commercially viable? How many railways? What it means is a bridge for example would only be built under this scheme if it could then have a toll attached. Now that may be nice if it is going over Sydney Harbour, but what if it is not in a densely populated area?

The proposal smacks of Homer Simpson’s campaign to be the Springfield Sanitation Superintendant: “Can’t somebody else do it?

On the second point about the cost-benefit analysis – it is obviously a slap at the National Broadband Network which is apparently so terrible because it hasn’t had a cost-benefit analysis done. I’ll get to that in a second, but it again underlines the Liberal’s approach to infrastructure – Can’t somebody else do it?

Yes infrastructure should – nay must – have economic benefits, but economic benefit does not always mean commercially viable. The problem, for example, with talking about what the Government could have spent the money it will spend on the NBN is it does not do the same for commercial communications companies. They can spend money doing other things as well – things more profitable in the short term – things which will improve their share price. And if those things exist, they will do them before building a fibre network.

It is why I live a 20 minute car drive from Parliament House and yet the fastest download speed I can get is about 3.97 megabits per second, even though my broadband plan offers me a theoretical maximum download speed of 20MBps.

But not to worry because the Libs won’t even bring this in. How do I know? Read their policy:

Under this plan, the Coalition will seek advice about the creation of a new form of infrastructure financing product

A final decision on introduction of an Infrastructure Partnership Bonds Scheme will be a matter for government upon receipt of expert advice

Those two sentences give them a nice easy out – especially as the expert advice will no doubt tell them it’s a crock.


Due to Tony Smith’s complete incompetence as Shadow Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has stepped into the breach. Yesterday he wrote a piece for the Business Spectator, and today it got a run in The Oz, under the heading:

Seven reasons why the NBN will fail

To be honest I can’t actually see his “7 reasons” because after number two he seems to make a long point and then ends with “finally”, but let’s have look at them:

…the NBN will cost far too much to build. It will be the largest investment of taxpayer funds in the country's history. While Labor claims it will find private partners, the NBN is so risky and its likely returns so low that it will probably be entirely funded by taxes. And even the chief executive of NBN Co admits the final cost is highly uncertain.

Several countries have subsidised high-speed broadband, but not on the scale Labor proposes. The taxpayer contribution in Singapore was $200 a person and in New Zealand $330 a person. Labor's extravaganza will cost Australian taxpayers more than $2000 a person.

Well the first sentence is opinion supported by a false comparison: namely, that because the NBN will cost more per person in Australia than it does in Singapore it is too expensive. Well let’s just have a think about that. The area of Singapore is 710.2 km2, and its the third most densely populated country in the world. Australia has a land mass of 7,617,930 km2 and is the 233rd most densely populated country in the world. Which do you think would be more costly to roll out a fibre network?

He is also only thinking in commercial cost-benefit terms (ie profit) – he is not thinking in economic cost-benefit terms. The problem with a cost-benefit analysis is it all depends on the assumptions you put into the model. I could do a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN and have it coming out a winner because I will assign a great return to non-financial aspects than you will, you for example may give negligible value to education or health impacts. Anyone who thinks there could be only one version of an NBN cost-benefit analysis is kidding themselves. The main problem is how to assign costs and benefits, as Joshua Gans and Stephen King wrote in their paper, “Big Bang Telecommunications Reform”:

… it must be recognized that any analysis of the social benefits of the NBN will be extremely imprecise. Alternative cost-benefit analyses of the NBN have been presented. These studies reach substantially different conclusions – from large net positive to large net negative so- cial returns. This gap is unsurprising. The studies make very different assumptions. This is under- standable and reflects the significant uncertainty surrounding a project like the NBN.

One thing that is also forgotten in the desire from the Libs for a “cost-benefit analysis of the NBN” is the structural separation of Telstra. Have fun guys assigning the cost and benefit of that aspect of the policy and putting it in a document that will be agreed upon by everyone…

Think about this aspect of the flexibility of cost-benefit Analyses as well when you look at the Libs need for their infrastructure programs to have them.

Turnbull continues:

Second, the NBN will increase internet costs for users. Once the government has built a white elephant utterly incapable of earning a reasonable return on capital invested but assured of a monopoly over carriage of internet services, what do you think is going to happen to user charges?

If the government instead decides to charge reasonable wholesale fees, the cashflows earned by NBN will not justify a value remotely near $43bn.

Well firstly, this $43b is a figure that gets thrown around ignoring that Telstra is ponying up $11b of it. But still, again it’s all about profit for Malcolm. It shouldn’t be done because someone won’t be able to make a decent enough buck out of it – which ignores in the first place why most people in this country don’t have fibre to the premises yet. The Libs don’t get that infrastructure can be a public good while simultaneously not being commercially viable.

More Turnbull:

Let's say the NBN turns out to be the dud that most business observers expect and that five years down the track an alternative emerges providing adequate service at a lesser cost; say a variant of wireless.

Don’t you love how he throws in the first line as though his opinion is the word of God? And this alternative? Yes good old wireless – that wireless which will never be as fast and will never do what fibre to the premise can do. Sure we’ll always have wireless ipads etc. But Turnbull is doing the standard Liberal line of focussing on personal use – and also aligning that personal use with what we are happy with right now. The NBN is much more than kids downloading stuff off of bittorrent.

But even on a personal level, “adequate services” is an interesting thing. Ten years ago I would never have dreamed I could watch a press conference during an election campaign live on the internet. Five years ago I would have have been content that I would not be able to afford such a fast connection. Now I get stroppy if it buffers for 5 seconds. I haven’t got richer, and am now indulging in luxuries – I just have the type of broadband connection everyone thinks is normal.

The world changes and the one thing that will not change is us being content with “adequate” internet connection – because what is adequate now, will not be in 5 years time. Turnbull and the Libs are betting it will be (how’s that for picking winners?).

Turnbull finishes:

Clever governments understand that you fix problems by empowering initiative and enterprise, by creating an environment where the ingenuity and flexibility of the market is best able to deliver the cheapest and most effective solutions.

He leaves out “profitable”. Governments cannot make a company do something if it is more profitable for them to do something else. It is why climate change policy NEEDS a price on carbon which will make doing something on climate change profitable for companies. But on this issue we can’t “put a price on fibre” as it were. He also again ignores the separation of Telstra- as though the NBN is just about the internet. Stephen King (who is neither a complete NBN apostle or critic) puts it nicely:

There are two alternative policies for broadband internet in Australia.

  1. use government money to build the NBN using fibre to the home; or
  2. restructure Telstra and leave it to the market.

The government’s policy is the first of these. The coalition’s policy is neither. And that is the coalition’s problem.

Turnbull and the Liberals see the NBN as purely a commercial decision of profit and loss, they see not the public good.

My advice to those who those who win Government and decline to build infrastructure – you are mere idle kings, for whom there is little profit…


For some light relief, here’s the election campaign in Lego: Tony’s Boatphone: