Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The apolitical flood. Yeah that lasted.

So here was Liberal Senator Eric Abetz yesterday talking about Bob Brown using the Queensland flood to talk politics:

 Senator Brown's comments expose the Greens and his leadership as shallow and cynical; willing to peddle political propaganda in the face of a natural disaster

Here was the editorial in The Australian on the matter:

But La Nina is not man-made, and linking global warming to flooding is a bridge too far. It was also irrelevant to the mood of the country at the start of Queensland's recovery. Most affected Australians were out helping each other yesterday, rather than looking for somebody to blame for a natural disaster.

The Australian also reported on the “mounting condemnation” Brown was receiving from the mining industry. The head of the Minerals Council of Australia said:

“Senator Brown should be condemned for putting his party's political fortunes ahead of the interests of the people of Queensland.”

The comments from Xstrata mines was even more cutting:

“It's a disgrace for him to be using this major disaster for political point scoring, now is not the time for political posturing.”

I guess something must have happened overnight that suddenly made it all ok to start politicising the floods, because out came Tony Abbott to use the floods to weigh in on his opposition to the NBN:image

As the flood waters recede, it’s clear that the damages bill is going to be enormous, perhaps even gargantuan, as Sir Rod Eddington suggested this morning. Certainly it will run to many, many billions of dollars. Now, the money just has to be spent because the people of Queensland have to be resupplied with the roads, the railroads and the bridges on which modern living absolutely depends. But the damages bill will have to be met, the money will have to be found. It should not be found via a new tax. The people of Queensland have suffered enough, they shouldn’t have to suffer higher taxes as well. It should be found through re-prioritising government expenditure.

It’s time for the Government to stop spending on unnecessary projects so that it can start spending on unavoidable projects such as the reconstruction that will be needed in Queensland and perhaps in Victoria as well. It can start with the National Broadband Network. The National Broadband Network is a luxury that Australia cannot now afford. The one thing you don’t do is re-do your bathroom when the roof has just been blown off and that’s the situation that we find ourselves in right now.

I await Senator Abetz to condemn his leader for “peddling political propaganda in the face of a natural disaster”. I await The Australian to write an editorial talking about people more concerned with helping each other out than looking for someone to attempt to score political points.

In place of the mounting criticism The Oz found to Bob Brown, today they ran with this opening:

TONY Abbott has ramped up his call for the National Broadband Network to be abandoned as an expensive white elephant in the wake of the devastating Queensland floods.

I went looking in Abbott’s press conference transcript for his use of the phrase “white elephant”, because as it is such an emotive and subjective term I was sure no decent journalist would put such political spin in his own copy.

But of course Abbott didn’t use it.

As a comparison, here’s how the Sydney Morning Herald led the story:

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has called on the government to scrap its multibillion-dollar National Broadband Network (NBN) to help fund the Queensland flood recovery.

But then of course The Oz has decided the NBN is its target for 2011 to replace its attack on the Building the Education Revolution stimulus spending in 2010.

Abbott made mention of a there being no need for a new tax to pay for the flood clean up. He was referring to a story in The Oz today suggesting the Government is exploring placing a flood levy on top of the Medicare levy to pay for the cost. The story’s headline was:image

Swan weighs levy to foot rebuilding bill

Except nowhere in the story does Swan actually say he is weighing it up. All we have is this opening:

A FLOOD levy is one of the options before the federal government

And then:

If the government was to adopt a temporary levy it would probably be confined to paying for the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged in the flood, not assisting householders whose insurance policies have proven inadequate.

and ends with:

It is understood that it is too soon for the Treasurer's office to decide how it will pay for rebuilding and it is yet to rule out any options.

The story doesn’t even have a “Government sources suggest…”, or “The Australian understands that Treasury is…”. Now maybe the Government is planning to place a levy but nothing in the story suggest it is, or to be honest even suggests that it is even being considered. The best it has is that Treasury has yet “to rule out any options”. Well hell you might as well run a story saying the Government is planning on introducing death duties on puppies to pay for the costs if that is all you have.

But it did its job, because it gave Abbott something to say the Government should not do – not that he could explain why it shouldn’t.

However the real idiocy is Abbott linking the floods to the NBN, because there is no connection.

No one is suggesting the choice is NBN or flood repairs. No one is suggesting if we build the NBN then Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley, Rockhampton et al will have to go without. So scrapping the NBN has nothing to to with the floods. Anyone who suggests the NBN has anything to do with the floods is being the worst kind of political fraud.

Nothing about about the argument for or against the NBN has changed due to the floods. (actually this is wrong – we perhaps should have a discussion of whether the NBN infrastructure would have held up better through the floods than the old copper network. But other than that? Nada.

The NBN is not as Abbott so blithely dismisses it, like re-doing you bathroom. That is unless your bathroom has piping that is rusting and is on  the verge of obsolescence, the water only flows so long as no one else in the house uses a tap, and the shower works so long as you only want to have a 30 second shower.

If you are against the NBN as Abbott is because you think we need to save money and get into surplus, then your argument has nothing to do with the floods, it has to do with the surplus and budget. If Abbott doesn’t want the NBN because of the floods, he needs to explain why because of the floods we need to still desperately get get the budget back into surplus (Gillard and Swan could also try their hands at that argument as well).

All those who think we need to get back into surplus come what may, and who believe the choice is either cut back on services or cut back on the NBN or place a levy should have a look at economist Warwick McKibbin’s views on the matter (and he is not usually my go to guy on economic matters!)

Professor McKibbin said the floods would weaken Australia's entire economy, which would need government support.

''Queensland is not a little island sitting out there somewhere north of Newcastle. There will be permanent loss of national income. It's not the time to cut spending. That's the mistake they made in Europe. Sure it's important not to have too much debt, but the idea that you have to have a particular surplus at a particular point in time no matter what is dangerous,'' he said.

Now personally I only care about surplus/deficit to the extent that the budget being in either will affect the economy – especially unemployment and inflation. Anyone who thinks a surplus is always good and deficit is always bad really needs to go sit in the economic dunce corner.

However, it will be interesting to see how the Government does respond on this issue. They will have to be careful, because unlike the media’s response to Abbott using the floods, you can bet if Swan mentions “floods” once when explaining while the budget will stay in surplus, he will be flayed for using it as an excuse. And we must admit that Swan has not done at all well on the deficit issue.

I can see Hockey saying – “See I told you so, Labor will never have a budget in surplus”. (He’ll struggle though explaining why that is actually bad, other than going straight to the debt bogeyman).

But to be honest, all of this, who really gives a shit?

People are still searching for bodies.

Do you understand? There are still bodies to be found out there in the silt and muck of the Lockyer Valley.

Can everyone please just give it a rest, if only for a couple weeks? I don’t mind discussion of flood specific aspects – eg the dams or flood insurance, because they are directly relevant to the flood. But don’t just pick something you didn’t like before the floods and say, oh well the floods mean we shouldn’t do it.

Because here’s the thing, nothing Abbott has said today couldn't have waited until next month – in fact it would be better because we would have better information about the costs. How about both sides deal with the direct results of the floods and then have that first sitting day of parliament, which, as in 2009, will be devoted to condolence motions (let me tell you I am very interested to hear both Gillard’s and Abbott’s speeches).

Then ring the bell and start.

Because who knows, by then at least people may have had been able to bury their wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters before having to witness their deaths and the destructions of their homes being used as political footballs.


Dermott Banana said...

Politicians politic. It's their job. I'm quite puzzled by this "Too soon" mentality that says it's inappropriate to ask "Why?" and then "What do we do to fix it?" and "How do we pay to fix it?" until some undefined time in the future.
When the Victorian fires happened, the same questions were asked, and quite properly.
For now, Brisbane and surrounds are the big story. Examining all aspects of the story, including the questions I just mentioned, is not only not surprising, but perfectly proper.

scapes said...

Abbott was using the floods as an opportunity for spouting political dogma at least as far back as Friday, when he was responding on the scene to TV reporter with ""I don't want to get too political at this time ... BUT ..." (then proceeds to go on about this is a time for spending restraint by Government. You could already see clearly exactly where he'd be going specifically within a short time.

Catbrain said...

Abbott rolled out the "floods repairs or the NBN" comment the first time on the Friday just before it all hit Brisbane. It was reported again on the Tuesday (oddly - not news if the comment is 4 days old and already reported) & I reckon that's why they kept him on holiday and trotted out Julie Bishop (who surprised me with her distinct lack of any political comment, actively directing any questions toward the immediate business).

But as you say: give it a rest. There's plenty of time for politics when the dead are buried and people have had a chance to grieve.

StBob said...

You know if only Qlders had a resource they could sell that had an inelastic demand so they could increase the price they charged for this thing to pay for the flood repairs. Mmmm, if only they such a thing right under their feet...

Expect a fat Qld miner to come out soon and say "The Qld govt should not think of increasing royalties to pay for Qld flood repairs". No we'll get Victorian pensioners to chip in and pay for it instead.

codeka said...

If anything, I'd say this is a great opportunity for the NBN. All that damaged communications infrastructure needs to be replaced with something. It seems silly to be replacing it all with more expensive copper when you can just lay down fibre.

Surely that's reason to hasten with the NBN, isn't it?

Fezzex said...

Dermott, you are wrong about your comparisons with the Victorian bushfires, at least in reference to timing.

All political rhetoric at the time immediately after the fires was "We will rebuild." There were no ifs, buts or maybes.

Immediately after the fires no expense was spared to ensure that basic infrastructure such as roads, power and telecommunications were replaced. As a resident of Kinglake, I was stunned by how quickly this happened.

My two boys will be starting the new school year in a brand new primary school, and whilst there have been delays in getting to this stage, there has not been any penny pinching, meaning we get best practice facilities. I prefer that kind of attitude.

Granted, from a purely economic point of view the floods will have a bigger economic cost to the nation than the Victorian bushfires did. And the task to restore services will be that much greater (and that much more important).

My definition of holding the government to account is to ensure that all services are to be replaced so that the people affected by the floods can resume a normal life as quickly as possible. Not to analyse every dollar spent and hold up the recovery process. Or to wait until matching costs savings are made elsewhere in the budget.

We are not a poor country. We do not need to think like one.

Dermott Banana said...

You said the questions I mentioned were not asked in Victoria. Then you explained a scenario in which they *must* have been asked - for you cannot rebuild infrastructure without answering them.
I'm not arguing against rebuilding. I'm saying it's part of that process to ask those questions as part of moving on.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Abbott and The Australian are going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the Greens and the ALP before July and the balance of power changes in the Senate and good things finally start to be done for Australians. Which will show up the obstructionist Coalition for the shallow political vessels that they are.
Also, Abbott desperately wants to stymie the NBN because once people are able to experience the benefits of faster, more reliable Broadband, and can compare it to the rinky tink alternative the Coalition are offering, he will be shown up for the shallow political opportunist and facilitator of Private Enterprise ripoffs that he undoubtedly is.
I am also perplexed as to why is it that the Coalition are allowed to introduce a Levy for some particular purpose when they are in power, and that's OK, but when Labor come within cooee of even considering one it is an affront to economic decency?
Finally, it is at least pleasing to see that Abbott and Chris Mitchell haven't totally got sway over the photographers and photo editors at The Oz, because that is one seriously unflattering photo of Abbott that accompanies the NBN/Budget story. Deviated septum repair/obvious nose job and all.

Chris Grealy said...

Phony Abbott started the ball rolling during his sight-seeing trip to Qld. "We need more dams" he said. Of course, no indication of where he would put them. Put one on the Bremer, and leave Ipswich permanently flooded, perhaps?
The Member for Bowman weighed in next, accusing Qld Health of putting out "misinformation". Once again, no actual details, just general condemnation. Then the Leader of the Opposition in Qld tells us "the jury is still out" on the dam workers' management of water releases. Are you sensing a pattern here? While Queenslanders were cleaning up and helping each other, the LNP were brainstorming ways to profit from tragedy. Can't say I'm shocked, really. Hasn't that always been their MO?

Anonymous said...

Too right Grog, timing is everything. did you hear the one where a rescue worker, a burlesque dancer and a Sri Lankan offie walked into a Queensland bar . . . what . . . too early? ok.

now it is right and proper for me to display my nongness in the privacy of my own front bar, but vultures ought to use a little camo for a while.


Anonymous said...

I can't say I'm surprised by Tony Abbott's use of tragedy to fuel his own agenda. I would have expected to feel anger on hearing one of his "pearls of wisdom" instead I find myself teary. I pity the human being he is. If he is right and there is a God I hope his every thought and deed is judged accordingly. I don't believe talking about your beliefs and sitting on a pew every week in anyway can make all things equal. Many websites giving information to those in the path of floods had trouble meeting demand. Sometimes they couldn't and that should be an argument in favour of the NBN.

Russ said...

A stack of serious economists are saying forget the budget surplus, it's a nonsense in this situation. But the tired old hacks in the Liberal party and their media supporters will continue with their mantra "Surplus good, deficit bad", as if that's all the punters understand.

By the way, in that photo of Tone, is that a thought bubble emerging from the top of his head, or is it "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine ... "?

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