Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On the QT: One sentence is not a report

imageThe parliamentary nonsense started this morning with the latest Newspoll coming out in The Oz showing that the the ALP’s 2PP vote had increased 2 points and narrowed the LNP’s lead from 46-54 to 48-52.

Naturally this was reported as “Coalition’s Election Winning Lead Survives Internal Squabbling” and had Dennis Shanahan writing that “ALP Fails to profit from Lib ructions”. You can see this poll prominently there on the front page of The Oz… well if by “prominently” we mean squeezed into one lousy column over on the right. 

Apparently Hockey and Turnbull having a bit of fit in one week was, according to Shanahan, meant to destroy his leadership and put the ALP back in front. Yeah right.

But hey, when you need to make up a story that has Abbott looking, it is always best to start with a strawman.

On the personal ratings, the poll confirmed what everyone knows – no one likes either Abbott or Gillard.

The poll – like all polls – of course is flawed due to the premise of asking who would people vote for were an election held on the weekend, and we can pretty much bank on there not being an election till late 2013. The ALP will hope that is long enough to get enough people to change their minds; the LNP hope it is not so long that people will start to use them.

imageThe poll was pretty well ignored because of two things that, unlike polls, dealt with real things that matter.

Firstly the announcement of the deaths overnight of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Such events always immediately serves to make politics so putridly stupid – especially when the politics seems not to include discussion of this real thing that matters.

The graph on the left shows the deaths in Afghanistan of coalition military servicemen and women.

The trend ain’t good.

Is it going to get better? Is it worth sticking out? I suspect there are a few on both sides of the political aisle who are having private reservations but both the ALP and LNP are trapped in a “can’t debate it” mode, for fear of looking like they are advocating “cut and run” or God forbid, suggesting that any of the 26 Australian servicemen will have died in vain.

When a death occurs, both sides adopt the appropriate tone, and we certainly mourn the loss and feel for their families. But we seem to dismiss debate. I have always been behind the Afghanistan War. It was a just war, and had Bush and Co not decided to go wandering off to Iraq in March 2003 there actually was a chance of success (just look at the casualties back then). But now?

How will we really know we have achieved success? Better still, how will we know we have failed?

Surely the lives of the men fighting and dying for their country deserve us having a bit a of a proper discussion about it. I doubt we’ll get one any time soon.

The other big discussion was that via Ross Garnaut, who announced his final review. It came in at 244 pages, and his summary a nice brisk 48 pages. So you’d figure that with all that meat the debate in Parliament would be pretty solid.

Well you would if you had never watched Question Time before.

Tony Abbott opened proceedings with a quote from Page 17 of the summary:

Australian households will ultimately bear the full cost of a carbon price.

He (and Hockey and Bishop after him) thought this belled the cat and also had shown Gillard and Swan (and I guess Combet) to be liars for saying that the carbon tax will be paid by the top 1000 polluters.


Yep, this is where we are.

Firstly no one since this debate has started has suggested the cost of putting a price on carbon won’t be passed on to consumers. Here is Julia Gillard back on 1 March in Parliament:

Ms GILLARD —… We will put a price on carbon, a price on every unit of carbon pollution. It will be paid for by businesses and as a result, because our business community is smart and adaptable and innovative, they will work out ways of pursuing their business and generating less carbon pollution. They will work out ways of making sure they pay less of a price when carbon is priced. Then they will enter into contracts, they will make investments on the basis of understanding the rules and understanding that carbon will be priced. And as they go about making those transitions, innovating, making the new investments of the future, we will work with those businesses in transition to a clean economy.

Having priced carbon and seen that innovation, yes, there will be pricing impacts; that is absolutely right. That is the whole point: to make goods that are generated with more carbon pollution relatively more expensive than goods that are generated with less carbon pollution. But because we are a Labor government this will be done in a fair way. We will assist households as we transition with this new carbon price.

Or then there was this on 21 March:

Ms GILLARD —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. As I was indicating, the division here is whether you want to put a price on polluters and give assistance to households or whether you want to take money off households and give assistance to polluters. We will put a price on pollution. That price will be paid by polluters. We will generously assist households for the price impacts that they will experience. I have been very upfront about that.

One of the best things in my opinion in this debate has been that Gillard has not been afraid to state that a carbon tax will make prices go up. For Abbott, and other Liberal shills to suggest Garnaut’s report says something new, or something opposite to what Gillard or Swan or Combet have been saying, requires indulging in the most absurd levels of self-delusion.

The reason of course Abbott is making this argument is because he wants people to think a carbon tax is like a GST – in that 10% gets added on at the checkout – or even worse, like income tax, and so each fortnight people will see a deduction from their pay. It is not in Abbott’s interest to deal with facts. Facts are awful for Abbott – expect him to continue to steer well away from them.

The next bit of “gold” for Abbott was Page 77 (this time in the full review) where Garnaut writes this:image

In the long run, households will pay almost the entire carbon price as businesses pass carbon costs through to the users of their products.

Again we should file this under “No sh*t Sherlock, see above”. But no, he thought he had nailed Gillard with this.

Gillard responded by saying Abbott was:

… misrepresenting the force of Garnaut’s words. You can’t rely on one sentence and ignore the force of others…  Instead of looking at the occasional words reads the whole lot.

Well let us not read the whole lot, let’s just look at some words from the very same page Abbott was citing:

Using direct action measures to achieve a similar amount of emissions reduction would raise costs much more than carbon pricing, but would not raise the revenue to offset or reduce the costs in any of these ways. The costs might be covered by budgetary expenditure, but this affects who pays the costs, not whether the costs are there. Other people’s taxes have to rise to pay for expenditures under direct action.

Oddly Abbott didn’t quote that part. Or how about:

In addition, unlike regulatory or direct action measures, a market-based mechanism can collect revenue in a way that is more efficient than some existing taxes, for use in raising productivity, promoting equity, encouraging innovation in low-emissions technology, providing incentives for sequestration in rural Australia, and easing the transition for trade-exposed industries.

Hmm, nope – guess Tony must has skipped over that paragraph. Oh heck, let’s be bold and even read on a few more pages further (page 79):

A carbon price has some short-term negative effects on productivity growth and incomes—although less than direct action that secures similar reductions in emissions.

The summary is not Abbott’s friend either:

We would be damaged in other ways, too, if we sought to do our fair share through direct action. We would rely on the ideas of a small number of politicians and their advisers and confidants. While some of these ideas might be brilliant, in sum they would not be as creative or productive as millions of Australian minds responding to the incentives provided by carbon pricing and a competitive marketplace.

That would not be the end of the costs.

The really big cost would be the entrenchment of the old political culture that has again asserted itself after the late 20th century period of reform. The big rewards in low-emissions investments would go to those who had persuaded the minister or the bureaucrat that their idea was worthy of inclusion in the direct action plan—if not under the government that introduced the direct action policies, then under the governments that followed. That would entrench the return of the influence of the old Australian political culture in other areas of economic policy.

As a public servant it warms my heart that Abbott has so much faith in our ability to pick the winners – though oddly, Abbott doesn't seem so desirous to brag about how and who will be deciding who gets the money under his direct action plan. Curious don’t you think?

And that was Question Time. There was an odd question from Bob Katter of live exports of meat, which to be honest I couldn't quite grasp if he was in favour or against a ban on live exports (though I believe he is not – purely because we shouldn’t foist our Christian non-torturing of animals beliefs on those of starving Indonesians who take delight in being as cruel as all Hell to cattle).

There was also Nicola Roxon having fun with Abbott’s back down on plain packaging on cigarettes.

But the big event (and by big I mean of zero interest to anyone with a life) was when Speaker Harry Jenkins named Bob Baldwin. This resulted in a vote to have him kicked out for 24 hours, which the Government lost – in effect meaning the House did not have confidence in the Speaker. The vote was lost because Tony Windsor and Bob Katter were not present and Rob Oakeshott voted with the Opposition (for reasons, not completely infused with logic).

Now you would think winning such a vote would have the Libs in raptures, but the mini-conference being had by Abbott, Pyne, Bishop, Hockey  and a couple others during the vote showed that they were rather worried about what it all meant. What it did mean is that Jenkins announced that he would consider resigning. This would require, under Standing Orders, there to be an election for the Speaker:

19 Vacancy in office of Speaker

(a) If the office of Speaker falls vacant during a session the Clerk must report the vacancy to the House at its next sitting. The House shall proceed to the election of a new Speaker either immediately or at its next sitting, using the procedure set out in

standing order 11.

So the job would not automatically go to the Deputy Speaker, Liberal Peter Slipper. BUT it would have been highly likely that the ALP would have nominated Slipper. This would have meant (had Slipper won) the ALP would need 1 less votes to pass legislation (through their gaining Jenkins vote).

Clearly this was not the election Abbott wants to have. The way he jumped to his feet as soon as the vote count was called betrayed his clear concern that Jenkins would resign. This was no mere politeness and courtesy on Abbott’s behalf – his body language and demeanour betrayed his worry. Rather than be triumphant at winning the vote, his face reminded me of the class clown who has just realised that the teacher can in fact keep everyone in the class in during lunch if they all do something wrong. Bluff seemed to have been called.

But the events did not reflect well on anyone. The Govt did poorly to lose the vote – where the hell were Windsor and Katter (OK Katter often buggers off as soon as he asks a question). What was Oakeshott thinking? Did he grasp the possible impact of his vote? And Abbott has also let the Govt know that he really does not want to push the Parliament to the point where Jenkins has to resign. If and when Jenkins does again name someone, I seriously doubt if any motions of full confidence will stop him from resigning if the Govt loses the vote.

One of the things about Brinkmanship is that when you pull back, everyone knows just how far you are prepared to go.


Anonymous said...

Nice work as usual. And according to The Drum it's 2015 and you are Editor at Large at The Australian. Oh happy day!

Lentern said...

To be fair to Abbott, from my watchings of question time it is just custom for the opposition to oppose a motion to suspend one of their members. Do you know if Shorten had a pair granted for his illness? It struck me that perhaps that was overlooked by Windsor and Oakeshott which is why they let it happen.

Anonymous said...

There was nothing remotely just about bombing Afghanistan to bits to get a man who was not there and was not wanted for the attacks on the US, the attack was planned and finalised in July 2001.

25-37% of kids are still starving, we are still jailing and killing Afghan refugees and trying to trade them with Malaysia and Indonesia while whining about cruelty to cows, 18,000 women are still dying in child birth every year, the war lord and drug barons are running the place and tens of thousands are being slaughtered in US kill capture raids every year.

What on god's green earth is just about that.

Anonymous said...

No doubt all the correct thinking left also support the Climate Czar's urging for NGO's to control our fate as well? Gillard is only on target in that this "pollution price" (more BS) will change people's habits: I envisage many Labor voters will change their vote. As for Oakeshott, the man's is a dill.

Jaeger said...

While I wouldn't put it past Oakeshott to want to put a cat amongst the pigeons, a mistake seems most likely. Unfortunately, it'll probably be business as usual in QT.

Steve1 said...

I got to watch question time yesterday for the first time for a long time. God I miss Keating. The one thing I got from QT was that Nicola Roxon has Abbott's number and he knows it. She taunted and treated him with the contempt he deserves while he just copped it. The ALP should use her more often because I think Abbot would explode.

RosE said...

thank you grog - your take on Tues QT so good

Anonymous said...

Why didn't the libs just tell a couple of their members to go get a cup of coffee before the doors closed? Would have saved a lot eof embarrassment all round.

Adam said...

So Abbott finally has a big opportunity to show in a public way that the minority labor government cannot sustain confidence in house, and he backs away from it?

Obviously its a lot easier to keep saying No than actually put real policy forward.

Doug said...

Agreed we need a debate about Australian presence in Afghanistan - but will we have it?

I get sick of the rhetoric about ensuring that no soldier will have died in vain - the logic of that line of argument is that the more soldiers are killed the more reason to stay until...? and the more soldiers are likely to be killed.

There is also the embarasswing fact drawn to our attention by Nicholas Stuart and Amin Saikal that Australian progress is being achieved by being hand in glove with a warlord with connections to the drug trade.

Let alone the numbers of civilians that are being killed - for every one combatant casualty there are more than 9 civilian casualties.

Anonymous said...

"Surely the lives of the men fighting and dying for their country deserve us having a bit a of a proper discussion about it"

Are you talking about the Afghanis, or the Aussies who were sent over there to kill them on behalf of the Americans?

The discussion that needs to be had is about civilian casualties, not confected horror at deaths of armed and willing combatants.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

I also thought the presence of Australia in Afghanistan was initially justified. It was always going to be hard but became fully compromised with the excursion into Iraq on a falsity. However I believe we owe a debt to Afghanistan to do as much as we can to assist Afghani's

Here in Australia we focus on a "tally" of how many of our forces have been killed, but forget the loss of lives of others in Afghanistan.

It also amazes me that the focus on Australian's deaths in Afghanistan never equates with any focus on death in the other workplaces such as here in Australia. I'd be interested to see the yearly rate since the early 2000's. I think I read recently that so far this year there had been nine workplace deaths. It seems a little macabre to link the two kinds of workplace deaths but in my mind there are links.

We also pay little attention to the payments made to the widows and families of our armed forces which are pitifully small. When I see condolences motions in Parliament I wish they would put their money where their mouths are.

Anonymous said...

At least the vote of confidence in the Speaker stopped Abbott moving a motion to suspend standing orders at 2.50pm as has become customary recently.

Jez said...

SteveT, well noted regarding Roxon's headlock on Abbott. Yes indeed, if only Keating were around now - but Albanese's vuvuzela comparison the other day was almost worthy of the master.

Grog, I can't wait to read your analysis of today's "miaow" debate. Particularly the contributions of that past mistress of the miaow and claws, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Roger Pershing said...

But Grog, Steve Fielding will clearly explain that your chart of deaths in Afghanistan shows that it's been falling since July 2010 and no one is in fact in any danger whatsoever.

Sam Sunshine said...

The best option to pass a Carbon Cost legislative Bill is to apply ALL of this report and KILL the Big New Tax argument with significant tax credits.

Even the Nats confirm that once passed they will no hope or repealing this legislation.

Hopefully something has been learned from Rudd and the earlier drafts of the legislation.

Andrew Elder said...

"How will we really know we have achieved success?"

I had a go at that here: basically, a massive US presence limits what the bad guys in Pakistan and Iran can get up to, although the longer Western forces are there the more that the bad guys will find chinks in the armour. It's also true that the behaviour of the Afghan government has improved to the point where anyone who ousts the current lot will have to lift their game.

The behaviour in the House today suggests the Slipper option has been nobbled, and that Harry will twist in the wind for a while.