Thursday, May 26, 2011

On the QT: The stench, it rises (so too does the economy)

The day in Parliament House started with The PM and Tony Abbott and most other MPs attending the Biggest Morning Tea Fundraiser for Cancer at which both Gillard and Abbott gave speeches.

Tony Abbott, as is his way, decided to use the bi-partisan occasion to be partisan:

It’s great to be here, great to be in the presence of the Prime Minister and so many distinguished colleagues, including the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, good to have you in the country, Kevin and of course – I’m sorry, I’m sorry, just, the devil made me say that, I’m sorry about that, Kevin – and of course the Shadow Minister for Health, Peter Dutton.

Aside from the fact it shows Abbott is as vacuous as those journalists who think it is astonishing that Australia's Foreign Minister spends a fair bit of time in Foreign countries, it also demonstrates yet again that Abbott is incapable of uttering a public remark that does not have some political barb. The devil made him do it? Gee I’ll have to remember to use that one next time I say something stupid. How pathetic.

Question Time began with the PM and Abbott acknowledging that today is National Sorry Day – the day that acknowledges the historical mistreatment of Aboriginal people. Tony Abbott, as is his way, decided to the use the bi-partisan occasion to be partisan:

I should observe today that this parliament could improve the economic prospects of the Aboriginal people of Cape York if it passed the private member's bill on Wild Rivers.

Again, how pathetic. If Abbott wants to argue for his Wild Rivers Bill he had his chance when it was before parliament – or perhaps he could go see Steve Fielding and try again – but to raise it during such a motion is to suggest it has universal support of Aboriginal peoples of Cape York – which it does not. I was not surprised though by Abbott’s statements. What surprised me is that he didn’t suggest the Government was destroying the Aboriginal people through imposing a great big new tax on everything. But I guess he had to leave something for Question Time.

Actually if he wanted to be political, perhaps during his speech where he paid tribute to Kevin Rudd for his apology to the stolen generation in 2008:

I should also acknowledge former Prime Minister Rudd for having the vision to say sorry on behalf of our nation. That was an historic day and we all pay tribute to him for that act of statesmanship.

He could have stopped and said – “Well not all of us pay tribute. Sophie Mirabella and Peter Dutton here on my front bench don’t share that praise, because of course they boycotted the apology…” 

But on to Question Time, proper.

It started with Tony Abbott getting all huggy and concerned about asylum seekers and whether or not they will be caned in Malaysia. Julia Gillard responded by citing her joint statement with Malaysian President Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak, which says:

transferees will be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards.

And yes that is nice. But will they? What if they don’t? How will we be able to check? Who will determine what is being treated with dignity, respect and in accordance with human rights standards? Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner and current director of Equity and Diversity at the University of Western Sydney, Dr Sev Ozdowski, on the 7:30 Report tonight said the old Howard Pacific Solution is preferable to this Malaysian deal.

Things have come to a pretty pass for the ALP when they’ve arrived at that stage.

The key aspects of the “regional solution” is that there would be no advantage in getting in a boat to come to Australia, but secondly was that the other nations involved in the regional solution would be acting with the United Nation High Commission for Refugees. If Labor wants to keep any sense of morality they need to make sure there’s just a wee bit more than the word of the Malaysian Government – like getting some bloody tight oversight of the condition of the 800.

But really – why bother? It is so fraught and likely to end in tears. Will it “stop the boats”? To be honest I don’t care. But then I guess I don’t care much about polling in western Sydney.

The big news from the Government side was smoking – or more to the point the donations to the Liberal and National parties from smoking companies – in particular those from British American Tobacco. Nicola Roxon revealed some information she had discovered:

The coalition denies it is being influenced by big tobacco, but I have discovered something that seems to throw this into question. It is a policy that comes from big tobacco themselves—British American Tobacco, in fact. I think some of those opposite might particularly like to hear this because, despite their protestations, British American Tobacco makes the statement on its own website that their worldwide policy when it comes to donations is:

“Such payments can only be made for the purpose of influencing the debate on issues affecting the company ...”

The Liberal and National parties deny that these contributions have any influence, but the donors say that is the only reason they can actually make a donation.

Those opposite might be interested to know something else that is on this website.

According to British American Tobacco's own figures, they made political donations in only three countries around the world in 2010. In Canada they made a donation of £1,000 and in the Solomon Islands they made a donation of £2,000. In Australia, they made a donation—to just two parties in this place—of £111,000. So 97 per cent of British American Tobacco's money is spent here on two parties—the Liberal Party and the National Party.

The BAT webpage outlining the donations lists all the figures. It looks really bad – but Roxon is being a bit sneaky because US campaign financing means that

No foreign nationals can directly contribute funds to a campaign, nor can they decide how the money is allocated. The donations have to come from US citizens or residents.

But it is still not a good look for the LNP – there’s fair bit of smoke stinking up their policy position.

Roxon was excellent in taking apart the Libs, but I wish she wouldn’t roll out her “It is time to kick the habit, Mr Abbott” line. I know it gets a run on the news and radio. But geez it is woefully lacking in wit.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was also very much on the front foot – this time against Scott Morrison. Morrison asked if legislation passed yesterday which enables asylum seekers to make claims under the United Nations Convention Against Torture would mean those being sent to Malaysia would be able to use the law to delay their being sent.

The question oddly had Morrison appearing to be against the new legislation but also against the opportunity for asylum seekers to use the legislation to avoid being tortured. It wasn’t particularly clear if he wants asylum seekers to be able to avoid being tortured in Malaysia or not.

Bowen dealt with the claim pretty comprehensively:

Mr BOWEN (14:25): I cannot confirm that, because it is completely untrue, as the member for Cook well knows. He has completely misrepresented the complementary protection legislation once again, as he has previously, and completely misrepresented the arrangements with Malaysia.

I am happy to go through this methodically for the benefit of the member for Cook. The Prime Minister of Australia and the Prime Minister of Malaysia have released a statement that outlines the agreement reached by them. That statement says that Prime Ministers Najib and Gillard have agreed that core elements of this bilateral arrangement will include that 'transferees will be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards'. That is what the agreement between the two prime ministers says very clearly. It has been confirmed by the Malaysian High Commissioner to Australia since then that these transferees will be treated humanely under the terms of that agreement.

The member for Cook chooses to misrepresent the situation in relation to Malaysia. The member for Cook comes in here and cries his crocodile tears about the situation for asylum seekers in Malaysia, at the same time as criticising us for taking too many asylum seekers—for taking 4,000 asylum seekers—out of Malaysia. The hypocrisy of the member for Cook is exceeded only by this point: as the House would recall, last November the member for Cook proposed an arrangement similar to that proposed by the government in relation to a transfer agreement, except that instead of Malaysia he proposed Iran. I wonder how he would have gone negotiating with President Ahmadinejad the protections that this government has negotiated.

My God what a scummy debate we have – where the treatment of asylum seekers in Iran is being used as a benchmark. The stench of hypocrisy that wafts over both sides of the House is so strong you would need a lifetime supplies worth of Glen 20 to get the air to any normal level of freshness.

The economy was also not being ignored either today.

Once again there was a bit of an effort to target Swan. But – as has been the case all week – it was all very much about absolutely nothing. Joe Hockey after QT tried to keep up some sort of an attack with a Matter of Public importance on:image

“The failure of the Treasurer to respond to imminent threats to the Australian economy”

The only problem was today out came the latest Capital Expenditure figures which detail investment in the economy and various industries.

They did not exactly show an economy under imminent threat: 

The trend volume estimate for total new capital expenditure rose 3.3% in the March quarter 2011 while the seasonally adjusted estimate rose 3.4%.

The trend volume estimate for buildings and structures rose 2.6% in the March quarter 2011 while the seasonally adjusted estimate rose 4.5%.

The trend volume estimate for equipment, plant and machinery rose 3.8% in the March quarter 2011 while the seasonally adjusted estimate rose 2.4%.

This is not what you would expect to see in an economy about to go belly up due to gross mismanagement.

But I know, the mining industry is the really important one – and that’s about to die (though how it survived the end of Work Choices is beyond me). So how is that going? Have a look on the graph on the right. 

Huh. Not too bad it seems.

In fact:

The trend estimate for Mining rose 2.1% in the March quarter 2011. The buildings and structures asset type rose 1.5%, and equipment, plant and machinery rose 2.9%. The seasonally adjusted estimate for Mining rose 2.8% in the March quarter 2011. By asset type, buildings and structures rose 2.6% and equipment, plant and machinery rose 3.7%.

Not too shabby.

But of course it must be expected to fall into a big heap very soon, given the whole “imminent danger” and all:


Hang on, that expected expenditure in the start of 2011-12 looks like a bloody big jump.

Estimate 2 for Mining for 2011-12 is $83,326 million. This is 70.6% higher than the corresponding estimate for 2010-11. Estimate 2 is 5.5% higher than Estimate 1 for 2011-12. Buildings and structures is 2.6% higher and equipment, plant and machinery is 21.7% higher than the corresponding first estimates for 2011-12.

Oh, that’s because it is a bloody big jump.

I guess all those mining companies are just betting that the MRRT and Carbon Price won’t happen…

In Hockey’s MPI speech he also said this interesting little thing which gave away just how trivial is the whole “what did Swan know and when did he know it thing”. In trying to prove that Swan and the Govt expected WA to raise the royalty rate to 7.5 Hockey said this:

Of course, on 2 July 2010 the government announced the deal that they had done with Xstrata, BHP and Rio. In the fact sheet associated with that deal, it says:

  • The MRRT will also provide a full credit for state royalties paid by a taxpayer in respect of a mining project

    It goes on to say:
  • State royalties are assumed to be equal to 7.5 per cent of sales revenue and are credited against the MRRT liability to produce the net MRRT liability.

What does that mean? It means that there was always an assumption by this government that the state governments would remove concessions and it was prepared to rebate up to 7.5 per cent.

What it also means is that if the Government has budgeted for the increase, then the WA Government raising the rate will not actually blow a hole in the Government’s budget.  It is why Hockey hasn’t been mentioning budget holes in relation to this. And what it also means is that this fight is about he said/he said and nothing else. It doesn’t make one difference to the economy or anything happening to real people.

In short, it is Parliament Question Time.image

The other big issue of the day was the Liberal Party nicely unravelling. For some bizarre reason the Opposition Whip, Warren Entsch, decided to send out an email to all Liberal-National Party MP in which he rebuked five Libs for missing a division. One of the five names (right at the top) was Malcolm Turnbull.

That not one person in the Opposition Whip’s office did not think the email would get leaked is rather astounding.

Did they really think putting it in writing was the best way to do it? Whatever happened to the old quiet chat?

Turnbull of course took it all in his stride and spent a good while talking to the media about how he wasn’t going to respond to the email:

"[To] send a letter out like that it's effectively a press release, that's the obvious intent of it. That's what happens when you send letters to half the Parliament."

“Clearly somebody has leaked it, but when you send a letter or email to every member of the government, or the Coalition, the reality is the chances of it finding its way into the hands of the press are extremely high - probably not 100 per cent, but 99 per cent.”

All is not wonderful in the Liberal Party. The tensions can be kept under a lid for only so long – especially when the strategy of getting quickly back into power doesn't seem to be working. As Albanese pointed out today (interestingly it was mentioned in a tweet last week by Possum):

…. as of today, at 1.30, we have passed 112 pieces of legislation through this House—112 supported, zero opposed by this House of Representatives. And we have done that in just eight months. How does that compare with our predecessors? Those opposite would like to say that this parliament cannot function properly because it requires proper negotiation. The fact is that in the first 12 months of the Howard government 108 bills were passed by the House of Representatives, so we have been more efficient and more productive on this side of the House in terms of getting legislation through.

The Government may be down in the polls, but in Parliament it is cruising. Many Libs would be coming to the realisation that they will not go to the polls till near the end of 2013, and that is two budgets away, and a long, long time to put up with Tony Abbott standing for nothing.

Don’t put down your glasses yet. The 2013 race isn’t run.


Miss Bailey Herself said...

An excellent piece Grog; many thanks and Happy Birthday!

paddybts said...

Actually Greg, we all know that Ralph Fiennes made you say it.
But happy birthday anyway and "the ute's in the mail". :-)

lapuntadelfin said...

Firstly, Happy Birthday Greg.

Secondly, when Albo pulls up figures from a week ago posted by Possum then I don't know what to say about the standard of MSM reporting or internal research. I guess everyone in APH is busy doing other things these days

Not sure anyone can help this lot any more.

Back to the half full glass of red.

Heinlein said...

The most incompetent government in living memory and you waste all your energy worrying about the opposition leader.

Gillard is a litmus test for left-wing partisans. Sensible left-wing commentators have already cut her loose and admit she's doing a terrible job. Now we see who the most rusted-on, one-eyed commentators are.

Essentially we are running the experiment: if your preferred side of politics put up the worst, most miserably incompetent government you could imagine, would you vote for the other party? The answer is in. For you, it's "no."

Anonymous said...

Been surprised by the lack of comment on last nights Lateline. While it was only Senator Cormann, the line of questioning by Tony Jones piqued my interest:

TONY JONES: OK. Can I just go to the principle here, because I thought the Liberal Party's position was pretty clear on this: that any new, big tax on the mining industry in Western Australia was going to cost jobs and investment and pose a sovereign risk.

Now a Liberal premier is doing precisely that in Western Australia. Does he believe, and do you believe, it'll pose a sovereign risk, that tax?

(from here)

There was no real answer.

Mr Tiedt said...

I can't see how anyone could think an election will come a moment before Gillard wants it to, or 2013, whichever comes first.

Bandt will never be part of Labor getting voted out. Windsor and Oakeshott have never been more powerful, and know that they will come under serious challenge from the Nationals next time round.

Gillard is not going to call an early election if she doesn't think she can win.

And, last of all, surely, surely, SURELY even this Labor party is not stupid enough to depose another leader, meaning there won't be any need to "seek legitimacy" with an early election.

The Libs better get comfy on the opposition side of the house, because they are not moving over the other side any time soon.

L said...

Hey, I didn't know it was your birthday. Happy birthday!

Anyway, I have to say I like the image of Satan sidling up to Abbott and whispering things in his ear which he is apparently then compelled to say out loud. Suddenly it all makes sense.

Hey Heinlein, gotta say I love your work. That bit in Starship Troopers where Doogie Howser turns up wearing an SS uniform is gold.

Greg Jericho said...

Yeah Heinlein pity the facts get in the way though, eh?

Low unemployment, inflation, interest rates. Got through the GFC without going into recession. Bringing in a price on carbon. Bringing in the NBN. The BER has a 97% success rate (less than 2% value for money concerns). Health reform changing the way hospitals are funded. Finally making small but necessary moves against middle-class welfare. Bringing in huge funding for mental health.

Legislation getting passed easily in the parliament.

Yeah incompetent. Worse than Whitlam etc etc.

Greg Jericho said...

Cheers Anon - I missed Lateline last night.

Heinlein said...

Yeah okay, the BER is 'successful' in that they didn't screw it up. The list of achievements ends about there, though.

Health and the NBN are future accomplishments, as is the promised surplus. It's certainly true that the economy is travelling well, but my point was that on specific policies, they have a habit, and a track record, of botching it.

The carbon tax is bad policy (exclusively on policy grounds - not because "the science is wrong") and will be the end of them. They have no choice but to implement it now, but since it's specifically designed to destroy entire industries, they will have nobody to blame but themselves when it destroys entire industries, and the voters punish them for its (entirely predictable and intended) results.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Heinlein is truly A Stranger in a Strange Land here on the blog tonight. With the wheels coming off Abbott's caboose so obviously now that it has got to the point where he is walking away from uncomfortable questioning by the usually supportive media, and Opposition Question Time tactics appear to equate to arguing how many of them damn angels are on the head of a pin Mr Swan? Heinlein, who has to be a Libs staffer to be so resolute in the face of such imminent disaster on the Opposition benches, comes here to condescendingly sneer at the Gillard government. Comedy Gold!

Jaeger said...

"All right... all right... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order... what have the Lefties done for us?" (Apologies to Monty Python.)

Casablanca said...

And was that lost Division just another trumped up, time wasting stunt from the Opposition? Seems like another own goal from the Opposition Whip's team.

Many happy returns Grog.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Labor for passing more legislation than Howard's first 12 months, more files, more paperwork, more bureaucracy, more emissions, more costs. Job Well done. If Labor wants to measure its success by the amount of paper it can push through, so be it however I can think of better ways.

Moneypenny said...

@Anonymous. Parliamentary democracy's a bitch, isn't it? The main reason we elect MPs and Senators to Parliament is so they can legislate. That is what Parliament does. If the policy proposals in bills are awful, then Parliament does not vote to make those bills into legislation. If you'd prefer your Parliament to do nothing, then that really would be a scandal and a waste of taxpayers' money.

denise said...

Heinlein do you work for Sophie Mirrabella? I ask this for only this week good old Sophie was saying just what you state "destroy entire industries". Oh and bye the way tell Sophie that when she was responsible for the Hume bye-pass, she totally destroyed the business of the Livery Stables of Albury.

@AndySHastings said...

Never mind Labor's sense of morality, I'm more worried about their lack of ethics!

Is it ethical to send people in need to a country proven to treat such people in an inhumane manner? Answer: no.

But then neither is it ethical to arbitrarily detain said people, including children, for seemingly indefinite periods when they have committed no crime.

JT said...

Abbott is completely unstatesman like. It amazes me that Julia Gillard is slated by many as being "not world stage material" when to me she conducts herself with dignity on every occassion. How Abbott gets away with saying this rubbish on days that should have nothing to do with politics is disgusting.

BigBob said...

I don't know how old you are Heinlein, but my living memory takes in the Fraser years.

Which is the only government in Australian history to manage to achieve the unholy trinity of interest rates, unemployment and inflation in double digits. All under Howard as Treasurer.

Frankly, anyone going around shouting about this being 'the most incompetent government' has serious issues in dealing with reality.

Which is where most of the Right now finds itself - peddlers of falsehoods, half truths and abuse.

Unfortunately for real debate, the more reality whacks them around the ears, the more strident they become.

Anonymous said...

@moneypenny Democracy's a bitch? I personally think Democracy is great, but hey you have the right to disagree. The reason people elect politicians is to govern the country and represent their views in parliament it isn't just to legislate (in fact some people may elect them not to legislate). As Grog points out the Howard Government in its first twelve months governed more efficiently with less legislation required for maintenance (most legislation if you didn't know is pretty boring stuff, trust me I have read enough it and it and passes with bipartisan support.)This isn't to say Howard government still didn't pass massive amounts of legislation compared to previous governments. The measure of a governments success shouldn't be how many bills have been passed but the quality of those bills, and if Labor is clinging onto a number you know they are in trouble.

Arthur Wall said...

@Anonymous regarding the comment about the Lateline interview Tony Jones has it wrong. Under the governments proposal the mining companies wouldn't pay the increase in mining royalties the federal government would. So the notion that a raise in royalties (under the proposed system) is a tax on the mining companies is nonsense because they won't pay it, its more like a tax on the Federal Government which is bizarre. The whole MRRT plan needs restructuring and greater planning.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

Grog - Felicitations for your Nameday. I'm grateful for your pieces setting out the "real" facts on economic arguments. After reading one of these along with the charts, I can feel the cobwebs being cleared away from my mind.
Now, it being Friday, celebrations are in order.

Doug said...

Looks like you're morphing into mainstream media, Grog. When the trolls like Heinlein start appearing you know you are reaching a wider audience and, equally importantly, the Conservatives know it too and feel compelled to muddy the waters. What a nice birthday present.

silkworm said...

Entsch's email said Turnbull missed five divisions, but Turnbull said he only missed two (according to The Age) or three (according to the ABC). When will we learn the truth of the matter?

Anonymous said...

Signatory nations assess refugee claims. We are the signatory nation in the region ergo any 'regional processing" must be done here.

I hope Pakistan picks up 1.9 million Afghans and puts them on jumbos to Australia in a "trade deal" for a few Chinese.

They really are putrid little cowards.

And Bowen is so deranged that he can't see that complementary protection here while trying to deport people illegally to a nation in a dirty trade deal is depraved.

DouginCanberra said...

and from July we have a Senate in which the Government only needs to negotiate with the Greens to get legislation past. This will be interesting

DouginCanberra said...

and from July we have a Senate in which the Government only needs to negotiate with the Greens to get legislation past. This will be interesting