Monday, September 1, 2008

On the QT: Spreading the fertiliser

Near the end of QT today, two questions in a row dealt with fertiliser; though you could argue that subject covered pretty much all of the day's proceedings (from both sides).

A funny thing happened on the way to parliament today: Brendan Nelson decided we should wind the clock back to a time when Governments set interest rates.

He took this rather bolshie line by calling for the Reserve Bank to drop interest rates by 0.5% tomorrow. Now this is the type of thing that plays well on talk back radio so long as you don't think about it for more than say 10 seconds. The reason the RBA sets the rates and not the government (this was brought in by John Howard by the way, though some would argue it was instigated by Paul Keating - Paul Keating being one those who would argue this!) is to stop things like the Government deciding to drop interest rates by 0.5% because it will play well on talk back radio.

No one on either side up till this morning had any problem with this policy - in fact at the last election it was made a central plank of both sides' economic policy. And Dr Nelson even believes it, because he said also at the same doorstop interview that he wouldn't say such things were he PM. Oh, well that's nice.

I write this because it leads into the first question of today's QT for Nelson to Rudd. He asked "why are interest rates coming down when inflation is going up?". Now if Nelson had not said what he did Rudd would have had to wheel out his usual "independence of the Reserve Bank" line (which he did) but he would have struggled with anything meaty. Oh he could have mentioned that today according to Bloomberg, inflation for the last month had hit a 15 month low which kind of destroys Nelson's question; but because of Nelson he had a whale of a time reading out Nelson's press conference transcript.

When Rudd pointed out Nelson saying he wouldn't say those things about interest rates if he were PM, the Liberal front bench yelled out that "it's a different job". Well geez, thanks for giving Rudd a free kick. The whole point of being a good leader of the opposition is to pretend tomorrow they could be PM and there wouldn't be a change in how they operate. Rudd spent all of 2007 pretending to be PM - Nelson has now given Rudd free reign to say that Nelson has no credibility as the alternative PM (which Rudd did indeed say).

The first Dorothy Dixer to Rudd had him using a line that would get a few goes throughout the day's play - that the 10 interest rates rises costs the average mortgage about $400 a month extra, and that this was "Costello's $400 a month hit". At the mention of his name, Costello from the back row yelled out something that got his own side laughing, and had Julia quickly sniping back. Rudd continued on pretty much unabated. I guess they're attacking Costello as some form of insurance should he decide to stay, but I think since he seems now to have taken on the role of class clown sitting at the back not actually doing any work and just calling out comments whenever challenged, they are best to ignore the fool and attack the ones sitting at the front where the real game is.

The big surprise of the day was they let Malcolm Turnbull have the second question. He let rip a slow half volley to Swan on why interest rates are expected to fall when inflation is expected to rise and unemployment is expected to rise. Now given the Government actually forecast these things in the budget in May, it's not exactly earth shattering news; but luckily for Swan (who early in his answer was moving around nervously) Nelson wasn't the only one who held a doorstop interview this morning. Turnbull as well had something to say. He said

"Mr Swan has seen the economy slow, he's seen inflation increase and he's talked it up. If interest rates come down tomorrow - and we certainly hope they will - it will be sadly a consequence of the slowing economy, not slowing inflation."

In Malcolm-world the voters should praise the Liberal Party for such stellar work over the last 3 years that produced 10 interest rate rises, but should punish the incompetent Wayne Swan, because now interest rates are coming down. As a mortgage payer, I say bring on the incompetence!

Swan in his answer referred to his line of the 3 stooges of last week (up popped Hockey with a point of order). Swan then pointed out Turnbull wants to have it both ways - ALP bad when rates go up, ALP bad when rate come down (up popped Turnbull with a point of order). Swan then had a go at Costello for saying at his dinner last Friday that if he had still been in Government the world financial crisis wouldn't have happened (up popped Bishop with a point of order).

Points of order are interesting things. Sometimes they are done when the Minister is struggling and the opposition uses them to highlight the fact. Other times they are done because the Minister is having too much fun attacking the opposition and they want to try and stop or at least upset the rhythm. The 3 points of order in Swan's answer were of the later kind, and he sat down with the Government benches laughing with him.

The next question to Rudd from Nelson was a good one. It was about falling real wages. Rudd was caught hopping and was forced to ignore the issue and instead talk about employment and then workchoices. The next question he was asked was from a Liberal back bencher about household wealth. He started his answer by referring to Nelson's previous question and said that wages have actually increased over the last quarter. He was no doubt given this figure by a staffer in the interim but unfortunately Nelson had asked about real wages (i.e wage increase compared to inflation) so it wasn't a great response, and led to the inevitable Turnbull media release straight after QT.

The rest of QT was by the numbers, with only two highlights. Firstly in response to a question from another Liberal backbencher on the "slow-down we didn't have to have" (yeah there's a catchy slogan) Rudd was riping into the Libs about workchoices when Kevin Andrews from way at the back rose on a point of order. Why the Minister who introduced workchoices thought this would be a good idea is beyond me, as it merely gave Rudd something more to say, even less clear is why Andrews thought making another point of order would help more - but then why Andrews still remains in parliament is a mystery so I guess it's to be expected he will do these things.

But sigh, what did we learn today? Interest rates are coming down tomorrow. The government wants to take credit without being seen to take credit; the opposition wants to blame the Government for them because falling interest rates are now bad. All I know is, I'm bored with the line of questions that go on and about why has [insert something] happened since the election of the Rudd government. The Libs have been using this line for a few QTs now, and no one from the Government is being tripped up by them.

Here's a thought - how about attacking the government on some of its policies rather than cherry picking data and asking why; but then I guess some political parties see things as they are and ask why; others dream things that never were and ask why not....

No comments: