Thursday, September 10, 2009

On the QT: Bad News Bears Edition

Kevin Rudd answered only two questions in Question Time today – the first was a Dorothy Dixer on the economy, but it was possibly his best ever answer. He was actually funny – to the point where you wanted him to keep going. Yes, Kevin Rudd was on fire. But then, it’s easy to be funny when you’re working with great material, and today Rudd had two good script writers – the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Joe Hockey.

The ABS helped Rudd by showing unemployment had remained stable at 5.8%Graph: Unemployment rate.

This is excellent news, but hardly that which would haveGraph: Employed Persons you cheering from the rooftops

– especially when you look at the figures of actual employed persons:

So yes unemployment is stable, but less people have a job than before (the participation rate dropped as well – ie there were less people looking for work, which is why the actual unemployment figure remained the same).

So this was good news for Rudd – in fact, it was perfect news. The stable unemployment figure allowed him to argue that the stimulus was helping slow unemployment, but the actual employment figures allowed him to also argue that the Government needs to keep the stimulus going because the economy is still shaky.

Had the ALP been able to manufacture the unemployment figures themselves I doubt they would have come up with anything more politically helpful than what actually has occurred.

Little wonder the opposition wheeled out only Joe Hockey, with Turnbull laying very low. Unfortunately for the opposition, Joe decided to open his mouth.

Now firstly this morning Hockey was interviewed in The Australian newspaper and for absolutely no good reason decided to commit the Liberal Party to cutting Government spending by more than 3% of GDP or around $40 billion. Yep good luck with that as an election strategy Joe. But just when you think he couldn’t do any worse he came out with this beauty at his press conference (thanks to Bernard Keane at Crikey for the transcript):

“So you’re saying,” one journalist asked, “it is more important to keep interest rates low than to spend money to keep people in work?”

“Yes, yes,” Hockey replied.

At the time, 2UE journalist Latika Bourke wrote on her Twitter:

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey says keeping interest rates low is more important then spending money to protect jobs.

She may have well have written the ALP’s line of attack.

Just think about what Hockey – the former Minster for Employment and current alternative Treasurer of Australia – has said. Ask yourself if you had a choice between losing your job or having to pay 1% more on your mortgage, which would you choose? In fact ask yourself how much interest rates would have to rise before you would rather give up your job. If you are like me you are thinking never. The cash rate could hit 10%, but I’d rather have a job than it be at 3% and be unemployed. Yes it’s hard to make repayments when your mortgage goes up, by it’s a sight more difficult when the mortgage stays the same but your income disappears.

It’s a no brainer. And yet Hockey chose losing his job. Though he won’t actually lose his job, because supposedly he is the Liberal's next leader after the election. But his performance in the last 24 hours shows that he’s not really up to the main game, and is only a good second banana – someone best kept to the easy-lifting portfolios. As Shadow Treasurer he has been a bag of wind with little puff.

And so in Question Time, Rudd made merry with Hockey’s statements. He also had fun with Hockey’s tweet from yesterday’s Question Time when he wrote:

listening to swan on the G20 and i am wondering how many finance ministers he met are left wing

Rudd turned this into an assessment that Hockey thinks the G20 is some great left wing conspiracy. He laughed as he recounted the efforts that great left winger from Higgins (Peter Costello) had put into forming the G20. He then listed off some right wing leaders from the G20 nations such as Sarkozy the Socialist and Berlusconi the Bolshevik. It was all pretty good, and shows that Rudd is a good parliamentary performer when he lets himself drift from the standard script.

He was probably in a relaxed mood because he had some more good news up his sleeve. For his next answer to a Dorothy he announced a $70b Gas deal to Japan and South Korea.

Stable unemployment, dumb statements from the opposition and a huge export deal? Does it get any better when you are PM?

The rest of the front bench jumped into Hockey as well – Wayne Swan suggesting at the next G20 meeting they’ll all break out into a few verses of the “Internationale”. Swan also produced some interesting research done by his office that found that since Turnbull has become leader when the unemployment figures go up Turnbull comes out and does the press conference; when they go down or are stable he stays away and lets Hockey do the presser. Julia Gillard got into him as well on this point labelling Turnbull “the political undertaker; he only turns up when there's bad news”.

This fits nicely in with the ALP’s continuing theme of Turnbull – Mister Negativity; no strength (only turns up when it suits him). It got so bad that Lindsay Tanner was comparing him to John Hewson (which means that Turnbull has so far been compared with Andrew Peacock, Hewson and Mark Latham – not a winning trifecta).

In between all this frivolity for the ALP, Julia Gillard was again targeted for every single thing wrong, going wrong, or seeming like it could perhaps be thought to possibly be wrong with the education stimulus. Now there is nothing wrong with taking a micro approach to questions – the ALP did it well in 2007. But the problem with the Liberal Party is there is no big picture attached. When the ALP in 2007 asked about specific people who lost their jobs under WorkChoices, the big picture was they were going to get rid of WorkChoices, and that the policy did not increase productivity like it was supposed to; rather it merely killed workers’ entitlements. But what is the broader picture to nitpicking the education stimulus? Sure you need to hold Government to account, but why is the opposition doing this? Do they oppose the spending – well yes, but why? The stimulus was put in place to keep unemployment down and growth up. It has done this. The Libs argue about interest rates – but that puts them back to where Joe Hockey was – arguing interest rates are more important than jobs.

There’s no underlying big strategy, no policy framework, and certainly no big statistical proof to support their case. Also the ALP were on a winner in 2007 because WorkChoice was as popular as syphilis at a brothel. Is anyone out there marching in the streets demanding the Government not spend money at their kid’s school?

There are two other problems with this strategy. The first is that Gillard is killing them. Some in the media thought she was a bit sluggish early in the week, but she creamed them today. The other problem is the Libs have gone to such micro lengths that you half expect them to ask Gillard about the leaky tap at the Murray Bridge South Primary School shelter shed. Micro is fine; trivial is not.

There are times to focus on the small things, and there are times for the big picture. At the moment in the gallery of the economy the big picture reigns supreme, and it has been perfectly framed by the ALP. There’s little the Libs can do except try not to look like they are standing there with a texta getting ready to deface it.

No comments: