Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In Case of Electoral Wipeout – Blow Whistle, and Scare the Oldies

So yesterday a Newspoll comes out with the ALP ahead 56-44. The response from Tony Abbott? Did you really need to ask? It’s what any gutter-level Liberal Leader would do obviously – talk about Asylum Seekers and criminals in our suburbs (not that he is suggesting there is any link of course, he;s just mentioning them both in the same press conference).

Today Abbott was trying to get out a story about how tough on asylum seekers he would be. The Herald Sun courtesy of Steve Lewis bit and splashed it on the front page – big heading of “I WILL SHUT THE BORDER”. Oh really? Shut the border? Hmm let’s see what he would do. In a doorstop interview he gave on the issue of “CCTV cameras and crime; Kevin Rudd’s failed border protection policies” he said:

QUESTION: What specifically does ‘whatever it takes’ mean though?

TONY ABBOTT: Well there are four essential ingredients in an effective border protection policy. First, you’ve got to have some form of temporary visas so that the people smugglers don’t have a product, so that the people smugglers aren’t able to say if you get to Australia almost certainly you will get permanent residency.

So he’s going to bring back temporary visas which actually encourage people to bring their wives and kids by boat. Well done.

Second, you’ve got to have rigorous offshore processing.

Yeah, well we have that now.

Third, you’ve got to have good relations with source and transit countries, so you can try to cut off the flow of unauthorised arrivals.

OK, great – did Tony notice that we just had the President of Indonesia here in Australia addressing a joint sitting of Parliament? Guess he wants relations to go back to how they were with Indonesia for a good part of the Howard years…

Finally, under the right circumstances, you need to be able to turn boats around. Now, Mr Rudd promised before the election that he would be tough enough to turn the boats around. Not one has been turned around since he’s been Prime Minister.

Ah yes turn the boats around. How humane. And I’m sure that will help ensure his third point works – given that Indonesia was pissed when Howard and Co turned the boats around in 2001 – they actually had to keep it quiet. Here’s Alexander Downer talking about the issue last year to Fran Kelly:

The other thing we did, which we did more sotto voce was to tow the boats – I must say this is not something that has generated much publicity recently in Australia – we used to get the Navy not to guide the boats into the Australian shore line what we did was [laughs] we got the navy to tow the boats back to the Indonesian territorial waters, left the boats with enough fuel, food and so on to get to a port in Indonesia – guided them where to go – and them left them.

Obviously monitored them to make sure the boat was safe but disappeared over the horizon. And this worked very effectively, but we did this without any publicity, we didn’t run around boasting that we were doing this because we knew the Indonesian accepted these people back through gritted teeth.

So Indonesia had gritted teeth back when it was done on the quiet – anyone here think it will be kept quiet this time? Anyone here think Indonesia will be any more happy about it?

I do so love a logical policy.

One thing I would actually like someone in the media or opposition to do when they talk about asylum seekers as being evil “queue jumpers” is to show me the queue. The Libs and media (and yes, even people in the ALP) often talk about asylum seekers taking away spots from people who are legitimately waiting at refugee camps. So great: show me the queue. Show me how the numbers of refugees are chosen. Show me the orderly camp in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and point me to the people next in line on the queue. Show me where the Australian Government is saying – “sorry this guy came first, he comes in before you”. Show me the list. Please, I’d love to see it.

Because you know what, I’m betting no one can show me a queue in any logical sense of the word. I’m betting no one could go to a camp and show the person who is next due to be granted asylum in Australia. I’m betting if some journalist actually went to these camps she or he would find people who have been waiting for years, with no rhyme or reason was to why one gets in before another. I’m betting if a journalist asked any person in those camps not one person would be able to say when he or she or their family will be granted asylum.

I’d love to be proved wrong. But if there actually was a “queue” you’d be able to point to 50 people and say Australia was going to let these people in, but we’d used up our quota. Asylum seekers aren’t coming by boat (or airplane) just because they cant be bothered waiting a couple years, aside from fear of their lives, it’s because the wait in these camps is indefinite. There’s a big difference between someone saying, “You’ll have to wait here 2 years”, and someone saying, “You’ll have to wait here for maybe 2 years, maybe 5, maybe I don’t know how long… just wait”.

And here’s the final thing about “border protection”. How many asylum seeker boats have made it to Australia's mainland without being intercepted? Yeah that’d be none. Remember what it was like under Howard? I was living in Cairns in 1999 so I certainly remember when:

A 35-metre cargo boat with 26 Chinese illegal immigrants on board sailed unimpeded for three days and nights along the north Queensland coast between the Torres Strait and Cairns, before grounding itself on a beach just 10 kilometres from the Cairns business centre.

Now that is a case of poor border protection.

Abbott and his side kick Tony Smith also talked about increasing the use of CCTV in suburbs to prevent crime:

TONY SMITH: Well, look, just on the security cameras, this is a great example of a partnership between the local community and the then Howard Government. These security cameras have been a great success here but also at neighbouring shopping centres in Mooroolbark, Lilydale and Mt Evelyn and those federal grants, as Tony said, have enable the cameras to be switched on and local crime to be switched off.

Firstly, law and order is a state issue. People know this. People know our police are employed by sate governments. People know the federal government’s law and order issues are a hell of a lot bigger than graffiti at the local train station. It’s a dead give away that a Liberal leader is struggling in the polls when he starts talking about law and order issues – especially when the specific issues he mentions really have nothing to do with the federal government. Now admittedly the ALP does the same – they switch to Health and Education whenever they can. But which issue do you think is going to change votes at this election – local law and order or hospitals and health?

And here’s another thing, just last week Joe Hockey gave a speech that mentioned CCTVs – well that’s pretty good I hear you say, the Libs are working together as a team. Err not quite. Here’s what Hockey had to say:

Huxley’s Brave New World morphs from fiction into frightening fact – all by little increments and all in the name of just a little more security. But as Benjamin Franklin said: “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

In addition to this, we should be concerned about the rapid proliferation of CCTV cameras across our cities. Whilst they may be acceptable in crime hot spots do we really want to go down the path of Great Britain and find that it is impossible to travel any street without being recorded by the government or the police on video?

Even in my local area CCTV was set up to protect the welfare of revenue raising parking meters from vandals, but they have inadvertently provided a viewing platform of the local community going about its business. Even when they should be helpful such as during a recent bombing of TIO offices in Darwin, the Police were allegedly using the cameras for inappropriate and unrelated purposes.

Ah yes, working together as a team. The minor issue of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, but other than that, perfect.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Newspoll: ALP 56 – LNP 44 (or so much for that narrative, maybe Abbott needs a new book)

Today’s Newspoll came out showing a big jump in the ALP on Two Party Preferred terms from 52%-48% to 56%-44%. This reversed the drop in the ALP’s 2PP in the Essential Report yesterday – but in that case, the 2PP went from 56 to 54, so it’s a good guess that the “real” figure is around 54-55%. Either way it is not a good for the Liberal Party, and the Abbott experiment is turning out pretty much how everyone expected – in solidifying “the base”, he has lost the centre and thus any hope of winning the election.

I should say however, that the poll wrecked havoc with the narrative many in the media have been trying to construct in the last month that Rudd is looking shaky, Julia Gillard is about ready to take over the ropes, and Abbott could actually win the election. None of that looks true at the moment (though credit to Dennis Shanahan, he couldn’t help but refer to the Gillard rumour today in his opinion piece on the Newspoll – according to Dennis, Rudd’s “colleagues were universally speaking about the rise of Julia Gillard, to his detriment”. Universally? I’m not sure that word means what Shanahan thinks it means…

But anyway, let’s a have a quick pick over the Newspoll entrails. The ALP’s Primary vote rose 4% to 43%, the LNP Primary vote fell 3% to 38%. Why? It would be easy to say the debate – and there is some truth in that. But as Possum quite presciently wrote on the weekend: “If Newspoll moves towards the ALP – it will be consistent with a trend that’s been running for around 3 weeks now”.

So yep – it’s part of a trend – but no one expected it to jump up this much – I’ll give credit for the extra bit of bounce-back to the debate and statistical randomness (big jumps just sometimes happen).  image

What about the Satisfaction Ratings? These were given a big coverage in The Australian last time – especially by Peter van Onselen where he suggested Rudd’s Net-Satisfaction rating had him on the verge of being a drag on the ALP vote. This time round, Rudd’s Satisfaction Rating was 51% (up 3%) and his Dissatisfaction Rating down 2% to 39% – coming in with a Net-Satisfaction Rating of 12.

And Abbott? His Satisfaction Rating fell for the second poll in a row, this time down 3% to 44%, and his Dissatisfaction Rating rose 5% to 43%, giving him a Net-Satisfaction Rating of 1. I can’t wait for van Onselen’s follow up article on how Rudd is such an anchor on the ALP vote.

The Preferred PM Ratings have Rudd staying well ahead on 59% to Abbott’s 27% (a 7 point increase for Rudd).

All in all a good poll for the ALP.

Except it got better. Newspoll also asked which party was best to manage the Economy. The ALP won that 44% to 39%, and on Health, the ALP was favoured 48% to 30% (which roughly accords with the result in the Essential Report of 45% to 25%).

So faced with such horrible numbers, what’s a Leader of the Opposition to do? If your answer was make a speech completely devoid of any policy content and continuing the negative attacking of the Government that led to the decline in the polls in the first place, then you’d be spot on.

Tony Abbott today gave a speech at a “Leader’s Forum” in Sydney. The media have all referred to it as a “Headland” speech, because that is what John Howard called the speeches he gave in 1995 that apparently were so brilliant, and thus any series of speeches by an Opposition Leader on big issues now have to be called Headland speeches. The signs were not good however, because Abbott started the day by giving an interview to Alexandra Kirk on AM, and it was not a good performance. Try this:

ALEXANRA KIRK: The Government's health policy is popular with voters. Aren't you putting yourself at a disadvantage without having a health policy out there? And until you do, then presumably you won't be in the game, so to speak.

TONY ABBOTT: That's a fair point Alex, and I think there's no doubt that the Prime Minister has been the man with the plan over the last few weeks and I think the public like politicians who are addressing problems.

OK, so it’s a fair point that the voters want political parties to have a policy… so what would do if you were a Leader of the Opposition and about to give a major speech?

ALEXANDRA KIRK: When will you make your plan public?

TONY ABBOTT: In good time, Alex. We certainly weren't going to be, I suppose, railroaded by the Prime Minister into releasing our plan prematurely but in good time before the election.

OK, so no Health policy today, but we’ll forgive him, because today’s speech is on Economics, so presumably that’s where the real meat will be:

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What fundamentals in Coalition economic policy are you planning to unveil today?

TONY ABBOTT: Well it's not a policy speech as such, Alex, it's more a statement of principles.

Oh dear. So it’s to be a speech about principles – speeches on “principles” are political code for “I’ve got nothing to say, but I have to say something, so I guess I better say this and hope that people think it is something.” Kirk realises this:

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But until voters actually see what you propose that's empty rhetoric, isn't it?

But never fear, Abbott, has a ready response to claims of empty rhetoric:

TONY ABBOTT: Well I certainly think that if voters are curious about me, they would do well to read my book, Battlelines, which was a densely packed policy treatise. Not all of it will be Coalition policy, obviously...

Yes the Tony Abbott book tour continues – nothing in the book can be guaranteed to be a policy that will be taken to the election, but you should read it anyway, because you know… it ...err…well hell, Tony’s got mouths to feed, so keep those sales ticking over!

Kirk points out the small problem of the discord between to book and the Party policy:

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well isn't that the problem?

TONY ABBOTT: But certainly there are plenty of ideas there. In terms of our policy, well except for the elements of the Howard government's policies that we have explicitly changed, people can assume that the same kind of economic management that was practised in the Howard era, which now looks like a lost golden age, will be practiced by the next Coalition government.

Yep – don’t worry I’ll be just like the John Howard – apart from the bits of his policy we kicked out.

Sigh. And his speech lived up to this hype.

Back when I was doing First Year Politics and Economics, when I wanted to try and trick my tutor into thinking that I knew more about a subject than I really did, I would find a quote by some historical figure to start off the essay – you know a good quote from Thomas Jefferson or JFK, or Plato. I’d then pepper the essay with other quotes by equally learned figures to show again that I had researched the issue quite deeply, and also hoped to distract the tutor from noticing that I hadn’t quite grasped the concept I was actually writing the essay on. It never worked.

Tony Abbott in his speech on economics began with a quote from John Maynard Keynes, and throughout the speech he quoted Adam Smith, Winston Churchill, JK Galbraith, and economists Martin Feldman and John Taylor. Yep – he was doing my old trick. And he too failed.

A quarter of the way into his speech, Abbott said this:r540435_3137188

A country that’s taking its economic success for granted is doomed to decline. The reforms that the next Coalition government will champion must be different from those of its predecessors but it should be no less committed to reform. Just as Bob Hawke was prepared to argue for floating the dollar and John Howard was prepared to argue for the GST, the next Coalition government must be prepared to argue for necessary reform against the power of vested interests and people’s mistrust of change. Economic reform means more jobs, stronger businesses, and greater choice. Reform can’t be avoided if prosperity is to be secured.

and he ended his speech with this:

The Coalition appreciates that the Australian people are often far more interested in their communities than they are in the economy. We understand, though, in ways that our opponents sometimes don’t, why it’s impossible to have a cohesive community without a strong economy to sustain it. Economic policy is the necessary foundation for all the other policies which governments and political parties need to have.

So you would think in between those statements, the speech would be full of policy about economic reform that Abbott intends to introduce? Well you would think that, but you would be wrong. Instead the speech was the same he has given time and time before – all about the waste of spending under the Insulation Scheme, and the Building the Economic Revolution, and how debt is bad, and that he doesn’t like taxes or big government blah blah blah.

What a waste of time it must have felt like for all those invited to listen.

The only revelation came when he said on IR:

The Coalition intends to release its workplace relations policy soon. There’ll be nothing ideological about our policy. It will be designed to ensure that workers are better off because the workplaces that employ them are more productive. There will be a strong no disadvantage test and prohibitions on any attempt to force people to move from one type of employment arrangement to another. It certainly won’t be the “son of Work Choices” that the Government claims but it will seek to ensure that there’s freedom as well as fairness in the workplace.

Hmm, “freedom in the work place”, I wonder what that is code for? Why do I think it’ll be more freedom for employers and not employees…

And then on Health he said this:

The Coalition will not necessarily oppose the Government’s public hospital changes provided they don’t boil down to a great big new bureaucracy.

Which is a bit different to what he said just over a week ago in Parliament:

"I question all of it and I oppose most of it".

And just 7 days ago at the National Press Club Health Debate:

I hope, as Opposition Leader, to stop Mr Rudd's great big new bureaucracy that will muck up public hospitals the way he's mucked up home insulation and school halls.

Seems that Abbott may have sniffed some political winds there… Gee I love a conviction politician: seven days to go from “stop” to “not necessarily oppose”! Talk about not taking a backward step! 

But, hey, maybe Abbott can be forgiven for being a lightweight on Economics – after all until this week he had Barnaby Joyce advising him on Finance. Today Joyce also gave a speech on economic matters – no doubt because he remains the Coalition spokesperson on Finance in the Senate. He had this to say:r538158_3110521

BARNABY JOYCE: The ceiling insulation program, maybe, as we speak they are burning down houses, as we speak, there are, there are, there is calamities happening around the suburbs near where we, near where we are. And maybe that is how they're going to reboot the economy, maybe if they burn down enough houses, we can reboot the economy by building them again.

Yes people do love to hear politicians joke about house fires… How about the BER spending?

BARNABY JOYCE: This just amazes me. This is just, it confounds me, $16.2 billion on glorified garden sheds. With the money we have wasted on the Building the Education revenue, revolution, the, the blatant economic rip-off, we could have built, definitely built a pipeline from the north to the south, most definitely, we could have done that.

We, we, and even, even if that pipeline had never moved a drop of water, even if it had rusted in the paddock, I would have believed that you would have a greater economic stimulus to our nation than what we're going to get out of what is a glorified, eclectic of rubbish that is now parked around the back of every school.

Yep, “Garden Sheds” – remember that phrase, because I think it’ll get a workout in an election campaign – used with images of state of the art libraries and school halls. The problem is Joyce thinks everyone agrees with him, but doesn’t realise the things he says only sound good at a LNP branch meeting after 4 glasses of red. They are not things that should be said by anyone sober, or wanting to be taken seriously – especially when you’;re saying it would be better to build a pipeline that no one would use than school halls which will be used by school kids for years.

He the referred to the Productivity Commission (which is due to hand down a report on water recovery in the Murray-Darling basin – his new area of responsibility) saying of their reports: “I don't know, I use them when I run out of toilet paper”.

Cheers, Barnaby, nice work giving the ALP a free kick when they’re 20 metres out, right in front of goal. But look, I don’t wish to be too harsh – here’s a tip for you: if you’re short of paper, ask Tony Abbott – I’m sure the pages of Battlelines would be nice and absorbent, and at least for once the book would be put to some practical use.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Essence of the Essential Report

Today, a day before the latest Newspoll comes out, Essential Media released its poll showing that the Two Party Preferred percentages had moved in the last week from ALP 56%- LNP 44% to ALP 54%- LNP46%. Now this of course is within the margin of error – meaning there may not have been any movement at all in reality – but it still is a movement – a movement of course from a wipe out scenario for the Liberals to merely that of a slaughter.

r539301_3121762 While that was interesting (OK, it wasn't really, but you know, let’s play pretend), what is really interesting is the Approval Ratings of both Rudd and Abbott. OK, the Approval Ratings for Rudd are not interesting at all [mental note: must stop saying that everything is interesting] as his Approval Rating shifted from 52% in Feb 22 (the last time the question was asked) to 53%. Rudd’s Disapproval Rating went from 37% to 36%. So yes, not interesting at all.

But Let’s have a squiz at Tony Abbott – in February, his Approval Rating was 45%, in today’s poll it fell through the floor to 33%. His disapproval rating? It went from 36% to 50%! That is his Net-Approval Rating went from Positive 9 to Negative 17 in a month! This, I don’t need to tell you, is not a good thing. (Well not if you are Tony Abbott).

But if this happened, why did the Two Party Preferred for the Libs go up I hear you ask? Well as Dr Deane Hutton on the Curiosity Show would say, I’m glad you asked. Firstly the Two Party Preferred shift is in the last week, the Approval Rating shift is from a month ago. Back in February the Two Party Preferred was 54-46 – ie what it is now.

Now obviously you would still expect there to be a shift – but that is only if you think voters change their vote on the basis of disliking an Opposition Leader. As Possum over at Crikey has shown pretty conclusively the Two Party Preferred score is nicely linked to the Net-Approval/Satisfaction Rating of the Prime Minister – not the Opposition Leader. As there has been negligible change in Rudd’s Net-Approval Rating, it is thus not surprising that there hasn’t been any change in the 2PP (at least from last month).r515945_2823926

The other thing to realise (and The Australian has a tough time with this when it comes to Newspoll) is that you can approve of Abbott, but still vote ALP. Back in February 28% of ALP voters “approved” of the job Abbott was doing; this month that figure fell to 16%. In February “only” 58% of ALP voters disapproved of Abbott, now it is 79%. Thus in February, Abbott’s Net-Approval Rating amongst ALP voters was Minus 30; this month it is Minus 63! So the people who have most turned off Abbott are ALP voters (or those who at least would lean that way). These people were not voting Liberal anyway, so Abbott feeling the lack of love is not going to hurt the Liberal Party. Yet…

It’s not all roses for Abbott however (especially as with 50% of the electorate disapproving of his job, he might as well carry around a sign saying “electoral poison”), because the Liberal voters also went a little bit cold on him. Liberal voters approval of Abbott fell from 79% to 72%, and Liberal voter disapproval of Abbott rose from 12% to 19% – leading to a drop in the Liberal voters Net-Approval Rating of Abbott from 67 to 53. They still like him, but perhaps they’re realising he ain’t quite the second coming.

The Essential Report also asked about the Stimulus Spending, looking at each major aspect of the stimulus and comparing its support with 12 months ago.


What you see is that each aspect of the Stimulus Spending has declined in support. In other news just to hand, umbrella sales increase on rainy days. That the support for the Stimulus has declined is not surprising. Twelve months ago it looked like the economy was about to fall off a cliff, and we wanted the Government to do something; now we’re feeling so good that the Essential Report also tells us that while 12 months ago 62% of us were concerned we or one of our family would lose their job, now that figure is only 39%.

But let’s have a look at the figures. The biggest fall in support is for the Schools spending – but it remains still the most popular item at 62%. And here’s the thing, only 15% oppose it. After a good solid 6 months of work by the Liberal Party (ably assisted by The Australian), only 15% oppose the Building the Education Revolution spending. That figure should give great pause to the Liberal Party if they are planning on winning an election by campaigning against it. As for the decline in support – show me any Government policy that gets 84% support, and I’ll show you a policy that will soon decline in support.

The least popular item is that of the Insulation Scheme – little wonder, as it has received by far the most negative media coverage (eg Neil Mitchell going on and on about poor helpless Grandmothers unable to sleep for fear). Thankfully there still exists some intelligent commentary on the issue – such as the great work done by Possum and this article by Robin Tiffen for Inside – a must read for all. However the Insulation Scheme couldn't even muster a majority support back last year when things were dire, and its shift in support of –14% is pretty much in line with the decline in support the money spent on public and community housing (-12%) and tax breaks for small businesses (-11%). So it is quite likely that the decline in support for the Insulation Scheme would have been much the same regardless of media reports and Liberal Party attacks.

The last question asked was what should be the Government's economic priorities: 52% said the Government should address the deficit, and cut back on spending; compared to 34% who said the Government should continue to invest a spend to support the economy. The interesting aspect is that result given the results of the above Stimulus questions. On the specific Stimulus items, apart from the insulation scheme, there was over 61% support. What would be interesting would be if the question were asked – “Do you think the Government should not spend money on a building in your town/suburbs school or small businesses in order to reduce the deficit?”. I think the deficit and government spending issue is a bit of a NIMBY one – Yes, cut back the deficit, but not in my back yard.

And that makes for an interesting election campaign when the Liberal’s big ticket policy is to cut the deficit. Sooner or later they’re going to have to say when and where – and that WILL be interesting. 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

AFL Power Rankings – Round One (or how quickly the best laid plans can come undone)

As with last year, each week I’ll be doing a Power Ranking of the AFL. Givne the lopsided and biased nature of the AFL draw, the Premiership table con often be a poor indicator of a side’s true strength (especially at the start), so in a device flogged from ESPN and the US Fox Sports sites, I’ll put the teams in the order I think better represents the order of things.

Well it was a bumper of a round to start the season. Some great footy, marred I think by less than brilliant umpiring – not so much as too many bad decisions given, as far too many missed. But at least the AFL has shown a great sense of comedic value in getting the umpires to be sponsored by OPSM.

It’s hard to gauge a hell of a lot from just one round, but Collingwood certainly look the goods, and the Crows certainly look like they will need to improve if they are to match last year’s finish. Geelong won, but were a bit scrappy, so too were Carlton – both will get more honest tests this week.

Melbourne and Richmond are already thinking about 2010 (but we knew that before they played).









St Kilda


The Saints just got the job done in Sydney; this week against North should be a much easier task.






The Pies looked good – real good. If you hate Collingwood, this might be a good year to have an AFL sabbatical.






The Cats were lucky that the young Essendon side don’t really know how to win yet. They won’t be able to give the Hawks a 5 goal lead this week.






The Bulldogs gave the Pies a real contest, but were always playing catch up. The Tigers this week should give them a nice percentage boost.





The Hawks were flying, but the Demons are not Geelong, the Bulldogs or Collingwood – and that’s who the Hawks face now. By Round 5 we’ll know if this is Hawks 08 or Hawks 09.






The Blues were flattered by the Tiger’s ineptitude. With a run of Brisbane, Essendon, Adelaide, Geelong, Collingwood and the Saints ahead, we’ll know where they really are very quickly.






The Lions took a while to heat up, but when they did, they ran away with it. Fev’s haul of 3.7 is something the Lions’ fans should get used to – frustration due to such amazing potential.






The Bombers should have had the game won twice, and they failed to put the Cats away. There’s some good signs, but the best early guide will be Round 3 against Carlton.






The Swans were more wasteful than the Saints – and they need more out of Bradshaw than 1.1. A tough match in Adelaide this week against the Crows, before they meet the Tigers at the SCG.






The Dockers were fast and disciplined – they dealt the Crows easily, now they face a tough three weeks of Essendon, Geelong, and the Saints.






The Crows were lacking a ruckman and made far too many poor decisions. They looked awful and if they lose at home to Sydney, a season that was meant to be one full of promise, may quickly be full of something else less enjoyable.




West Coast


For 3 quarters the Eagles looked the goods, then in the blink of an eye, they were flying home winless. If they’re winless after meeting Port this week, they’ll be in for a long, painful season.




Port Adelaide


Port at one stage led by 50 points, but they let the percentage booster slip as North outscored them in the 2nd half 8 goals to 3 – not a good sign.




North Melbourne


You can bet if the Saints get 50 points ahead of North this week, they won’t be letting them come back like Port did. 






The difference between this year’s Round 1 loss to Carlton and last year’s is that this year no one really expected them to win. Round 4 against Melbourne may be the only time this season that expectation changes.






If the game had stoped at the 10 minute mark of the 3rd quarter, the Demons would have had a percentage of 13%.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oh Earth Hour, why do you waste so much energy?

I write this just as Earth Hour is about to start. earth-hour

I won’t be observing it. I don’t think I ever have. To those who do, give yourselves a big golf clap. Earth Hour started in Sydney in 2007. It was a way of bringing attention to the issue of Climate Change. It may have been effective, it may have helped bring down a climate change denying Howard Government. Though I doubt it.

According to Wikipedia, apparently 121 countries have signed up to observe Earth Hour. Goody. How many of them signed up to carbon reduction targets at Copenhagen?

This is my point. I know Earth Hour organisers don’t try and claim it is saving the world – they know it won’t even make much more than a very small dip in the world energy consumption – but the Climate Change policy war has drastically changed in the last 12-18 months. It has gotten ugly, and the deniers are playing for keeps. Here’s the big point - Earth Hour has grown in size over the last 4 years; but the number of people skeptical of humans’ role in climate change has increased. Last November, Tony Abbott was able to get the Liberal Party to vote against the ETS, and the Liberal Party poll numbers have gone up.

That is not the sign of a successful marketing campaign.

canberra_earth_hourEarth Hour is about raising awareness and getting people thinking about climate change, getting pictures in the media.  Well I have to say, it does get the attention of the media, it may even get people thinking about climate change, but in terms of changing public opinion – and more importantly changing politicians’ votes – it ain’t working. Instead it is quickly becoming a tool used by the deniers to attack those who agree that the science of climate change is overwhelmingly compelling (as I most fervently do).

Today Liberal Environment spokesperson Greg Hunt tweeted to Penny Wong, saying “Don't forget to turn off your lights this year for Earth Hour!”.

So we have a Shadow Environment Spokesperson who supports Earth Hour, but who currently does not support a policy that will put a price on carbon – he support a “direct action” policy which by all reports will do NOTHING, and if by accident it does achieve a small something, it will achieve that in a massively less efficient manner than would either an Emissions Trading Scheme or a Carbon Tax.

That is not the sign of a successful result by the Earth Hour organisers – unless their aim was for Earth Hour to be supported but to achieve a NIL policy outcome.

Look, I understand you need to do stunts to awake the consciousness of people, but Earth Hour is no longer about “Climate Change”, it’s about “Earth Hour”. Do you seriously think there is anyone out there who doesn’t know about climate change? Do you really think there is someone saying tonight, so Earth Hour, what’s all this about.. Huh Climate Change??!! Hell why didn’t someone tell me about this!!!

I’m going to say the number in that category is next to bugger all, and even less are those who are thinking yeah Earth Hour – this will change my vote. Instead what we have is people who either passionately agree with the science or who want to be seen by others to be doing the right thing switching off their lights for an hour (but keeping the plasma TV on). And in the other corner we have Andrew Bolt and Senator Corey Bernardi going on about “Human Achievement Hour” and putting on all their lights. Bolt will then follow this up by showing how little energy consumption went down during the hour (he always does), and mocking those who say turn off your 60 Watt light globe but keep your plasma going.

Now I think Bernardi and Bolt are complete tools, but they’re just an example of how futile is Earth Day in achieving the aim of a policy which will reduce carbon emissions. It preaches only to the converted, and actually hinders the cause.

I guess some would say Earth Hour helps make people think about their energy consumption. In my opinion I seriously doubt it. What influences people’s energy consumption is the same thing that caused my parents to tell me to switch off my bedroom light 30 years ago when no one was caring about climate change – the cost.

You want to make a difference? Spend the energy used to organise Earth Day on lobbying MPs and Senators to come up with a Climate Change policy that will make a difference. Spend that time and money on marketing campaigns targeted at getting to the point where politicians vote for a decent Climate Change policy because if they don’t they’ll lose votes.

I’m all for symbolism – the Sorry Day was an amazing point in Australian history – but symbolism isn’t working if people can support the symbol, but be against policy that will actually make a difference. Politicians and people can use Earth Hour to make themselves feel good, when what we (and companies) really need to do is feel pain when we (and companies) use energy inefficiently – feel that pain in our wallets.

And if Earth Hour isn’t helping bring that about, then sad to say, in my opinion it’s just tokenism.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Aussie Film Trailer: Animal Kingdom

akBack in early February I had a few bad things to say about the teaser poster for the Aussie crime film, Animal Kingdom. Today they released the actual poster and the trailer for the film.

I have to say I am much more impressed with this version (done once again by Jeremy Saunders). I think it does the job – it has rather sinister overtones and nicely conveys that the character in the middle of the front row is the subject of influence by those around him. I also like how the lighting highlights Jacki Weaver more than the others – a seriously sinister presence.

I wouldn’t say it’s a great poster (film journalist, Lynden Barber on twitter described it as “dull”) but I think it conveys the mood of the film very well – though I do wish the faces were a bit more distinct – if you’re going to have Guy Pearce on a poster, you should be able to see it is him – perhaps they need to be a bit more close-up. 

My wife who absolutely hates these types of films (she still won’t forgive me for getting her to watch The Departed - “they all died!!!”) thinks the poster is great – in her mind it makes them all seem like animals – the type of people you don’t want to be around.

When I first saw it, it reminded me of this publicity shot for The Sopranos:


Now obviously they are a completely different tone, but that feeling of family wrapped up with sinisterness is conveyed in both (though with a lot more gloss with the Sopranos).

I do like the gun in the letter “G” though.

The trailer is also good, but not great. To be honest it feels a bit too “made for TV”. It feels like they are going for the Underbelly vibe – especially the first half. And that is fine, Underbelly was/is incredibly successful, but I think for film you’ve got to be different.

I was trying to think what is missing – at first I was thinking it was music – because the trailer only really kicks into high gear when the Air Supply “All out of Love” songs comes in (as it did throughout the teaser trailer), but I think what is missing is music during the first half, and voice during the second. I kept waiting for someone to say something over the top of the “All out of Love”: a few shouts or something, because most of the lines said in the trailer are very restrained – I wanted a bit more emotion. I’m also not all that enraptured with the way the explanatory writing came up. Again my wife liked it (though at the end she said, “there’s no way I’m going to see that with you!”).

But hell I’m being as critical as all get out – mostly because I really want this film to succeed. The Departed made $11.8 million in Australia (but with the cast it had, that’s to be expected). American Gangster made $11.7 million (but that had Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington). Of Aussie “crime films”, best is Chopper which made $5.9 million. Sadly I think this is looking more like taking in the $2.9 million that The Hard Way earned, because Aussie crime films tend to do best when they’re marketed as more irreverent crime/ dark comedy – Two Hands made $5.5 million and Dirty Deeds took in $5.21 million (and even Chopper was marketed as having humorous elements). It seems when we wants hard edged crime, we want it at home on our TV.

I would love to be wrong – after all Animal Kingdom has been picked up for distribution in America by Sony Pictures Classics – and those guys don’t pick crap films, and best of all they know how to market a film and give it prominence (and often notice around awards time). By all reports Jacki Weaver absolutely steals the film as the matriarch of the family – and how cool would it be to see her up for a supporting actress award?

It would be great if they could afforded to show the trailer a few times during the next Underbelly series, because let’s be honest that’s a big audience that should theoretically like the concept of this film, though that might stretch the marketing budget too far.

But here’s the trailer – would love to know your thoughts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shutting the Barnyard door after the horse has bolted

Only someone with a heart of stone would not be feeling for political tragic tonight, with the news of Barnaby Joyce's demotion from Shadow Finance to Shadow Regional Development, Infrastructure and Water – code I guess for “ go roam around the countryside chatting to farmers”.

r537328_3098906I earnestly wanted Joyce to last till the election – I knew it couldn’t happen: someone that incompetent cannot be around the centre of things during an election campaign. I hoped at least he would survive till the budget. Alas. The small consolation is that he will still represent the Shadow Finance Minister in the Senate, which means come Budget Estimates time he will be there trying to outwit Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, so the entertainment and cringe level will still remain. 

Joyce has been replaced by Andrew Robb – he who emerged from self-imposed sick leave due to depression last year to help kill Turnbull’s leadership. Robb is boring, and apparently intelligent. He didn’t hold any positions of great prominence in the Howard Government (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, and then Minister for Vocational and Technical Education), and his main claim to fame is as Federal Director of the Liberal Party 1990-97 – which meant he played a big role in both the 1993 loss, and the 1996 win.

His most important role during the 2007 election campaign was to claim the 13 ALP candidates were ineligible to stand because they failed to resign from their Commonwealth jobs prior to nominating for the seat. It turned out he had based this claim on the evidence of various websites which still had the 13 listed as staff of the various Government agencies. Unfortunately for Robb, that was just because the websites hadn’t been updated. His use of the internet as proof led Possum on Crikey to dub him “the Google Assassin”.

Perhaps that was just a slip up on his part, but he will need to be a lot better to best Tanner.

The first question he will need to answer is whether he stands by the comments Barnaby Joyce made on Australia's sovereign debt risk. After that I am sure there will be a few more things said by Joyce that he will have to counter. ANDREW_ROBB_wideweb__470x312,0And don’t think the Joyce is gone. The ALP will use him for as much ammunition as they can – he is still a member of the Shadow Cabinet, and he is still evidence of Abbott acting first, thinking later, so anything he says will still be used against Abbott. Joyce is the gift that keeps on giving (I predict he’ll actually become more outspoken on foreign investment now), he just won’t give as much now. But thanks anyway Barnaby; you helped the ALP kill any momentum Abbott had more times than anyone else.

Tanner now has seen off the following:

  • Peter Dutton (from 6.12.07 to 22.9.08)
  • Joe Hockey (from 22.9.08 to 16.2.09)
  • Helen Coonan (from 16.2.09 to 8.12.09)
  • Barnaby Joyce (from 8.12.09 to 25.3.10)

Now, you have to say Tanner has had it easy – Dutton is an empty suit; Hockey keeps getting the basics of economics wrong; Coonan is intelligent, but didn’t get much of a look in – and you really need the shadow to be in the House of Reps; and Joyce is an economic fool.

For now he and the ALP will have to deal with Robb. Robb at least has a Bachelor of Economics, so he should not at least make basic errors like did Barnaby. He is also boring, so he is unlikely to over-shadow Hockey – which is no bad thing for the ALP, given Hockey’s lack of economic sense.

When Julie Bishop resigned as Shadow Treasury Spokesperson, I wrote: So long Julie, thanks for the laughs. I must say Joyce didn’t make me laugh all that much as Shadow Finance Minister – he made me cringe. It might not be good for the ALP that Joyce is gone from the Finance spot, but it sure is good for the country.

Oh and David Speers of Sky News, probably wishes he could take back this tweet from 4pm:

Prediction: Barnaby stays in Finance, Malcolm stays on b'bench. Abetz Senate leader, Brandis deputy. Full details on #PMAgenda at 4:15.

Ah well, three out of four ain’t bad!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Greatest AFL Teams

Tomorrow night the 21st year of the AFL begins, having started in 1990. Prior to that? I have no idea, like Lincoln to the South Carolina representatives, I have AFL eyes, I cannot see the VFL. Well Ok, I do know about the VFL, but as a South Australian I don’t give a stuff. Collingwood has not won 14 Premierships. They have won 13 in the VFL, and only 1 in the AFL. The VFL doesn’t count to me.

But enough of that parochial rant, let’s celebrate the 20 years of the AFL, and get excited about the 21st. In looking back over the past 20 years – 20 years in which I have rabidly watched as many games as I could (not that many when you live for 11 years in Cairns without Foxtel) – I thought about ranking the 20 Premiership teams. The problem, however, to be honest is that I can’t really remember how good or not so good was the 1994 West Coast team, let alone compare it to the 1991 Hawthorn team. But I had the idea in my head, and so I thought the best thing was to come up with some sort of quasi-mathematical way to determine the order of the teams.

I decided to order the teams through the use of a number of criteria:
  • a point for the number of games it won in the minor round.
  • a score dependent on their position at the end of the minor round – 16 for 1st, 15 for 2nd etc etc
  • a rank according to the number of All-Australian in the team – the team with the most gets 20 points, the one with the least gets 1
  • a score dependent on the rank of the Grand Final opponent – 8 if the opponent finished 1st (I figure beating 1st isn’t as good as finishing 1st)
  • a score according to the team’s rank in terms of points scored in the season – most ‘point for’ gets a score of 16, 2nd most gets 15 etc
  • a score according to the team’s rank in terms of points conceded in the season –  least ‘points against’ gets a score of 16, 2nd most gets 15 etc
Assuming a team won every game, had more All-Australians than any of the other 19 Premiers, finished first, beat the 2nd best team, and also had the most points scored and the least points conceded in that season, the “perfect” score would be 98.

So let’s see how we go. From 20th to 1st:

20th – 2005, Sydney (score 61)

Sydney finished third, had only 2 All-Australians (Leo Barry and Barry Hall) and had only the 14th best attack (easily the worst attack to win the Premiership). True, they beat West Coast, but the Eagles came second that year – the Crows finished top (and incidentally beat Sydney twice that year).

19th – 1992, West Coast (score 62)

The Eagles only had 1 All-Australian member (Dean Kemp), the 9th best attack, though it did have the best defence. It’s ranking was also hampered by it finishing only 4th.

18th – 1991, Hawthorn (score 68)

The only premier with no All-Australians, which really hurts its ranking. It had the best attack of the year, and the fifth best defence.

essendon=16th – 1993, Essendon (score 69)

Essendon only won 13 games (ok they only played 20 games that year, so I could give them another game, but stuff them – they beat the Crows in the Preliminary Final, and I can’t forgive them!). The team that year only had 2 all-Australians (Wanganeen and Harvey), and was the 2nd best attack and 3rd best defence. They did finish top, but they were never feared. 

= 16th – 1999, North (score 69)

North in 1999 was at the end of their great run. They had 3 all-Australians (Pickett, Carey and Bell), they finished top and had the best attack, but only the 10th best defence (the worst ranking defence of any of the 20 premiers).

15th – 1997, Adelaide (score 72)

Ah what great memories. But let’s be honest, this was a team that peaked at the right time, rather than a dominant force. They finished fourth (but get points for beating the top ranked Saints). They had only 2 all-Australians (Ricciuto and Modra – neither of whom played in the Grand Final), but surprisingly (for some), they had the 2nd best attack, and the best defence. As a Crows fan (and stats nut) I can remember looking at that fact throughout the season and thinking they deserved to be ranked higher.

14th – 2003, Brisbane (score 73)

A shock for me to see the team that destroyed Collingwood in the final so low in the rankings. But they only finished 3rd (though yes everyone knew they were “better than that”). They only won 14 games, though they did have 3 all-Australians (Leppitsch, Lappin and Voss). They had the 2nd best attack, and the 5th best defence. A good side, though perhaps considered greater purely because they were the third Brisbane premiership team in a row.

13th – 2004, Port (score 74)

The team that ended Brisbane’s run, finished the year to with 17 wins. They had the third best attack, and fourth best defence. The small number of all-Australians – only 2 (Chad Cornes and Tredrea), keeps them lower than they otherwise would be. 250_buddy

12th – 2008, Hawks (score 75)

My memory is of the Hawks coming good in the finals, but they actually finished the year in 2nd with 17 wins, so they were doing something right in the minor round. They only had 2 All-Australians (Hodge and Franklin), and the 3rd best attack and defence. They score the maximum points for beating the top side, Geelong, in the final.

11th – 1996, North (score 76)

The first year of the dominant 1990s North. They once again had the best attack, but in defence they only came 7th. They won 16 games, finished 2nd, but best the top ranked Sydney in the final. Three All-Australian selections (Carey, McKernan and Archer) helped bump them up.

mcleod 10th – 1998, Adelaide (score 77)

The only team to win from 5th (though of course the rules were different then). The ‘98 Crows make up for their lowly finish with 4 All-Australian selections (Smart, Ricciuto, McLeod and Rehn), and the best defence in the league. They had the 5th best attack. They too get a slight boost in points for beating the top side, North. Incidentally had North won, they would be ranked lower as they only had the 12th best defence that year – something the Crows exploited in the second half of the final).

8th – 1994, West Coast (score 79)

The last of the 1990s Eagles teams. As ever they had the best defence. They had 16 wins, finished top, and had 4 All-Australians (David Hart, Guy McKenna, Glenn Jakovich, and Peter Matera). Their 7th ranked attack stopped them from being up in the top echelon.

7th – 2006, West Coast (score 80)

Ah yes, the juiced up Eagles. Ok, maybe not… but Ben Cousins came out at half time in the Preliminary Final and destroyed the Crows like he was... well like he was on something. The team of course also had Chris Judd pre injuries. They had 17 wins for top spot, and 4 All-Australians (Darren Glass, Judd, Cousins and Cox). What keeps them from being ranked in the top five is that their attack and defence were hardly dominant – they were ranked 4th in both.

voss6th – 2001 Brisbane (score 82)

The first of the Brisbane dynasty. They finished 2nd with 17 wins and they dethroned the reigning kings in Essendon. Four All-Australians (Ackermains, Voss, Black and Lappin), gives them plenty of points, and they were a solid unit in attack – ranked 2nd, but in defence they were only 6th, which loses them points and stops them being the best Brisbane side.

= 5th – 1990, Collingwood (score 86)

This is one that surprised me, and is explained by one amazing statistic: they team had 6 All-Australian selections (Millane, Shaw, Wright, Daicos, Russell and McGuane). Other than that they don’t seem that remarkable (and I have to admit I had forgot they had that many in the All-Oz back then – I don’t know how they were chosen, or if the selection process has changed). The side had 16 wins, came 2nd and were ranked 4th in attack and 2nd in defence. I probably have Collingwood amnesia, but I would have put this team closer to 10th.

=5th – 2009, Geelong (score 86)

The highest ranked side not to finish top after the minor round. They still won 18 games, and had five all-Australians (tied for fourth highest of all Premiership sides – Enright, Scarlett, Selwood, Chapman and Ablett Jnr). They had the 2nd best attack, and the 4th best defence. And let’s be honest even though the Saints were top, most thought Geelong were the team to beat. Incidentally, if the Saints had won the final, by my measure they would be ranked the equal 2nd greatest side of the AFL.

=4th – 2002, Brisbane (score 87)

Yes they only snuck over the line against Collingwood in the final, but look at this side! Six All-Australians (Johnson, Leppitch, Ackermanis, Black, Voss and Lappin). They had the best attack and the second best defence. From here on in we’re talking about sides that are in the “Best ever debate”. Are the 2002 Lions ranked too low? Perhaps – I certainly would never want the Crows to have to play against its like again.0,5001,5590511,00

3rd – 1995, Carlton (score 90)

I remember at the end of this season thinking we’ll never see a side as good as this one again. Five All-Australians (Silvani, Christou, Madden, Bradley and Koutafidies). It won 20 games (bizarrely losing once to the bottom ranked Saints) and had the 3rd best attack and 2nd best defence. It was an awesome side, and it flogged the second ranked Geelong by 61 points in the Grand Final. I thought this was as good as it gets…

2nd – 2000, Essendon (score 91)

… and then in 2000 there was Essendon. Shattered by missing out by a point in the 1999 preliminary final, this team was on a mission to not just be the best, but be the best ever. They didn’t sing the club song after any of their 21 wins – only doing so when they finally won the flag. The side had four All-Australians (Hardwick, Fletcher, Hird and Lloyd) and had the best attack and defence. There was no doubt they were going to win the flag, and there was no doubt in my mind, that I’d never see a side as good again…but...

abblett jr1st – 2007, Geelong (score 93)

How good were they? The finished top with 18 wins, were the best team in attack and defence, they absolutely flogged the second best side in Port (ah sweet memories) and they had nine All-Australians! – Scarlett, Millburn, Egan, Bartel, Johnson, Mooney, Corey, Ling and some bloke called Ablett Jnr. The only way we’ll see a side better than this is one that is as talent laden (nine All-Australians!), and it wins every game. The only thing keeping this side from a perfect score of 97 was those 4 loses. But though they did not win as much as the 2001 Essendon, I have to say looking at the two squads, I’d put my money on the 07 Cats, every day and every night – and that goes for it against any of the other 19.

So there you go. A list that could be debated (though I don’t think the top side could be). Perhaps I give too much weight to the All-Australian selections (especially as that process is fundamentally flawed), but I don’t think there’s too many shockers here.

Any thoughts?

82006West Coast
91994West Coast
191992West Coast

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Health Debate – Kevin grins, Abbott grits and Journalists talk.

Let’s not beat around the bush: the Health debate at the National Press Club today was a clear win for Kevin Rudd. Tony Abbott came with no policy and left with little other than a reinforcement of his stereotype – namely that he is a bully who loves nothing more than to tear into Rudd.

hhchart.ashxToday Kevin Rudd circa 2007 came back to life, and he won the debate by steadfastly refusing to follow my advice of yesterday! Rudd knew the Big Picture was his winner, and he stuck to it. Details? Bah! He threw out some data – enough to make it seem like he had the facts at his fingertips, but there was very little filling in of the holes in the policy. Abbott on the other hand didn’t have the data on his side – mostly because his side stuffed up the numbers as demonstrated by the graph done by the Liberal Party to show Health funding under Abbott that had to be quickly redone this morning.

So nice of the Liberal Party to produce a graph which actually shows just how much extra spending there has been on Public Hospitals under the Rudd Government. (Seriously, there are people out there who think this organisation can win the election?).

So yes Rudd won, and the media can try all it likes to excuse this – by saying, oh well Abbott did as best he could without having a policy (which is kind of the whole bloody point I would have thought), or you can have others saying that the “worm” should be banned because it’s too biased (they’re right – in the past it has been biased toward opposition leaders!) – but the fact is Rudd cleaned him up. rudd-abbott420-420x0Abbott was supposed to be this great debater – it’s his thing apparently. But that’s if you watch Question Time and you like people who throw out caustic lines in front of a cheering backbench – but here’s the thing, no election debate will ever be held under those circumstances, it will be like today – and in conditions like today Abbott is no good. Why? Because as I have said again and again, he can’t stop himself from letting his hate of Rudd come out (as the handshake shows). 

He showed his worst side today – a big fake laugh, and lots of sarcastic jokes that showed a guy who is more suited to the role of minor Minister than national leader. If Abbott doesn’t know the difference between being a leader and being a Minister, he should know it now.

The big media response from today’s debate is that next time Abbott will need a positive policy to sell. The problem is Abbott doesn’t sell positive policies – that’s not his thing. His thing is to attack, and that alienates people big time. Abbott also needs to realise that he is up against the best politician of his generation in Kevin Rudd. Don’t believe me? Never forget Rudd killed Howard – you think that was easy?  Want further proof? Here’s Peter Dutton:

But Mr Dutton said the Opposition Leader had been a victim of debate timing.“There was a disadvantage for that reason,” Mr Dutton told The Australian Online. “But there was no consultation with the Opposition about when the debate should be held. It was dictated by the Prime Minister.”

Oh cry me a river Dutton! You’re playing for keeps here, if you expect Rudd to give you an inch, you might as well plan your after politics retirement right now. Every bit of political logic says not to give the Opposition leader a chance to appear on the same stage as the Prime Minister; it was all there for Rudd to lose today – if Abbott had “won” the debate, Rudd would have been savaged by the media (and likely his own backbench). Instead he walked away stronger than he was yesterday – that requires political courage and smarts to know that going against convention is the right thing to do.

And yet the media still thinks Julia Gillard is going to challenge Rudd! Just one last thing on Rudd’s supposed unpopularity: a good measure is to look at the 2PP compared to the Preferred PM. On the last Newspoll (Rudd’s worst, so I’m giving him no favours), Rudd’s Preferred PM to 2PP score was Minus 3 – ie he was 3% below the ALP’s 2PP. Tony Abbot, supposedly kicking arse in the polls, had a Preferred PM to 2PP score of Minus 18. Who do you think is a bigger drag on their party’s vote at the moment?

But now to the debate itself. I’m not going to go into the details of each answer – mostly because there wasn’t much detail! (and note to Kevin Rudd, you’ve clearly won the voters with the Big Picture, don’t stuff it up by getting the details wrong – those questions I asked yesterday still need to be answered – and the media and Abbott will keep asking them). Instead I’m going to look at the questions asked.

A quick note – any journalist who complains about Rudd going on and on, should look at how long most of these questions are – they make Bob Katter’s Question Time efforts look positively snappy.

Paul Bongiorno - Network 10
Prime Minister – why 60-40, why not 100%, aren’t you at least going to have a 40% blame game?

To Tony Abbot – I judge from your remarks today that you’re not happy with the 60-40, does that mean you want 100%, is that what you will hold out to the Australian people? And you’re critical of bureaucracy, who will run the hospital boards who will appoint them? Will it be a new layer of bureaucrats, or will you trust the states this time as you didn’t when health Minister and you felt they needed to hand over everything to the Federal Government.

A solid opening effort from Bongiorno. He tried to get some more policy out of Abbott, and there’s no real bias on display here, but it’s mostly big picture stuff as well –and it was easy for both to bat it away.

Sandra O'Malley - AAP
To both leaders – we’ve heard the horror stories of how the aging population will overwhelm the budget in the coming decades at the same time many of us drink too much, smoke too much, don’t exercise enough, adding to the burden of chronic disease: at what point do Australian need to become more realistic about what they can expect Governments to provide in terms of health care, and why shouldn’t there be a sensible debate about health care rationing as part of public health care policy into the future?

A bit of a “not quite sure what you’re asking” question – which meant Rudd was able to use the first preamble bit to get onto “integrated health care” which went down a treat with the voters. O’Malley may be right about health care rationing (I don’t know to be honest), but there is no way on God’s green earth any politician is ever going to say they will bring in a rationing of health services (even if there is in reality). So on that score it was a bit of a no brainer for both Rudd and Abbott, as they were able to sidestep it pretty easily.

The question did allow Abbott respond to Rudd’s answer by saying: 

“Sandra I’m at a terrible disadvantage in this debate because I’m not capable of waffling for 2 minutes like the Prime Minister is”

which went down about as well as does a joke at the local airport that you’re carrying a bomb.

Sue Dunlevy -The Daily Telegraph
There’s a gaping cavity in this nation’s health care and I want to extract an answer from each of you on the problem. Over 1 in 4 Australians has untreated tooth decay – ½ a million are waiting for up to 10 years to get dental treatment, and we’re getting Thai Buddhist dentists coming out to Central Australia to do charity work because there are not enough services in this country.

Kevin Rudd: your Health and Hospital Reform Policy on page 83 says we should have a nationally funded dental health plan paid for by a 0.54% increase in the Medicare levy, will you deliver it?

Tony Abbott: you say in your book, Battlelines on page 104 Medicare should fund dental care for every Australian will you deliver it?

As a journalist who specialises in Health-reporting, Dunlevy asked a good pointed question to both. Neither of course gave a pointed answer.

Abbott, perhaps not realising his previous joke died with the viewers, tried another one about Rudd and dentists:

The Prime Minister has had some medical experience being an anaesthetist in the House of Representatives.

It went down even worse (perhaps because it was very laboured and really has nothing to do with dentists – as my Dad said to me, “Anaesthetists? Huh All I get is a quick injection and away we go!” – Obviously Abbott had work-shopped this joke with Dutton and Bishop and it amused them)

Lyndal Curtis - ABC Radio
You both come into this debate with experience in health, as a bureaucrat and as a Health Minister, yet neither of you has brought your whole policy here, we’re only months away from an election, and neither of you have the full answers to questions, like how are you going to deliver more hospital beds, what are you doing on aged care, and what you’re doing on mental health, isn’t this just a chance for you to score political points from each other, and isn’t that just what voters are heartily sick of?

She basically asked why am I bothering to ask this question. A waste of a question really – and rather surprising as I think Curtis is a very good interviewer on AM. It would have been better to ask – what are you going to do about aged care or mental health.

The only good thing about this question was it provoked Abbott to respond:

I have two roles, if you like, one is to provide a credible alternative to the Government, and that’s what you’ll get in good time.

I don’t think he meant to suggest that is not currently a credible alternative to Government, but who knows, call it a Freudian slip.

Mark Riley – Network Seven
Prime Minister, of the $42b stimulus package about $16b was spent very visably on improving schools, school halls, and sometimes duplicate school halls and libraries, I wonder if you can explain why none of that money was spent on another sector – the health sector, the hospital sector is crying out for capital investment – we visited dozens of schools with you in recent months and it’s obvious that there’s a real need there for capital investment, why have there not been more operating theatres, more cancer centres built with that stimulus money that would have flowed through the economy just as well. And Mr Abbott if you take Government before the money is spent would you redirect some of the stimulus spending, the infrastructure spending towards capital investment in hospitals, and if so how much?

A long hack of a question. He brings up the Building the Education Revolution “bungling” (but of course wouldn’t be able to make a cogent case on the issue if he tried – unless he thinks 16 “questionable projects” out of 24,000 is bad) and then he displays a complete lack of economics’ knowledge and common sense if he thinks it would be quicker to build a hospital ward than a school hall. Also not every town or suburb has a hospital, whereas schools are spread everywhere. (I’ll forgive Riley saying “we visited dozens of schools” when he obviously meant “hospitals”.)

His question to Abbott was a virtual Dorothy Dixer that Abbott fluffed by saying he’d reveal all later. Though one good thing about the question is that it did reveal via the worm that the voters do actually like the education spending.

Laura Tingle – Financial Review
You’ve both talked about cutting bureaucracy as part of this whole exercise, but I’d like to know where between the 150 odd local hospital networks in the Labor’s case or the 750 odd local hospital boards in your [Abbott] case who would actually run things? Who are those bodies going to answer to, are they all going to ring Jane Halten [the Secretary of the Dept of Health and Aging] in the Department of Health? Do you presume that when you get rid of area health services in New South Wales there will be nothing between them and head office in New South Wales? How is it actually going to work so that all the money you both say the Commonwealth doesn’t get enough say in actually is accountable to the Commonwealth and Commonwealth taxpayers?

A good question by Tingle (if rather long and roundabout). She also showed she knows the phrases of the policies by referring to “local hospital networks” rather than “local hospital boards” in relation to the Government’s scheme. It was a good specific policy question, rather than being too “big picture”.

Matthew Franklin – The Australian
Hi gentlemen, to Prime Minister I’d like to follow up on Mark Riley’s question. I understand why you spent the stimulus money, but when you sat down and worked it out why did you decide that we need to put a building in every school rather than addressing what you here today say is a major problem and that is deficiencies in the health system, was it because you got more political bang for your buck by putting a school hall in every school, rather than a smaller number of hospital wards?

And Mr Abbott you have proposed top do something very un-Liberal – increase a tax to provide what some people say is an excessively generous paid parental leave scheme (but you wouldn’t say that would you – I think he just did... some people would) but I would just like to know, if Health is so important have you considered… and why don’t you lift taxes so that you can find the money to make the sort of improvements that I think we all can agree are needed in the hospital system?

Franklin’s question to Rudd was perhaps the worst of the day, and displayed even less economics acumen than did Riley’s. His question to Abbott was a better effort, but really did he seriously think Abbott was going to say he would increase taxes to pay for hospitals?

Abbott’s answer did allow Rudd one of his best lines when he noted: “I find it surprising that here we are in a big debate on the hospital and health system and Mr Abbott chooses to talk about anything else”.

Michelle Grattan - The Age
Mr Rudd Can I to take you to Private Health Insurance . Apart from the means test on the rebate which you haven’t been able to get through the Senate, can you guarantee that if you’re elected for another term there will be no more changes to the Private Health Insurance rebate arrangement?

And to Mr Abbott, you’ve talked repeatedly about the problem of divided responsibility – you’ve said in Battlelines that any hospital reform program is beyond the states, we know that you have advocated a Federal takeover of policy and funding when you were in government and Health Minister, why can’t you just say now “I believe in the Commonwealth being the sole of dominant funder and having made policy responsibility I will work out an alternative plan to the Government’s one, but taking that as the central principle?

A pretty easy question to Rudd – though some chance for a pitfall given his 2007 pledge on the rebate. The question to Abbott was very Big Picture, but even then Abbott didn’t go there – instead talking about bringing out a policy at a later date (he really had nothing to say).

Jayne Azzopardi Nine Network
Look I want to talk about what I think most voters think about when it comes to hospital reform, and that’s bed numbers. Now Prime Minister you’ve mentioned funding from the past but you still say we need more beds, yet your plan doesn’t actually specify any extra beds, how can voters take you seriously this close to an election when you’ve called this debate and you haven’t covered that issue?

And Tony Abbott you talk about consideration of the 3,500 thousand new hospital beds, is that an iron clad promise or could the number reduce if you can’t find the money?

Geez, Channel Nine couldn’t get Laurie Oakes to ask a question? It all smacked as being a bit work experiency – from the “look I want to talk about…” opening to the “how can voters take you seriously” line. Far too suited to A Current Affair than a serious leaders debate. She did at least try and ask something specific of Abbott.

Karen Middleton – SBS
Have the same question for both leaders. The Prime Minister mentioned earlier that the patient should be the centre of this. One of the common complaints we hear from people using the health system now is that even if you have private health insurance you’re still out of pocket when you go to the doctor or you receive hospital treatment. We’ve heard a lot about funding and the structure of the system, but I’d like to ask, what are you polices going to do to reduce the out of pocket costs of people actually using the system – the patients?

An interesting tack, but one that yielded little results. It was good to talk about the costs to patients, but to be honest I think her cause would have been better served if she had ditched the preamble and just asked the question in her last sentence – it would have been much more pointed and harder to avoid.  

Andrew Probyn - West Australian
My question is directed at the Prime Minister primarily, but I know you’ll want a say, and it’s about activity based funding of hospitals, which is (for normal people) a fancy way of saying you pay for services that the hospitals provide. Victorians have been doing this for 17 years, and they decided that the so called casemix doesn’t work for rural hospitals, in fact they dumped it, instead they give it block grants. Now why do you think Prime Minister that a Federal activity based funding model would work when the Victorian Health Minister says it won’t no matter what weightings you give it?

The question of the day – specific, based on research, and requiring a direct response. And best of all he got one – an admission from Rudd that the regional hospitals under his scheme may not be subject to casemix funding.

So that was the debate. I’ll say one last thing: I’m not a huge fan of Chris Uhlmann, but he was an excellent moderator, and should get the job in all future ones.