Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the QT: Scoundrels with Iron Fists and Flim Flam

The Question Time after the Budget is always a bit of a nothing affair for the opposition – unless the government has totally screwed up things the night before, they are reduced to asking questions which have been anticipated long before by the Treasury and thus there’s little chance for them to trouble the batsmen, let alone take any wickets. But that doesn’t really excuse the Opposition for adopting exactly the same tactics as were adopted last year.

Here’s was Turnbull last year:

Mr TURNBULL (2.13 pm)—My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister explain to the House why, if the International Monetary Fund’s recent World economic outlook shows the Australian economy growing at only 1.1 per cent in 2010, his budget projects growth in Australia only a year later to be 4.5 per cent, more than four times the IMF’s projection?

In other words they attacked the figures, rather than attack the policies.

This year it was much the same – and like last year they then followed up with questions referring to page such and such of Budget Paper 1, Appendix whatever, to make it seem like they were all over the details.

The periods that Tony Abbott looked most happy where when he asked his first question, and then when after Question Time he made mention of David Cameron becoming the British PM – in the process somehow making it sound like the Liberal-Democrats in the UK were in some way analogous to the Liberal Party here. In between the laughs weren’t in huge store for the Libs as they tried to take apart a budget they has been pretty well received.

Abbott’s first question had him smiling like he thought he was the funniest kid in class, asking Rudd why he was only an economic conservative in election years (this of course runs completely counter to the Howard-Costello model where in election years they became big spenders, and in other years pretended they were economic conservatives). Rudd was having none of it, and launched into Abbott pointing out that an economic conservative is one who advocates counter-cyclical government spending – ie when the private enterprise side of the economy is shrinking the Govt expands and vice-versa.

That definition might not pass muster with the lads of the Institute of Public Affairs, but Rudd certainly nailed Abbott (and Howard and Costello in absentia) when he pointed out that they spent pro-cyclical – ie they expanded Government spending when the private side of the economy was also expanding – leading to (everybody together) 10 interest rate rises in a row.

Now this budget has been derided by some as boring, but of course that’s only because (like last year) all the bad news was dished out earlier. Ross Gittins was one of the few to notice this in the context of the budget – as the dumping of the insulation scheme, the child care centres, the tax on smokes, the RSPT, the superannuation guarantee, the company tax rate drop had all come earlier, and all were crucial to the budget bottom line.

Those who think Swan and Rudd have brought back the Budget into surplus without any hard choices – ie ones that will hurt them in the polls, must ask themselves what they think the childcare centre decision, the dumping of the ETS (and its associated costs) and the increase in smokes has done to the ALP’s polling? I guess they don’t count as hard because they only dropped the ALP’s 2PP by 5%…

Abbott then got onto the theme of the day, namely the Budget is all based on guess work and hope (though sadly we were denied a repeat of Hockey’s phrase from yesterday that the government was taxing hope). He asked what would happen if the mining boom went south.

It’s always nice to hear members of the Howard Government criticising a Government for relying on a mining boom – back in 2007 they were criticising Rudd for talking too much about what to do after the boom here was Howard in June 2007:

Mr HOWARD (Bennelong) (Prime Minister) —I am intrigued every time the Leader of the Opposition talks about the mining boom. It sounds as though he wants it to come to an end, and maybe that is because he knows that if his industrial relations policy is introduced it will come to an end. …

So the vision is between the soaring optimism and hope of those on this side of the parliament in relation to the mining boom and the dreary pessimism of those who miserably sit opposite.

Can someone tell me if the boom survived the ALP’s industrial relations policy?

creosote-747728hockey2 Joe Hockey got into the action question five – asking Swan about the possibility of the decline of terms of trade that is in the budget as a contingency to the forecasts. He referred to the “wafer-thin surplus” which had a few thinking of Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

Swan took to the question with glee saying that the “first refuge of a scoundrel is to trash the forecasts” – which I guess means that someone really needs to rewrite all of Jane Austen’s novels. But nonetheless Swan was in fine form – and I have to say he was very good in his National Press Club Speech today. Joe Hockey obviously didn’t watch it because his next question mirrored one asked by a journalist after the speech – a question which Swan had dealt with easily then, and he dealt with it even better this time, given the net practice he had had in the press club speech.

Kevin Rudd also got in on the fun times when in response to a question by Ian Macfarlane which again questioned the budget figures he made use of some good work by Laurie Oakes in relation to Joe Hockey and his inconsistency of criticisms of last year’s budget.

A few months back, after watching an Oakes interview one Sunday I suggested somewhere (probably on twitter) that perhaps Oakes was past his prime, and it might be best he give it away. I have to say that was up there with my prediction yesterday to a work colleague that the Lib-Dems would definitely do a deal with Labour. Oakes has been in great form of late, and he has also shown an excellent ability to be taught a new trick, by taking to twitter in a way that puts a lot of younger journos to shame.

He is quite chatty on twitter -  often replying to others and he makes some pretty cutting points. He also has shown that twitter is not merely for use to relate what is happening but can also be used to make some very pertinent points. Here are his comments on the budget  starting from last night:

  • Swan has done his job.Responsible. Tells a story. No gimmicksor tricks. #budget
  • Swan says Budget not about a political equation. Nonsense. Restraint seen as vote-winning message. Bid to restore sense of competence. about 21 hours ago via web

This is a very good point – no budget is ever delivered free of political care. What is amazing is that Rudd and Swan have made an electoral virtue of Budget restraint. This is a long way from 2007.

He then got on to Joe Hockey’s response to the Budget:

  • Last Budget night Hockey blasted Treasury as far too optimistic.Tonight he says Treasury figs last year were far too pessimistic. about 19 hours ago via web
  • Back at Parliament House. Might as well have slept here.Consolation? Joe Hockey got less sleep. about 11 hours ago via web
  • Hockey Budget night 2009 said of Treasury's "surplus in six years" forecast: "No-one's taking that seriously." about 10 hours ago via web
  • " Treasury has some pretty heroic assumptions in their forecasts for how quickly we come out of recession." Hockey May 13 2009. about 9 hours ago via web
  • Hockey last night claimed Treasury were saying a year ago "that this was the end of the world". about 9 hours ago via web
  • Today Hockey denies that last Budget night he blasted Treasury as far too optimistic but now says their figs were far too pessimistic. about 9 hours ago via web

                  By this morning Joe’s response to the Budget had pretty much been destroyed by anyone who follows Oakes’s twitter feed (and that is 3,473 people at the moment). It was an excellent example of how twitter can be used to make a cogent argument – and is not actually limited to 140 characters. Sure the younger journos would be posting links to Hockey’s statements etc. But Oakes showed that a good journo is one who can perform in any media (now if we can only get Laura Tingle on twitter).

                  And for those who missed Oakes’s interview last night it is certainly worth a watch:

                  Of the rest of QT, the highlight was Lindsay Tanner welcoming Andrew Robb to the line-up of Shadow Finance Minister against whom he has faced since 2007 – the number is now up to five (or as Tanner called it, a basketball team). Tanner challenged Abbott to come up with some savings measures in the Budget, adopting the standard Government line in an election year, saying:

                  'We are approaching the business end of the season where the Australian community are going to ask for some detail. There's a lot of rhetoric, there's a lot of fluff, there's a lot of flim-flam. We have had virtually no detail from the leader of the opposition yet.'

                  Of course there won’t be any tomorrow night in the Budget Reply speech (there never is), but what will be interesting is how many tune in to watch it. From memory Rudd’s Budget reply in 2007 rated almost as highly, if not more so than did the Budget that year. If Abbott’s doesn’t rate, I think you can take that as a strong sign that most Australians don’t expect him to be PM after the next election, and thus he is not worth bothering with (especially for a boring economics speech).

                  The final light note was courtesy of Craig Emerson (who else), who after a pretty measured response suddenly switched to vaudeville and said that Abbott was going around calling himself the “iron man”, whereas what he really had, according to Emmo, an “iron fist in the face of small businesses” - “An iron fist! Here’s one up the bracket!” Emmo said with the appropriate hand gesture. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.

                  Ah Emmo, always there to give political sketch writers a hand.

                  Tomorrow is the last QT for the week – the usual short first week of the sitting period, and then it’s another week off, though the way the Government has been enjoying the past two days back in the warmth of the House of Reps, I’m betting they wish they could be back next week.


                  Michael said...

                  Not taking the achievement away from Abbott in completing the Iron Man contest, but he did finish 1,169 out of a field of 1,500. I've not seen the results published in detail anywhere, so I don't know how many competitors from 1,170 to 1,500 dropped out along the way. Or how many competitors older than Abbott finished before him. He competed in the Iron Man comp. The winner was the "Iron Man". Abbott was the "Also Ran". Perhaps that will be his tag after the next election, too? "Also Ran Abbott".

                  Augustus said...

                  Grog, good to see you deciphering QT for us again, really enjoy your take on it


                  Anonymous said...

                  LOL Michael! I also wonder how many women beat him. Unless women don't compete in Iron Man comps? I know plenty of women who are more Iron man than most men I know!


                  HillbillySkeleton said...

                  Thanks for the tip re 'The Sphere of Influence' on Twitter. I am now following him.