Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On the QT: One sentence is not a report

imageThe parliamentary nonsense started this morning with the latest Newspoll coming out in The Oz showing that the the ALP’s 2PP vote had increased 2 points and narrowed the LNP’s lead from 46-54 to 48-52.

Naturally this was reported as “Coalition’s Election Winning Lead Survives Internal Squabbling” and had Dennis Shanahan writing that “ALP Fails to profit from Lib ructions”. You can see this poll prominently there on the front page of The Oz… well if by “prominently” we mean squeezed into one lousy column over on the right. 

Apparently Hockey and Turnbull having a bit of fit in one week was, according to Shanahan, meant to destroy his leadership and put the ALP back in front. Yeah right.

But hey, when you need to make up a story that has Abbott looking, it is always best to start with a strawman.

On the personal ratings, the poll confirmed what everyone knows – no one likes either Abbott or Gillard.

The poll – like all polls – of course is flawed due to the premise of asking who would people vote for were an election held on the weekend, and we can pretty much bank on there not being an election till late 2013. The ALP will hope that is long enough to get enough people to change their minds; the LNP hope it is not so long that people will start to use them.

imageThe poll was pretty well ignored because of two things that, unlike polls, dealt with real things that matter.

Firstly the announcement of the deaths overnight of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Such events always immediately serves to make politics so putridly stupid – especially when the politics seems not to include discussion of this real thing that matters.

The graph on the left shows the deaths in Afghanistan of coalition military servicemen and women.

The trend ain’t good.

Is it going to get better? Is it worth sticking out? I suspect there are a few on both sides of the political aisle who are having private reservations but both the ALP and LNP are trapped in a “can’t debate it” mode, for fear of looking like they are advocating “cut and run” or God forbid, suggesting that any of the 26 Australian servicemen will have died in vain.

When a death occurs, both sides adopt the appropriate tone, and we certainly mourn the loss and feel for their families. But we seem to dismiss debate. I have always been behind the Afghanistan War. It was a just war, and had Bush and Co not decided to go wandering off to Iraq in March 2003 there actually was a chance of success (just look at the casualties back then). But now?

How will we really know we have achieved success? Better still, how will we know we have failed?

Surely the lives of the men fighting and dying for their country deserve us having a bit a of a proper discussion about it. I doubt we’ll get one any time soon.

The other big discussion was that via Ross Garnaut, who announced his final review. It came in at 244 pages, and his summary a nice brisk 48 pages. So you’d figure that with all that meat the debate in Parliament would be pretty solid.

Well you would if you had never watched Question Time before.

Tony Abbott opened proceedings with a quote from Page 17 of the summary:

Australian households will ultimately bear the full cost of a carbon price.

He (and Hockey and Bishop after him) thought this belled the cat and also had shown Gillard and Swan (and I guess Combet) to be liars for saying that the carbon tax will be paid by the top 1000 polluters.


Yep, this is where we are.

Firstly no one since this debate has started has suggested the cost of putting a price on carbon won’t be passed on to consumers. Here is Julia Gillard back on 1 March in Parliament:

Ms GILLARD —… We will put a price on carbon, a price on every unit of carbon pollution. It will be paid for by businesses and as a result, because our business community is smart and adaptable and innovative, they will work out ways of pursuing their business and generating less carbon pollution. They will work out ways of making sure they pay less of a price when carbon is priced. Then they will enter into contracts, they will make investments on the basis of understanding the rules and understanding that carbon will be priced. And as they go about making those transitions, innovating, making the new investments of the future, we will work with those businesses in transition to a clean economy.

Having priced carbon and seen that innovation, yes, there will be pricing impacts; that is absolutely right. That is the whole point: to make goods that are generated with more carbon pollution relatively more expensive than goods that are generated with less carbon pollution. But because we are a Labor government this will be done in a fair way. We will assist households as we transition with this new carbon price.

Or then there was this on 21 March:

Ms GILLARD —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. As I was indicating, the division here is whether you want to put a price on polluters and give assistance to households or whether you want to take money off households and give assistance to polluters. We will put a price on pollution. That price will be paid by polluters. We will generously assist households for the price impacts that they will experience. I have been very upfront about that.

One of the best things in my opinion in this debate has been that Gillard has not been afraid to state that a carbon tax will make prices go up. For Abbott, and other Liberal shills to suggest Garnaut’s report says something new, or something opposite to what Gillard or Swan or Combet have been saying, requires indulging in the most absurd levels of self-delusion.

The reason of course Abbott is making this argument is because he wants people to think a carbon tax is like a GST – in that 10% gets added on at the checkout – or even worse, like income tax, and so each fortnight people will see a deduction from their pay. It is not in Abbott’s interest to deal with facts. Facts are awful for Abbott – expect him to continue to steer well away from them.

The next bit of “gold” for Abbott was Page 77 (this time in the full review) where Garnaut writes this:image

In the long run, households will pay almost the entire carbon price as businesses pass carbon costs through to the users of their products.

Again we should file this under “No sh*t Sherlock, see above”. But no, he thought he had nailed Gillard with this.

Gillard responded by saying Abbott was:

… misrepresenting the force of Garnaut’s words. You can’t rely on one sentence and ignore the force of others…  Instead of looking at the occasional words reads the whole lot.

Well let us not read the whole lot, let’s just look at some words from the very same page Abbott was citing:

Using direct action measures to achieve a similar amount of emissions reduction would raise costs much more than carbon pricing, but would not raise the revenue to offset or reduce the costs in any of these ways. The costs might be covered by budgetary expenditure, but this affects who pays the costs, not whether the costs are there. Other people’s taxes have to rise to pay for expenditures under direct action.

Oddly Abbott didn’t quote that part. Or how about:

In addition, unlike regulatory or direct action measures, a market-based mechanism can collect revenue in a way that is more efficient than some existing taxes, for use in raising productivity, promoting equity, encouraging innovation in low-emissions technology, providing incentives for sequestration in rural Australia, and easing the transition for trade-exposed industries.

Hmm, nope – guess Tony must has skipped over that paragraph. Oh heck, let’s be bold and even read on a few more pages further (page 79):

A carbon price has some short-term negative effects on productivity growth and incomes—although less than direct action that secures similar reductions in emissions.

The summary is not Abbott’s friend either:

We would be damaged in other ways, too, if we sought to do our fair share through direct action. We would rely on the ideas of a small number of politicians and their advisers and confidants. While some of these ideas might be brilliant, in sum they would not be as creative or productive as millions of Australian minds responding to the incentives provided by carbon pricing and a competitive marketplace.

That would not be the end of the costs.

The really big cost would be the entrenchment of the old political culture that has again asserted itself after the late 20th century period of reform. The big rewards in low-emissions investments would go to those who had persuaded the minister or the bureaucrat that their idea was worthy of inclusion in the direct action plan—if not under the government that introduced the direct action policies, then under the governments that followed. That would entrench the return of the influence of the old Australian political culture in other areas of economic policy.

As a public servant it warms my heart that Abbott has so much faith in our ability to pick the winners – though oddly, Abbott doesn't seem so desirous to brag about how and who will be deciding who gets the money under his direct action plan. Curious don’t you think?

And that was Question Time. There was an odd question from Bob Katter of live exports of meat, which to be honest I couldn't quite grasp if he was in favour or against a ban on live exports (though I believe he is not – purely because we shouldn’t foist our Christian non-torturing of animals beliefs on those of starving Indonesians who take delight in being as cruel as all Hell to cattle).

There was also Nicola Roxon having fun with Abbott’s back down on plain packaging on cigarettes.

But the big event (and by big I mean of zero interest to anyone with a life) was when Speaker Harry Jenkins named Bob Baldwin. This resulted in a vote to have him kicked out for 24 hours, which the Government lost – in effect meaning the House did not have confidence in the Speaker. The vote was lost because Tony Windsor and Bob Katter were not present and Rob Oakeshott voted with the Opposition (for reasons, not completely infused with logic).

Now you would think winning such a vote would have the Libs in raptures, but the mini-conference being had by Abbott, Pyne, Bishop, Hockey  and a couple others during the vote showed that they were rather worried about what it all meant. What it did mean is that Jenkins announced that he would consider resigning. This would require, under Standing Orders, there to be an election for the Speaker:

19 Vacancy in office of Speaker

(a) If the office of Speaker falls vacant during a session the Clerk must report the vacancy to the House at its next sitting. The House shall proceed to the election of a new Speaker either immediately or at its next sitting, using the procedure set out in

standing order 11.

So the job would not automatically go to the Deputy Speaker, Liberal Peter Slipper. BUT it would have been highly likely that the ALP would have nominated Slipper. This would have meant (had Slipper won) the ALP would need 1 less votes to pass legislation (through their gaining Jenkins vote).

Clearly this was not the election Abbott wants to have. The way he jumped to his feet as soon as the vote count was called betrayed his clear concern that Jenkins would resign. This was no mere politeness and courtesy on Abbott’s behalf – his body language and demeanour betrayed his worry. Rather than be triumphant at winning the vote, his face reminded me of the class clown who has just realised that the teacher can in fact keep everyone in the class in during lunch if they all do something wrong. Bluff seemed to have been called.

But the events did not reflect well on anyone. The Govt did poorly to lose the vote – where the hell were Windsor and Katter (OK Katter often buggers off as soon as he asks a question). What was Oakeshott thinking? Did he grasp the possible impact of his vote? And Abbott has also let the Govt know that he really does not want to push the Parliament to the point where Jenkins has to resign. If and when Jenkins does again name someone, I seriously doubt if any motions of full confidence will stop him from resigning if the Govt loses the vote.

One of the things about Brinkmanship is that when you pull back, everyone knows just how far you are prepared to go.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But on to Question Time, proper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowen dealt with the claim pretty comprehensively:

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

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

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

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

The economy was also not being ignored either today.

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

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

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

They did not exactly show an economy under imminent threat: 

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

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

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

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

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

Huh. Not too bad it seems.

In fact:

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

Not too shabby.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, it is Parliament Question Time.image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On the QT: “You should be made to wear earphones”

Yesterday I made note that very, very little of what occurs in Question Time has a connection with the real world. Today was a nice example of that, which make you think “there is no sense in trying”.

Yesterday, as well, I made note that Joe Hockey was nowhere to be seen, well today he made up for it – stepping up to the plate no less than seven times. And all of his questions were directed to Wayne Swan. And all of his questions were on the one issue. So you’d have to figure the issue was a big one – you know the type that might end his career.

Well no.

The issue related to the WA Government announcing in the state budget last week that it was increasing the the royalty rate on iron ore fines from 5.625 per cent to 7.5 per cent by 2014.

Wayne Swan a day after the decision went on AM on ABC radio and said this:

WAYNE SWAN: Well first of all Mr Barnett did not communicate that he was going to do this to us.

There were discussions before the budget last year about how he would support a resource rent tax and that there would be significant investment in Western Australia as a result of all of that.

And that is the road that the Commonwealth Government has gone down. We want to use the revenue from the resource rent tax to invest in infrastructure and mining communities, to give a tax cut to small business and a lowering of the corporate rate. That's what we are going to do with the revenue that we receive when that legislation passes the Parliament.

But what Mr Barnett has done here is just very strange. He didn't communicate with us about this move in this budget. He didn't get our tick. He didn't discuss it with us. And Mr Barnett I think is simply playing a political game.

Now this morning, via The Oz, WA Premier Barnett says that was a load of hooey and that Swan knew last year that WA was going to increase the royalty fines, because a letter was sent in May suggesting that they would do it. image

Hockey, never one to miss a chance to make mountains out of molehills, came bounding up to the dispatch box off the long run and thundered to Swan seeking him to explain his misleading “the Australian public” (or at least the audience of AM).

Hockey – acting like he had found Swan with a walkie-talkie in the Watergate building – asked about letters from the WA Government, briefs from his Department to him suggesting that WA might raise the royalty rate, and other discussions he had on the issue. And then to top it all off, Hockey thought he really had the smoking gun, when he got Swan to admit that the day before the WA Budget Swan’s chief of staff was given notice of the change by the chief of staff of Barnett.

Swan could have got all defensive and suggested “someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press”. But he didn’t need to. The attack was hardly withering.

The Libs – predictably – launched a motion to suspend standing orders. But the wording of the very long motion is interesting and gives away just how dopey were the Liberal’s tactics:

Mr Abbott, 3:10:23 PM, moved—That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Warringah moving immediately—That this House calls on the Treasurer to explain to the Parliament why:

(1) he falsely stated on ABC Radio on 20 May 2011 in relation to the removal of a concessional rate of iron ore royalty by the Western Australian Government that “Mr Barnett did not communicate that he was going to do this to us,.. But what Mr Barnett has done here is just very strange. He didn’t communicate with us about this move in this budget. He didn’t get our tick. He didn’t discuss it with us.”;

(2) he failed to disclose that in early 2010, Western Australian Treasury officials advised the Commonwealth that WA proposed to remove this concessional royalty rate;

(3) he failed to disclose that on 10 May 2010 the WA Treasury wrote to the Commonwealth Treasury advising that the WA Government proposed to remove this concessional royalty rate;

(4) he failed to disclose that on 17 May 2010 the Commonwealth Treasury provided a brief to the Treasurer advising that WA proposed to remove this concessional royalty rate;

(5) he failed to disclose that on 17 May 2010 he gave a press conference in which he acknowledged that WA was “looking at very substantial increases in the royalties”;

(6) he failed to disclose that on 17 May 2010 he gave a speech in which he stated “We’re prepared to talk further with state governments who might have been making their own plans to capture a fairer share of resource wealth through lifting royalties.”;

(7) he failed to disclose that the minerals resources rent tax costings prepared by Commonwealth Treasury assumed a state royalty rate of 7.5%, which is the iron ore royalty rate in WA with the concession removed;

(8) he failed to disclose that in February 2011 he directed the Commonwealth Grants Commission not to modify its methodology in response to WA’s proposals to remove concessional royalty rates;

(9) he failed to disclose that on 18 May 2011 the Chief of Staff of the WA Premier telephoned the Treasurer’s Chief of Staff to advise that WA would be removing this concessional royalty rate in its Budget on 19 May 2011; and

(10) after these examples of evidence that he was aware of WA’s proposal to remove this concessional royalty rate, that he stated on radio that WA had not communicated its intention to do this.

Now that looks like a long list. But when you look at all of them you see a lot of “proposed” (which is not the most definitive statement ever – and certainly not “announced”), and that the first six relate to a period before the Minerals Resource Rent Tax was thought up, which did change the policy ground rather a little. But the really big thing missing from the whole motion is the call for a censure of Swan. All they wanted was for him to “explain” himself.

Well big deal.

If they really had something they would have gone for his throat.

When it all boiled down, they had nothing of any real consequence.

The Libs might say Swan lied, but the key parts of Swan’s statement on the ABC are him saying this:

He didn't communicate with us about this move in this budget. He didn't get our tick. He didn't discuss it with us.

Well I think the WA Govt telling you 24 hours before they announce it in the budget is kind of the equivalent of someone telling you they’re going to hit you in the face just as they hit you in the face. The Libs certainly aren’t suggesting the Government gave the increase a tick, nor are they suggesting that there was any real discussion. So it all comes down to what you mean by “communicate with us”.

But here’s the real point. What does it matter even if the WA Government did communicate with Swan? Swan is not, for example, denying he contributed funds to an organisation without declaring it, or even lying on radio about bringing in a new tax.

If Swan had lied it does not mean the Commonwealth Government is suddenly liable for something which it otherwise would not, or that Swan had done something untoward. The actual impact of whether or not Swan lied is strictly political – there are no real world implications. It’s not like with the “Rudd-Utegate” emails, where if they were true it would essentially have shown that Rudd was trying to get his mate some special treatment.

And even more pathetic for Hockey's and Abbott’s attack is that they are suggesting all this “misleading” occurred to the ABC in a radio interview, not in Parliament. Now if Swan said in Parliament that his office had never received a phone call, or that his Department had never received any correspondence on 10 May 2010 etc. Well then he’d be in trouble, because he’d be lying to Parliament. But this?  This is Swan making a political case in an interview on radio that the Libs disagree with. That’s not a lie; that’s politics.

Big deal. 

But when it comes to lying to the media, the best defence on such matters was that given by a Minister:

"Misleading the ABC is not quite the same as misleading the Parliament as a political crime."

And when I say “Minister”, I mean Minister in the Howard Government.

And when I say “Minister in the Howard Government”, I mean Tony Abbott in 2000.

Back then he was found to have lied to 4 Corners about his involvement in funding the legal campaign of disaffected One Nation members to have it declared invalid under electoral laws. Abbott established the fund before the 1998 election, but did not declare it to Parliament until after the election. In 2003 Annabel Crabb reported:

But last night's statement confirms that only two weeks after making that denial, he established a formal trust, Australians for Honest Politics, which collected $100,000 to funnel into anti-One Nation legal actions.

Mr Abbott confirmed that at the time of making the statements to Four Corners, he had already promised to underwrite the legal costs of disaffected One Nation litigant Terry Sharples.

"Strictly speaking, no money at all had been offered," Mr Abbott said last night.

"The lawyers I organised were acting without charge and the support for costs which I had promised would only become an issue in the event of a costs order being made against Sharples."

Mr Abbott apologised for the "flippancy" of remarks he made to the Sydney Morning Herald in 2000.

Asked by the newspaper about his fund-raising work for the trust, he replied: "Misleading the ABC is not quite the same as misleading the Parliament as a political crime."

I guess things have changed for Abbott now.

But the real big ‘who gives a damn’ about all of this is that the Libs spent the entirety of Question Time asking Swan about the WA Government’s decision but focussed on Swan instead of focussing on the real issue of what will that decision have on the Budget.

What will happen to the budget surplus? Has the Government got a contingency in place? What will happen to the GST carve up? What will happen to proposed infrastructure spends in WA? What if QLD raise royalties? Will the MRRT need to be amended? Why didn’t the Government anticipate this increase? etc etc etc.

Playing the man is fine, but here the ball was there to be won and the Libs completely missed it.

It was a real “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is” moment.

In the Matter of Public Importance moved by Julie Bishop after QT on “The adverse impacts of Government policy on the mining sector” she reeled off dates of letters and correspondence and briefings and phone calls like she was some big-city lawyer, but she rather forgot to talk about the impact of the decision – and she sure as hell did not get round to actually talking about “The adverse impacts of Government policy on the mining sector” (mostly because for all the bleating by the mining sector and the Libs, the sector is doing quite nicely thank you).

Tomorrow night is the State of Origin, so the Libs probably won’t bother going for any big hits tomorrow – knowing full well the public and media on Wednesday night and Thursday morning will be focussed on Rugby League – and so today was a good day to attack the Government's policy. Instead they focussed on politics and wasted another Question Time.

Talk about mixed up confusion.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On the QT: Seen it all before.

I’ve been writing about Question Time for as long as I’ve been writing this blog. I don’t mean to suggest I am some old hand at the caper, though as a decent politics nerd of some standing I have been watching Question Time for a fair few years now, and I have to say the last few sessions have been absolutely dire. So dire that well you have to wonder why the 90 minutes is even allotted to the cause.

Now sure, Question Time has always been a bit of a charade that bears only a passing resemblance to reality of the world outside the big building atop Capital Hill. But geez, the last few sessions are really stretching the patience.

It was only three sitting days ago that the Budget was delivered. The Libs have had two weeks to pick apart the budget papers. So how many questions today do you think were on the budget? How many questions today were from the Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey or the Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb?

Yeah that’d be none.

I know Robb was a there, I saw him before question time started, and he was on straight after. But during actual question time? err no.

So the Opposition didn’t want to talk the economy. What did they want to talk about? Yep, you guessed it:  THE BOATS.

Tony Abbott stared it off by asking about detention centres – even mentioning the “home made bomb”. Scott Morrison followed up with Malaysia. John Alexander (yep his second question) asked one on the protection of asylum seekers being sent to Malaysia. It was a good question, if disingenuous given the Liberal Party’s historical lack of care of the welfare of asylum seeker. But given the ALP has decided to do deals with Malaysia, they can’t take the high road (though both Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen tried to – but geez, it’s all running along the bottom of the gutter stuff). Julie Bishop asked Kevin Rudd another question on it all (she delivered her long question as though she were auditioning for a role in the Bold and the Beautiful).

No one bothered to answer any questions – even Wayne Swan struggled to keep relevant to a Dorothy Dixer.

It took till the Lib’s 5th question till they changed tack to the vexed issue of the carbon tax – with poor Greg Hunt, having to do his ritual self-sacrifice of his integrity, which saw him get up and make believe he wouldn’t give his left arm to be out in public advocating a price on carbon. 

Then Luke Hartsuyker continued the “attack” and asked Kate Ellis about the electricity costs for local soccer clubs due to the carbon tax. In between thinking, oh give me strength, I also thought, Hey, I’ve seen this movie before. And yep, sure enough, let’s go back February 2010 and Steve Ciobo asking Kate Ellis this:

Mr CIOBO (2:08 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Sport. I refer the minister to the Nottinghill Pinewood Tennis Club in Glen Waverley in Melbourne, which currently spends over $9,000 a year on electricity costs. Is the minister aware that according to the government’s own Treasury modelling the tennis club faces a 57 per cent increase in electricity costs by 2015 and a 120 per cent increase in electricity costs by 2020 thanks to the government’s emissions trading scheme? What compensation will the minister provide to the Nottinghill Pinewood Tennis Club, and to the many thousands of sporting clubs throughout Australia that face a doubling of electricity prices because of the government’s great big new tax?

Nearly 18 months and not a bloody thing has changed.

Some people hope that when the Government does announce the price on carbon arrangements that the standard of the debate will elevate. But that is a very naive view. I actually predict it will get worse. The debate will come down to how much you’ll have to pay for bacon on a hamburger with the lot because the cost of electricity in the average piggery will increase by $X amount per year. Etcetera etcetera.

The Government of course will have the science on their side – as was shown quite nicely by the Climate Commission’s The Critical Decade Report, released today.


The Report is detailed and chock full of graphs that pretty well are only good reading if you are a climate change deniers if you read them upside down. Nick Minchin is quite skilled at this and he came out quickly to say:

“The so-called Climate Commission is a Labor government-appointed committee of known climate alarmists, selectively appointed ... to further the cause of global warming alarmism.

“I think everybody should take anything they say with a grain of salt.

“What's most offensive is (climate commissioner) Will Steffen suggesting the scientific debate is over.

“That's nonsense because there is a very lively scientific debate about the role of human induced Co2 emissions in climate change.”

This view was not shared by Tony Abbott – who likes to keep up appearances when speaking when there are cameras around – who said:

TONY ABBOTT: the Climate Commission is actually a tick of approval for direct action as a rapid way of getting our emissions down. So, far from being unhappy, I’m actually very pleased to see the Climate Commission report.

Abbot also said this specifically about the report:

QUESTION: Doesn’t today’s Climate Commission report sort of highlight just how important a carbon tax would be?

TONY ABBOTT:  Absolutely not. What the Commission report does is state that direct action would be quote, “a rapid way” of reducing emissions. Now, the argument here is not about climate change, the argument here is about how to deal with it and the Climate Commission report says that direct action is a rapid way of reducing emissions.

Obviously his advisors had done a quick word search for soil sequestration and the came across that in the report. Here’s the full quote:

However, it is very important that this legacy carbon be returned to land ecosystems as soon as possible for a number of reasons. First, such sequestration is indeed a rapid way to begin reducing the anthropogenic burden of CO2 in the atmosphere. Thus, it yields some quick gains while the slower process of transforming energy and transport systems unfolds.

 imageOn the same page of the report (page 58) this sequestration is discussed, and this interesting little titbit is noted:

Some general principles provide a guide for designing and implementing an appropriate land carbon mitigation scheme:

1. The size of the stock is the important factor in the carbon cycle, not the rate of flux from one compartment (e.g. atmosphere) to another (e.g. a land ecosystem). These two different aspects of the carbon cycle are often confused. Although a fast-growing, mono-culture plantation forest may have a rapid rate of carbon uptake for the years of vigorous growth, it will store less carbon in the long term that an old growth forest or a secondary regrowth forest on the same site.

2. Natural ecosystems tend to maximise carbon storage, that is, they store more carbon than the ecosystems that replace them after they are converted or actively managed for production (Diochon et al. 2009; Brown et al. 1997; Nepstad et al. 1999).

In general, forests with high carbon storage capacities are those in relatively cool, moist climates that have fast growth coupled with low decomposition rates, and older, complex, multi-aged and layered forests with minimal human disturbance. This framework underscores the importance of eliminating harvesting of old-growth forests as perhaps the most important policy measure that can be taken to reduce emissions from land ecosystems.

So I guess we’ll see Tony Abbott heading off to Tasmania forthwith announcing his policy to end the logging of native forests. I bet even Bob Brown will stand beside him for that press conference….

The report is good reading – intelligent reading. But will the report change anyone’s mind? Sadly this is unlikely. Will it improve the debate? Doubtful. Will it improve Question Time? Not a chance.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Joe packs his bags for Saudi Arabia

Joe Hockey today gave his Budget Reply address at the National Press Club. The best you can say is it wasn’t as bad a last year, where he failed to outline the Budget cuts that Tony Abbott had said he would.

To say it was not good would be kind. To say his answers to the questions from journalists afterwards was embarrassing would be accurate.

I won’t go through them tonight (I don’t have a transcript, and also don’t have the time), suffice to say they were all on the money. They started with Samantha Maiden whose question Hockey completely non-answered and it got progressively worse until Laura Tingle asked him a question that had Hockey responding “It’s a  fair question” which seemed to be code for “I have absolutely no idea and so will not answer it”.

Then Andrew Probyn, who last year tore into Hockey, got up like the Ghost from Budget Replies Past and asked him about some double counting in the Lib’s budget cuts. Probyn so perfectly skewered Hockey that Hockey could only respond by getting shouty and accusing Probyn of getting his question from the ALP. The whole session ended with Peter Martin essentially asking Probyn’s question again and asking Hockey about the “auditing” of the Lib’s election commitments.

It was hungry wolves on the meek lamb stuff. (You can listen to them here)image

Not pretty.

It won’t matter much. I don’t think bad interviews by politicians (opposition MPs at least) matter that much anymore. After all Hockey had a shocker this time last year, so too did Tony Abbott – remember him telling Kerry O’Brien this:

TONY ABBOTT: But all of us, Kerry, all of us when we're in the heat of verbal combat, so to speak, will sometimes say things that go a little bit further.

And yet here they are – well in front of the ALP, and seemingly electable.

I think the bar has been set so low and that unless they drop the F-bomb, it hardly rates a blip.

But while the answers were horrible, the speech had not been much of a prelude. It wasn’t so much a speech as a quasi economic lecture on why the Libs are so good at budget stuff, and why the ALP is not.

His lecture ranged wide and far – sometimes it even got close to reality. But there was one bit that most stood out for me. It was when Hockey came to the wonderful topic of debt (yes the evil, evil debt). He had had enough of the ALP talking about the net debt of 7.2 per cent being low compared to the UK and USA and Japan and others, he wanted to compare us with countries who were doing well:

The Treasurer is always keen to compare our net debt with other developed countries like Japan, the USA, the UK and Europe. But Australia started this journey with no net debt unlike those countries that he always compares us to.

A more realistic comparison is one where we compare ourselves with the fastest runners in the field rather than the slowest runners.

There are a number of developed and commodity exporting countries with balance sheets in the black such as Chile, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Finland and Norway.

Against these peers Australia with net debt of 7.2% GDP looks like a very poor performer.

S0 suddenly, for no reason, we’re to compare ourselves to these five countries?

Joe even gave us a handy table to ram the message home about how bad we’re doing:


And yep, he’s right. Australia is lagging behind them on the net debt scale. It would seem to be a terrible state for Australia to be in. How awful for us. So it’s a damn good thing it doesn't matter one bit when it comes to examining how we’re doing as an economy.

Let’s compare these six countries of Joe’s on a few other measures, to see if Australia is looking so horrible:

  Unemployment Rate
Norway 3.1
Australia 4.9
Chile 7.2
Sweden 7.7
Finland 8.2
Saudi Arabia 10.8

Now call me crazy but I don’t think too many people would say give us Chile’s net debt level, but also their 7.2% unemployment, or Sweden’s 7.7%, or Finland’s 8.2%, or Saudi Arabia’s 10.8%.

What is more important Joe – Government debt or people’s employment? 7.2% net debt or 7.2% unemployment? I know which one I’m choosing...

Now sure, Norway has a nice low unemployment level, but I was surprised to see Hockey referring to it in such glowing terms – it is one of the fastest runners in the field, he said.

Usually when members of the Liberal Party refer to the economies of Norway, Sweden and Finland it is not in such glowing terms. As a rule, they deride these Scandinavian economies for one reason – taxation.

Here is how Wikipedia describes taxation in Norway:

The tax level in Norway is among the highest in the world. In 2007, the total tax revenue was 43.6 % of the gross domestic product (GDP). Of OECD-countries, only Denmark, Sweden and Belgium had higher tax levels. The tax level has fluctuated between 40 and 45 % of GDP since the 1970s.

The high tax level is a result of the large Norwegian welfare state. Most of the tax revenue is spent on public services like health services, the operation of hospitals, education and transportation.

Yep, see that phrase – “welfare state”.  Sweden, Finland and Norway love taxation. Sure their public services are plentiful, but by God do they pay for them. Here’s the list of Joe’s countries according to taxation receipts as a percentage of GDP:

  Taxation as a % of GDP
Saudi Arabia 5.9
Chile 18.2
Australia 30.5
Norway 43.6
Finland 43.6
Sweden 47.9

Usually you hear the Greens talking about the glories of Sweden, Finland and Norway. It’s good to finally see Joe getting on board the socialism train. Welcome comrade. Don’t be shy, come on in – plenty of room at the back on the right.

The Federal Govt level of taxation as a percentage of GDP is 23.7%. Anyone think Hockey or Abbott will be calling for an effective doubling of the Govt’s taxation revenue? Yeah, I thought not.

But look at Chile and Saudi Arabia I hear you say – sweet deal there. But ask yourself do you think public services, infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and Chile are comparable to Australia? Where would you rather get sick? Where would you rather send your kids to school?

Maybe we should compare these 6 countries by GDP per capita terms to see if Joe would still have us who swapping from Australia to lovely low-tax Saudi Arabia or Chile.

  World Rank GDP per Capita (PPP)
 Norway  4 $52,013
 Australia  10 $39,699
 Sweden  14 $38,031
 Finland  22 $34,585
 Saudi Arabia  38 $23,826
 Chile  56 $15,002

Hmmm. Doesn’t make life in the Middle East or west of the Andes so good does it. Is Joe suggesting we should compare ourselves with a country with less than half our GDP per capita? I can see the election slogan – “We’ll remove the debt and halve your income!”

It’s a winner, don’t you think?

But look, life isn’t all dollars and cents, it’s also about errr…life.

How do Joe’s favoured countries rank in terms of life expectancy?

  World Rank Life Expectancy
 Australia  5 81.2
 Sweden  7 80.9
 Norway  13 80.2
 Finland  25 79.3
 Chile  34 78.6
 Saudi Arabia  85 72.8

Gee. What a shock, Australia is doing well. Who said investing in public health and infrastructure doesn't pay off. Still Sweden is pretty close to us and they have a lot better debt levels, so I guess that’s score one for the 47.9 per cent tax take, eh Joe?

A few weeks back Hockey tried to float the policy idea of taxing family trusts at the company rate. That got knocked on the head within the day as the National’s quickly got on the phone. Last week he criticised the Government increasing the amount of foreign aid in the budget. That lasted about a day as Julie Bishop quickly reaffirmed the Liberal Party’s bipartisan policy with the ALP on foreign aid levels.

Somehow I don’t think his comparison of Australian with Saudi Arabia, Chile and Finland is going to last much longer than those two previous policy efforts. Though I bet the ALP will bring it up every now and then…