The bank guarantee – what does the Opposition and the media really believe?

Ever since the Rudd Government announced its guarantee for deposits in banks, credit unions and building societies there has been a running commentary from the Opposition and the media about that move.  After a brief flirtation with bipartisanship, following Tony Abbott’s dictum that oppositions should oppose, propose nothing, and turf the government out, the Opposition has embarked on a corrosive process of criticism in the hope that some of the gloss would be rubbed off the Rudd Government.  Even if that were a legitimate course of action for oppositions, it would improve their standing if they at least added their considered opinion on the best course of action, so the public could judge which seemed better, their's or the Government’s.  So far, the only recommendation that Malcolm Turnbull has made was to limit the guarantee to $100,000.  All the rest has been carping criticism.

One would have hoped though that the media might at least have been even-handed, dispassionate and critically analytic, and that their analyses would be based on factual evidence, precedents, experience elsewhere, or well-founded, economically sound arguments.  Sadly that has not been so.

We have seen a wide range of appraisals. Janet Albrechtsen’s 12 October piece Courageous Rudd overcomes history and populism, written the day of the guarantee announcement, says “...the Rudd Government deserves praise for acting responsibly and courageously.” and “Whilst safeguards, limits and restrictions need to be added to today’s measures to avoid them becoming blank cheques for foolishness, the government has clearly demonstrated leadership at a critical time. It is a sign that the Rudd Government is economically responsible in direct contrast to the Liberal Party populists who have ignored the international reality that banks are falling over, or being bailed out by governments, on a weekly basis.”  No mention of bungling.  Paul Kelly too had praise initially, although he subsequently hedged his bets by saying that although the unlimited guarantee was a ‘mistake’ it would do the Government no harm, and that Rudd had played his cards brilliantly.  Predictably, Dennis Shanahan labeled the move as Rudd’s ‘first big mistake’.

As time went by, with the benefit of hindsight, the media began to express even greater doubts.   Some, such as Alan Kohler in Business Spectator on 28 October said in Savings in a stranglehold  “Unless they (Rudd/Swan) are to go down in history as the bumbling fools who wrecked the Australian economy, they must instantly, this morning, put a universal price on the deposit guarantee that was announced on October 12.”  Strong words, but at least he offers advice, namely that every institution be enabled to offer AAA accounts that pay zero interest, and explains how this would work.  Who knows if there’s any merit in his advice, (no one else has publically endorsed his views) but at least he’s explained himself.  Not so the rest of the media. More...

The national interest versus political expediency

When Kevin Rudd likened the effect of the global financial crisis on Australians to a rolling national security crisis, he was ridiculed by Malcolm Turnbull and the media, and cartoons of Rudd in fire-fighting gear soon appeared.  But Rudd was right.  The calamity facing us already has had more effect on most of us than 9/11 and any subsequent security scare.  Turnbull accused Rudd of creating a scenario that would make him look like a knight in shining armour ready to save us from a fate worse than death.  Even if that were so, it doesn’t negate Rudd’s metaphor.

So almost from the beginning Turnbull looked for and found what he believed were base political motives behind Rudd’s moves.

With that level of suspicion it is perhaps surprising that bipartisanship emerged at all, as indeed it did when the Government guarantee on deposits in banks, credit unions and building societies was proposed.  The legislation passed through parliament without a murmur of dissent.  But now all that bonhomie has evaporated.  Why?  Was it that some elements of the Opposition saw such statesmanlike collaboration from their leader as lacking the ‘mongrel’ needed to savage the Government?   In a contribution to a new book Liberals and Power: The Road Ahead, Tony Abbott says: "At one level, the Opposition's most urgent job, between now and the next election, is to publicise the government's mistakes. Randolph Churchill once declared that oppositions should oppose everything, propose nothing and turf the government out. He was right in this fundamental respect: the opposition's job is to get elected. Intelligent oppositions have no unnecessary enemies. They make the government rather than themselves the issue by ensuring that everyone harmed by government decisions well and truly knows about it."  Is it Abbott’s view of the role of oppositions that has changed Opposition tactics?  Maybe, but what a pity it did not follow his other dictum:  ‘have no unnecessary enemies’, instead of creating them as it has done this past week.

So after just a few days political expediency overtook the national interest

Turnbull began by sowing doubts in people’s minds about the merits of the proposal.  Ideas of a ‘cap’ on the guarantee emerged, first Rudd’s $20,000, raised by Turnbull to $100,000, then Rudd’s unlimited guarantee, now modified with a levy applied to deposits over $1 million.  Then, aided and abetted by an article in The Australian Turnbull attacked Rudd for not taking RBA advice which the paper insinuated had not been passed onto Rudd.  As Ken Henry, Secretary of the Treasury and RBA board member was the conduit for such advice to the Government, Turnbull queried whether he had failed to pass on this vital information, and if this were so, would Rudd sack him?  It was at that moment Turnbull lost the initiative he had been building.  His propensity for barrister-speak overrode his need to stick to political-speak.  Not only was that a damaging mistake, but it ‘gave permission’ to others to similarly attack a highly respected public servant. More...

Where has reason flown?

That so many investors seem to be making unreasoned decisions and dumping stock as share prices fall is understandable if they are, as has been described, in a state of blind panic, occasioned by unremitting fear.  But that state of unreason should not infect journalists, who ought to be able to view events with cool dispassion.  Yet we see them apparently also afflicted with unreason. 

Take the Government’s response to the global financial crisis, now just the ‘GFC’.  To have done nothing would have seen the flow of funds from Australian banks, building societies and credit unions to overseas banks that had been guaranteed.  By being the first to offer a government guarantee on bank deposits, Ireland started the inexorable process of ‘follow-the-leader’ with European banks offering the same to stop outflow to Ireland, and banks elsewhere being forced to follow.  Not one commentator has challenged the validity of our Government’s initial move, and it was supported by the Coalition in its passage through the parliament.  But that has not stopped Coalition members and their media cheerleaders from labelling the Government’s actions as having been bungled.  If the initial move was not bungled, what was?  Michael Stutchbury in The Australian says “Not enough work was done on the 100 per cent guarantee when Rudd announced it on October 12.”  Stutchbury does not say what more work was needed.  Because he doesn’t know.  Like so many journalists his learned opinions emerge only after he has gazed down the retrospectoscope. 

On the subject of market-based managed funds, who have frozen redemptions to cut the flow of funds to the guaranteed institutions, Glen Milne in the 25 October issue of the Daily Telegraph in his piece How Wayne Swan made a right royal gaffe canvasses the idea that if the Government had followed Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion of a $100,000 cap on the deposit guarantee, the flow of funds from the non-guaranteed managed funds would not have occurred to the same extent.  That might be so, but according to Government figures, at $100,000, 40% of bank deposits would not have been covered by the guarantee.  What a protest that would have evoked.  Columnists like Milne seem to be unable to look at the whole picture, preferring instead to cherry-pick aspects that suit their pre-ordained attitude. More...

A plain man’s glossary of finance market terms

To understand what parliamentarians are talking about in Question Time on the current financial upheaval, what the finance experts are saying in the business media, or even what the news bulletins mean, a working knowledge of financial terms is handy.  So this a compilation of terms that until now have not had much airplay, but now are in common use on TV, radio, in the newspapers and online.  It is of necessity incomplete; there are literally thousands of terms that adorn the world of finance.  As it is assumed the meaning of words in common usage, such as ‘mortgage’, ‘interest’, ‘asset’ and ‘term’ is well known, they are not included here.

Acknowledgement is made of the value of Investopedia http://www.investopedia.com and Wikipedia in compiling this small lexicon.  For any terms not included here, go to Investopedia and use the search function.

If you feel this glossary is incomplete and that an additional widely-used term would enhance it, or that reordering of the terms would be desirable, please indicate via the Comments facility.

Shares and stock - In financial markets, a share is a unit of account for various financial instruments including stocks, mutual funds, limited partnerships, and Real Estate Investment Trusts. In British English, use of the word ‘shares’ in the plural to refer to stock is so common that it almost replaces the word ‘stock’ itself. In American English, the plural ‘stocks’ is widely used instead of shares, in other words to refer to the stock (or perhaps originally stock certificates) of even a single company. Traditionalist demands that the plural stocks be used only when referring to stock of more than one company are rarely heard nowadays.

The income received from shares is called a dividend, and a person owning shares is called a shareholder.

Stock option -  A privilege, sold by one party to another, that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call) or sell (put) a stock at an agreed-upon price within a certain period or on a specific date.  In the U.K., it is known as a "share option".  American options can be exercised anytime between the date of purchase and the expiration date. European options may only be redeemed at the expiration date. Most exchange-traded stock options are American.

Security - A security is a negotiable instrument representing financial value. Securities are broadly categorized into debt securities (such as bank notes, bonds and debentures), and equity securities, e.g., common stocks.  Securities may be represented by a certificate or, more typically, by an electronic book entry. More...

Much ado about nothing

UPDATED 23 October

So the latest saga has come and almost gone.  The Coalition, which began with a much-vaunted promise of bipartisanship, has now reverted to form.  It has accused the Government of bungling the most important financial move it has made, the Bank Deposit Guarantee; Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop have accused Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan of misleading the House, if not outright lying; and Turnbull has impugned Ken Henry, Secretary of the Treasury, seemingly all on the basis of an article in the 21 October issue of The Australian that asserted that the Reserve Bank Governor had disagreed with the Bank Deposit Guarantee arrangements. 

In Senate Estimates today, Henry was subject to grilling by heavy-hitting Liberal senators Abetz, Coonan and Brandis, who seemed unwilling to accept his assurance that the Reserve Bank had no reservations about the Guarantee, and had not advocated a cap, despite their and the media’s insistence that it had.  Their questioning was inquisitorial and unrelenting.  Henry’s cool demolition of the Coalition’s attack was both comprehensive and deflating  

Undeterred, the Coalition, like a dog with a bone, which they thought was appetisingly smelly, in Question Time today persisted with its attack which was designed not to improve the legislation in question, but to harass and embarrass Rudd, his ministers and the Government.  Some questions might be considered legitimate, seeking to ascertain the unintended effects of the measure, but they were asked with an indignation that bespeaks their seething anger at their bone being taken away, just when they thought they were in for a feast.

Now that their accusations have been shown to be without foundation, has there been any semblance of an apology?  No.  Indeed it seems to have heightened the anger and the aggression with which questions have been asked.

What about the papers.  Today, 22 October, The Australian continued yesterday’s theme that the RBA warned against the savings guarantee and that it was distorting the market, with “The Government has back flipped on its free unlimited bank deposit guarantee after it emerged Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens gave advice to impose a fee for large sums to avoid distortions to the financial markets.”  Dennis Shanahan begins his piece “The Rudd Government has made its first big mistake under pressure”, delighting in pointing to the folly of the Government’s actions.  Of course if Dennis says it’s a big mistake, it MUST be BIG.  He reassures the Government though with “For the Government, the situation is embarrassing but not irretrievable, and a hard lesson in the need to ensure haste doesn't impair proper decision-making.”  We hope Dennis they really learn that hard lesson, so you don’t have to reprimand them again.

So truth is of little concern, it’s perception that counts.  The Opposition and the media rely on this truism.  More...

The great media awakening

Ever since he became Leader of the Opposition, the relationship between the media and Kevin Rudd has been patchy.  While he, with Joe Hockey, once enjoyed a convivial regular association with Channel Seven, a connection that still exists, and while his appearances on Channel Ten’s Rove Live have been well received, the regard in which Rudd has been held by other sections of the media has varied widely.  ABC TV’s Kerry O’Brien oscillates between aggressive interrogation and benign enquiry, Michael Brissenden makes light of whatever turmoil is engulfing Rudd, ABC radio’s Chris Ulhmann ranges from balanced questioning to nit-picking.  Journalists like George Megalogenis, Paul Kelly and Laura Tingle write even-handedly about Rudd, but others, such as Dennis Shanahan, give Rudd credit through gritted teeth even while longing for the return of the Coalition to its rightful place in power.  This piece reviews the media’s response to the last few weeks of financial turbulence, culminating in the recent batch of polls (Morgan, Essential Research and ACNielsen) that have been favourable to Rudd and his Government

Tony Wright, in his 20 October article on the ACNielsen poll in The Age, Rudd shows that cometh the hour, cometh the man, begins: “Leaders are made or broken by crises, and Kevin Rudd – who has been riding a wave of voter approval for a year now – is having his credentials as a leader confirmed and heightened as most of the world crashes towards recession. Talking about voter optimism, he says: “A lot of that optimism, misplaced or not, originates in a belief that Rudd is handling the fall-out from the global financial crisis in a reassuring and decisive manner.”, but adds the rider “His constant use of the words ‘decisive action’ as a requirement to combat what he has spent the past week or so describing as ‘a new and dangerous phase’ of the economic crisis has worked a treat.”   In other words, ‘good spin’.  Later he reiterates: “... today's poll is all about how voters tend to reward strong leaders in tough times...”

Peter Hartcher, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in his piece PM: master and commander says “If there is opportunity in crisis, Kevin Rudd has found it. By every measure in today's Herald (ACNielsen) poll, his swift and decisive response to the financial crisis has given him an enormous boost.  It has vaulted Rudd to a popularity peak that only one other prime minister in the past 36 years has reached.”  But here comes the qualifier: “The financial crisis, which is in the process of becoming an economic crisis as well, may yet destroy Kevin Rudd's prime ministership.  But so far it is the making of it”.  Kevin, please note!  Hartcher goes on “It has transformed Rudd's role from long-term problem solver to commander in a time of crisis.”,  and ends “In a crisis, the people want a leader in whom they can put their confidence. So far, Rudd has shown that he is worthy, and he has been rewarded.”  So far - feel better now?

Phillip Coorey, in his piece in the SMH He's never been so popular writes "Kevin Rudd's popularity has skyrocketed to record levels and support for federal Labor has soared after the Government's handling of the global financial crisis, the latest Herald/Nielsen poll finds.  The national poll, the first to test the Government's recent reaction to the dramatic worsening of the crisis, also finds overwhelming support for Mr Rudd's handling of the situation, including his $10.4 billion rescue package. And, despite the dire forecasts, the poll finds 58 per cent are optimistic about the economy over the next two to three years”.  The only qualification came from the pollster, John Stirton, who said "...it was common for voters to get behind governments during a crisis"  In another piece in the SMH Most upbeat despite doom and gloom Coorey says “Support for Mr Rudd's handling of the crisis is strong among voters of all persuasions.  Overall, 76 per cent support Mr Rudd on the crisis. Among Coalition voters, he has 59 per cent support and, among Labor voters, 92 per cent support." More...

The economy – who can we believe?

Nobody really knows how we got into the financial mess we’re in, or how to get out of it.  Nobody knows what the stock market will do this week, next week, next month.  No less a figure than Warren Buffett said in an Op Ed piece in the New York Times last week “I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now.” Yet we have an abundance of experts: economists, economics editors in the media, and common or garden columnists giving us their predictions, their analyses, their expert opinions about what’s wrong, and their confident critiques about the ‘remedy’. That they don’t really understand what they’re talking about seems to be no barrier.  They are joined by a host of letter writers to the editors and online bloggers who have a variety of simple diagnoses and remedies.  Their assessments and solutions are often quite different, and sometimes diametrically opposed.  Why?  Why the disagreement?  Why the confusion? 

This piece puts forward the proposition that it is the type of thinking most commentators use that underlies the confusion that characterizes contemporary comment.

Science is still bedevilled by convergent thinking and the reductionist approach to understanding phenomena.  Medicine has been in thrall to this for centuries, vainly looking for the single cause and the one cure.  Nowadays, particularly in the face of the growing burden of chronic disease, it is recognized that almost always there are multiple causes, genetic, environmental, physical, social, psychological, and so on, and almost always there are multiple remedies.  This change in thinking has been brought about through the adoption of systems theory as an underlying strategy.

Systems theory is the study of the nature of complex systems in nature, society, and science. More specifically, it is a framework by which one can analyse and describe any group of objects that work in concert to produce some result. This could be a single organism, any organization or society, or any electro-mechanical or informational device. Systems theory first originated in biology in the 1920s out of the need to explain the interrelatedness of organisms in ecosystems.  It refers to the science of systems that resulted from Ludwig von Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory published in 1929.  Since Descartes, the ‘scientific method’ had progressed under two related assumptions – a system could be broken down into its individual components so that each component could be analysed as an independent entity, and the components could be added in a linear fashion to describe the totality of the system. Von Bertalanffy proposed that both assumptions were wrong.

Stated in its simplest terms, systems theory acknowledges the interconnectedness of everything to everything else and proposes that change in one part of the system causes changes in all other parts.  It therefore refutes linear cause-effect thinking.

The application of systems thinking to economics, and contemporaneously to the global financial crisis, has the capacity to bring some glimmer of clarity to our deliberations. More...

Media melancholy

‘Melancholy’ is an old fashioned word derived from medieval medicine; it literally means ‘black bile’, an excess of which was believed to cause depression.  ‘Depressed’, which now carries a specific taxonomic meaning, seems to be an inappropriate word to characterize the contemporary mood of the media, while ‘melancholic’, and its synonyms ‘despondent’ ‘gloomy’ and ‘unhappy’ seem more suitable.  What is it about the media that warrants those descriptors?

That there is plenty of gloom around is obvious – financial, social, environmental.  Although it is the duty of the media to transmit the hard facts, to report the news however unpalatable, is it entitled to editorialize? Sally Warhaft on ABC Melbourne 774 radio’s Friday Wrap this morning complained about the ABC’s propensity to editorialize, citing a comment in the morning news bulletin that reported the 400 point, 5% rise in the Dow Jones index the previous day as ‘slight’, having already mentioned heavy losses on European stock markets.  It might seem a small matter, but it does represent the interposition of opinion into the factual substance of the news report.  Who considered that such a rise was ‘slight’ – a news writer?  What authority does a news writer have to introduce his or her opinion amongst the factual evidence?

The intertwining of fact and opinion is prevalent throughout the Australian media.  In the print media information arising from press releases or doorstops, or opinions expressed by other than the author, are usually placed within quotation marks, and are therefore distinguishable from the author’s opinions, although the two are sometimes physically intermixed in a way that makes the distinction less than clear.  But in the broadcast media the separation of what is fact from what is opinion is much less easy to discern.  This imposes a heavier burden on those preparing text for radio and TV to make clear that separation, than it does on those preparing print material.  While sloppy editorializing characterizes much of the commercial broadcast media, when the national broadcaster indulges in it, it’s time to call for a halt.  Management needs to instruct its news writers to desist from interposing their own views, and ensure they realize that the use of what might seem to be innocent metaphors effectively does just that.   ‘Slight’ to describe the rise in the Dow Jones is an example.  It was noticeable that following Warhaft’s complaint, in subsequent news bulletins, ‘slight’ had been removed.

The interposition of opinion, either overtly or metaphorically expressed, is not a function of broadcasts journalists, unless they make it clear that it is indeed their personal opinion, and unless they furnish the reasons that lead them to that opinion. If they are respected, their opinion will be taken seriously, even if contrary to the listener’s.

As the title to this piece suggests, much of this unwelcome expression of opinion is negative, gloomy, or sceptical.  On ABC radio’s The World Today on 17 October, Alexandra Kirk in the context of her interview with Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese about the use of superannuation fund deposits to fund infrastructure projects asked a fund manager what contributors would feel about their “hard-earned money” being used for this purpose.  Note the words “hard-earned money”, the use of which implies that since their money had been “hard-earned” they might object to its use in this way.  She could have asked simply how the manager expected contributors to view this.  As it turned out, the manager annulled her negative spin when he said that superannuants would welcome any investment of their funds that grew their return.

Time and again gloom has been spread by journalists and anchor persons by their use of exaggerated language or disheartening metaphors.  Even the highly-respected Ali Moore, on ABC 774 radio has heightened apprehension and engendered anxiety all this week through the injudicious use of negative words and metaphors, and has been called to order by some of her talkback audience.

There is so much understandable fear and nervousness around among all sectors of society that what we need from the media is not more melancholy, gloom and despondency in the way of gratuitous comment.  The media should just give us the facts, by all means solicit the opinion of experts but in a neutral way, and let us construct our own views.  And if it can spread a little cheer on the way, that would be a welcome change.

On that morning’s ABC 774 Breakfast Programme Red Symonds cheered us when he played Oh what a beautiful morning from Oklahoma.  Perhaps a more soothing theme would have been the classic from The Life of BrianAlways look on the bright side of life.

To quibble or not to quibble

It was just last Tuesday, 14 October, when Malcolm Turnbull announced the Coalition’s willing bipartisan support for the Government’s $10.4 billion package to stimulate Australia’s slowing economy.  In a doorstop, he and his deputy added that the Coalition would not quibble about the details.  ‘Quibble’ as a verb literally means “argue about a trivial matter”.  By the next day that changed when he questioned the data on which the decision was taken and insisted that the Coalition, even the general public, had “the right to know” about it.  The Government’s promise of the mid-term financial data in November was not enough; he wanted it now. 

Then he convinced ABC TV to give him the ‘right of reply’ to Kevin Rudd’s Address to the Nation just prior to the 15 October 7 pm News, an unusual turn of events.  If you missed it, it’s here.  In it, Turnbull speaks well, looks authoritative, and for much of his address is statesmanlike.  But he could not resist the opportunity to score some political points, first accusing the Government of missing “the warning signs at the beginning of the year and talking up inflation and consequently interest rates at precisely the wrong time”, a theme he’s often articulated.  Next he raised doubts about the Government’s plan to guarantee consumer deposits in banks by saying “We are concerned to ensure that safeguards are put in place so that Government guarantees offered to banks do not result in taxpayers picking up the tab for bank losses”, although there has never been any suggestion that this could occur.  He knows it’s easier to raise doubts, no matter how spurious, than to quell them.  He ended by lauding the Coalition’s record, offering bipartisanship again, but expressing disappointment that this had been rejected.  So in a few minutes he had exposure to a national audience and scored a point or two.

Then on the ABC TV’s Lateline the same day Julie Bishop elaborated on the Coalition’s concerns.  Under intense pressure from Tony Jones to explain the change of rhetoric since the day before, Bishop looked uncomfortable, avoided being specific until pressed, and finally said if the Coalition was in government, they might have considered other design options. "We may well have looked at another composition, we might have looked at other issues, we might have looked at tax cuts," and "We might have reconsidered the first home owner matter, we might have got information as to whether or not this would be an inflationary package, and if you calibrated it another way."  So now the theme was the threat of the package being inflationary.

Why the change?  We can only guess why cracks are appearing in the Coalition’s bipartisanship.  Is it the result of pressure from the conservative elements?  It was Tony Abbott who claimed that the package was “politically motivated”, then yesterday Barnaby Joyce chimed in with a breathless “...if you pay people lump sums you can end up against the wall.”,  a meaning not lost on discerning connoisseurs of Aussie slang, and today he described the Government's $10.4 billion spending package as "ridiculous" and criticised it as "policy on the run". He said “More questions need to be asked as to why the Government decided to spend the money before Christmas by handing out one-off payments to pensioners and some families.” and “It’s a peculiar way to do business – let's not just blindly accept – that's a dangerous way to do business."

So what started as a concerted effort by Turnbull to contribute to solving Australia’s worst economic situation for decades has degenerated into the same old partisan points scoring contest.  Turnbull seems to prefer the collaborative approach on such significant events, and welcomes, even seeks the opportunity to be seen as a statesman, but each time he tries, even as he’s succeeding, he seems to be quickly pulled into line by elements of his party who, accustomed to taking the fight up to the opponent, eschew bipartisanship, and insist Turnbull enter the cockpit and fight till the blood flows.  As said so many times in this blog, when Turnbull does his own thing and promotes his own views, he looks impressive and sounds authentic; but as soon as he’s forced to toe the party line, he loses his lustre and becomes an ordinary politician.  Although no doubt the rusted-on Coalition supporters, like spectators at a cockfight, enjoy this political blood sport, the ones that really count, the swinging voters, may take a very different view.  When will the Coalition learn?  When will they realize that sometimes it’s better not to quibble.

  

Kevin Rudd – all action, no talk

After months of hearing and reading the “all talk no action” mantra, it would be too much to now expect the reverse after the announcement yesterday of the $10 billion ‘boost to the economy’.  Some journalists got close.  In today’s issue of The Australian Paul Kelly says “Kevin Rudd has acted swiftly...”; Mike Steketee’s headlines read “PM launches pre-emptive strike...”; even Dennis Shanahan acknowledged “...Rudd has intervened massively and early.”  In The Australian Financial Review, Laura Tingle’s headlines read “PM cast as man of action”, and the front page pointer to the Editorial reads “The PM has shown himself to be more than capable of chancing his arm with bold but risky emergency measures”.

But if the ‘man of action’ label is unlikely to have instant appeal to journalists who for so long enjoyed using the opposite, is it too much to hope that at least “all talk, no action” will be now put to rest?

It is a matter of deep concern that so many well-established journalists have taken so long to discern the Rudd modus operandi.  They seem to have not discovered that Rudd, by his own admission, is a careful methodical worker who places great emphasis on process – getting the correct information, soliciting informed opinion, undertaking thorough analysis and logical decision making – before taking action.  This is the bureaucratic way, and Rudd is an ex-bureaucrat.  Politicians bring their background with them – Brendon Nelson his medical experience; Malcolm Turnbull his banking history; John Howard his long political upbringing; and that influences how they operate.  We should not be surprised at this and therefore that Rudd brings his bureaucratic origins and his diplomatic skills to his job.  So all the clamour for ‘action’, and all the disdain heaped on ‘process’ by so many in the media shows their lack of insight, and worse still, their apparent unpreparedness to discover why Rudd is the way he is.  Do we want a PM who uses thorough process to arrive at the appropriate course of action on such complex matters as tax reform, climate change, ‘the education revolution’, infrastructure development, and indigenous affairs?  Or would we prefer ‘back of the envelope’ planning and instant action?

The events of the last week have demonstrated starkly how quickly Rudd and his Government can work when the need is urgent.  He and his ministers went through the same process he favours, but did it with lightning speed, because that was what was needed.  Lightning speed is not needed with most Government reviews; indeed in these instances too much speed can lead to defective planning and implementation and poor outcomes.

Let’s hope that the events of this last week will cause the scales to fall from the eyes of those journalists who have been forever looking for something Rudd was never going to deliver, and see him for what he is – a thorough, thoughtful leader who acts cautiously and conservatively over most issues, but can and will act speedily when the situation demands – in many ways like a good surgeon who carries out routine work methodically without flourish, but when cardiac arrest threatens, acts with speed and precision.

So let's ditch "all talk, no action" once and for all.

Malcolm’s at it again

In several pieces on The Political Sword it has been argued that Malcolm Turnbull is at his best when he’s advocating ideas and actions in which he believes, but when he’s required to promote that in which he does not have his heart, he flounders and is unconvincing.  Over the last few days we have seen both sides again.  When offering bipartisan support for the Government’s $10 billion emergency boost for the economy, he sounded statesmanlike, but as soon as he started to qualify it to make a political point, insisting the public be informed of the details of why the Government decided on urgent action, he began to sound less persuasive, became circumlocutory, and arguably lost his audience.

This was starkly apparent on ABC Melbourne 774 radio this morning 15 October, when being interviewed by Ali Moore.  When he was asked about the desirability of the Government providing a guarantee for deposits in financial institutions not overseen by APRA, he waffled.  Even listeners with a working knowledge of the subject would have found him difficult to follow; those without would have turned off.  It really was awful - halting, long-winded and confusing.

Kim Beasley was criticized for his prolixity, and unable to overcome it, eventually people stopped listening.  Indeed this was a major factor behind the move to replace him as leader.  Leaders who lose their audience – Beasley and Howard are examples - lose elections.

Turnbull’s minders would be wise to point out this defect to him, and try to rectify it, always providing Malcolm’s ego will tolerate such a move.

What’s got into our TV interviewers?

This piece is prompted by two recent episodes where the PM was interviewed in a manner that could only be described as aggressive, if not downright rude.

We know that politicians enjoy lowly status in the respectability stakes.  Broken promises, speaking with a forked tongue and partisan chatter have eroded regard for them.   But should that translate into so much disrespect for our leaders that interviewers feel entitled to address them and heavily question them to the point of insolence?

Last Thursday evening on 9 October, Kerry O’Brien interviewed Kevin Rudd about the financial crisis on the ABC’s 7.30 Report.  After an introduction during which O’Brien showed in his voice concern as he described the unfolding drama, he went on: “But absolutely nothing has stopped the slide of confidence for more than the blink of an eye. That must really worry you.”  Rudd responded by describing what had transpired, emphasizing the need not just for liquidity, but for fixing up the banking regulatory rules, concluding that he didn't believe we'd get confidence until they were fixed.  This provoked O’Brien into a more emotive “On that point, with all respect, fixing up for the future is a long way from many people's minds right now, they are deeply concerned about the present and the immediate future.”  Again Rudd began to patiently reiterate this two pronged approach, only to be interrupted by O’Brien with “But primarily about the liquidity, and the judgement of the market, day after day, is you guys, governments, George Bush, Gordon Brown, whoever; we don't really think you know what you're doing, or we don't think you're doing enough. That is the market's judgement, right or wrong?”

Rudd began to look uncomfortable as O’Brien’s barrage hit him.  Rudd’s critics said he ‘squirmed’. No wonder.  Again he explained what the IMF had said about Australia’s situation and the planned meeting of the G20 Finance Ministers, and reiterated the changes which needed to be made to the rules, including transparency, capital adequacy, prudential standards, corporate governance, and for those to be consistent across the major economies.

With a voice rising to an almost hysterical pitch, O’Brien continued “Okay let's concede the point for the sake of the argument. But that's not going to stop right now Australian house prices going into a slide. If what we heard on this program is right last night, that our own housing prices in this country are at such unsustainable levels that the debt binge of this country in households is also unsustainable and the only way for them to go is down. Does that bother you?”  Silly question.  Of course it’s going to bother any PM.  Rudd explained that the Government’s responsibility was to provide tough action to keep the economy strong relative to what is happening around the rest of the world, and to underpin and maintain the stability of our banking and financial system. More...

Andrew Bolt – Pied Piper to his bloggers

Watching Andrew Bolt on ABC TV’s Insiders yesterday, I wondered when last he was subjected to the same critical judgment to which he so eagerly subjects others. This prompted the idea for a series on The Political Sword on how we perceive our political journalists, with Bolt as first under the looking glass.

Ever confident of the correctness of his own views and opinions, Bolt shows scant respect for contrary opinions.  This applies to matters of science as well as politics, despite his background being limited to journalism.  After a year as foreign correspondent, he became a columnist and associate editor of Melbourne’s Herald Sun.  He also writes for Brisbane's Sunday Mail, and appears on the Nine Network's Today programme, the ABC TV’s Insiders, Channel 10's Nine AM, and Melbourne radio station 3AW, Adelaide's ABC, Perth's 6PR and Brisbane's 4BC. In 2005, he released his first book, The Best of Andrew Bolt - Still Not Sorry.  He has wide exposure.  The Herald Sun rates him as "Australia's most read and talked about columnist.”  He is 49.

Apart from his regular columns, he oversees a popular blog which claims now to receive over one million hits a month.  It’s hard to know about the readership of his paper columns, but the respondents to his blogs give a clue.  Let’s look first at his topics.  Here’s the list as at 12 October:
The interview that would have killed Palin
Thank heavens Hollywood doesn’t run the CIA
Liberals don’t need elitists
CSIRO slips on oil
A quick cut in tax would be simpler
What Palin scandal?
Sir? It’s that Australian guy ringing again
Flung mud misses again
Question posed
Who’s minding Rudd’s office?
Be nice to the rice
Steyn cleared
Bryce just digs in deeper
Individualists have green zones

The interview that would have killed Palin on 12 October seeks to demonstrate that Stephane Dion, leader of Canada’s left-wing Liberal Party is truly dumb compared with Sarah Palin.  Edifying stuff, nothing to do with Australia, but that didn’t stop one of Bolt’s bloggers commenting: “He (the interviewer) needs lessons from Rudd, who could have given hypothetical scenarios about being PM two years ago, today and next week. With a few lessons from Rudd he could have obfuscated and theorized until the interviewer asked to start again. Then, when the going got really tough, he could have switched to a foreign language and told the audience how he would stuff things up without anyone twigging to what was happening."  Many of Bolt’s bloggers need little pretext for taking a sideswipe at Rudd. More...

The corrosive effect of political slogans

Spin doctors love slogans.  Their focus groups test them for efficacy.  They launch them, repeat them incessantly until their use-by date, then go onto the next.  They know the corrosive effect the negative ones can have on those to whom they’re applied.  The media too loves them.  Great headlines and acerbic copy flow from them.  Who knows how much they influence the public?

Take ‘Kevin07’. A smart slogan, but it invited variants. Kevin Rudd’s frenetic pace gave rise to ‘Kevin24/7’, but not satisfied with that benign label, the media launched a campaign condemning not Rudd’s own work patterns, but that he was placing the public service under intolerable pressure.  Fatigue, exhaustion, even staff revolt and loss of staff were predicted.  ‘Ain’t it awful’ was the media message.  The public weren’t all that impressed, indeed they not unreasonably expected the public service to get stuck in and support a new Government trying to implement the policies on which it was elected.  This campaign has fizzled as the public accepts that it’s not a bad thing to have a hard-working Government.  But while it lasted, it did have a corrosive effect.

‘Control freak’ is a slogan that evolved from Kevin24/7. The accusation was that Rudd had to have his hands on the wheel at all times; and that this resulted, to use Glen Milne’s words, in a “constipation of process” – everything had to flow through “self-obsessed sclerotic arteries that run from the PM's office”.  The only evidence advanced to support this assertion was the obvious: “every senior bureaucrat knows”.  ‘Control freak’ seems to be dying a natural death, as Rudd’s ministers do their own thing, Stephen Smith travels as Foreign Minister more than does Rudd, and Wayne Swan flies off to New York this week for a Finance Ministers’ meeting without Rudd holding his hand.  But don’t be surprised if it’s resurrected when the Opposition or the media thinks fit.

Kevin 24/7 morphed into Kevin747 when Rudd recently flew to Washington and New York for the meeting of the UN and for talks with world leaders about the gathering financial crisis.  Malcolm Turnbull and Andrew Robb had great fun with it and added ‘Prime Tourist’ to their repertoire, again with great hilarity.  The fact that the PM was attending critically important meetings, at which any sensible citizen would expect him to attend, did not inhibit the Opposition in ‘making hay’.  Again, it had an adverse effect – a relative, not prone to thinking too deeply about such matters, echoed the criticism – ‘Rudd's always flying off somewhere’.  Mud sticks.

Then there was Wayne Swan on his ‘training wheels’.  This might have been just a good-humoured jibe had it not been for the accompanying by-line: “He has no idea what he’s doing.” oft-repeated by Malcolm Turnbull, then Shadow Treasurer.  Now that it is evident even to Turnbull that he does know what he’s doing, and is doing it well, it would be too much to expect that Turnbull, or the media who repeated this line ad nauseam, would acknowledge that he no longer needed his training wheels.  Julie Bishop, who began her short career as Shadow Treasurer with a couple of gaffes and an inauspicious first month certainly looks as if she’s still on her ‘training wheels’, but not a word of this in the media.  ‘Training wheels’ apparently applies to Labor people, not Liberals. More...

Why is the Opposition antagonizing the banks?

Isn’t it curious that the conservative side of politics, the free-marketeers, are now at loggerheads with the banks.  All the more so with a leader who is an ex-merchant banker.

It was the previous Treasurer who defended so fiercely the independence of the Reserve Bank, and indeed took much of the credit for it.  Despite such affirmation of independence, when meeting times came around and interest rate determination was on the agenda, it did not inhibit the Coalition from giving thinly-veiled advice to the Bank Board.  “There is no reason for a rate rise” was often heard from the PM and Treasurer at times when they feared another.  But apart from these mild indiscretions, the Board was left to do its job, and it seemed to do it irrespective of what the Government said, even increasing the base rate during the 2007 election campaign.

Yesterday Joe Hockey lambasted the Reserve Bank during a radio interview.  He questioned the judgement of its members.  He insinuated that they had made a misjudgement when they had previously increased the base rate, especially during the election campaign, and implied that they were now correcting that mistake.  His questioned why increasing interest rates to bring down inflation had given way to now reducing them even although inflation was still unacceptably high.  As Shadow Finance spokesman, one would have thought he would have noticed the monumental change in global financial markets from last year, a change that required a shift from curbing inflation to stimulating a slowing economy.  He sounded angry.  Anger in defeat has been a feature of the behaviour of some Coalition members, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop prominent among them. His outspoken condemnation would not have gone down well with the Board Governor, Glenn Stevens.  I heard no correction of Hockey’s outburst by Malcolm Turnbull.

But Turnbull too has taken aim at the banks, the commercial ones.  His insistence that they could afford to pass on the full rate cut, and his self-congratulatory assertion after they passed on 0.75 to 0.8% that they must have done so as a result of his pressure, would not have impressed the banks.  Indeed Saul Eslake, chief economist of the ANZ Bank, labelled his utterances as just political populism.  Most commentators agreed; just a few thought it was smart politics.  Turnbull’s characterization of the banks as greedy, something he says he knows about as he’s been a banker, must have been a calculated move.

So why would the Opposition, especially with an ex-banker as its leader, set out to upset the banks and the Reserve Bank at that?  Presumably it was based on an assessment that more would be gained politically by being anti-bank.  It’s a dangerous gamble.  Unless swinging voters move toward the Coalition as a result, and the polls so far give no indication that this is so, Turnbull and Hockey, with Bishop trailing well behind, will have gained nothing, and lost favour with the commercial banks who would be less inclined to support the Coalition financially, and more significantly the Reserve Bank, alongside which every federal government has to work in managing the nation’s finances.

But perhaps political judgement is being distorted by Turnbull’s ego.  There has been much talk about it since he entered parliament, but any doubts about its size will have been dispelled during the rate cut discussions.  His interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Sydney radio left her astonished that he could be so confident that he’d influenced the banks; the only concession he was prepared to make was that he couldn’t say how much.  If Turnbull’s ego overrides his political common sense to that extent, we shouldn’t be surprised at similar lapses in the future.  The pity is that while the focus is on his ego, either because he makes it so, or because the media home in on it, he's not engaging in meaningful debate about the diverse factors that contribute to the global financial mess we’re in.  As Wayne Swan put it: “...there are some events in the world which are much bigger than Mr Turnbull’s ego."  Whether Malcolm is able accept this may determine his future.

 

So will interest rates now always be lower under Labor?

It’s almost a year since John Howard parted the scene, but his mantra “Interest rates will always be lower under the Coalition” still rings in our ears.  It was powerful, memorable and effective, except at the last election, when so many of the people stopped believing it, or just stopped listening.

It was always a misleading slogan.  Howard himself knew that, he knew who set interest rates, but perhaps he believed that the economy that he had nurtured for so long favourably influenced the Reserve Bank’s decisions.  Anyway, it served him well almost until the end.  The fact that ten consecutive quarter percent interest rate rises occurred before the election did not deter him from endlessly repeating his mantra and using it in campaign ads.  Since the election there have been two quarter percent rises, one quarter percent fall, and now a one percent fall, so that the rate is now three quarters of a percent below the last level under the Howard Government.  So interest rates are not always lower under the Coalition after all.

So should Kevin Rudd now re-work the slogan to “Interest rates will always be lower under Labor”?  I hope not, and I don’t think he will.  It would be a dishonest thing to do. There would be few, even among the politically disinterested, who would not know that the Reserve Bank sets interest rates, and that the Bank has been deemed to be independent by all political parties, who have largely respected that independence. We know that there are numerous factors that influence Reserve Bank decisions, and that although the state of the economy over which the party in power has some influence is one, many international factors, over which no one in this country has any control, are often overriding factors.

The point of this piece is to point to the political dishonesty of the party in power making claims they can or will keep interest rates low.  Quite apart from the fact that such claims are without foundation, such claims can blow up in their face, as has happened now.  I don’t expect we'll hear anything from the Coalition about the now-apparent falsity of this slogan, but Labor may find it hard to resist the temptation to rub the Coalition’s nose in it.

Although the extent to which political influence can be exercised over commercial banks is debatable, Malcolm Turnbull has already expressed the view that it was his advocacy for mortgage holders, his “standing up” for home buyers and small business, that has resulted in the fairly high 0.75 to 0.8% passing-on of the rate cut.  He has quickly taken credit for this, mind you not total credit.  And in the process he has lampooned Rudd and Swan for “caving into the banks”.  That their concern was to ensure stability among the banks in the face of steeply rising costs of borrowing drew no acknowledgement from Turnbull; he was hell-bent on extracting as much political capital as he could.  How much his line was swallowed by the public only subsequent opinion polls will tell, but one can be confident that the banks will not be too pleased with him, and will not be impressed with his distortion of the decision making processes banks use to reach such decisions, and his belief that leaning on them bears fruit.  With his merchant banker knowledge and understanding he would know his public rhetoric was disingenuous; if not, his competence in matters financial is called into question.

If Turnbull is prepared to embrace such populist positions in an attempt to bolster his position, even at the expense of his credibility, don’t be surprised if he repeats the Howard mantra, or something like it, sometime in the future when it suits him politically.

Why do so many in the media enjoy a beat-up?

This morning on ABC 774 radio, Kathy Bedford, a temporary morning announcer, raised the matter of a brutal assault on Dr Mukesh Haikerwell, past President of the AMA, that resulted in his being admitted to the Western General Hospital in suburban Melbourne for ‘brain surgery’.  Fortunately he is recovering well but will need rehabilitation.  Had Kathy focussed on the brutality of the assault on a gentle man who has done so much to improve health care, or even on the nature of his injury and what can be done to save lives and prevent permanent damage in such cases, she might have engaged her audience meaningfully.  Instead, she played the line that Dr Haikerwell might have received ‘preferential treatment’ by being given neurosurgery at Western General rather than at a large city hospital where such surgery is more commonly performed.  She asked: “If Dr Haikerwell could receive surgery there for head injury, why are others transported to city hospitals?”

She carried on this conversation in almost total ignorance of the different types of intracranial bleeding that could occur after head injury.  Despite two doctors explaining the different trajectory of different types of intracranial bleeding and the different consequences, she persisted with her ‘preferential treatment’ query.  This was despite both doctors explaining that one type of intracranial bleeding following head injury, so-called extradural haemorrhage, requires extremely urgent treatment.  Lives can be lost in a matter of minutes unless surgery is undertaken.  Not wanting to speculate on Dr Haikerwell’s situation, both doctors emphasized this in general terms, but to make the point, one described a case when despite an urgent operation in the ward immediately on admission, the patient had died. 

This did not deter Kathy from her pursuit of the possibility of a well know doctor receiving preferential treatment, even after one doctor informed her that there were neurosurgeons on staff at Western General who regularly performed brain surgery, referring elsewhere only the most complex cases.

Even when she acknowledged receiving a batch of text messages castigating her for her insensitive interview with the doctors, she pressed on, seemingly undaunted.  It was as if, having dug herself into a hole, she was determined to dig her way out and restore her credibility.

When radio journalists decide to stretch credulity to make something out of a situation, a so-called ‘beat-up’, they should at least bone up on the technicalities.  No one expects journalists to be medical experts, but if Kathy had taken a quick look at Wikipedia beforehand she would have sounded less foolish, and listening attentively to what the experts had to say would have been a sound cautionary move.  But the desire to ‘beat-up’ seemed too irresistible.

That this journalism upsets those who know better is bad enough; what is worse is that the public may be mislead and persuaded to the view that this patient did unfairly receive preferential treatment because he was a well-known doctor, which was the whole point of her story.

The media has the capacity to influence thinking profoundly.  It needs to be very careful how it promulgates information, and sensitive to its ‘rabble-rousing’ potential if it gets its facts wrong, if it interprets them incorrectly, and especially if it indulges in blatant ‘beat-ups’ in pursuit a ‘good story’.

 

What should we expect from the Shadow Treasurer?

When Brendon Nelson unexpectedly pipped Malcolm Turnbull for leadership of the Coalition last year, even although the Liberal convention is to allow the Deputy Leader to choose a portfolio, it was expected that Nelson would offer Turnbull the post of Shadow Treasurer.  That’s what happened.  Julie Bishop was in no position to exercise her prerogative.  But when the leadership position was reversed last month, the Shadow Treasurer position was up for grabs.  The temptation for Julie Bishop to exercise her right proved irresistible.  After all, it’s the most prestigious post after Leader of the Opposition.  When she was questioned afterwards about her qualifications to fill this post, she pointed out that she was accustomed to carrying out a brief.  And indeed she was.

She graduated Bachelor of Laws in 1978, and after practising in Adelaide joined Clayton Utz in Perth as a commercial litigation solicitor.  She became managing partner of the firm, responsible for management of over 200 employees and a multi-million dollar budget. In 1996 she completed a Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program for Senior Managers, including subjects in global financial accounting and government, business and the international economy. She’s a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management.

So does this qualify her to be an effective Shadow Treasurer?

She got off to an inauspicious start when, in a radio interview, she got wrong the base cash rate.  It was a small error, a reflection of her minders’ inadequacies as much as her own, but it exposed her to media ridicule and a Lindsay Tanner ribbing in Question Time where cameras captured her stony countenance.  Not a good look for a new Shadow Treasurer. 

Her website said nothing of this, but reveals that in the two weeks since her appointment she has made eight comments on financial matters.  First she accused Wayne Swan of “remarkable ignorance of the operation of the Australian Office of Financial Management and changes his Government had made to its investment mandate only a few months ago.”  Subsequent revelations in the unfolding of the $4 billion package to buy triple A mortgages and improve the mortgage share of the non-bank lenders showed Swan knew full well what he was doing; it had all been carefully planned months before. Her next comment echoed the Coalition line on the luxury car tax.  Then there was a brief comment on the IMF Report, to which she added a mention of ‘the Coalition legacy’ and took a sideswipe at the Government.  Next there was her accusation of a Swan ‘back-flip’ on the mortgage market when he introduced his $4 billion package.  Next came her Fairfax Business Blog.  It began with the background to the sub-prime crisis.  To what extent she wrote it is unknown; it was posted by ‘Ed’.  There were over 30 comments, none from her.  Her next comment briefly welcomed the Productivity Commission Report on paid maternal leave.  Her last two comments were made in doorstops, the first in an extensive interview on the financial crisis, and the last on the prospect of an interest rate cut.  She played the party line condemning Swan for not insisting that the banks pass on the full cut, although when he did that last time, he was castigated for telling the banks what to do.  Now Bishop insists Swan “...should stop acting like the CEO of one of the big banks...”  Take a look at her website's record of comments and judge for yourself. 

Turnbull has continued to make statements on the financial situation, as he’s entitled to do to match or counter those made by Rudd.  Some have been statesmanlike - others have been to score points.  But Bishop has not matched Swan, as she should have.  She has missed opportunities and has not yet landed a telling blow.  Had she come to the Shadow Treasurer position at the same time Swan became Treasurer, when the Coalition insisted he still had his training wheels on, the contest might have been more even.  But with ten months of experience behind him, his competence, authority and confidence have grown steadily, making him much harder to match.  The question is whether she will be able to catch up.  Her professional background seems to be too fragile for the portfolio, and her performance to date has been inconspicuous.  The public is entitled to expect more.  Unless she can improve substantially the Coalition will continue to look weak in this area.  Turnbull and Andrew Robb, who would have loved the post, will need cover for her.

The old adage applies: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’

Could the media tide be turning?

It might surprise those who believe the media, particularly News Limited, is anti-Government and pro-Coalition, that some Coalition supporters believe the media is pro-Government and not nearly hard enough on Kevin Rudd and his ministers.  Perspective governs perception.  For those who believe the former, or more ominously that there is a deliberate media campaign to change the electorate's favourable view of the Rudd Government, there are signs the tide may be turning.

Despite adverse comment around Rudd’s recent visit to the US by Andrew Bolt in the Sun-Herald, in the editorial in The Daily Telegraph, in the preamble to Dennis Shanahan’s audio report, and in several TV programmes, as detailed in the previous post, The Cringe Dwellers, there have been some articles since then that indicate a change of tone.

In Glenn Milne’s article in the September 29 issue of The Australian Market injection well plannedit was gratifying to read “The decision by the Government to pump $4 billion of confidence boosting taxpayers' money into the non-bank mortgage lending sector is a significant milestone in the developing stature of Treasurer Wayne Swan. It may also be the first signal lesson that the phase of policy constipation in the Rudd Government is coming to an end; that the period of policy review and consideration is moving on through process to resolution and final implementation. In other words, things are finally happening.”  What a revelation.  At last someone in the media has woken up to the fact that the “all talk and no action” mantra is nonsensical.  ‘Talk’ - talking to experts, talking to stake-holders, talking in committees and reviews ARE action, as are data gathering, analysis and decision making,  all processes the Rudd Government insist must precede implementation.

Even the editorial Some Good News for Main St., Australia in the September 29 issue of The Weekend Australian was positive for Rudd.  It applauds the $4 billion package to non-bank lenders.

Paul Kelly in his piece Two cheers for Rudd in his September 27 article in The Australian says: “The difference between the Australian and American systems of capitalism has rarely been so stark. Kevin Rudd in New York at this time of crisis - a fortuitous accident - deserves two cheers for his response”.  Later, Kelly explains what Rudd needs to do to earn his third cheer: “...to reduce expectations within Australian society for handouts, whether for welfare or business subsidies”.  He concludes: “It suggests the Government got the May budget correct in its balance between anti-inflation and maintaining activity. But Rudd must further adjust policy and political settings, with the prize, if he gets it right, being the mantle of economic credibility.”

A Peter Hartcher article in The Sydney Morning Herald on September 27 on Rudd’s visit to the US reads, in part, “While Rudd has been quietly seeking solutions, Malcolm Turnbull has been noisily acting out his new schizophrenia as Opposition Leader. He advances responsible Turnbullesque policy on one hand and defends populist ideas he inherited from Brendan Nelson on the other. In his Nelson mode, Turnbull shamelessly spouts the nonsense that Rudd must rush home to solve problems here. Yet Turnbull knows full well that the biggest problem facing Australia is the crisis in the US, and that’s exactly where Rudd should be. Rudd is trying to do his bit.”  More positive comment.

These may be but straws in the wind, but they suggest an awakening in at least some of the media to the modus operandi of the Rudd Government, its steadfast emphasis on sound process before implementation, its determination to get it right first time, and its steadily growing aura of competence and confidence.