How are the ‘adults’ managing our economy?



Who will ever forget the insults, the slurs, and the slander that the Coalition heaped upon Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan as they managed the economy through the Global Financial Crisis and beyond? They were depicted as children playing games in their political sandpit with no idea of what they were doing, making one catastrophic mistake after another.

Remember how the Coalition boasted that the children should get out of the way and let the adults take over, insisting as they did that they were the experts at economic management. So convincing was the rhetoric that the electorate believed them and has consistently rated them as superior to Labor in economic management in opinion polls.

Recall the ‘debt and deficit disaster’, a mantra with which they assailed Labor for years. Remember the ‘intergenerational debt’ they accused Labor of accumulating.



Since their election in 2013 they have had their chance to show their much-vaunted expertise under the skilled management of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, and then Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, with Mathias Cormann a consistent shadowy presence. How have they done?

I am indebted to one of our most astute political commentators, Bernard Keane, Crikey politics editor, for the best analysis I have read of the Coalition’s economic performance over the last four years. You can read it in its entirety in his article in the April 3 edition of Crikey: How the deficit was blown: The Coalition’s $100 billion bill.

I have drawn heavily on Keane’s analysis and have quoted from it substantially. Here is an abbreviated version of it. Sit down before you read it, and have a tranquillizer handy.

Keane begins:
”Since its election in 2013, the Coalition has given away $46 billion in political decisions, and signed the Commonwealth up to $50-60 billion in long-term spending that will hammer the federal budget for decades to come. (My emphasis.)

“The 2013 Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook, produced independently by Treasury and Finance, forecast a return to surplus this financial year and net debt peaking last year at $219 billion.

“The Coalition’s first budget forecast a return to surplus in 2018-19 and net debt peaking at $264 billion.

In MYEFO at the end of 2016, the budget was forecast to be still $10 billion in deficit in 2019-20, when net debt would be $364 billion.
Can you believe that after their promise to return the budget to surplus this year, and their assurance that net debt would be confined to $219 billion last year, the ‘adults’ subsequently told us that the budget would not return to surplus until 2018/19, and later that in 2019/20 we would still have a $10 billion deficit and that net debt would balloon to $364 billion, twice as high as Labor’s deficit ever was! No wonder the ratings agencies are breathing down their necks! And they still claim that the situation would have been much worse had Labor still been in government!

While Keane acknowledges that much of the spectacular deterioration of the budget under the Coalition is due to revenue write-downs, he asserts that “the government has worsened its own position through a series of political and ideological decisions that give the lie to its claims to be the victim of an irresponsible Senate”. He details the substance of those decisions as follows:
  • an $8.8 billion gift to the Reserve Bank to make the 2013-14 budget deficit look worse, and earn future dividends for the government.
  • Repeal of the carbon price cost the Commonwealth around $12.5 billion in lost revenue over the forward estimates and at least $1.8 billion per annum beyond that (based on a conservative estimate by the Climate Institute, lower than the government’s own estimate)
  • The government’s company tax cuts agreed last week will cost $5.2 billion over the forward estimates.
  • Repeal of the mining tax – despite the government’s claims that it raised no money – cost it $3.5 billion over the forward estimates, according to budget papers.
  • The reversal of Labor’s changes to Fringe Benefits Tax reporting requirements to end the rorting of novated leases cost, by its own admission, $1.8 billion over the forward estimates.
  • Income tax cuts for middle- and high-income earners cost $3.8 billion.
  • The ineffective Emissions Reduction Fund so far is costing $2.55 billion, although the government has decided no further funding will be wasted on it.
  • A Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, established with no effective oversight, assessment or evaluation mechanisms and flagged as a funding source for unviable coal mining projects, will cost $5 billion.
  • A National Water Infrastructure Development Fund established as a funding source for Barnaby Joyce’s obsession with building more dams, is costing $0.5 billion.
  • A scheme to prop up dairy farmers threatening to desert the National Party, via the discredited means of concessional loans, is costing $0.55 billion.
  • Australia’s continuing participation in Middle East military ventures has so far cost $0.72 billion since Tony Abbott sent Australian forces back to Iraq in the name of fighting the “existential threat” of ISIS.
  • The government is spending $0.24 billion on a school chaplains program, although further funding has been halted for now.
  • Nick Xenophon extracted an additional $0.37 billion worth of conditions as price for his support for company tax cuts last week.
Keane lists several significant costs beyond the forward estimates from a number of other government measures:
  • The disastrous F-35 joint strike fighter program will cost taxpayers at least $17 billion over the period to 2023. There are new problems with the aircraft that are not being addressed or are worsening, and with no guarantees the cost will not escalate further.
  • The government’s decision to reverse the Abbott government’s approach and construct the new generation of Royal Australian Navy submarines in Australia is expected to add up to 30% to the $50 billion cost of the program in order to provide less than 3000 jobs in South Australia.
  • The company tax cuts agreed last week will cost $25 billion over ten years, although the government remains hopeful it can increase that cost to $50 billion! although there remains no evidence from anywhere in the world of any economic benefit from company tax cuts. (My emphasis)
  • The continuing fiscal impact of some of the above measures beyond the forward estimates will cost the budget, on a conservative estimate, $6 billion per annum (unindexed)
  • .
Although some of the decisions were backed by Labor such as the submarines decision, which will cost the taxpayers many billions of dollars, the F-35 purchase, and the income tax cuts, “these decisions are in defiance of evidence, represent the triumph of ideology over reason, and in many cases were rankly political." (My emphasis)

Worse, some of them are likely to generate new waves of spending: the removal of an effective, cheap carbon price in 2014 created an energy policy vacuum that led directly to the current energy crisis and proposals from the government to spend billions of dollars re-entering the power generation industry.

Our military involvement in the Middle East looks set to increase, not decrease, in coming years.

The cost of poor decision-making will be borne by taxpayers for years, even decades, to come.” (My emphasis)
It would be hard to imagine a more condemnatory account of the Coalition’s ‘adult’ management of the nation’s economy in the four years since 2013. Its predictions have all been wrong. The ‘adults’ have steadily worsened the nation’s fiscal situation. The 2019-20 budget is projected to still be $10 billion in deficit, the promised surplus is nowhere in sight, and the nation’s net debt is projected to be $364 billion, twice as high as it ever was under Labor!

In an update in Crikey Weekender: Seven new terrible economic records ScoMo set in March - Scott Morrison has some new records to add to his quest to be known as Australia's worst treasurer reads: "The Office of Financial Management released figures last week showing gross borrowings at $484.6 billion. Of this, $58 billion is residue from the Howard government or its predecessors. Labor increased it by $212 billion. Another $214.6 billion has been added since the 2013 election. Hence the Coalition has now more than doubled Labor’s gross debt, in three years and six months. It doubled Labor’s net debt in January."



The unavoidable conclusion is that this ‘adult’ government is economically incompetent, driven by its conservative rump, quite unable to see its way through the nation’s economic difficulties, incapable of analyzing the economic situation, inept at deriving solutions, bereft of planning ability, and hog-tied by ideological constraints. Moreover, it is so unutterably arrogant that it cannot see its ineptitude. And even if it could, would it be capable of doing anything about it?

As a substitute for informed opinions, all we get is self aggrandizement and platitudes from Turnbull, and a torrent of meaningless drivel from the Coalition's two motor-mouthed financial Daleks: Morrison and Cormann.

How has it come to this with the adults in charge?


What do you think?
What is your assessment of Scott Morrison as Treasurer?

Should he be replaced?

If he needs to be replaced because of incompetence, who should replace him?

Let us know in comments below.

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Thirty pieces of silver



Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, desperation, desolation, despondency, and above all simmering anger - these are the emotions so many Australians have had, and still are experiencing when they reflect on Malcolm Turnbull’s period as prime minister. And this applies to many Labor supporters, who welcomed Turnbull’s overturning of Tony Abbott. Surely, they thought, nothing could be worse than the appalling Abbott.

Yet, despite Turnbull looking and speaking like a prime minister, in such stark contrast to the malevolent Abbott, with his reckless abandonment of the values and principles we all know Turnbull once embraced, in just over a year he has killed off any respect he initially had. We deplored so many of Abbott’s principles, but at least he stuck to them. Turnbull has turned out to be a shameful turncoat, ready to betray his beliefs for thirty pieces of silver.

We are astonished, dismayed and saddened.

This piece is a companion to the last published: Abbott’s legacy of destruction. It exposes the other side of the deeply tarnished Abbott/Turnbull coin. The two pieces need to be read in parallel.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon climate change action
Of all his fine principles, shall we ever forget Turnbull's stand on climate change!

He supported Kevin Rudd’s push for an emissions trading scheme – even crossing the floor to do so! You will remember his much publicized proclamation:

I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.

What a tragedy it was that Rudd reneged on his promise to work with Turnbull to achieve bipartisanship to bring in an ETS. We could have had one many years ago. We now are as far away from an ETS as ever.

In December of last year, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was foolish enough to utter the words: “…we know there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme”. Hard right-wingers Cory Bernardi and Craig Kelly went ballistic, Tony Abbott chimed in to repeat his longstanding opposition, and Murdoch’s Chris Kenny wrote a column in The Australian warning Turnbull that it was ‘political madness’ to re-consider an ETS.

Turnbull’s retreat was rapid. Within 24 hours he was insisting: “We will not be imposing a carbon tax and we will not be imposing an emissions trading scheme, however it is called, an emissions intensity scheme is an emissions trading scheme. That is just another name for it. That has been our policy for many years now.”

Suitably chastened, Frydenberg soon echoed Turnbull’s words, adding apologetically: “I have never advocated for a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme; that is why the Government won’t proceed with one.” Ben Eltham, writing in New Matilda commented: Somewhere...a rooster crowed twice.

Although we all remember Turnbull’s 2009 proclamation, he has made many other utterances, from which he has retreated. They can be found in the archives. Some may surprise you. Take a look at them: You will find them here:

Here are a few of them:
“Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues, truly catastrophic consequences are likely to ensue from rising sea levels, to reduced water availability, to more heat waves and fires.

“I do not believe we can effectively move Australia to a lower emission economy, which is what we need to do if we're going to make a contribution to a global reduction in greenhouse gases, without putting a price on carbon.”

“…some years from now if there's a global emissions trading scheme agreement, as many have hoped for, then I'm sure Australia would be part of it.”

“The question of whether or to what extent human activities are causing global warming is not a matter of ideology, let alone of belief. The issue is simply one of risk management.”

“If Margaret Thatcher took climate change seriously and believed that we should take action to reduce global greenhouse emissions, then taking action and supporting and accepting the science can hardly be the mark of incipient Bolshevism.”

“We are already experiencing the symptoms of climate change, especially with a hotter and drier climate in southern Australia - the rush to construct desalination plants is an expensive testament to that.”

“Look at countries like China, they are determined to dominate all clean technology areas, putting lots of money into wind, solar, electric vehicles and battery storage. America's political impotence, caused by their terrible partisanship, will see them left behind.”

“Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy but we are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”

"Direct Action is “a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing” and a “recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

“First, lets get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money. To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money. Somebody has to pay. So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, "bullshit." Moreover he knows it.”

“I believe that politicians should speak the truth all the time. Invariably there will be occasions when you make statements that are factually incorrect due to an error.”

“I've been around in public life for a long time. I think people know what I stand for. They know that I have strong convictions, committed principles and I'm prepared to stand up for them.”
How laughable! Turnbull has shown over and again that he will not stand up for his principles when members of his rabid right wing stamp their feet and demand that he toe the line he agreed to get their votes to topple Abbott. We have seen that time and again, but nowhere more flagrantly than over the issue of climate change.

The man who so strongly supported an ETS now refuses to have a bar of one.

After Turnbull replaced Abbott, climate pundits were excited. Corporate advisor, Paul Gilding, insisted that there was great support from Malcolm Turnbull on renewable energy and climate change: “Turnbull actually supports climate action and has long understood the economic implications of the transition required. And rather than being fearful of those implications he embraces them – seeing the inherent opportunity in a transition away from coal and towards a technology-driven transformation of the renewable energy system. The influence of this over time, on the business community and on public attitudes will be long lasting and leave a legacy for a generation.” How disillusioned Gilding must be now!

But as we have seen in the last couple of months, ever since September when in South Australia a ‘once in fifty-year storm’ tore up transmission towers and blacked out the entire state, Turnbull has become a fierce critic of the targets set for the adoption of renewable energy, initially blaming the state’s dependence on renewable energy for the disaster, later capitulating in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.

He and his minders, having decided that ‘energy security’ will be the defining issue in the months ahead, have attacked Labor and the Greens relentlessly as ‘ideologically driven’ incompetents whose ‘utterly unrealistic renewable energy targets’ will not be achievable, and will drive energy prices skyward. Turnbull has ruthlessly abandoned his long-held principles in the pursuit of political gain, for himself and the LNP.

Turnbull castigates those who seek to transition to renewables rapidly, and now supports coal mining. He even allowed his Treasurer to bring a lump of coal into parliament to mock Labor. He now talks of ‘clean coal’ technology, as if it was an imminent and financially viable possibility, which experts in the field insist it is not. His behaviour is no different from that of Abbott who proclaimed that ‘coal is good for humanity’ and would be around as a major source of energy for many decades!

He is Abbott personified, but without a skerrick of principle left!

Now, a coalition of eighteen business, energy, investor, climate and welfare groups, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Social Services, and the ACTU, has called for an end to partisan energy politics and urgent action on global warming in the knowledge of its devastating effects on business, investment in energy, agriculture, the environment, and indeed life on this planet. But Turnbull and his government are not listening!

This whole piece could be about Turnbull’s shameful retreat from the urgency of global warming, but let’s visit some other of Turnbull’s inglorious retreats.

Ten pieces of silver to ‘demolish the NBN’
Who will ever forget PM Abbott’s infamous instruction to his then Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull: Demolish the NBN? Abbott wanted it destroyed only because Labor had proposed and designed it, a groundbreaking Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) proposal that would have placed Australia at the forefront of modern Internet communications, and would have given it a competitive advantage over its neighbours and overseas' rivals. After the Abbott intervention, thanks to the lily-livered, mendacious response of Turnbull, a tech-head who made his fortune in Internet communications with the sale of his OzEmail, we now rank a lowly 45th in the world for Internet speeds.

Although Turnbull knew full well that FTTP was the superior option, he messed around trying to convince us of the merits of a Multi Technology Mix (MTM) that included Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC), Fixed Wireless, and a Long Term Satellite Service, as well as Fibre to the Node (FTTN) where fibre was rolled out only to street corner boxes, with ageing copper wire making the connection to the premises. Turnbull’s selling spiel was that Labor’s FTTP was prohibitively expensive, too slow to roll out, and sotto voce unnecessary for Australia’s needs. FTTN, with its lower speeds, would be OK for this nation, which he continually implores to be ‘agile and innovative’.

The facts are that the FTTN rollout is arguably no faster than was planned for Labor’s FTTP, the speeds are poorer, and the cost is likely to be the same as for the FTTP, or higher. In other words, to placate the malevolent Abbott, Turnbull’s counterintuitive interference with the original FTTP plan has resulted in Australia gaining nothing, and we have lost a golden opportunity to be world leaders.

Once more, Turnbull has sacrificed his ideals, abandoned his technical know-how, and deliberately deceived the public about the touted merits of the Coalition’s FTTN MTM hotchpotch, leaving us no better off financially or logistically, but much worse off technically with an already out-of-date NBN that will soon need expensive upgrades.

Moreover, he has tried to convince us that the fast 100Mbps speeds promised by FTTP are not necessary, as many taking up the NBN are choosing slower speeds. But what about business and industry that need to send large files around the world; what about farmers who need to be in rapid touch with world prices and trends? Turnbull seems to be channeling the tech-ignorant Abbott who said that the speeds needed only to be good enough to send an email, or for his daughters to download a movie!

Turnbull, who does know the technical facts better than anyone else in his party, has sold his principles and values simply to gain political advantage for himself and his party. He has lied.

In answer to a question about the Coalition’s NBN on Q&A last year Turnbull obfuscated. Writing about it in Delimiter Renai LeMay said:
“On last night’s episode of Q&A, Turnbull did nothing to address persistent criticism of the Coalition’s NBN policy. Neither did he address – at all – Labor’s reworked NBN vision.

"Instead, what we got was a repeat of the standardised set of talking points which virtually every Coalition MP has been parroting about the NBN for the past two to three years.

"I find this insulting, to say the least.

"Turnbull is clearly aware that the NBN debate has moved on and that the country is now having a nuanced discussion of how the NBN project should proceed over the next decade, incorporating technologies such as HFC cable, FTTP and perhaps even new models such as Fibre to the Distribution Point.

"The Prime Minister’s failure to address that debate in any way, shape or form shows his lack of respect for the public; and also his determination not to meaningfully engage on the matter of the NBN. The increasing likelihood that the Coalition will not refine its NBN policy for the election reinforces that impression."
Once more Turnbull has recklessly sacrificed his ideals for a pottage of political advantage.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon marital equality
This piece is already long enough; so let’s conclude with Turnbull’s shameful retreat from his principles on this contentious matter.

Turnbull has always advocated marriage equality, and believes that a parliamentary vote would secure its legislative passage. Yet, despite public opinion strongly favoring marriage equality, and a majority in favour of a parliamentary vote to settle the matter, Turnbull will not budge from his commitment to the hard right of his party to have a plebiscite, which we all know was Abbott’s delaying mechanism that would give opponents the opportunity to disseminate emotive dissent, thereby creating doubt in voters’ minds, which the religious right hopes will result in a negative vote.

Turnbull has no religious, social or ideological objection to marriage equality – indeed the contrary is the case. Yet he is shamelessly sacrificing his long-held principles on the altar of political expediency, simply to placate the rabid religious right in his party, and thereby hang tenuously onto his prime ministership.

Do you need any more evidence that Turnbull has sold his political soul for thirty pieces of silver? On three crucial fronts: global warming, the NBN, and marriage equality, he has sold out so that he could grasp, and now cling doggedly onto leadership. There are many more of his values that he has sacrificed for silver: The Republic, Medicare, urban planning, and asylum seeker policy. But enough is enough.

What are voters feeling about him now, just eighteen months into his prime ministership?

Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, disrespect, despair, despondency, desolation, and above all, intense anger.

What a political and personal price he has paid in return for his thirty pieces of silver!


What do you think?
What are your views about Malcolm Turnbull?

Have you other examples of how he has sold out his principles and values?

Let us know in comments below.

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Abbott’s legacy of destruction



Do you sometimes wonder how the Turnbull government has managed to get itself into such a mess?

Of course Malcolm Turnbull must shoulder much of the blame himself. A piece that I will post next week: Thirty pieces of silver attests to this. By sacrificing his long-held principles and values on the altar of his enduring ambition to be Prime Minister no matter what the cost, he has brought about many of the vicissitudes he is now enduring.

A look further back though uncovers a set of circumstances and decisions that were made before Turnbull assumed leadership, made by just one man – the malevolent Tony Abbott – who masqueraded as Prime Minister from 18 September 2013 to 15 September 2015, three days short of two years. Yet in that short time he managed to destroy so much of what this nation needs, leaving an untidy mess for his successor, who still struggles to repair the damage.

Abbott has not changed. Just a few days ago he once more exhibited his destructive nature when he publicly attacked Turnbull’s leadership and policies, which he predicted would lead the LNP to electoral defeat if it "didn't lift its game". This time his destructiveness was aimed at his leader and his party.

If you need any persuasion, it will not take too many examples to convince you of Abbott’s destructiveness. Here they are.

Deliberately ineffectual action on climate change
There is no more disastrous area than this to illustrate Abbott’s destructiveness.

It was well before his election as PM that Abbott exposed his denial of the reality of global warming. In July 2009, he told the 7:30 Report he thought the science of climate change was "highly contentious" and the economics of an ETS "a bit dodgy…”.

Then he let it slip at a meeting in Beaufort in October of that year that "The argument is absolute crap … However, the politics of this are tough for us. 80% of people believe climate change is a real and present danger." He toyed with the idea of supporting Rudd’s ETS proposal, as he thought it would not be "a good look for the Opposition to be browner than Howard going into the next election". He habitually thinks politically.

Quizzed about his Beaufort remarks by Laurie Oakes, Abbott said: "I think that the science is far from settled on all of this. But there are good prudential reasons for taking reasonable precautions against significant potential threats. That's why I think there is a strong case for an ETS but it's got to be the right ETS. It's got to be an ETS that protects Australian jobs and protects Australian industries... I am confronted by a hostile Liberal audience on this particular issue; I am trying to bring them around to support the position of the leader and the shadow cabinet.” When challenged about his Beaufort meeting statement, Abbott said he had used "a bit of hyperbole" at the meeting rather than it being his "considered position". Later, he conceded that on climate change he was a bit of a ‘weathervane’.

Clearly, Abbott saw political advantage in opposing action on climate change.

We all knew back then what Abbott’s climate change tactics really were, but just a few days ago Peta Credlin publicly exposed Abbott’s political chicanery. An article reporting this in BuzzFeedNEWS began: “Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin has let slip that one of the most damaging political campaigns in recent Australian political history was based on bullshit.”

Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”

The article continued with Credlin's comments:
“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know.

“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.

“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.

“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.

“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax".
There it is – the brutal truth - straight out of the horse’s mouth!

'Direct Action' fraud
To placate voters who believed that Australia ought to take some action to combat carbon pollution and global warming, Abbott invented the Coalition’s ‘Direct Action Plan’. From the beginning it was a hoax. This is how Turnbull described it: “Direct Action is “a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing” and “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

As part of the DAP, Abbott created his ‘Green Army’ that was supposed to employ lots of young people in conservation pursuits, but we will never know how big or effective it was because it was axed by PM Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison before a review of it had been undertaken. We certainly didn’t hear much of what it was doing. Another ‘fig leaf’.

Abbott tried to convince voters that his DAP would cut emissions with little cost. Turnbull’s assessment was blunt: “First, let’s get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money. To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money. Somebody has to pay.

"So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, "bullshit." Moreover he knows it.”


Abbott engineered an LNP party room vote against an ETS, challenged Turnbull over his support for it (known then as a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) and defeated him as leader by a single party room vote. But in the end it was Kevin Rudd who put the final nail in the ETS coffin by shamefully reneging on action to combat climate change which he had pompously proclaimed was: “The greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”.

Enough said. Climate change denial, abolition of the ‘carbon tax’, deliberate inaction via the DAP, opposition to an ETS and to existing renewable energy targets, together expose Abbott’s careless and destructive approach to the problem of global warming, which left unchecked will destroy our planet.

And in the process, Abbott injected his own brand of personal invective against his arch enemy, Julia Gilliard.


Demolition of the NBN
Here is another stark example of Abbott’s destructiveness. I hardly need remind you of Abbott’s infamous instruction to then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull: “Demolish the NBN” after Labour had launched its groundbreaking Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) National Broadband Network, which would have given this nation a competitive advantage in a globally-wired world.

Instead, Turnbull’s multi-technology mix, combined with a second rate Fibre to the Node (FTTN) scheme has left us languishing 45th in the world of Internet speeds, behind schedule in rollout, and likely even more expensive than Labor’s plan. You know the distressing details of a good system ruined by Abbott’s malevolent interference, all in pursuit of destroying what his opponents had created.

In the process, he has set this nation back, damaged our competitiveness, left individuals and businesses struggling with an inadequate, fault-ridden system, and all this from a Liberal leader, who ought to have embraced the NBN as essential to our nation’s prosperity.

Abbott sacrificed his Liberal principles in pursuit of destructive vengeance against his political opponents. Shameful! Disgraceful!

Strangling marriage equality
Abbott wishes the status quo on marriage to remain. Whilst conceding that a relationship other than between a man and a woman can be legitimate, he maintains that “…however deeply affectionate or long lasting it may be, the relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a marriage because a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman...

Whilst most people would concede that he is entitled to his opinion on this issue, the question is whether he is entitled to impose his views on the whole electorate. We know that his religious affiliation governs his attitude, which is understandable. But it is his devious way of engineering a decision on this matter that is so despicable and destructive of social cohesion.

He knows full well that the elected members of parliament are entitled and indeed competent to reach a decision on this matter, but fearing that this might result in a positive vote for marriage equality, he has deviously pushed the decision to a plebiscite under the pretence that this is the most democratic approach. He pushes this line despite a clear majority of the electorate being in favour of marriage equality, and also in favour of a parliamentary vote deciding the matter. While they are not objecting to a plebiscite, they see it as unnecessary, a waste of taxpayers’ money with a price tag of $160 million, and a pointless delaying tactic. The Coalition’s hard right inveigled Turnbull into agreeing to a plebiscite in return for their vote for him to topple Abbott.

Abbott knows that opponents of marriage equality will use the debate leading up to the plebiscite to unleash their venom on LGBTI people who are already vulnerable. The so-called Australian Christian Lobby, which does not represent any church or religious group, is ready and well funded to launch destructive opposition that will upset, damage and threaten the mental health of LGBTI folk. There is fear that those already on the edge may take their own life, so fragile are they.

Shortly after becoming PM, when the ACT Legislative Assembly passed the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, a bill to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, Abbott mounted a federal government challenge to this decision in the High Court, which ruled that the Act be dismantled as it clashed with the Federal Marriage Act 1961. This was Abbott’s first win; he is determined to have another, and kill off marriage equality once and for all.

Does Abbott care? No. A man with such destructive predilections is more concerned about political triumph than he is about the feelings and wellbeing of LGBTI folk. This issue is redolent with his mix of deviousness and destructiveness.

Imposing his moral views on others.
We know that Abbott has strong views grounded in his religious upbringing as a Roman Catholic. But he is intolerant of the views of others. Here are a few examples:

He is a trenchant opponent of embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, and is uneasy about abortion, which he insists should be "safe, legal and rare". You will remember that in 2006, as Health Minister, he opposed access to the abortion drug RU486 so strongly that an angry Parliament voted to strip health ministers of the power to regulate this area of policy. Religious conviction overrode any vestigial concern Abbott might have had for women with unwanted pregnancies.

In his 2009 book Battlelines, he advocated at-fault divorce agreements between couples, which would require spouses to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness, cruelty, desertion, or a five-year separation before a divorce would be granted. He argued that this would be a way of "providing additional recognition to what might be thought of as traditional marriage".

Abbott harbours hard line moral attitudes. He is unconcerned about what others believe. He will not change his beliefs to accommodate others, no matter how damaging his position might be to them..

This piece is already long enough. I could mention the 2014 Abbott/Hockey Budget that brutalized the less well off, and his punitive attitude to asylum seekers, but there is no need here to elaborate further on Abbott’s legacy of destruction. If you need any more detail, I recommend Wikipedia’s account of Abbott’s career.  

Abbott is politically combative, adversarial, vengeful, and pitilessly destructive.

His dictum is that if an opponent develops a policy framework, it must be destroyed, simply because it is not his or his party’s. No matter how beneficial it might be to the prosperity, competitiveness or security of this nation it must be destroyed. No matter how beneficial it might be to groups or individuals, it must be destroyed.

It is Abbott who has shaped so many of the adversarial policies with which Turnbull has now to grapple. It is Abbott’s destructiveness that has left a trail of damage and distress that will take years to rectify, if indeed they ever can be.

This man, who promised 'There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping' after he was overturned by Turnbull, after lurking in the shadows for years has finally come out into the open with a clear intent to destroy his nemesis, and his party with him.


Last Friday he launched an all-out assault on Turnbull and his government, even suggesting another set of Abbott slogans: ““In short, why not say to the people of Australia: we’ll cut the RET, to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock.”

It is now obvious to everyone that Abbott’s destructive hand is around the throat of his party and its leader. Writing in The New Daily, Paula Matthewson put it this way: “The increasing intensity and destructiveness of Mr Abbott’s behaviour belies his claim to be interested only in protecting the Liberal Party’s conservative ethos. His behaviour is not one of protection but of destruction; a flagrant display of smashing the bat and ball, then setting both alight to prevent anyone else from playing.”

What a destructive blight on this fair nation Abbott has been, and continues to be. Has there ever been anyone worse?



What do you think?
What are your views about Tony Abbott?

Have you other examples of his destructiveness?

Let us know in comments below.

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The Turnbull endgame - again?



It was Karl Marx who said History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Malcolm Turnbull gives contemporary credence to these words.

Seven years ago, in August 2009, as Malcolm Turnbull’s time as Leader of the Opposition seemed close to its end, I wrote The Turnbull endgame? Four months later he was gone, replaced by Tony Abbott by just one vote.

The leopard has not changed his spots. What was written about him then, applies now. This piece highlights the striking parallels between now and then.

I shall intersperse in block quotes clips from that earlier piece, with contemporary comment to illustrate my argument.

The Australian today [6 August 2009] abounds with talk of replacing Malcolm Turnbull as Coalition leader. Dennis Shanahan and Matthew Franklin wrote a piece Desperate Liberals look to replace Turnbull with Robb, and Shanahan has a blog It's a loser or the last man standing. The sixty comments that followed are evenly divided between support for making a change and leaving Turnbull there, as Robb would be no better!

Jack the Insider has a blog Turnbull artistry no match for the numbers. He concludes “...the hard heads in the Coalition will soon reach the view, if they have not already done so, that the continued existence of the Liberal Party depends on a change in leadership.”... Most of the 240 respondents, even those with Liberal leanings, agreed that a change was necessary.

The Political Sword has long maintained that while Malcolm Turnbull was an accomplished journalist, barrister, businessman and banker, he was not a politician and would have difficulty in the political milieu.

On 19 September last year [2008] in Will the real Malcolm Turnbull please stand up?, it was argued that after starting so promisingly when he entered parliament, when this independent thinker and decision-maker was being forced uncomfortably into a political mould as a Howard Government minister, his authority faded and he became less convincing. He seemed to not have his heart in what he was saying.

Then in The Turnbull Report Card 10 days in posted on 26 September 2008 soon after he became leader, after acknowledging his pluses, concluded “...where he falls short is when he is not on his favoured turf, when he’s challenged with uncomfortable facts, when he attempts to advocate causes in which he does not have his heart, and when he has to defend untenable positions. As political life abounds with such circumstance, unless he can overcome this flaw, he will have difficulty convincing the people of the merit of his approach and his capacity to manage a nation beset with many contemporary challenges and complexities. Leading a nation is so much more complex and demanding, so different from life at the bar and managing a merchant bank.”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it!

Despite the unhappy memories of the Turnbull of 2009, when he toppled Abbott in September last year the sense of relief among the general public that finally the calamitous Abbott was gone (at least from the top job) was so great that memories of the earlier Turnbull were erased from the public’s mind. Great hope was held out that at last we had a leader that was prime ministerial in appearance, demeanour and speech. At last our embarrassment of having Abbott as our leader was behind us.

His prime ministership started well, but soon doubts began. Had he learned from his previous period as leader? Had the Turnbull nature changed? The public was at first prepared to give him the benefit of the gathering doubts that people had.

Let’s look back again to 2008:
In Malcolm’s at it again posted on 15 October [2008], when he was beginning to qualify his support initially given to the first Rudd Government stimulus package, he began to sound less persuasive, became circumlocutory, and arguably lost his audience. The piece concluded: “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.

To quibble or not to quibble, posted the next day when Turnbull again quibbled about his support for the stimulus, concluded “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...When will the Coalition learn? When will they realize that sometimes it’s better not to quibble?”
Sounds familiar again. Balanced journalists have commented time and again that Turnbull is under the thumb of his right wing members, the very ones who extracted promises from him for their vote when he challenged Abbott for leadership.

Now we hear him arguing strongly in support of the Coalition’s paltry Direct Action Plan although he vowed previously never to lead a government that did not put a price on carbon pollution. Just as before, he now sounds unconvincing, and is marked down for being a turncoat.

Although a strong supporter of marriage equality, he persists with his intention to hold a plebiscite. His rationale is that it was an election promise, but more importantly it was a promise to his right wing. The fact that recent polls show that the public’s desire for a plebiscite is waning and that they want parliament to get on with its job of legislating for equality, has so far not persuaded him to reverse his stand and show the leadership they hoped he would. Although he knows how close he went to losing the recent election, he realizes that his prime ministership depends more on the support of his right wing than on the support of the people. He knows where the power rests.
The emerging Opposition strategy, posted on 13 November [2008], described the strategy being adopted by Turnbull and the Coalition: attacking everything the Government did, criticizing everything Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan proposed, and attacking them personally, labeling them as incompetent and reckless. At the time Crikey’s Bernard Keane said “The risk with Turnbull’s tactics are that they backfire, and create a public impression of a smart-rse, someone who failed to get behind the Government as it tried to manage a global crisis...The risk at the moment is that he cruels his public image before that can happen. Once the public has an image of you, it’s very hard to shake it off.”

The TPS piece concluded “So it’s hard to see any logic to Turnbull’s strategy and tactics other than his belief that if he throws enough mud, some will stick, and that by repeatedly attempting to discredit Rudd, Swan and the Government generally, he will gain traction, the scales will fall from the voters’ eyes, and he will emerge as the indispensable statesman who can restore Australia to the ‘glory’ of the Howard years. On the other hand, as Keane suggests, his strategy may inflict so much damage on his image that recovery will be difficult, if not impossible. Some are already punting he will not survive as leader to the next election; what he’s now doing may ensure that this becomes a discerning prophesy. Unfortunately for him, his impatience, his ego and his determination to use a ‘do whatever it takes’ strategy no matter how politically opportunistic, may be his undoing.”
The pattern of Turnbull’s behaviour was becoming clearer:
The ‘deficit’ wedge posted on 25 November [2008] was written when the deficit and debt slogan was launched. The piece concluded “What this amounts to is an opportunistic ploy by the Opposition to wrong-foot and embarrass the Government about the much-talked-about deficit, and to paint it as incapable of sound economic management if it finally does go into deficit for the good of the nation. That the Coalition’s wedge campaign flies in the face of sensible economic management in these troubled times is of no importance to them; political advantage and the wistful hope of winning the next election is all that counts...Since his election to leadership Turnbull has posed as a financial guru, but he has gained no traction in two party preferred terms in the opinion polls...The people don’t seem to be buying his rhetoric...Turnbull needs to be careful that his blatant opportunism doesn’t backfire.”

Turnbull’s benchmarks for failure of 30 November [2008] described his three benchmarks for Rudd Government failure: going into a deficit, rising unemployment, and recession. The piece concluded: “Economist after economist, commentator upon commentator agree that under the current economic circumstances a deficit occasioned by a well-targeted fiscal stimulus is necessary to limit the risk of recession. They agree with Rudd and Swan, not with Turnbull. His demand that the Government avoids a deficit, although this would be detrimental to the economy, to jobs, and to the nation, is irresponsible. But will contrary opinion be enough to stop him? Laurie Oakes doesn’t think so. Writing in the 29 November issue of the Daily Telegraph: ‘Turnbull falls into deficit’, he suggests that even if he is wrong, Turnbull is never in doubt about the correctness of his position. So it’s unlikely Turnbull will change tack – no price is too high for him to achieve political traction. If one can judge from the latest opinion polls, Turnbull is spinning his wheels. He desperately needs traction. But his strategy is risky. The people are watching. When they see through his glib talk, he will be the one who fails.”

The ‘stop at nothing’ pattern was emerging.
History repeats itself.

In the wake of the disastrous storms that blacked out South Australia, we have Turnbull in full political mode, lambasting Labor states for having ‘aggressive and extremely unrealistic targets for renewable energy’, insinuating that South Australia’s high use of wind power was a significant factor in the catastrophic failure of electricity supply to that State. He persists with this line despite energy providers and experts in power generation, as well as renewable energy providers and advocates insisting that the blackout was caused by the unprecedented disastrous weather event that hit the State, and not the use of renewables. As he condemned Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan for their actions during the GFC (now shown to be life-saving for our economy), he now condemns Labor premiers for their support of renewables, and piously (echoed by energy minister Josh Frydenberg) boasts that ‘energy security is the Coalition’s top priority’ (apparently national security has slipped down the list). Again accruing political capital is his object, not the wellbeing of the nation.
The 2 December [2009] piece Why does Malcolm Turnbull make so many mistakes? concluded “History may show that Turnbull’s biggest mistakes are underestimating Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, perpetually insisting they ‘simply don’t understand’ financial or economic matters, consistently condemning their every move, changing his tune whenever it suits him, flying in the face of competent economic intelligence, failing to exercise strong leadership, continuing to make political points at a time of unparalleled financial turmoil and steadily losing credibility as he does, indulging in obfuscation and circumlocution while avoiding answering questions asked by interviewers, and most significantly failing to notice that the people are not behind him.”
He is now in similar mode, asserting that Labor does not understand energy security, that it is obsessed with renewables, that its targets are wildly unrealistic, all the time neglecting to set national targets to guide the states, or even to carry out modeling for the very modest emission reduction and renewable targets he agreed to in Paris. He is dragging his feet while castigating the Labor states which have filled the void. Again, he is failing to provide leadership. He seems oblivious to the increasing demands of the people who want action on climate change urgently.

And it’s not just ordinary people who want action. Major business organizations and energy users have urged federal and state governments to work cooperatively to map out a “strategic response to Australia’s energy transition and challenges”… warning that investment is at risk. The Australian Energy Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the Energy Users Association of Australia, Energy Consumers Australia, the Energy Efficiency Council, the Energy Networks Association and the Clean Energy Council are jointly calling for leadership from and between the jurisdictions, and bipartisanship on “the tightly connected issues of energy and climate change”, warning that in the absence of bipartisanship, “uncertainty will cause essential energy investments to be deferred or distorted, to the ultimate cost of us all.” But will Turnbull listen to them?
On 11 April [2009], a piece Why is Malcolm Turnbull so unpopular? began “There’s not much need to emphasize Turnbull’s contemporary unpopularity – it’s all over the air waves and the papers. It takes only a few metrics to quantify it...He leads a Coalition that currently shows has an average TPP of 60/40 in Labor's favour across several polls, which show a steady trend away from the Coalition.
His polling situation is not quite as bad now, but compared with the stellar polls he enjoyed just a little over a year ago, his personal popularity is in a steady downward spiral, and recently the Coalition’s TPP was as bad as it was when Abbott was PM!

This piece is already long enough. Let’s finish with the conclusion of the 2009 piece; The Turnbull endgame?
To draw this long piece to an end, should we be surprised at the position in which Turnbull now finds himself? Looking back over a year or more a pattern of behaviour has become clearly apparent: impetuosity, poor political judgement, ruthlessness and self-confidence not matched by political ability, that goes to his character, his integrity and his political wisdom, all of which are now highly questionable.

Is Turnbull’s endgame upon him? ‘Endgame’ describes the last part of a chess game, when there are very few pieces left. That looks like the right word.

It seems that only lack of a plausible alternative can now save him.
Here we are again! Nothing has changed since 2009 except the dates. Turnbull is still the Turnbull he always was, and always will be. The electorate, initially buoyed with high expectations, has that sinking feeling again as disappointment and disillusionment overwhelms.

And his right wing would have him gone in a flash if they could mount a plausible case, provided they could find an acceptable alternative, as was the case in 2009.


As 2353NM put it in Turnbull – Abbott from a better postcode?: “When Turnbull became prime minister, there was a hope that he would bring the claimed decency and ability to appeal to the middle ground that was so lacking with Abbott. After 13 months, it hasn’t happened. There are two possibilities: Turnbull is just as bad as Abbott (except for better clothing choices and living in a ‘more expensive’ postcode); or, to coin a phrase, Turnbull ’doesn’t have the ticker’ to promote and implement policy and legislation that isn’t approved by his conservative rump thereby ensuring his longevity as prime minister. Either way, the rest of us as Australian citizens will continue to suffer as a result."

Marx said: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

We’ve had the tragedy; now we have the farce.

Is this the Turnbull endgame – again?




What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

Is Turnbull reaching his endgame again?

What evidence do you have?
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Why are Abbott’s conservatives destroying our PM?



To those of you who dispute the assertion embedded in the title, let me provide you with supporting evidence.

First some questions for you to answer:

Is Malcolm Turnbull the man you thought he was when he rolled Tony Abbott almost a year ago?

Has he fulfilled your initial expectations?

Is he as secure in his position as PM as he was initially?

Has he been limply acting as a proxy for Abbott and his policies?

Has he disappointed you?

Has he disappointed many voters, even LNP supporters?

Has he disappointed many in his party?

Has he disappointed/angered politicians in other parties?

If you answered ‘No’ for the first three and ‘Yes’ for the others, you will be in tune with the thinking in this piece.

But the crucial question is a Julius Sumner Miller favourite: ‘Why is it so?’

This piece addresses this central question.

It is apparent to all that elements within the LNP distrust, dislike and even despise our PM. This dates back to when he was Leader of the Opposition at the time Kevin Rudd was PM. Many in his party, particularly the conservative clique, believe he is more suited to be in a progressive party – several have suggested he would be more comfortable with Labor.

For some, it was the last straw when he sided with Rudd in proposing an Emissions Trading Scheme to ameliorate global warming, a move that led to a party revolt and his removal, by just one vote, in favour of Tony Abbott. That a majority of the party regarded Abbott as preferable to him shows how deeply the antipathy towards him ran within the Liberal Party!

Initially, after he returned the compliment by toppling Abbott in 2015, Turnbull’s personal popularity soared, and the awful two-party preferred polling under Abbott that had persisted month after agonizing month (the LNP had lost 30 Newspolls in a row) reversed into positive territory. The LNP was then able temporarily to put aside its doubts and outright antagonism to Turnbull. If Turnbull could win the upcoming election that Abbott looked certain to lose, the conservatives would be able to swallow their enmity. There was nothing sweeter than the anticipation of victory to make the bitter Turnbull pill go down. The doubts persisted, but were pushed underground – an uneasy rapprochement was achieved. But it was not long though before the doubts resurfaced.

Everyone realized that Turnbull had sacrificed several of his strongly held principles to obtain the endorsement of the conservative clique that gave him the leadership.

The man who said he would not lead a government that did not take climate change seriously, folded when the conservatives insisted he stick to the highly suspect Abbott/Hunt ‘Direct Action Plan’, which he then defended as if it was Holy Writ. During the election campaign there was no mention of the Coalition’s cut of $1.3 billion from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency or the disgraceful censorship of the UNESCO report on climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, even as recent reports highlighted the frightening damage already caused to the reef.

Turnbull said he had paid a ‘high price’ for his previous stand on climate change; clearly he was unprepared to pay it again!

The man who insisted that the marriage equality matter ought to be settled by a parliamentary vote gave in to the conservatives’ demand that it be settled via Abbott’s plebiscite, despite the government's $66 million price tag (and Price Waterhouse Coopers calculated ultimate cost of $525 million), and the risk of community discord arising from the toxic debate that the ACL and their ilk would initiate.

The man who promoted the concept of a republic so vigorously in his earlier years, quietly put it on the back burner.

The tech-savvy man who was prominent in initiating one of the early email services – OzEmail – was dragooned by Abbott into scrapping Labor’s superior fibre-to-the-premises model, and inserting the inferior, slower, multi-technology, fibre-to-the-node model with boxes on the street corner and ageing copper wire connections to the premises. Despite all his talk about innovation and competitiveness he was prepared to give us a lesser service so as to meet the demands of the conservatives. Innovation, competitiveness, nimbleness and agility took a back seat.

With every passing week, we see a diminished Turnbull pandering to the conservatives, looking weaker by the day.

Just when he wanted to look decisive and show leadership after the Four Corners exposé on youth justice in the NT, he jumped quickly, but with little consultation with indigenous leaders, and appointed a ‘law and order’ judge to be the Royal Commissioner into juvenile justice in the Northern Territory. Having been involved in judgments as Chief Justice there, it was not surprising that a protest eventuated that saw the Royal Commissioner as potentially biased. Judge Brian Martin, showing better judgement than Turnbull and Attorney General Brandis, decided to step down on the grounds of ‘apprehended bias’, which ought to have been obvious from the outset.

This, and the pressure from indigenous groups who wanted a co-commissioner with an indigenous background, caused Turnbull and Brandis to turn turtle and appoint high-profile Indigenous figure Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and former Queensland Supreme Court judge Margaret White as co-commissioners.

How much pressure came from his cabinet we will likely never know.

On the issue of supporting Kevin Rudd’s bid to be Secretary General of the United Nations, how much influence the conservatives had in the cabinet discussion is a matter of conjecture. We do know that Julie Bishop supported Rudd and that more spoke for Rudd than against. But conservatives Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were strongly opposed to nominating Rudd, and the meeting ended with Turnbull and Joyce being left to make a decision.

Clearly, Turnbull, more concerned with propping up his leadership among the conservatives than doing what many, even from a Liberal background, thought was correct protocol – supporting a previous prime minister on the international stage – squibbed making this decision, told Rudd he was unsuitable, leaving him fuming, and in the process attracted strong criticism from many quarters for not supporting an Australian for this post.

And most recently we see Turnbull ‘slapping the banks on the wrist with a feather’ with his threat to force their CEOs before the Coalition-dominated House Economics Committee to explain their reasons for not passing on RBA interest rate cuts. It is his way of avoiding a Royal Commission into Banking, which his conservative colleagues are intent on avoiding.

There are enough examples of Turnbull making decisions that bewilder, enough to ask: ‘Why is it so?’ Enough to evoke the suggestion that it is to placate Abbott’s conservative forces in the LNP that threaten to upend him if he does not comply. We see ‘the three As’: Abbott, Abetz and Andrews poking their heads above the parapet in their own subtle way expressing their dissatisfaction with Turnbull, as we witnessed in this week's episode of Four Corners. And we have seen George Christensen threatening to cross the floor unless the superannuation legislation is altered to his satisfaction!

With the balance of power so delicately balanced with a majority of just one in the House, and a polyglot and quite unpredictable Senate, one might have expected tight unity within the LNP to hold onto its tenuous grip on power. Instead we see actions that threaten that unity. Why is it so?

I can’t explain why some LNP members feel as they do, but it looks as if some would sooner see the leader turfed out if he does not support the party line on climate change, on marriage equality, on the NBN, and on proposed Royal Commissions. They seem hell-bent on tightly controlling their leader, and if they can’t, destroying him. They are well on the way already.

It seems more logical to do what’s necessary to retain power, even if at times uncomfortable, than to destroy the leader and the party with it. Have they got another more acceptable leader lined up? Do they want Abbott back as leader? Do they think that is possible? Insider Gerard Henderson doesn’t think so.

I can’t explain such aberrant behaviour except to offer the suggestion that sometimes, entrenched ideology, the desire for personal power, and feelings of hurt and rejection, are more powerful than the desire for self-preservation and political power. John Howard was easily able to decide which principles ‘he would die for in a ditch’, and for which he wouldn’t. Abbott’s conservatives seem to not have that gift.

Expect therefore that some will continue to say and do things that threaten their leader, and that in the end they may unexpectedly upend him.

Can you offer any other explanation for the Abbott conservatives’ anti-Turnbull behaviour? Has Turnbull the strength to counter them? What will happen when parliament resumes?


What do you think?
Can any of you give a plausible explanation of the behaviour of Abbott's conservatives, especially with just a one seat majority in the House and a likely hostile Senate?

Please comment below.


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How has it come to this?



The MSM and blog sites abound with critiques of the election and tentative predictions of the political outcomes. So why bother writing yet another to explain how it has all come to this? You will judge whether this analysis adds anything useful.

Far from fulfilling his oft repeated promise of stable government and sound economic management; far from avoiding the 'chaos' of a close result, Turnbull seems unlikely to achieve either. The consensus among those analyzing the election results, the commentariat, and the social media, is that the outcome will be a narrow LNP majority.

I’ll not try to best guess the long-term political outcome, and instead ask what has brought about this situation.

While acknowledging that multiple factors bring about any election outcome, I propose that this time five significant factors have been in play: the Turnbull character; Medicare; Inequality; Turnbull reversals on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the republic; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s constituency.

The Turnbull character
We don’t have to go far back to gain insight into Turnbull’s character. Annabel Crabb’s 2009 Quarterly Essay: Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull spells it out in detail. You can read a summary of it in her article on the ABC website, updated on 16 May this year.  This is what we wrote about it on The Political Sword in June 2009.

Against the background of Turnbull’s successful involvement in the Spycatcher case and his representation of Kerry Packer (the Goanna) in the Costigan Royal Commission into the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, Crabb writes: “From the Costigan affair we can draw some preliminary conclusions about the young Turnbull. The first is that he has no regard for orthodoxy...” and “This refusal to ‘play by the rules’ is something of a lifelong pattern for Turnbull; it explains much of his success, but also accounts for the worst of his reputation.”...“The second thing we learn from Costigan is that violent tactical methods are not just something to which Turnbull will contemplate turning if sufficiently provoked. It’s not enough to say that Turnbull is prepared to play hardball. He prefers to play hardball – that’s the point. It is impossible to rid oneself entirely of the suspicion that Turnbull enjoys the intrigue – the hurling of grenades...”

Turnbull is a risk taker. He backs his own judgement. He gambles on being right. Often he is, sometimes not. His gamble this year to take on Tony Abbott by challenging his leadership paid off immediately with a convincing win in the Liberal party room, high popularity in the electorate, and improving polls. But his gamble a couple of months ago to call a double dissolution election predicated on the urgent necessity to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, if needs be by a joint sitting of parliament, has ended in disaster for him. It was a charade from the beginning, hardly mentioned in the campaign, and now unlikely ever to pass a joint sitting. This episode was vintage Turnbull risk taking, foolish risk taking.

It is understandable that the relief felt by the electorate when he replaced the calamitous Abbott has dimmed memories of Turnbull in his earlier days as opposition leader and minister for communications. Then he performed as he is performing even now: incautious, indecisive yet at times precipitous in decision-making, inadequately prepared, and lacking in due diligence.

You will all remember ‘Ute-gate’, where Turnbull was conned by a Liberal mole in Treasury, Godwin Grech, into believing the contents of what turned out to be a fake email that attempted to implicate PM Rudd and Treasurer Swan in an underhand deal in which a car dealer gave Rudd a ute for campaigning in return for OzCar favours. Turnbull swallowed the story, hook, line and sinker, as did Murdoch journalist Steve Lewis. Turnbull, the accomplished barrister, had failed in due diligence, as had his collaborator, Eric Abetz.

In case Turnbull’s recent prime ministerial aura, such a contrast to Abbott’s embarrassing ineptitude, has erased the memory of his earlier days as Liberal leader, go to the archive of The Political Sword and re-read: The old rusty uteAfter TurnbullWhat will Turnbull do now?The Turnbull endgameTurnbull in a China shopMalcolm Turnbull’s intelligenceWhat is Malcolm Turnbull up to?, The Turnbull Twist, and Why does Malcolm Turnbull make so many mistakes?.  

It would take you hours to do so, and there are still more, but they will be sufficient to remind you that Malcolm Turnbull has not changed. What was written then could be written now. The context has changed, but the man has not. He creates his own disasters; he makes the going tough for himself.



PM Turnbull is the same man who over the years has been a big risk-taker but has lacked judgement and has eschewed due diligence. His successes have been overshadowed by his failures. We are now witnessing his most spectacular failure, one that will affect us all as politics in this nation enters an uncertain phase where governance will be very difficult.

Medicare
In an angry, ungracious speech on election night, Turnbull blasted Labor for its ‘Mediscare’ campaign: “Today, as voters went to the polls, as you would have seen in the press, there were text messages being sent to thousands of people across Australia saying that Medicare was about to be privatised by the Liberal Party. The SMS message said it came from Medicare – an extraordinary act of dishonesty. No doubt the police will investigate. But this is, but this is the scale of the challenge we faced. And regrettably more than a few people were misled ... But the circumstances of Australia cannot be changed by a lying campaign from the Labor Party.”

Turnbull sought to label the Labor campaign as the prime cause of his loss of support. The following day Scott Morrison was equally adamant; he was arrogantly unwilling to concede any fault on the Coalition side.

The next day though Turnbull was prepared to acknowledge that ‘Mediscare’ worked because the seeds of the scare ‘had fallen on fertile ground’, no doubt a reference to the suspicion created in the electorate by the Coalition’s many recent attacks on Medicare: the threat of a GP co-payment, the freezing of GP rebates until 2020, the threat to remove bulk billing inducements for imaging and pathology tests, and the increased co-payment for pharmaceuticals. Turnbull ought not to have been surprised that voters were susceptible to believing Labor’s assertion that the Coalition intended to privatize Medicare. The Coalition’s past and more recent attitude toward Medicare rightly made them suspicious. Turnbull’s denials and voluble reassurances were simply not believed.

’Mediscare’ was a significant factor in Turnbull’s humiliation at the polls, but not the only one. He reaped what he had so abundantly sown.

Inequality
Although the word was seldom uttered, the people were aware of the widening gap between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom. They spoke of feeling they were being left behind, struggling with cost of living pressures, and finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Many were finding it hard to get a satisfying job. Their feelings of abandonment and resentment were accentuated by Turnbull’s continual reminders that there was “never a better time to be an Australian!”, something they were not themselves experiencing.

Voters needed no more than their contemporary experience to feel left behind, but then along came the Turnbull/Morrison move to give $48 billion of tax relief to businesses, extending over the decade to the big banks and multinationals, the very ones whom we all know do not pay their fair share of tax. The tax rorters were being offered a generous tax break!

The Coalition mantra of ‘Jobs and Growth’, on which they based their much-vaunted ‘economic plan’ was yet another example of the Coalition’s faith in ‘supply-side’ economics, despite it having been discredited repeatedly. The term ‘trickle-down’ began to be mentioned by commentators and included in questions to politicians, and even the long-debunked ‘Laffer curve’ was mentioned in a question on Q&A. The public became aware of the fraud they were being offered by the Coalition with their monotonously repeated and meaningless three-word slogan: ‘Jobs and Growth’.

I wrote in April that inequality would be a hot button election issue and it was - not in overt terms, but simmering angrily below the surface and significantly influencing voters’ preferences. Will the Coalition heed their desire for a fairer deal?

The Turnbull reversals
Countless comments have been made about Turnbull’s reversals of position. There has been widespread disappointment at his stance toward crucial issues. They are familiar to you all.

The NBN
In his attempt to avoid Abbott’s ‘demolish the NBN’ instruction, he has given us a hybrid multi-technology fibre to the node (FTTN) mishmash with speeds slower than are needed by a nation competing on the world scene, far too slow in rollout, and possibly more expensive than Labor’s superior fibre to the premises (FTTP) model, which Turnbull ridiculed so sarcastically. For such a tech head to oversee the introduction of this inferior technology is disgraceful. People are appalled, angry, and disappointed, especially those in rural areas, who if they can get connected to the Internet at all, suffer debilitating buffering.

Marriage equality
Marriage equality is the focus of another Turnbull reversal. In an earlier life he was strongly in favour and insistent that it should be resolved with a conscience vote of the parliament. But he reneged on that to placate the hard right conservatives who want a plebiscite, designed by Abbott to delay the debate, allow it to be debased by the bigots, and eventually to be defeated. Another disappointing Turnbull reversal!

Global warming
After all the talk in his early days: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am”, he has disappointed the climate lobby by insisting that the Coalition’s paltry ‘Direct Action Plan’ is all that we need, and that it is working. All his devotion to an emissions trading scheme has evaporated, simply to appease the climate skeptics in his ranks and thereby secure his leadership. It is to many his most profound, his most disturbing and disappointing reversal of principle.

The Republic
The cause to which Turnbull devoted himself so fully for so long no longer attracts his interest. He has discarded any intention to move soon on this, much to the chagrin of those who feel it is high time Australia became a republic. While it was unlikely to be a vote changer; it did confirm in many minds Turnbull’s willingness to sacrifice his principles for personal advantage.

Insensitivity to the Coalition’s constituency
Whatever else a politician does, he needs to avoid alienating the people who support him financially and who vote for him.

Turnbull has managed to alienate a large group of wealthy superannuants by proposing that changes to superannuation be made that will disadvantage them, and by the prospect of the changes being retrospective. In some analyses of the poor result for the Coalition at this election, anger over proposed changes to superannuation among his constituency have been cited as a powerful force that tuned away Coalition voters.

Another group that has been alienated are the hard right conservative clique that is currently agitating for more say, more clout, and more recognition, led by Tea Party admirer Cory Bernardi who wants to establish a group like GetUp, but right leaning, one that can represent conservative views. Because Turnbull is a moderate with progressive views, this group may cause him more grief than his traditional opponents as he tries to keep conservatives and ‘small l’ Liberals together. The conservatives are hostile and dangerous, still angry that he toppled their patron, Abbott. They paint Turnbull as a fraud, a traitor to their cause. Writing in The Australian, right-wing Sky News commentator Graham (Richo) Richardson's assessment is: “Turnbull is a traitor to his class and constituents.” His opponents will erode his standing in the party through internal sabotage. The sharks are already circling! We saw it when Kevin Rudd sabotaged Julia Gillard; it can happen again. It is more debilitating than external attacks.

In an attempt to reverse the alienation among Muslims that Abbott provoked with his anti-Muslim attitude and his obsessive focus on terror threats, Turnbull held out the hand of friendship, even to the point of inviting several prominent Muslims, including a radical sheik, to an Iftar dinner that he hosted for Ramadan. Whilst applauded by some, it has further alienated those who follow Pauline Hanson, who has now added to her anti-Asian stance an equally aggressive anti-Muslim one.

When the Coalition gets around to analyzing why it has done so poorly at this election, coming close to defeat, expect it to include pointed reference to the alienation of important parts of the Coalition’s constituency, with accusatory fingers pointing firmly at Turnbull.

You are bound to read about reasons for the diminishment of Turnbull’s prestige and standing, other than those cited above. Tell us about them in a comment.

How has it come to this? PM Turnbull has ‘won’ but is apprehensive; Opposition Leader Shorten hasn’t, but is smiling?



Whatever other factors were in play during the election, prominent factors were: Turnbull as an incautious risk-taker; the Medicare bogey; the unfairness and inequality felt by those on Struggle Street angrily watching the top end of town get the rewards; the reversal of deeply held Turnbull principles on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the republic, all sacrificed at the altar of self interest; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s natural constituency. All were recipes for failure, and at worst, political disaster. Time will tell how potent they were.

What do you think?
What do you believe are the most significant factors in the Coalition’s poor showing?

Please offer your suggestions in comments below.

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Turnbull is selling us a pup



You all know what that idiomatic expression means – being tricked into buying something that is worthless. It arose from the old swindle of selling a bag that purportedly contained a piglet, but instead there was a puppy inside.

PM Turnbull wants you to believe that his bag contains a piglet, but all you will find is a pup. The piglet is called ‘Jobs and Growth’. Every day, many times every day, he is out there on the streets crying ‘Jobs and Growth’, ‘Jobs and Growth’, ‘Jobs and Growth’, like a door-to-door snake oil salesman.

The piglet that Turnbull says he has in his bag sounds attractive. Who would deny the benefit of more jobs? And only a nihilist would eschew the notion of growing the economy.

Trouble is that he won’t let you peep inside to check out the piglet. And he won’t tell you where he got it. He doesn’t want you to know its bloodline, whether or not it’s diseased, and whether it's able to do what piglets do best.

He wants you to buy his ‘Jobs and Growth’ piglet sight unseen; he does not want you to question its soundness.

How does he intend to feed his Jobs and Growth piglet? He says he will feed it with tax cuts for businesses, not just small businesses that we are told are the life blood of our economy and the leading employer of our workers, but also large businesses right up to multinational corporations, owned mainly by overseas investors.

How does he know that feeding the Jobs and Growth piglet with tax breaks will make it develop into a fat and succulent pig? Well, he has a theory.

It goes like this: cut taxes to businesses and they will use the extra money in their pockets to expand their business, produce more, and employ more. That’s it! Turnbull didn’t invent it, nor did his daleks Treasurer Morrison or Finance Minister Cormann. It’s been around a long while. It goes by the name ‘Supply-side economics’. If you want to learn more about its origins and modus operandi read this detailed account in Wikipedia, which begins:
“Supply-side economics is a macroeconomic theory which argues that economic growth can be most effectively created by investing in capital, and by lowering barriers on the production of goods and services.

“According to supply-side economics, consumers will then benefit from a greater supply of goods and services at lower prices; furthermore, the investment and expansion of businesses will increase the demand for employees and therefore create jobs. Typical policy recommendations of supply-side economists are lower marginal tax rates and less government regulation.”
You’ve heard about lower marginal tax rates and less government regulation before, and how the benefits of these measures will trickle down to those at the bottom of the pile. We’ve written about: ‘Trickle down economics’ on The Political Sword’. Its original name, coined by economist John Kenneth Galbraith, was: ‘Horse and sparrow economics’ – “If you feed enough oats to the horse, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” Read The trickle down effect by 2353NM, How the economic rationalists tried to steal our hearts and minds by Ken Wolff, and Trickle down economics breeds inequality by Ad astra.

Turnbull’s propositions might sound plausible to the casual observer, but does supply-side economics do what its proponents insist it does? Does it work? Is Turnbull’s Jobs and Growth piglet capable of developing into a large edible pig?

This question is not one that conservatives intend to address, although there is plenty of evidence that might provide an answer. They have an extraordinary capacity to ignore evidence. In an article in Alternet, Noam Chomsky quotes political scientist Norman Ornstein’s description of the fervently conservative US Republican Party: “…a radical insurgency that doesn’t care about fact, doesn’t care about argument, doesn’t want to participate in politics, and is simply off the spectrum.” Here we have the Liberal Party – same mind-set.

So does supply-side economics work? We have written often about the fallacy of trickle down economics, (see above) but there is much more. Sometimes you hear this economic theory described as ‘Reaganomics’ or ‘Thatcher economics’.

Let’s start with a blistering critique of Reaganomics, or ‘Riganomics’ as she prefers to call it, by Rachel Maddow, an American television host, political commentator and author who hosts a nightly television show, The Rachel Maddow Show, on MSNBC. The critique is titled: How Reaganomics Destroyed The Middle Class...And Maybe America. It’s worth watching the whole 8 minutes 26 seconds of this YouTube clip:



If that hasn’t convinced you of the fallacy of supply-side or trickle down economics, read this appraisal in Wikipedia. Part of the theory, which some describe as ‘voodoo economics’, posits that rather than federal revenue falling when tax cuts are made, it would rise, as portrayed by the mythical Laffer curve, debunked long ago. The theory is refuted here:
”Economist Gregory Mankiw used the term "fad economics" to describe the notion of tax rate cuts increasing revenue in the third edition of his Principles of Macroeconomics textbook in a section entitled "Charlatans and Cranks":

“An example of fad economics occurred in 1980, when a small group of economists advised Presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, that an across-the-board cut in income tax rates would raise tax revenue. They argued that if people could keep a higher fraction of their income, people would work harder to earn more income. Even though tax rates would be lower, income would rise by so much, they claimed, that tax revenues would rise.

“Almost all professional economists, including most of those who supported Reagan's proposal to cut taxes, viewed this outcome as far too optimistic. Lower tax rates might encourage people to work harder and this extra effort would offset the direct effects of lower tax rates to some extent, but there was no credible evidence that work effort would rise by enough to cause tax revenues to rise in the face of lower tax rates…

“People on fad diets put their health at risk but rarely achieve the permanent weight loss they desire. Similarly, when politicians rely on the advice of charlatans and cranks, they rarely get the desirable results they anticipate. After Reagan's election, Congress passed the cut in tax rates that Reagan advocated, but the tax cut did not cause tax revenues to rise.”
Writing in Business Insider Australia, about the US economy in an article titled BOMBSHELL: New Study Destroys Theory That Tax Cuts Spur Growth, Henry Blodget says:
“One economic theory has been repeated so often for so long in this country that it has become an accepted fact: Tax cuts spur growth. Most Americans have gotten so used to hearing this theory that they don’t even question it anymore.

“One of our two Presidential candidates is so convinced of the theory that he has built his entire economic plan around it, despite the huge negative impact additional tax cuts would likely have on our debt and deficit.

“But is the theory true? Do tax cuts really spur growth?

“The answer appears to be “No.”

“According to a new study by the Congressional Research Service (non-partisan), there’s no evidence that tax cuts spur growth.

“In fact, although correlation is not causation, when you compare economic growth in periods with declining tax rates versus periods with high tax rates, there seems to be evidence that tax cuts might hurt growth…

“One thing that tax cuts do unequivocally – at least tax cuts for the highest earners – is increase economic inequality. Given that economic inequality is one of the biggest problems we face in this country right now, this conclusion is very important…

“…this topic has become highly politicized, so it’s impossible to discuss it without people howling that you’re just rooting for a particular political team. Second, no one likes paying taxes. Third, everyone would like a tax cut, including me.

“So I think we can all agree that everyone would prefer that tax cuts actually did spur economic growth.

“Alas…”
Blodget goes on to prove his point with a number of charts.

He asks: “So, have these declining tax rates for the rich – the ‘job creators’ who are being given a bigger incentive to invest by the reduced tax rates led to faster economic growth?

“Nope.”


Later he says: “Although tax cuts do not appear to spur economic growth, they DO appear to lead to greater economic inequality. Inequality in the United States recently hit a level that has not been seen since the 1920s: The country’s top earners are taking home more of the national income than at any time in 70 years.”

Referring to his charts, he says:
“And now let’s look at the correlation between this rise in inequality and tax rates – the lower the top marginal rates go, the bigger the share of national income that goes to the top 0.1% of wage earners. And it’s the same for capital gains rates.

“Meanwhile, the share of national income that goes to “labour”– a.k.a., most Americans – goes up as the top tax rates increase.

“Why is the rise in inequality so troubling? Well, beyond the issues of fairness and stability, increasing inequality is hurting the economy. Unlike middle class and upper middle class folks the country’s highest earners don’t spend all the money they earn. So this money doesn’t get circulated back into the economy, where it can become revenue for other companies and salaries for other workers. (If there were a dearth of investment capital, the money might get invested, but we’ve got plenty of investment capital right now. Our problem is a lack of demand).

“So, what’s the bottom line?

“Well, the bottom line appears to be that low taxes do not spur economic growth and DO cause greater economic inequality.

“So, although it sounds like heresy, presidents and Congress-people who actually want to fix the economy might want to consider raising taxes rather than cutting them. Or, at the very least, keeping them the same.”
You can read the whole article here.

Along with tax cuts for businesses, Dalek Morrison keeps repeating that we don’t have a revenue problem, only a spending problem! He and Dalek Cormann are programmed to say this mindlessly and endlessly. The unavoidable consequence is spending cuts, which also go by the name ‘austerity’. Austerity has been tried in many places with little success.

An article in the Australian edition of The Guardian by Larry Elliott, Austerity policies do more harm than good, IMF study concludes, subtitled: Economists give strong critique of neoliberal doctrine ushered in by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s begins: “A strong warning that austerity policies can do more harm than good has been delivered by economists from the International Monetary Fund, in a critique of the neoliberal doctrine that has dominated economics for the past three decades.”

In response to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s wish to introduce austerity measures “…to give the government more flexibility in the event of a future crisis”, IMF economists:
“…rejected the notion that austerity could be good for growth by boosting the confidence of the private sector to invest. They said that in practice, ‘episodes of fiscal consolidation have been followed, on average, by drops rather than by expansions in output. On average, a consolidation of 1% of GDP increases the long-term unemployment rate by 0.6 percentage points.’

“The IMF economists summarised what a growing consensus among economists across the globe now think, that Osborne-style austerity economics increases inequality and instability, and undermines growth.”
They concluded:
“…that the increase in inequality threatened to be self-defeating.

“The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth, the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on boosting. There is now strong evidence that inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth.”
In yet another article in The Guardian: You’re witnessing the death of neoliberalism – from within, Aditya Chakrabortty quotes IMF research: “The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off.”

It seems that if neoliberalism is not yet dead, it is moribund.

How much more evidence do we need to be convinced that Turnbull is selling us a pup? There is no Jobs and Growth piglet in his swag. What’s more, even if there were, it could not grow into the jobs and growth he promises every day. His much-vaunted ‘plan’ has no substance. Ken Wolff goes into this in his TPS Extra piece: What economic plan?

Turnbull’s Jobs and Growth promise will not, indeed cannot be achieved. The food he says he will feed his Jobs and Growth piglet: lower taxes for businesses and spending cuts, will not make it grow. Indeed all the evidence, gathered over fifty years, indicate that his food will not even keep his Jobs and Growth piglet going.

Instead, the opposite will occur – it will starve. There will be no more jobs, and growth will not occur. Inequality will increase.

The rich will get richer and the poor will languish waiting for the promised benefits that will never trickle down.

In fact, the piglet Turnbull is trying to sell us is a pup.

Why do Turnbull, Morrison, Cormann and fellow ministers fly in the face of the facts? Why do they persistently cling to supply-side economics, which has been discredited over and over again? Ornstein’s answer rings true: Neoliberals are 'a radical insurgency that doesn’t care about fact, doesn’t care about argument, doesn’t want to participate in politics, and is simply off the spectrum.’ They adhere to their preferred economic theory because it suits them and their top-end-of-town supporters, replete with top hats.  

How can we argue with such people? We can’t. The only way to destroy their dangerously flawed economics, which threatens not just our economy, but also the social fabric of this egalitarian nation of the ‘fair go’, is via the ballot box.

July 2 is our best chance to tell Turnbull that he is selling us a pup.


What do you think?
Do you feel you are being sold a pup?

If not, what is Turnbull selling us?

Let us know in comments below.

Hordes of illiterates



If you had to pick a minister to deliver a nasty message, you would not go past Peter Dutton, master of cruel comments, replete with his trademark po-face and matching body language. Last week, on Sky News, responding to the suggestion by the Greens that we should up our refugee intake to 50,000, his comment was: “They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English. These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that. For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it, so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario. To be clear: they’ll take all our jobs and also they won’t get jobs.”

Framing the Greens’ and Labor’s asylum seeker policy
Dutton’s outlandish claims are untrue, and he knows it. So what was he up to? The most obvious conclusion is that he was trying to wedge the Greens for advocating an extra refugee intake, and Labor, whom he insisted are seriously divided on asylum seeker policy. This framing was embellished by drawing attention to the association of Labor and the Greens. It was a triple whammy that only Dutton, redolent with all his innate nastiness and vindictiveness, could deliver.

But was it just another instance of Dutton spewing his venom all over his enemies and those loathsome asylum seekers that cause him so much angst? Commentators were quick to assert that his mouthing-off was not just same-old Dutton, but a well-planned Coalition strategy to frame the progressive parties as soft on border control, keen to bring in even more asylum seekers, who, despite being illiterate, would take jobs away from Australians, would join the queue of the unemployed, would thereby be a burden on our social security network, and would cost taxpayers a fortune. How they would both take away our jobs and yet be unemployed was not explained.

The fact that Julie Bishop and later Malcolm Turnbull quickly supported his remarks suggests powerfully that they, and the LNP machine, were not just backing Dutton, but had thrust him out there to do his dirty work. When Turnbull said “Peter Dutton is an outstanding Immigration Minister” he was confirming that the Dutton ‘outburst’ was a deliberate strategy to re-focus attention on the always-successful-for-the-Coalition boat people theme.

A day later Turnbull might have been having second thoughts about his unequivocal endorsement of Dutton when he described Australia as an ‘immigration nation’, a subtle variation on his ‘innovation nation’, and again when he wrote an opinion piece in Fairfax media attempting to justify the Coalition’s attitude to immigration. To add insult to injury, Turnbull then self-righteously accused Shorten of demonizing Dutton! Such bizarre political rhetoric seems to have no bounds.

Some have labeled the Dutton episode as an example of the ‘dead cat’ strategy. Attributed to Lynton Crosby, who used it in the UK elections when he was assisting David Cameron, it goes like this: You throw out an outrageous proposition to distract the media and say, to use Crosby’s words, “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!” Journalists will then talk about the dead cat, and will stop talking about issues that have been causing grief, or issues that favour one’s opponents. 2353NM has written extensively about this in Dead cats and reset buttons.

Dutton’s mouthing-off is a classic example of the LNP’s vindictive framing of both Labor and the Greens. Coalition members will ignore the indignant calls for an apology from Dutton, because what he did was under instructions from his party, who knew nobody could do it with more venom than could Dutton.

There is no doubt that PM Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues will use the asylum seeker issue relentlessly to frame progressives, especially those who would prefer a more humanitarian approach. They will be framed as soft, unwilling to strictly protect our borders, unwilling to protect Australian jobs, indeed unwilling to protect our way of life, which Dutton asserts is now threatened by hordes of illiterates, and that their approach is hugely expensive and a threat to our treasured multiculturalism.

Bill Shorten did hit back, but rather mildly with: “Mr Dutton’s comments are comments Pauline Hanson would be proud to make, and if this is the best the Liberal party can do, it is not very good at all.

The Coalition’s framing, indeed its xenophobic dog-whistling, will resonate with many voters, especially those in the marginal seats of Western Sydney, but as an insult to all refugees, and, as Lenore Taylor says, to Australians generally, it may not be as potent as it might have been.

How well Shorten’s rebuttal resonates with them, time will tell. But the Greens’ framing of Labor as indifferent to the suffering of those in offshore detention will blunt Shorten’s attempts to take a firm but humanitarian line on asylum seekers that might appeal to moderate voters.

The last piece on this subject on The Political Sword: Top hats versus hard hats outlined a number of instances of framing used by the main political parties; this piece builds on it, so let’s look at some more.

Framing the Green/Labor alliance
Another powerful LNP framing strategy will be to play on the possibility of an alliance between Labor and the Greens, something the latter have canvassed openly, from which Labor has speedily run away. The LNP will characterize such an alliance as a reprise of the Julia Gillard/Bob Brown alliance, the public signing of which we are now being reminded. Painted by the LNP as a catastrophe to be avoided like the plague, this alliance, with the support of the rural independents, resulted in one of the most productive periods ever in federal politics with around six hundred pieces of legislation passed, some of it epochal.

But the Coalition continues to portray it as a disaster never to be repeated. Facts are irrelevant; the perception of chaos and disunity in Labor that Tony Abbott and the Coalition exploited prior to the 2013 election was a prime reason why Labor lost. You will have noticed how quickly Turnbull and his ministers jumped on Richard di Natale’s desire to form an alliance with Labor as an opportunity to wedge Labor.

Framing health – a Labor strength
Labor has always been strong on health. So when Shorten announced, on World Family Doctor Day, that Labor would defend Medicare, would protect bulk billing, and would unfreeze the indexation of Medicare benefits, frozen by the Coalition until 2020, and inject $12.2 billion into this over a decade, family doctors and Brian Owler, president of the AMA, applauded, pointing out that this would reduce the cost to the patient of a GP visit by around $20, halting the imposition by stealth of the dreaded GP co-payment, already rejected by the Senate. Shorten made the telling point that the Coalition can find almost $50 billion to give tax cuts to businesses and multinationals ahead of funding Medicare - powerful framing!

Reflexly, Coalition spokespersons labeled the move as ‘same old Labor’. Scott Morrison said: “Every time you see Bill Shorten’s lips moving in this campaign, he’s spending more money that he doesn’t have.” ‘Same old Morrison’! So the old, old framing of Labor as profligate spenders racking up more debt and deficit continues, and will do so until Election Day.

Global warming a rich area for framing
Surprisingly, there has not been much emphasis yet on climate change, but that will change as we approach the election. Both Labor and the Greens have set carbon mitigation targets much more ambitious than has the Coalition, and will frame the Coalition as wedded to fossil fuels and those who own them, endorsing more coal mines even as the threat of global warming increases month after month. April was the hottest April on record for the globe, and we are heading for 2016 being the hottest year on record! They will frame the Coalition as short-sighted denialists, environmental vandals, and in the pocket of the coal lobby. It beats me why the don’t ask them: “Where is Abbott’s much-vaunted ‘Green Army?’, which was so central a plank in his carbon mitigation platform.

The Coalition, via their loquacious spokesman, Greg Hunt, will ignore the facts (always ‘with great respect’), will continue to assert that they are on track and will easily ‘meet and beat’ their emissions targets, will deny that emissions are actually increasing, will boast that Australia has higher targets and is making better progress than comparable nations, and that nothing more needs to be done but to implement their ‘Direct Action Plan’, which environmentalists and economists alike ridicule. Although forced to acknowledge the damage being inflicted on the Great Barrier Reef, Hunt was able to make light of it, make upbeat prognostications about its future health, and insist that he is devoted to improving water quality in the vicinity, as if that’s all that is necessary to preserve this iconic natural wonder and tourist bonanza.



Already Hunt is re-stoking scaremongering about Bill Shorten's ‘massive new electricity tax’, insisting that both Labor’s and the Greens’ emissions targets and their intention to re-introduce a carbon pricing mechanism to reduce carbon pollution “couldn't have a worse impact in terms of electricity prices”, which he insists will skyrocket for us all. He likes to emphasize its impact on the less well off, for whom he shows pseudo concern. Again it’s the ‘same old, same old’ carbon tax argument that served the Coalition so well under Abbott.

Out of touch Turnbull
By framing Turnbull as a man in a top hat in a harbour side mansion who is out of touch with ordinary people and the travails of Struggle Street, Labor and the Greens have attached a label to him that will stick. It contrasts with Labor’s framing of itself: Putting people first.

For his part, Turnbull has tried to negate this by travelling often on public transport, always ready to take ‘selfies’ for his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He doesn’t try to disguise his wealth, attempting instead to represent it as a result of enterprise and hard work, two attributes he values in others, and indeed wishes upon the whole nation.

How well Shorten’s ‘out of touch’ frame will dominate Turnbull’s frames: ‘jobs and growth’ and ‘enterprise and hard work’, is one of the intriguing questions that the long election campaign eventually will answer.

Framing the NBN
Events of last week highlighted the importance of the framing of the NBN. The AFP raid on Senator Conroy’s office and the home of one of his staffers in pursuit of the source of leaks from NBN Co. Limited, underscores how sensitive an issue this is for both parties. When, in a fit of pique at Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises NBN initiative, Tony Abbott instructed Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’, tech-head Turnbull decided that instead of killing it he would create a hybrid mixed-technology system using fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), with Telstra's ageing copper wire from a box on the street corner connecting it to the premises. It ended up being second-class, soon attracting the tag ‘Fraudband’. Not only is it poor technically, it is slower, behind in its rollout, and increasingly costly, possibly eventually costing more than Labor’s FTTP version. In short, it is a flop. This is what the leak is said to expose.

To counter this embarrassment, and Labor’s framing of Fraudband for what it is, an inferior system, the AFP raids were a distraction welcomed by the Coalition. Turnbull angrily framed Labor’s protest about the raids as politicisation of the NBN initiative, labelling it a shameful slur on the integrity of the AFP, even putting our national security at risk! No one has yet explained how the AFP, supposedly free of political bias, chose the second week of the election campaign to add these raids to its six-month long investigation, how Sky News was there to report and film it, and how an NBN employee was allowed to photograph seized documents (subsequently ordered to be destroyed).

These recent developments have blunted the Coalition’s framing of Labor’s version of the NBN as grossly expensive, indeed unaffordable; Labor has countered by labelling the Coalition version as a dud, and an expensive one at that.

Framing ‘Jobs and Growth’ versus ‘Putting People First’
It seems appropriate to end this rather long piece with ‘Jobs and growth’, the Coalition’s most frequently used three-word slogan. The LNP has tacitly assumed that voters will interpret ‘Jobs’ as ‘jobs for you’, and that ‘Growth’ will be interpreted as a ‘growing, prosperous economy’. They have assumed also that these two concepts will be an object of admiration for voters, who will therefore vote for the party that espouses them.

What they never explain is how they will achieve jobs and growth, except to hint that if tax breaks are given to businesses they will invest more, expand their scope, boost the economy, and of course employ more. Their belief is that reducing company tax to 25% over a long period will provide the stimulus that will bring about ‘Jobs and Growth’. This is based on the old and long-discredited concept of ‘trickle down’ economics, which has been dealt with extensively in Trickle down thinking breeds inequality, published on The Political Sword on 11 May.  

Apparently, the Coalition is hoping that framing ‘Jobs and Growth’ as the centrepiece of its election pitch will win the day without having to explain what it means in explicit terms, and how it will work; indeed whether it can work at all!

In pursuit of his goal of fairness for all, Bill Shorten is framing his campaign messages under his three-word slogan: ‘Putting People First’. His object is to cast Labor as personally concerned about individual people rather than being wedded to the inanimate concept of 'Jobs and Growth'. He embellishes that framing by asking voters: “What sort of country do you want to live in?” His implication is that Labor seeks to provide a country that is fair to all, one that gives educational and job opportunities to every individual who can benefit.

Every time Shorten makes a promise to fund an initiative, Turnbull frames him as being on a 'spendathon', digging a bigger and bigger black hole of deficit.

Time will tell which framing, the Coalition’s economic one, or Labor’s personal one, will prevail.

As the election campaign continues, you will recognize many other instances of framing. Whatever messages politicians seek to transmit, they will place each of them in a frame that embellishes and enhances the message, that gives it deep meaning for voters, and that appeals to voters’ sentiments, and at times voters’ self-interest. They will seek to frame their opponents' messages and policies as ill-conceived, poorly thought through (thought bubbles), unworkable, extravagant, unfunded, and sometimes, ideologically driven.

As voters, we need to recognize the framings that politicians are using so that we can analyse and appraise their inherent merit, their feasibility, and their validity for each of us and for the nation as a whole. I hope this and the previous essay about framing: Top hats versus hard hats will assist you to do this.

What do you think?
Are you picking up the framing that all sides are using?

Have you seen other examples of framing and counter-framing?

Let us know in your comments below.
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Top hats versus hard hats



Now that the official election campaign has entered its second week, it’s time to assess how each of the major political parties is framing its narratives.

You will recall that earlier this year there were three pieces on The Political Sword on framing: Framing the political debate – the key to winning, More on framing the political debate – the key to winning, and Still more on framing the political debate – the key to winning.

The series began by asserting that the most plausible explanation of why Tony Abbott did well as an opposition leader but was an awful failure as prime minister was that in opposition he had the uncanny ability to frame the political debate in his favour, but in government that ability deserted him.

Abbott is gone but his voice has not. He still talks of the ‘legacy of the Abbott government’, or more pointedly, the ‘Abbott/Turnbull government’. What’s more, the guru who directed him all through his period at the top, Peta Credlin, has reappeared as an ‘election commentator’ on Sky News to offer her sage remarks.

Perhaps unintentionally, when Credlin labeled Malcolm Turnbull “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, she reinforced Bill Shorten’s early attempts at framing the political debate with his catchy phrase: “Top hats versus hard hats”. Shorten will try to frame the contest between the Coalition and Labor as one of the toffs versus the workers. Derived from British slang, a ‘toff’ is a derogatory stereotype for someone with an aristocratic background or belonging to the landed gentry, particularly someone who has an air of superiority, who is often caricatured as wearing a top hat, a monocle and a bow tie. Although Turnbull does not fit this stereotype precisely, we have already seen him characterized in this way in the mainstream media, particularly by cartoonists.

Top hats and hard hats are easily recognized icons that people in the street will intuitively apply to the top end of town and the workers toiling in uncongenial labour.

This framing will enable the electorate to give concrete meaning to the blight of inequality in our society, which will be a hot button election issue. While some might find the notion of inequality difficult to visualize, its real world manifestation, top hats and hard hats, will be visible to all.

This imagery captures the real meaning of Labor’s campaign slogan: "Putting people first”, which is code for "putting ‘ordinary’ people first".


Expect Shorten's ‘top hats and hard hats’ framing to be prominent throughout Labor’s campaign, and expect Turnbull and the Coalition to try to negate it. We saw this played out after Turnbull’s name was found in the Panama Papers. Although there was no hint of impropriety by Turnbull as a company director, a point the media and Shorten himself acknowledged, the mere mention of Turnbull in the Papers ‘raised eyebrows’ because of the now infamous connection in the Papers between individuals and companies and shady offshore manoeuvres to avoid paying tax. Turnbull seems completely innocent, and has said so, yet the association will remain throughout the campaign with the help of reminders from Shorten like “To be fair to Mr Turnbull, he should be given the chance to fully explain himself”. Expect more of this because the Panama connection reinforces Shorten’s framing of Turnbull as a toff in a top hat.

The ‘top hats versus hard hats’ framing will be strengthened every time Turnbull attacks trade unions, every time he insists that the Australian Building and Construction Commission must be reinstated to counter “lawlessness and thuggery in the construction industry”; indeed he will remind us that this is so important to the economy that the double dissolution election we are about to have was called because of the Senate’s refusal to reinstate the ABCC.

Top hat versus hard hat framing will also be reinforced every time Shorten points to the unethical, and at times fraudulent behaviour of the big banks, and how this has impacted on the ordinary man in the street, some of whom have lost their life’s savings or have been denied legitimate insurance claims, all because of the banks’ system of paying personal bonuses to executives who make or save the bank money. Shorten will continue to press for a Royal Commission into banking (which has wide appeal in the electorate); while Turnbull will insist this is overkill and that the Coalition has the banking problem in hand. What’s more, he’s given them a stern lecture!

This framing is now set in concrete and will be restated and reinforced by Labor every single time instances emerge of the little man at the bottom of the pile being done over by the big man at the top. Shorten will see to that.

There are countless examples of the well off receiving advantages that are denied to the less well off; the budget provided still more. Newly announced Coalition policies will do so again and again as it embeds its trickle down philosophy into its economic plans for “jobs and growth”, which is another version of Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid”. For ages, the Coalition has portrayed itself as the ‘adult’ party best suited to manage the economy, and Labor as kids without a clue. By focusing on “jobs and growth” the Coalition is reinforcing this framing.

Whenever the well off seem to be gaining another benefit under the Coalition, and Labor objects and points to inequality, the Coalition will try to counter this framing with its ‘class warfare’ and ‘politics of envy’ catchphrases, which it trots out every time criticism is directed towards those at the top being given special advantages. It’s a slogan that resonates with the electorate; few people regard envy as a desirable attribute, so to be accused of envy is uncomfortable. Shorten needs to rebuff this characterization. I thought David Marr’s rebuttal on Insiders was clever. He hinted that ‘the politics of greed’ might be used to counter ‘the politics of envy’.

Let’s look at some other attempts at framing.

In the last few days, as several Labor parliamentarians and candidates have expressed discomfort at the punitive approach this country is taking towards asylum seekers, Coalition members: the Deputy Liberal Leader, the Immigration Minister, the Treasurer and his sidekicks, and any Liberal handy to a microphone, have lambasted Shorten and Labor for being 'soft on border protection'. They have been vigorously framing Labor as being disunited on border protection, even keeping an account of the numbers who seem to be at variance with Labor policy. Their framing has already extended to painting Labor as so soft on border protection that should Labor win government the people smugglers would soon be back in business, with boat arrivals starting up again in earnest, complete with all the horrible consequences: more drowning at sea, hordes of arrivals, long periods of detention, untold expense for the taxpayer, and a reversion to the ‘awful period under Kevin Rudd’.

This is powerful framing. Generally speaking, the electorate embraces the tough, albeit ruthless approach to ‘border protection’ the Coalition has in place, and in Western Sydney, where there are many marginal electorates, voters would react strongly against any relaxation of the Coalition’s measures. Abbott created this animosity to asylum seekers as soon as he called them ‘illegals’, stoked up his ‘Stop the Boats’ slogan, and implemented his harsh and unbending approach to what he liked to label ‘border protection’, as if we were facing an enemy invasion. Scott Morrison was ready to do his bidding, and now Peter Dutton seems to relish being Mr Tough Guy.

Peta Credlin too is onto the power of this framing and says so in an article in the Sunday Telegraph: Bill Shorten’s boats plan is sinking fast, reproduced in the Herald Sun:
We’ve seen this week that it isn’t just the senior Labor leaders who lack ticker on boats. At last count, 16 MPs or candidates have openly defied Bill Shorten. If they’re prepared to go rogue before an election, there’s every chance the boats will start again if Labor is put back in charge of our borders… It was a humanitarian catastrophe, a national security disaster and a budget calamity. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.
This framing of Labor can be expected to exacerbate, especially if more Labor people abandon party unity and speak out against Labor’s established asylum seeker policy. Shorten must pull these dissidents into line. We understand and respect their feelings, but they need to decide whether they want Labor to succeed at the election. Although social media gives expression to many who endorse the dissidents’ views, such views are electoral poison to a hard-nosed electorate that Abbott has indoctrinated to be tough on asylum seekers and is averse to any hint of softness on border protection.

Some Labor people feel it would be better to spend another term in opposition than go along with the Coalition’s harsh policy, which by the way Turnbull has faithfully and forcefully reiterated with a gun at his head and hard line conservatives ready to pull the trigger. Who knows whether he believes his hard-line rhetoric? But be certain it will continue. Some Labor dissidents might prefer to be in opposition, but do their views coincide with their constituencies?

Here are some more contemporary examples of attempts at framing.

Malcolm Turnbull has vehemently condemned Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax, painting them as irresponsibly ‘smashing the housing market’, depreciating the value of many people’s largest asset – the family home, and pushing up rents. That most economists, many commentators, and the RBA itself disagree has not softened his attack. Obviously, he sees this framing as advantageous, taking, as he insists it does, wealth from families whom he asserts will lose out as their home loses value. He knows that taking away wealth or advantage always creates anger and resentment.

Typically, Abbott’s framing of Labor’s proposal as “a housing tax” was much more brutal!

Predictably, the real estate industry has come out against Labor’s proposed changes, and is threatening a campaign similar to that of the miners against the mining tax. Self-interest always trumps the common good.

For his part, Shorten has framed negative gearing as a taxpayer subsidy to enable the wealthy to buy their “second, third or tenth home”. Again, the toffs will do well while first home-buyers are left bereft, outbid by wealthy investors. Shorten’s line is appealing to young couples seeking to enter the housing market, and to their parents too.

How well these contrasting frames will play out, only time will tell.

The Coalition has had difficulties selling its planned changes to superannuation. It has framed this policy as hitting only the very wealthy (which it believes will appeal to most of the electorate) and that it is fair and is definitely not retrospective. Retrospectivity is an attribute voters hate. It is fascinating to hear well-informed economists and commentators disagree so strongly on the issue of this policy’s retrospectivity. I’m not going to canvass here one side of this debate, or the other. Read though what Peta Credlin had to say on this subject: 
"There are two problems with the Coalition’s changes to superannuation. First, every candidate has to be able to explain them and super is notoriously complicated at the best of times. Second, the government looks like it is using our savings to solve its Budget problems. Why should people trust a government that raids their personal, private savings whenever it needs money? We put our money into our super so we can look after ourselves. Claiming that the changes are not really retrospective, when they take into account contributions starting from 2007, makes the government look devious as well as unprincipled.”
Clearly she doesn’t think highly of the Coalition’s framing!

As if criticizing the Coalition’s superannuation policy was not enough, Credlin took a shot at Turnbull’s abandonment of his ‘Penrith walk’: “Added to this, cancelling a planned walk through a Penrith shopping centre was a bad look for the Prime Minister. I warned here last week that Labor would try to paint him as out of touch and he played straight into their hands.” Then, in an apparent attempt to soften her labeling of Turnbull, she added “Yes, he is “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, but he and Lucy bought their home after many years of hard work. He has an inspirational self-made background and he has to disable Labor’s attack by telling his story rather than let them define him.”

There it is, right out of the horse’s mouth! Being ‘out of touch’ is another frame Labor is attempting to put around Turnbull. Credlin can see this plainly.

And of course the old, old stereotypical framing of Labor as the profligate spenders, and the Coalition as the party that looks after the top end of town but says ‘No’ to spending on the less well off, will continue.

This piece is already long enough. The campaign has just begun. Many frames have surfaced, too many to discuss now, and many more attempts at framing will emerge. The Greens are vigourously framing themselves, Labor and the Coalition to suit their agenda. I will deal with all this next time around.


So until the next piece on framing, what do you think?
Are you picking up the framing that all sides are using?

Have you seen other examples of framing and counter-framing?

Let us know in your comments below.
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Trickle down thinking breeds inequality



In a piece published on 13 April, I predicted that inequality would be a hot button issue in the upcoming election. Now that we have had both Scott Morrison’s budget speech and Bill Shorten’s speech in reply, we can see how this issue will play out in the election. Although the word ‘inequality’ has not assumed the repetitive status of the ‘jobs and growth’ mantra, it is subtly pervading the political discourse.

Every time the term ‘fairness’ is used, notions of equality are being canvassed. In his reply speech, Shorten made a point of emphasising equality for women: “championing the march of women to equality, closing the gender pay gap and properly funding childcare”. He spoke of fairness and integrity in superannuation, and asserted that “Australia should never accept the false choice between growth and fairness - each is essential to each other.”

By now most readers of political blogs will be familiar with the term: ‘trickle down economics’, but for those who are not, let me give a short history of this concept. It is not a formal economic theory so much as a catchphrase that captures a concept that permeates the thinking of many politicians, namely that benefits given to those at the top will trickle down to those at the bottom.

The concept goes back a long way. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted that ‘trickle-down economics’ had been tried in the United States in the 1890s under the name ‘horse and sparrow theory’: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” Reaganomics was an example, and likewise Margaret Thatcher’s approach to economics.

In his book: Zombie Economics: How dead ideas still walk among us (Princeton University Press, 2010), John Quiggin, Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland, described several discredited economic theories that refuse to die, living on as zombies that politicians still use to suit their political purposes. Among the zombies he listed was ‘trickle-down economics’. Although discredited, Quiggin warned that as a zombie that will not die, the concept would still be used: “As long as there have been rich and poor people, or powerful and powerless people, there have been advocates to explain that it’s better for everyone if things stay that way.” This was elaborated upon in an April 2011 piece on The Political Sword: Joe Hockey should read John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics.

While great economists such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mills and John Maynard Keynes have supported income re-distribution through progressive taxation, and most economists still do today, there are still some who argue that we should let the rich get richer and wait for the benefits to trickle down to the poor. One could be forgiven for thinking that is what Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull, and today’s Coalition members believe, as they insist on giving tax relief to the wealthy, but not to the less well off. This trend was starkly portrayed in the 2014 budget, and continues in 2016.

Quiggin gives example after example to demonstrate that the trickle down hypothesis is false, and caps this with a telling graph of household income distribution in the US from 1965 to 2005 that shows that those on the 95th percentile for income steadily improved their position by over fifty percent, while those on the 20th percentile and below were static.

He pointed out that the biggest challenge of the failure of the ‘trickle-down hypothesis’ is to understand why and how inequality increased so much under market liberalism, and how it can be reversed. To Quiggin, restoring progressivity to the tax system is seen as an obvious move.

For the academically inclined, several varieties of inequality are recognized: Wikipedia says:
”Economic inequality is the difference found in various measures of economic well being among individuals in a group, among groups in a population, or among countries. Economic inequality is sometimes called income inequality, wealth inequality, or the wealth gap. Economists generally focus on economic disparity in three metrics: wealth, income, and consumption. The issue of economic inequality is relevant to notions of equity, equality of outcome, and equality of opportunity…There are various numerical indices for measuring economic inequality. A widely used index is the Gini coefficient, but there are also many other methods.

“Some studies show that economic inequality is a social problem; too much inequality can be destructive because it might hinder long-term growth. Others argue that too much income equality is also destructive since it decreases the incentive for productivity and the desire to take-on risks and create wealth”.
The latter is what conservatives believe.

A more familiar way of talking about inequality is to talk about ‘fairness’, a concept every Australian understands. The ‘fair go’ is valued by most of us. Who would argue against the idea that everyone should have a ‘fair go’?

Joseph Stiglitz is another who has been writing for years about the damaging effect of inequality. His book: The Price of Inequality is a classic. More recently, Thomas Piketty entered the arena with his Capital in the Twenty-First Century and hypothesized about the genesis of inequality. He asserted that the main driver of inequality, namely the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth, today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. He reminded us that political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past and could do so again. But is the Coalition listening?

No matter who writes about inequality, the conclusion is the same: the gap between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom of the pile is widening in many countries, ours among them.

If you need any more evidence to convince you of the fallacy of the ‘trickle down’ concept, read: The embarrassing truth about trickle-down on the New Economics website, NEF, the outlet of a UK think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice.

The 2014 article by Faiza Shaheen concludes:
”The trickle-down approach has been bad economics. Not only has it failed to deliver on its own terms but also it has actively damaged the health of our economy, society and political system. It has supported growing inequality which, rather than boosting economic performance, has deflated it. The UK grew more when we were a more equal country during the post-war, pre-Thatcher era than after. Its damaging social effects are also mounting. High levels of inequality are increasingly seen as harmful to individual well-being and health, social cohesion and social mobility.

“Obama’s attack on trickle-down economics, echoed by Labour Leader Ed Miliband offered hope that our leaders are finally engaging in the possibility of dethroning this damaging philosophy, but the recent response to a potential increase in income tax shows that the theory still festers. We must continue to counter an approach that has created a tide of inequality that lifts up the yachts while leaving the rest of us paddling harder. By pulling the rug out from under trickle-down economics other damaging myths can be exposed, such as the argument for high executive pay.”
Read too Elizabeth Warren demolishes the myth of “trickle-down”. “That is going to destroy our country, unless we take our country back” in Salon. She is an academic and Democrat senator.

For Liberal skeptics here is the coup de grace in United Fair Economics in an article Trickle-down economics: Four reasons why it just doesn’t work, written in 2003 during the Bush era:
  • Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to economic growth
  • Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to income growth
  • Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to wage growth
  • Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to job creation.
The article supports these assertions with graphic evidence, and concludes:
”Overall, data from the past 50 years strongly refutes any arguments that cutting taxes for the richest Americans will improve the economic standing of the lower and middle classes or the nation as a whole. To be sure, the economic indicators examined in this report are dependent on a variety of factors, not just tax policy.

“However, what this study does show is that any attempt to stimulate economic growth by cutting taxes for the rich will do nothing – it hasn't worked over the past 50 years, so why would it work in the future? To put it simply and bluntly, Bush's top-bracket tax cut is an ineffective attempt at stimulus that will not cause any growth - unless, of course, if you're talking about the size of the deficit.
If we now look at the Coalition’s 2016 budget, much of it is based on the trickle down concept that tax breaks or other economic benefits provided to businesses and upper income levels will inevitably benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole.

That is what is behind the monotonously repeated ‘jobs and growth’ mantra. Superficially appealing, the Coalition posits that to increase jobs those who employ people must be given tax breaks and other incentives. This is most flagrantly demonstrated by the Coalition’s plan, beginning on 1 July, to reduce company tax progressively from 28.5% now to 25% over the next decade, not just for small and medium businesses with a turnover of less than $2 million, but to extend eligibility to businesses with turnovers of up to $10m, and the lower rate will be gradually phased in for larger businesses until it covers all companies in 2023.

The Liberal manifesto Lowering company tax, boldly asserts:…if you are against cutting company tax, you are against economic growth. If you are against economic growth, then you are against jobs.” In other words, the benefits of cutting company tax will trickle down to the workers at the bottom. Arthur Sinodinos was the first confidently to expound this a few weeks back.

PM Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison were reluctant to admit the cost to revenue of this measure, but Treasurer Secretary John Fraser let the cat out of the bag during a Senate Estimates hearing with the figure of $48.2 billion over ten years. Clearly, the Coalition has such fervent belief in the stimulatory effects to ‘jobs and growth’ of giving a large tax break to businesses, even to multinationals, that it is prepared to forego over $48 billion in revenue!

Another manifestation of preferentially feeding the horses is the Coalition’s push for lower penalty rates on Sundays. Their belief is that if this were to occur, more businesses would open on Sundays, and employ more people. Trickle down again. That those depending on Sunday rates would suffer seems immaterial to them.

There are other instances in the 2016 budget of giving to the rich but not to the poor, such as a tax cut to those earning over $80,000 by raising the marginal tax threshold for this second top bracket from $80,000 to $87,000. But there is no tax break for those earning below this magic figure; indeed they will suffer cuts in entitlements. The horses will get the oats; the sparrows will need to fossick in the manure to get their share.

Progressives: Labor and the Greens, know the trickle down concept is a charade. They believe that to stimulate an economy that is slowing, and thereby drive jobs and growth, stimulatory measures are needed. Time and again, better wages have been shown to increase economic activity because people have more money in their pockets to buy the things other people make or do. Using government funds to support infrastructure development also has been shown to stimulate economic activity and increase jobs. This Keynesian approach has a long track record of success when applied where private economic activity is lagging, but the Coalition doesn’t want to know.

I need go on no further.

Almost every slogan, almost every utterance of the Coalition is premised on an entrenched, unshakeable belief in trickle down economics, despite this concept having been debunked for a century. Zombie-like though it is, the Coalition embraces it with fervour. Why? Because it suits their political purpose: to shore up the top end of town, to please those who fund and support it.

Don’t expect them to ever believe that trickle down thinking breeds inequality, because with all PM Turnbull’s talk of ‘fairness’, ‘equality’ is unimportant to them. They believe that inequality is simply part of the natural order of things, and should remain that way.


What do you think?
We are looking for your comments.

What do you think of the Turnbull/Morrison budget?

Do you see how trickle down thinking has permeated the budget, and how it will lead to more inequality?

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What can we expect in the coming election?
Ken Wolff, 17 April 2016
Apart from the obvious statements, we can also tell there is an election in the air as, after six months of inactivity, the Turnbull government has engaged in a flurry of policy announcements — or in some cases what should be termed policy ‘thought bubbles’.
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Divining the federal budget
Ad astra, 30 April 2016
Some of you may question the purpose of trying to divine what will be in the May 3 federal budget when the Turnbull Ship of State seems to be all at sea, wallowing towards an uncertain destination, facing strong headwinds, its sails flapping, its hull leaking, with a dithering Captain at the helm, a loquacious and at times incoherent First Mate insisting he knows where he’s going, and a motley crew.
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What can we expect in the coming election?


[Saint Malcolm?]

Apart from the obvious statements, we can also tell there is an election in the air as, after six months of inactivity, the Turnbull government has engaged in a flurry of policy announcements — or in some cases what should be termed policy ‘thought bubbles’. That is not to mention the concomitant increase in television advertising for existing government programs and policies.

Until recent times, the government had made few major announcements. Early on there were funding packages for domestic violence and the purchase of army vehicles but those were obviously developed prior to Turnbull becoming prime minister. His major announcement was the innovation package on 7 December, long on rhetoric and promises but short on substantive actions and new funding. Many of its proposed actions required no direct funding whatsoever, such as legislative changes for venture capital investments, employee share schemes and changes to bankruptcy and insolvency laws. Some had a potential impact on government revenue into the future, such as the tax incentives for early stage investors that will cost $51 million in each of 2017‒18 and 2018‒19. There was some direct funding for certain aspects of the package but it seems much of this was also funding redirected or rebadged from existing related programs. Essentially the strategy focuses on innovative business start-ups, improved collaboration between business and research institutions, a small investment in STEM teaching and digital literacy in schools, and the government itself setting an example in adopting new digital technology.

In The Conversation, Tim Mazzarol, Winthrop Professor, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Marketing and Strategy at the University of Western Australia, suggested that it was a start and was implementing some changes that had been sought since 2008. He quoted another professor, Mark Dodgson, that the money announced for the strategy did little more than ‘get us back to square one’. Mazzarol pointed out that successful start-ups were a very small percentage of businesses and many do not grow beyond ten employees. He referred to his attendance at a Business Council of Australia round-table regarding enhancing industry-research collaboration:
‘… there was also a recognition that many large firms, particularly foreign owned multinationals, do very little fundamental R&D in Australia. The pipeline for STEM graduates into industry and the willingness of many large firms to serve a “Keystone” role in local business ecosystems is currently missing.
So is the Turnbull plan missing the real issues?

On 29 February, Turnbull told Cabinet:
The challenge for us this year is to ensure we lead Australia in a way that delivers a successful transition from an economy that has been buoyed by a mining construction boom to the new economy.

That transition is the big challenge and the big opportunity for us and so in this election year we know that the choice will be who is best able to lead Australia through that transition, who is best able to deliver the innovation, the investment, the infrastructure, the jobs that are going to ensure that our children and our grandchildren have the great, high paying jobs of the 21st century.
Turnbull may be telling his Cabinet that but it is not exactly inspiring stuff for the electorate: probably the explanation for so many television advertisements now trying to sell it as important for our economy and for our children — the latter a deliberate advertising ploy.

There have been more uninspiring announcements but announcements that fit with Turnbull’s background in merchant banking. On 16 March, it was announced that, in accord with the Harper Review, Section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act, regarding the misuse of market power, would be changed to prohibit those ‘with substantial market power from engaging in conduct that has the purpose, effect or likely effect of substantially lessening competition’. On 21 March, Morrison announced changes to support financial technology. He said:
FinTech is going to revolutionise how consumers and businesses, as the drivers of economic activity, interact. This is going to have big implications for demand in the future. We need to be part of these changes and we have got to work out the best way to engage with FinTech and prepare for the financial system and economy of the future.
And on 30 March, Morrison announced that the ASX would lose its monopoly on share clearing, ‘a move by the Federal Government to encourage competition’.

On issues that may gain more voter attention, there was an announcement to create ‘Health Care Homes’ to coordinate treatment of those with multiple chronic conditions (note, however, that this is only for multiple conditions, not a single chronic condition). And on 23 March, a $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund was announced. This at last abandoned Abbott’s attempts to do away with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) as the fund would be administered jointly by it and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). However, whereas ARENA was previously able to make grants, the new arrangements will operate on a debt and equity basis.

And there was Turnbull’s promise on taxation reform where he initially said ‘everything was on the table’ but has subsequently taken the GST, negative gearing and superannuation changes off the table. They ran the idea of corporate tax cuts ‘up the flag pole’ but it remains to be seen whether they will make their way into the budget. Personal tax cuts seem to have disappeared, as too expensive, despite Morrison earlier having emphasised the need for such cuts to overcome bracket creep.

At the COAG on 1 April, Turnbull took another ‘thought bubble’ to the table: the idea that states could re-introduce their own income tax but it was firmly rejected by the Premiers and Chief Ministers. The idea was underpinned by the concept that states and territories would take over complete responsibility for education in government schools (and eventually hospitals), something which was also being pursued by Abbott and Hockey. I warned that this was likely in my piece ‘A smile is not enough’ early in February:
The Turnbull government is still pursuing the Abbott government policy of a transfer of powers to the states. Morrison has floated the idea that the states should receive a guaranteed share of income tax. The underlying idea is that the states become solely responsible for schools and hospitals and the commonwealth covers Medicare, the PBS and universities. Given that education and health are issues which the electorate sees Labor as better able to manage, the cynic in me suggests that this is also a political strategy to take away one of Labor’s strengths at the federal level.
State income tax was abandoned in 1942 and the idea that we could have different tax regimes between states runs counter to the concept of a national economy and would add to the complexity for businesses that operated in more than one state, whereas Turnbull and Morrison keep proclaiming the need to reduce red tape for businesses. We will now have to await the budget to see whether the Turnbull government can achieve any form of taxation reform to take to the election: the prospects do not look bright.

So far, very few of the government’s policies appear likely to inspire the voters. Perhaps Turnbull has a ‘vision’ with his innovative, agile economy but there is little substantive to talk about, little to grab the imagination of the voters.

Labor on the other hand has been releasing detailed policies for over twelve months, a strategy that has not been followed by Oppositions for twenty years. In that time, Oppositions have taken a low-profile approach and offered little in the way of major policy or have made such announcements only in the last week or so of an election campaign. The reasoning behind that approach was that the early release of policies allowed time for the government to refer them to the public service, or external consultants, to pull them apart and pick holes in them. The fact that the government has done little damage to Labor policies so far may suggest that the ‘holes’ are few and far between.

The government response to Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing brought not an attack on the detail but a ‘fear campaign’ and it could not even get that right with contrary claims that house prices would fall and house prices would rise.

Labor is also proposing changes to the tax treatment of high income superannuation, changes to the tax concessions for capital gains, an increase in tobacco excise and a target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.

Abbott, following his classical three-word pattern (he seems to have no other) has labelled these as ‘five new taxes’: a housing tax, a seniors’ tax, a wealth tax, a workers’ tax and a carbon tax. He ignores, of course, that, for example, an increase in tobacco excise will help reduce future health costs as more people give up smoking and that the so-called ‘carbon tax’ will actually promote and invigorate the renewable energy industry in Australia, thus creating more jobs and boosting the economy.

In the absence of inspiring Turnbull policies, I would not rule out Turnbull adopting a similar approach. As a matter of principle he would not use Abbott’s phraseology but he may well attack Labor’s ‘new taxes’ — or perhaps he will give Abbott his head and allow him to run such a campaign while Turnbull himself can remain aloof from such tactics. Don’t rule out anything!

Underpinning the Turnbull approach is the report of Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) and the legislation for the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Turnbull has recalled parliament with the aim of passing the ABCC legislation and has threatened to use it as a double dissolution trigger if it is not passed (that, of course, after having already achieved changes to Senate voting). In other words, union ‘corruption’ will be a key election issue although Turnbull is trying to cloak it as an economic necessity, claiming it will improve productivity in the construction industry (although the Productivity Commission found no significant improvement in productivity when it previously operated).

Probably more importantly, Turnbull can use the idea of union corruption and the TURC report to attack Shorten personally. Although Shorten was cleared of any wrongdoing by TURC, the Liberals earlier showed their hand by suggesting that Shorten had sold out the members of his union in sweetheart deals with businesses — despite the fact that the deals Shorten negotiated appeared to achieve successful outcomes for both his members and the projects in which they were involved. Surely the Liberals should be supporting successful business outcomes! No, not if it impedes an attack on Shorten. I think we can expect a lot more of this during the election campaign.

Unless the government pulls a rabbit out of the hat in its budget — and so far most of its rabbits appear to have been DOA — it appears to have little to take to an election. Its policies do not match those already put out by Labor, although there is some overlap as in, for example, support for STEM subjects in schools. Its grand vision may be a vision but it is not an inspiring one for the electorate as it consists mostly of words and legislative changes which will not impact most people — what interest do people have in ‘FinTech’, the removal of the ASX’s monopoly or changes to laws relating to venture capital?

Polls consistently show issues like education and health are major concerns for the electorate — they are issues which Labor is usually seen as better able to manage. Turnbull and the neo-liberals have not yet achieved their aim of transferring education and health to the states, so they will remain in play for the coming election and the government is not looking strong on them at the moment.

The economy is also ranked highly by voters as an election issue and Turnbull will claim that only he can take Australia towards the new economy of the 21st century (as he told his Cabinet) but that somewhat misses the point. When people say they are influenced by the economy, they usually mean issues like unemployment, wage rises and inflation, not some grand vision of an agile economy. At present wages growth is the slowest it has been in twenty years and that is the sort of issue voters will look at when assessing the health of the economy.

At the moment, I believe the policy issues are mostly in favour of the Labor party so don’t expect policy to be the major battle ground in the coming election. It may play a part but Turnbull is more likely to focus on union corruption. Expect a dirt campaign aligning Shorten and Labor with the ‘corrupt’ unions. Expect personal attacks on Shorten regarding his time as a union leader. Expect some suggestions that it is the unions that are holding us back from the golden age of an agile, innovative economy. Expect attacks on Labor as the party of high taxes and high spending (although that is traditional Liberal fare).

And, of course, expect Turnbull to present himself as the saviour, the only one capable of leading our country into the new golden age.

What do you think?
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The calamitous Abbott lies in wait



You may wonder why anyone would waste time writing about this man, erased from the top job by his own party, and discredited in multiple ways by commentator after commentator. For me, the reason is twofold. First, he is still confronting us day after day in the media, and just as importantly his successor is doing so poorly that some want Abbott to return.

He lies in wait hoping to do so. All the while his appalling legacy hangs like a dark cloud over his party.

I looked for an adjective to place in the title. Some of you might have chosen: catastrophic or disastrous or dreadful or tragic or devastating or destructive or ruinous or shocking or scandalous or appalling or dreadful or outrageous or deplorable or shameful or contemptible or despicable or disgraceful or woeful or even loathsome. While any or all might be applicable, ‘calamitous’ seemed to me to be the most appropriate. The Free Dictionary defines ‘calamitous’ as “having extremely unfortunate or dire consequences; causing ruin or destruction”. That description seemed to me to fit Abbott better than any of the others.

Abbott’s calamitous legacy is everywhere to be seen.

We need go no further back than the recent COAG meeting to feel the drag of the Abbott legacy on deliberations at that forum. PM Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison are encumbered by the ball and chain of Abbott’s decision, at the time of the 2014 Budget, to cut around $80 billion of funding to the states: $30 billion from schools and $50 billion from hospitals. I will not burden you with the convoluted arguments around this except to say that Labor claimed $80 billion was removed, while the LNP claimed it was never in Julia Gillard’s budget anyway. Despite denying the Budget had been cut, Abbott claimed he would achieve $80 billion in ‘savings’ over 10 years by reducing forward spending on schools and hospitals. Work that out if you can. If you want to probe deeper into this sorry tale, read the ABC’s Fact check: Does the federal budget cut $80 billion from hospitals and schools?, and look at the conclusion: The debate over the $80 billion figure - whether a cut or a saving - is hot air.”

Hot air or not, the premiers and first ministers are livid that this money, needed to run their schools and hospitals in the coming years, will not be forthcoming from the federal government, leaving them in a dire situation. Turnbull decided on the risky strategy of offering them the capacity to raise tax themselves to fund these essential services, announced it just a few days before COAG, provided no documentation for this momentous change before or at the meeting, and received the anticipated thumbs down. Now Morrison is out declaring that the PM ‘called the premiers’ bluff’, and they chickened out! Believe that if you can. The premiers are insulted and furious. What a way to encourage consensus!

All this serves to reinforce the sad fact that Abbott’s calamitous budgetary legacy hangs like a rotting albatross around the government’s neck.

And it’s not as if Abbott regrets any of his actions; indeed he is out and about insisting that he was right in his decisions, all of them, and that Turnbull is now following his policies and taking them to the election. This has forced Turnbull onto the back foot, declaring that his government is all about ‘Continuity and Change’on which subject 2353NM has written such cutting satire.

Let’s look deeper into budgetary matters.

Abbott’s fiscal legacy is the aftermath of his 2014 Budget, which is still causing anguish for the Turnbull government. Several measures designed to reduce spending are still held up in the Senate and are unlikely to be passed. The unfairness of that budget still hangs like a bad smell around the Coalition, even among its supporters. Hockey’s bluster about ‘ending the age of entitlement’ for those on ‘welfare’, while puffing Cuban cigars, still sticks in people’s craw.

Yet Abbott tells an audience in Japan that he wears that budget as ‘a badge of honour’! He is unrepentant; he would do the same budgetary damage again.

And he lies in wait to do so.

This week we saw the re-emergence of the Hockey/Abbott ‘we must live within our means’ mantra. Turnbull and Morrison, hoping this homely metaphor would resonate with voters, didn’t bother to explain how that applies to the federal budget. Perhaps they hope it will remind voters of the old virtue of saving before buying, or of using old-fashioned lay–by, notwithstanding the fact that homeowners certainly do not use this approach to purchase the new home. They borrow heavily and pay it off of later, just as governments ought to do.



The LNP wants voters to believe ‘living within our means’ equates with cutting expenditure, assiduously avoiding any hint that ‘means’ = income = revenue, and that increasing revenue would have the same result.

In last week’s Crikey Bernard Keane points out: “
…there's been no talk at all of ‘living within your means’ while government spending as a proportion of GDP went from 24.1% of GDP in Labor's last full year to 25.6% of GDP in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and then to 25.9% this year. Nor was there talk of ‘living within your means’ when the Abbott repealed the carbon price (cost: $6.2 billion over four years), the mining tax (cost: $3.4 billion over four years) or tax and superannuation changes announced by Labor but abandoned in December 2013 ($3.6 billion over four years, and much more over the long term), significantly exacerbating not merely the government's short-term fiscal position but crimping long-term revenue growth as well.”
It’s simply rhetorical claptrap designed to frighten voters into believing that Coalition members are prudent and ever-reliable stewards of the economy who will not waste taxpayers’ money, while Labor members are profligate spenders determined to tax us to the hilt to give the community the healthcare and education it needs: “Every time Bill Shorten opens his mouth it will be to tax you more”. Obviously, this will be an election slogan.

Since we began with the COAG skirmish on healthcare and schools funding, let’s look at Abbott’s legacy there. It still blights the Coalition.

New health minister Sussan Ley is still grappling with Abbott’s intention to emasculate Medicare, to introduce a co-payment, and to reduce spending in an area that inevitably will demand more as the population ages and as medicine offers more treatment options. Her introduction of ‘health care homes’ has puzzled doctors. Professor Brian Owler commented: “I’m president of the AMA, I’m a brain surgeon with a PhD, but I can’t keep up with the government’s planning process”.

In response to Bill Shorten’s promise to improve and properly fund healthcare, Ley is sounding desperate as she shouts at him telling him that he must “put up or shut up”.



The cost of the NDIS frightens the LNP, so their response is to restrict its development, always looking for ‘savings’ instead of doing what is required: raising more revenue to support this essential service that the people want and need.

After assuring us that he was on the same page as Labor over the Gonski reforms, Abbott’s legacy has been to obfuscate about the funding of years five and six, a position recently adopted by Turnbull, who is now talking about abandoning the funding of public schools and focusing federal funding on private schools!

Abbott’s legacy lingers, and he lies in wait.

Let’s look now at Abbott’s calamitous legacy in the vexed area of immigration policy.

Abbott (or was it Peta Credlin) thought that political capital could be accrued by demonising asylum seekers who came uninvited by boat. He learned that from John Howard. ‘Stop the boats’ became one of his infamous three word slogans, with which he flogged Labor mercilessly, claiming throughout that this would solve the problem of boat arrivals created by Labor. Not wanting to be seen as encouraging the arrivals, Labor allowed itself to become entangled in a web of derogatory dialogue about people smugglers and ‘illegals’, as Abbott termed boat people.

Abbott’s legacy is continuing antagonism towards asylum seekers among a significant proportion of the electorate. This has spilled over into anti-Muslim sentiment and the formation of Anti-Muslim groups such as the far right-wing United Patriots Front, who unveiled a “Stop the mosques” banner at the Collingwood AFL game last weekend, and a political group calling themselves Party For Freedom, which is opposed to multiculturalism and open borders, which was responsible for picketing and riots at the Halal expo in Melbourne this week.

Abbott’s extravagant language directed at Islamic State, his incendiary use of the term ‘Team Australia’ to divide Australians into them and us, and his provocative stance towards Muslim leaders accentuated the antagonism. He set a fire of hatred that still burns in the heart of many Australians. He could have taken an accommodating line, as did Malcolm Fraser who had to manage thousands of boat people from Vietnam. Fraser’s approach resulted in the cheerful integration of these Vietnamese immigrants into our society. Instead, Abbott preferred hostility, antagonism and the divisiveness this entails.

This is Abbott’s calamitous legacy. Yet he lies in wait.

He not only defends his divisive ‘stop the boats’ immigration policy, he has been abroad promoting it to anyone in the Eurozone who will listen as the way to solve the immigration crisis in Europe and the Middle East. The misery that so many asylum seekers suffer in detention is testimony to Abbott’s hard-hearted, punitive policies, but politics keep him on this hateful track.

Take now his calamitous attitude to climate change.

At times climate change skeptic, sometimes outright denier, always coal and oil advocate and renewables opponent, Abbott has gifted his do-nothing-to-curb-the-use-of-fossil-fuels legacy to Turnbull, who accepts the reality of anthropogenic global warming and knows what ought to be done about it, but is lumbered with the Abbott/Hunt Direct Action Plan that holds little promise of reducing our carbon footprint or meeting our emissions targets. Yet there is Turnbull lamely advocating it. Meanwhile, one thousand kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef has already been bleached, and more is threatened.

Turnbull knows that if he puts a foot wrong, Abbott is lying in wait, aided and abetted by a coterie of deniers, who would have this man back in a flash.

Abbott’s calamitous legacy in the field of communications is legend.

Look at what he’s done to the NBN. ‘Demolish the NBN’ was his command to Turnbull, not given because we did not need fast broadband for a myriad of reasons, commerce and health care to name but two, but because it was a Labor initiative.

Excruciatingly, Turnbull put himself through fiery hoops to placate Abbott but still save the NBN. As a result we now have a substandard multi-technology FTTN system that uses outdated equipment and ageing copper wire, that is not as fast as promised, is rolling out slower, and looks like being more expensive than Labor’s FTTP system, which experts insist should have been the target from the beginning.

Abbot’s destructive NBN legacy is still playing out, and is inhibiting what Liberals repeatedly insist our economy needs: ‘jobs and growth’.

I could go on for many more pages, so let’s conclude with Abbott’s legacy on two social issues: marriage equality and the Safe Schools program. He remains opposed to them both.

Although in favour of marriage equality, Turnbull has meekly gone along with Abbott’s delaying tactic of a post-election plebiscite, which he knows is Abbott’s way of maiming it, and perhaps killing it off altogether.

Abbott, always lurking in the background, has announced that Safe Schools, which is already doing so much to reduce gender-related bullying, should be defunded.

Abbott’s calamitous legacy on social issues haunts Turnbull. Abbott lurks on the backbench where he lies in wait.

When he’s not sitting on the backbench, he’s overseas soliciting photo-ops with such celebrities as Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Britian’s David Cameron, President Poroshenko of the Ukraine, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and even Henry Kissinger. Back home, he’s all over the place, never averse to a pic with group after group, and now he’s on his annual Pollie Pedal. He’s not sitting back like a vanquished leader: he’s promoting Abbott wherever he can! Take a look at his Facebook page.

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Among the conservative clique that still supports Abbott, he talks about ‘the second Abbott government’, which he insists ‘will be better than the first’!

Although an Abbott comeback still seems fanciful, he certainly believes in it, notwithstanding the recent ReachTel poll of 743 voters in his Warringah electorate, where almost two-thirds of respondents, including half of all LNP voters, said he should quit parliament at the coming election.

The calamitous Abbott lies in wait, ready to attack. His storm troopers are ready. They know that a winning strategy is to first weaken the enemy, then mount a surprise attack.

The commercial shock jocks, incensed by PM Turnbull’s refusal to appear on their programs, are spreading adverse publicity about him, which is weakening him. Several of the LNP’s traditional supporters in the media are writing columns critical of Turnbull. Softening him for an attack is proceeding apace.



Close to Abbott is a group of offended conservatives. These men meet in the so-called ‘monkey pod room’. They are urging his return and planning for it. Eric Abetz is still angry about his demotion. He says he has so much to offer. Kevin Andrews is angry and again has offered to stand should the party wish to replace Turnbull. Cory Bernardi is so angry about how the conservative clique is being treated by Turnbull that he is talking of forming a new conservative party. George Christensen is angry about the Safe Schools program and is echoing Abbott’s hostility. Government House Whip Andrew Nikolic remains a fervent Abbott supporter. Although Turnbull won the leadership contest 44 to 34, when Andrews stood against Julie Bishop for deputy, he garnered 30 votes, an indication of the strength of the conservatives in the Liberal party.

Following a discordant week for Turnbull and with the latest Newspoll of 51/49 TPP to Labor reflecting voter discontent with the LNP, the troops are contemplating an attack on Turnbull.

Meanwhile, Abbott lies in wait, believing he is the man for the top job, while still mouthing sanctimonious words of support for his adversary.

Nobody knows what the weeks ahead will bring. Despite the improbability of a second Abbott government, in the crazy and unpredictable world that federal politics has become, nothing is impossible. The vengeful wrecker intends to show that this is so.

All the time the calamitous Abbott lies in wait.



What do you think?
What are your views about Abbott’s desire to return to the top job?

Will there be a second Abbott government?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.

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The Peter Principle again – has the GOVERNMENT reached its level of incompetence?



It is not often that we see The Peter Principle played out before our very eyes. We saw it recently with ex-PM Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin as they were promoted from opposition where they were deemed to be competent, to government where they were manifestly incompetent. This calamity has been described in The Peta Principle – how Abbott rose to the level of his incompetence.

In describing his management principle, Laurence J Peter asserted that as managers are promoted, they rise to the level of their incompetence because the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. We have written about The Peter Principle before.

In illustrating his principle, Peter used the example of a head gardener in a botanical garden. He was a genius at gardening. He knew his botanicals, where to place them, and their needs for sunshine, shade, water, drainage, nutrients and pruning. He had ‘green fingers’. So good was he that when the position of manager of the garden became vacant, he was considered an obvious choice. He accepted it, albeit regretful that he would be leaving the garden for an office. He failed. He was all at sea with budgeting, ordering supplies, and managing staff and the payroll, and he missed the outdoor life. He had been promoted to the level of his incompetence. He exemplified the Peter Principle: ”managers rise to the level of their incompetence”.

If we begin with the premise that in opposition the LNP was competent in as far as it was able to effectively mount a case for election, and was successful at the ballot box, let’s examine whether that competence has been sustained after its promotion to government. Let’s not get diverted by its tactics, reprehensible though many of them were.

This piece opens for discussion several, but not all areas of government. A verdict about the government’s competence in each is offered. You are invited to make your own assessment, something you will soon do at the ballot box, now that Malcolm Turnbull has made his momentous announcement about the election. In Howard-like style he asks: “Who is best able to lead Australia in the transition from the mining and construction boom to the ‘new economy’?” You will soon have your say.

Bill Clinton said: “It’s the economy, stupid”. That seems like a good place to start.

The national economy
Malcolm Turnbull cited Tony Abbott’s lack of economic leadership as one of the prime reasons for his leadership challenge. There was good reason for this. The first Abbott/Hockey Budget, ideologically driven as it was, turned out to be a disaster. The electorate, even Coalition supporters, rejected it as unfair, and key elements are still stuck in the Senate. It was incompetently handled, but Abbott still wears it as ‘a badge of honour’. The 2015 Budget was a pathetic attempt to square the ledger, but it failed too; business groups criticized it, as it did nothing to reduce the deficit, which Joe Hockey had promised would be eliminated in the government’s first term.

Just a few days ago, the Australian Office of Financial Management stated that gross government debt is now $413.7 billion, up $140 billion since the 2013 election.

The fact that the deficit is ballooning is a measure of the government’s incompetence in financial management. Its attempts at reducing expenditure have been offset by an almost equivalent amount of new expenditure. It has turned a messy puddle into a quagmire, with no obvious exit. LNP supporters blame the economic headwinds: falling commodity prices, the end of the mining boom and the volatile dollar, but these are the realities managers of the economy have to face. Hockey and Abbott were hypercritical of Wayne Swan when he faced similar conditions, but sought to make these conditions as excuses for their own failures. A further sign of its incompetence is that as yet the Coalition has been unable to come up with a plan to correct the deficit. We are still in limbo as we wait for the Green Paper on Tax Reform, now months overdue. Conflicting statements from LNP members have confused the situation. Nobody seems to know what’s going on. Can we expect any clarity now that the election has been announced?

What about the players?

Hockey was incompetent as Shadow Treasurer. Full of loud-mouthed criticisms and arrogant promises, he offered no cogent plan for fiscal management; he just said he’d fix the problems, and quickly. In government he was patently incompetent, so much so that his colleagues, and even past PM John Howard, advised Abbott to remove him. Abbott didn’t, and Hockey was swept away with Abbott on 15 September 2015.



Hockey’s sidekick, Mathias Cormann, survived, but whether or not he is competent is impossible to say. Whenever he appears on TV, no matter what the questions, he responds like an automaton programmed with clichéd answers that have marginal relevance to them. As he departs each interview with a self-satisfied smile, can anyone understand what he has been on about? He may know his stuff, but who knows whether he does?

The new Treasurer, Scott Morrison, got a tick of approval from his supporters for ‘stopping the boats’ and when he became Minister for Social Services, he got a tick for being tough on welfare recipients. He was seen as a rising star in the LNP firmament; there were whispers that he was prime ministerial material. What a disappointment he has been. Has he been promoted to the level of his incompetence?

In his typical rumbunctious style, he was quick to pronounce the government’s fiscal problem as a spending problem, not a revenue problem. This reflected his aversion to increasing taxes, and his penchant for reducing them. Economists were astonished. They despaired that he would ever understand Economics 101. Now he tells us that his much vaunted promise to lower personal income tax is 'off the table' because the Budget can't afford it! But lower company taxes might be affordable! Is it Morrison’s ineptitude that is holding back the long-awaited tax reform package? His inconsistent communication to the electorate bespeaks uncertainty. He has shown no evidence that he can do the job to which he has been promoted. He seems to have risen to the level of his incompetence.



The new Assistant Treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer, holds little promise either. Her attempt to transmit a message on house prices should negative gearing be changed was inconsistent with her leader’s message. She looked incompetent. In fact between them, Morrison, O'Dwyer and Turnbull predicted house prices would go up and down. Then Peter Dutton, way outside his portfolio, chimed in that changing negative gearing, Labor style, would "bring the economy to a shuddering halt". They can’t all be right; the question is: ‘who has the most incompetent position on this issue?’

For his part, Malcolm Turnbull has done nothing to reassure the electorate that the economy is now in good hands after the Abbott/Hockey calamity. He has shown no signs that he has a grasp of economic management, that he has a cogent plan for tax reform, that he sees a way forward towards a balanced budget, that he has practical plans to realize his grandiose concept of an exciting 'new economy' based on our agility in seizing opportunities, and that he can manage the transition from the mining and construction boom to this new economy. He may be competent, but leaves us with the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps he's not up to his job either.

Verdict: The government looks incompetent in economic management. It has yet to prove otherwise.

Industrial relations
Turnbull mouths strong words about the need for IR reform, talks often about ‘union corruption’, but although there have been 20 referrals from the Heydon Royal Commission into Union Corruption and Governance, no charge has been laid against any union official. He wants Sunday penalty rates reduced to Saturday rates, wants to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and wants the 'Registered Organizations' Bill passed. He threatens that if these are resisted in the Senate when it is recalled for three days on 18 April, that will bring about a double dissolution election on 2 July. Like his colleagues, he is afraid of a ‘WorkChoices’ – style campaign by the unions, but seems prepared to risk it.

Whether or not Turnbull’s threats are hollow, and whether he is competent in IR, will soon be obvious.

With Michaelia Cash as his bellowing Minister for Employment to assist him, the prospect of a balanced outcome in the IR arena seems remote. Is she competent? How can we tell? Her utterances are so strident, so exaggerated, so aggressive, so ocker, it’s hard to dissect away the rhetoric to find the substance, if indeed there is any.

Verdict: Turnbull and Cash are probably incompetent in IR, but prepared to take a risky gamble in this gladiatorial arena.



Climate Change
From past history we know that Turnbull has a grasp of the science of global warming and its sequelae. He is competent in as far as he understands the problem, the risks and the solutions. He also understands the inadequacies of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan to abate carbon emissions, and has berated it in disparaging terms.

His fault is in embracing Direct Action as a reasonable approach to planet-threatening global warming. That is reprehensible rather than incompetent.

Turnbull’s advocacy for renewables seemed to have blown away by the fossil fuel advocates in his own party, but he has now announced he is dumping Coalition plans to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and has heralded plans to essentially de-fund the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and replace it with a new 'Clean Energy Innovation Fund'. In view of his past utterances, who knows how much to expect from him on climate change? Bill Shorten believes he has Turnbull's measure in a debate on renewables.

When it comes to his Environment Minister, it is impossible to tell whether or not Greg Hunt is incompetent. I suspect that he does understand climate science, but that in the pursuit of the LNP’s conservative ideological position of climate skepticism, if not denial, he is prepared to abandon science and inflict his gobbledygook on the electorate to give the impression he knows what he’s doing and is protecting us all from environmental harm. For the first time this week though Hunt at last did seem concerned about the degraded state of the Great Barrier Reef. But is there anyone who really believes what this man says? Is he incompetent or simply deceitful?

Verdict: Turnbull and Hunt look incompetent. More likely they are just devious.

Education policy
Here is an area of government where there has been vacillation, indecision and ambivalence. Turnbull knows the value of education, but enslaved by LNP attitudes to the Gonski reforms, has beaten a retreat from the funding that is needed in years five and six. The previous minister, Christopher Pyne, exhibited his incompetence in both the Gonski reforms and the university reforms he tried to implement. He fashioned the mantra: “You can’t solve the schools problem by throwing money at it” as an excuse for doing nothing, and managed to alienate the university student population with his ‘user-pays’ style reforms of the university sector. Having ripped billions of dollars from university funding, the university Vice Chancellors were willing to accept Pyne’s funding model, simply to survive. The matter has not yet been resolved.

Despite styling himself ‘Mr Fixit’, Pyne proved to be incompetent.

Now a nasty row has blown up over the Safe Schools program, which the arch-conservatives in the LNP want defunded. The review that Turnbull foolishly asked the new Minister for Education and Skills, Simon Birmingham to carry out to placate them, has scarcely done so. Predictably, they now question its findings, and some want another. They will never give up their quest to destroy the program, despite its widespread acceptance. Their bigoted language has been shocking. Now we know what to expect from these reactionaries when the pre-plebiscite ‘Sexual Equality’ debate begins!

We have written about this in Safe Schools, Unsafe Politicians

It is to be hoped that Simon Birmingham will make a better fist of the portfolio than his predecessor.

Verdict: Pyne incompetent; Birmingham, Turnbull under test.

Healthcare
Healthcare has always been a problematic area. With the ageing of population, and the escalating cost of an increasing variety of medical interventions, funding the health budget is a headache for any government.

Regarded by the AMA as the worst-ever Minister for Health, Peter Dutton demonstrated his gross incompetence when, in pursuit of savings, he tinkered with Medicare, tried to introduce a co-payment for GP consultations, and in the process put the entire medical profession offside. He failed so badly that Abbott decided to replace him with Sussan Ley.

Ms Ley shows more promise. She is smart, well informed, and has established a better relationship with the profession. Her problem is that she is labouring under the Treasurer’s budgetary constraints that demand savings be made.

Turnbull says little about health, but has maintained the severe cuts to health funding for the States that Abbott and Hockey introduced. He is currently wooing Premiers with modest promises of increased funding.

Verdict: Dutton incompetent; Ley and Turnbull under test.

National Disability Insurance Scheme
Turnbull decided to not have a minister dedicated to oversee the NDIS; instead he has placed it in the Social Services portfolio under Christian Porter who comes to the post with a good reputation. The scheme is underway, but will be expensive as it expands. How well Porter will do under the current budgetary constraints, remains to be seen.

The previous minister, Mitch Fifield, seemed to be doing a reasonable job but he has gone to higher places.

Verdict: Jury still out on Porter.

There are several other areas of government where incompetence is stifling action, but let’s conclude with the NBN.

National Broadband Network
Here is the dilemma. We know Turnbull is a tech head, and is a strong advocate of fast broadband. But from the moment he was instructed by Abbott to ‘demolish the NBN’ that Labor had initiated, he has fiddled with it, diluted it with old technology, underestimated the cost and rollout time, and has thereby given us a second class hybrid scheme when we ought to have had the very best to compete on the world scene.

So is he incompetent or simply compliant with the Treasurer’s demands to cut costs. The sorry story is detailed in More about Puff the Magic Malcolm

Whether the new Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, can salvage some of the wreckage Turnbull has created is still to be determined.

Verdict: Turnbull is probably under the thumb fiscally, but has been incompetent in implementation, rather than incompetent technically. Fifield is under test.

So there it is. The analysis points to significant areas of incompetence in government departments, and gross incompetence among several key ministers.

Too many ministers have risen to their level of incompetence. The Peter Principle has struck again!

Turnbull has yet to demonstrate that he is competent to run an effective and efficient government, especially with fractious reactionaries snapping at his heels. He has dilly-dallied about the upcoming reform packages, the thrust of the Budget, and until this week about the likely timing of the election and whether it will be a double dissolution one or not. Until last Monday morning he seemed indecisive and all at sea – not a sign of competence. Now that he has taken the election plunge we shall see if there are signs of competence hidden beneath his urban exterior. So far he's kept them well hidden.

The jury is out, but it will be the voters who will bring in their verdict when the election is held, whenever that might be. Turnbull will be awaiting their decision with trepidation.




What do you think?
What are your views about PM Turnbull’s competence six months in?

How do you rate the competence of his key ministers?

How do you rate the competence of the Turnbull government?

Does it deserve re-election?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


An ode to Mal Brough

Malcolm Thomas Brough was born in December 1961. He is the current member of parliament for the seat of Fisher, based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Between 1996 and 2007, he was the member for Longman, based on Brisbane’s outer northern suburbs. Brough recently announced his retirement from parliament would take effect at the next election. His brother Rob is also reasonably well known around the country as the host of a retired version of the TV game show Family Feud and he still reads the news on a regional Queensland television network.

Mal Brough was an army officer and ran some small businesses on the Sunshine Coast prior to his entry into parliament. He was also ‘noticed’ early by the powers that be in the Liberal Party. Despite being elected originally in 1996, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business in 2000, Minister for Employment Services in 2001, Assistant Treasurer in 2004 and went on to be the Minister for Revenue. In January 2006 he was appointed Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, a position he held until he lost his seat (along with John Howard) in the November 2007 election.

As minister for indigenous affairs Brough was the minister behind the Northern Territory Emergency Response in 2006, where the claim was made that reductions in social security payments and an increase in presence of ‘the authorities’ would somehow combat alleged high rates of child abuse and neglect in the outlying settlements of the Territory.

The Monthly, in an article from September 2013, paints a less than appealing side of Brough’s personality.
The Northern Territory intervention, the declaration of what amounted to martial law in Aboriginal communities awash with grog and plagued by child abuse, seemed the perfect vehicle for the captain-turned-politician. As indigenous affairs minister, he could bark out orders and expect them to be obeyed. Certainly, Howard thought Brough’s military background equipped him with the “right style” for the job. “His army training had given him a mix of authority and mateship,” he wrote admiringly in his memoir.

In making the case for the intervention, Brough projected the air of a commander addressing his troops on the eve of battle. The Australian public, he declared to parliament, were “willing to put their shoulder to the wheel when they feel that finally they can help to improve the lot of their fellow Australian citizens — the first Australians.” He concluded: “This is a great national endeavour and it is the right thing to do.”
Once he was out of parliament Brough became president of the Queensland Liberal Party for five months until the merger of alleged equals with the Queensland National Party was to occur. Brough resigned as president as well as a member of the party. According to The Monthly: “I’ve just had a gutful, quite frankly,” he told Fairfax Radio.

Under the terms of the formation of the LNP in Queensland, existing MP’s were guaranteed pre-selection for the 2010 election, and moderate Liberal Alex Somlyay in Fairfax as well as former Liberal but at the time National Peter Slipper in Fisher chose to take advantage of the guarantee, despite Somlyay recovering from throat cancer and Slipper’s less that stellar local reputation. It is claimed that Tony Abbott offered Somlyay an overseas posting to ‘free up’ a seat for Brough but the offer was refused. While the matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police, nothing ever came from the complaint.

It is history that Slipper accepted the offer from the ALP Government to become Speaker of the House subsequent to the 2010 election — and subsequently resigned from the LNP. Brough announced his intention to ‘serve the people of Fisher’ in December 2010 for the 2013 election knowing that pre-selection guarantees were a one off deal for the 2010 Federal election. The LNP’s leadership would have preferred James McGrath, the architect of Campbell Newman’s Queensland election victory and a former advisor to Boris Johnston, Conservative Party Lord Mayor of London, to be the candidiate in 2013. By the stage of the preselection however, Brough had built up local support and was subsequently selected to be the LNP candidate. Slipper ran as an independent.

Brough and Slipper’s aide, James Ashby, met during 2012. The details of that and subsequent meetings, together with the subsequent unofficial release of Slipper’s official diary entries by Ashby to a News Australia journalist via Brough are still under investigation by the Australian Federal Police. Independent Australia has written extensively on what they have termed Ashbygate — should you wish to read further, their reading list is here. Turnbull government ministers Christopher Pyne and Wyatt Roy are also under investigation over the same issue.

There is no way to know what the federal police are investigating, as quite rightly they will announce the area of their enquiry (in this case the misuse of official information — namely the diaries of the Speaker of the House) but not the specifics. It would be akin to the state police announcing that they will be knocking on the door at a specific address at 2.30pm in seven days’ time to look for evidence of an armed robbery. No doubt, if the evidence was in existence, it would not be where the police told the world they would be looking in seven days!

Having said that, investigators don’t just start looking into people’s lives because they drive a silver car, are holding a busload of people up on Monday morning when they can’t find their bus card or other meaningless justification. There has to be evidence of some potential misdeed reported to the authority with jurisdiction prior to an investigation being launched. Apart from the resourcing issue (investigations cost money for staff wages, telecommunications, office space and the rest of it), there has to be a reason to place people under a certain amount of (possibly unfair) speculation surrounding being the subject of ‘investigations from the authorities’.

It could also be suggested that politicians, as leaders of the community are held to a higher level of behaviour than others. Is it equitable? Probably not, but it is easy to argue that those who make the rules for others should clearly abide by the rules.

For instance, police, public officials and so on are expected to avoid conflicts of interest and uphold the laws they have a responsibility to enforce. Justices of the Peace — who are volunteers in the legal system — are not permitted to accept any reward for their services (in Queensland at least) and are expected to report any conviction made against them to the relevant government office. Should such a report be made, the expectation would be the Justice of the Peace will be asked to resign their office.

Malcolm Turnbull obviously knew when he appointed Brough, Pyne and Roy to his front bench that there was a possibility the investigations that were underway would produce evidence of some misdeed. As we have already discussed, the police don’t investigate people for the fun of it.

So why did Turnbull appoint them? Surely he has enough political smarts to realise that appointing three ministers who potentially will have to resign in disgrace wouldn’t be a good look — as well as being (several) ‘free kicks’ to the opposition parties. But then again, Turnbull doesn’t seem to consider how his choices and actions will be received at all. Perhaps it is a ‘born to rule’ mentality; perhaps it is that he believes the triple twists (with pike) that he has performed over the past few months since becoming prime minister; or perhaps he believes that we all want him to be prime minister so badly, we’ll accept anything.

To be fair, conversations about refugees, climate change, tax cuts, budget repair and so on are all things that Turnbull inherited from Abbott, and it does take time to turn around the workings of any large organisation including the federal government. Upon gaining the prime ministership, Turnbull claimed there would be a great deal of difference between him and his predecessor(s). Last November, Mark Kenny from Fairfax observed
Turnbull is in a hurry and his core message is the same to all of them [the impressive array of summits he attended soon after gaining office]. Australia, he wants them to know, is back — back in the international community, back participating in multilateral forums, back in the digital economy, back in the climate change discussion, back in the 21st century.

His oft-made observation that the household internet names — Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Netflix — would still be in short pants if they were people, is designed to communicate his relaxed relationship with economic disruption, with change as opportunity rather than threat.

Such observations fit perfectly into Turnbull's nuanced Australia presentation — one that eschews dogma, and instead synthesises solutions as needed, applying the best arguments and policies for a given problem. Results are all that matters, he says.
By 9 February 2016, even Andrew Bolt was questioning the ability of Turnbull to get anything done. Michael Gordon, The Age’s political editor discussed Turnbull’s metamorphosis from charming persuader to brazen scaremonger, from agent of optimism to voice of doom, and from true believer to barrister with a brief. Gordon, unlike Bolt, actually made an attempt at analysis of the problems Turnbull faces:
The dangers are everywhere: recalcitrants on the backbench who will revolt if Turnbull proposes anything they do not like; a Treasurer still struggling to justify his can-do reputation; and the prospect of Australia's longest election campaign since the 10-week odyssey of 1984.

But the biggest danger is that the approach invites cynicism on two fronts. The first is that Turnbull's scaremongering is at odds with his previously stated convictions on negative gearing. Just like his embrace of a plebiscite on marriage equality, or "direct action" on climate change. This is why he needs to announce his tax plans sooner rather than later and focus on his blueprint for the future.
Turnbull was communications minister in the Abbott government. So let’s have a look at NBNCo something he had carriage of — the NBN. You might remember the ALP were going to connect over 90% of Australian properties to a fibre cable, much faster that the currently available ADSL and ensure that those who missed out on the direct fibre connection were to receive access to similar speeds through the use of satellites. The LNP claimed that the network proposed by the ALP was gold plated, the roll out too long and not worth the money it was going to cost. Turnbull’s plan (after Abbott made him communications minister and publically gave him the task of destroying the NBN) was going to be completed much sooner, much cheaper and more affordably. So how’s that going? According to an internal NBNCo report:
the giant infrastructure project has fallen two-thirds short of its benchmark construction timetable. Connection costs to each house or business are also blowing out. The model had been marketed to voters as superior to Labor's NBN because it was ‘Fast. Affordable. Sooner’.

The ‘final design’ process for connections — needed before construction can start — is running far behind schedule, according to the February 19 report.

The Coalition's NBN roll-out is beset by delays and rising costs. While 1,402,909 premises should have been approved at the date of the report, the figure was sitting at 662,665 — 740,000 fewer than planned. The snapshot says NBN Co has achieved 29,005 fibre-to-the-node ‘construction completions’, while noting its internally budgeted target for this period was more than three times that at 94,273.
So sooner — nope; cheaper — probably not; affordable — not only is it looking like not being any more affordable to build, but the running costs are higher as each of the ‘nodes’ on street corners to convert the digital signal from the fibre to the analogue signal used in the household copper connections needs a power connection and electricity to operate.

The NBN failure is entirely Turnbull’s fault as he was the minister who had carriage of the project for an extended period of time. It was on his watch; he was responsible and the argument that he inherited the mess when he took over as prime minister is clearly a fiction.

Sometime in the next six months, Turnbull is going to be appearing on your TV and on your internet screen suggesting that he leads a government than can creditably manage this country for the next three years. Just remember:
  1. how he has managed the NBN rollout since 2013 (it was his job under Abbott),
  2. his ethics in the appointment of Mal Brough to his ministry, as well as
  3. how the ultra-conservatives are still driving the real agenda
and the only reason he’s there is that his party determined the previous bloke was worse.

What do you think?


More about Puff the Magic Malcolm



In the first of this short series, I described how after the disaster of Tony Abbott, the promise that Malcolm Turnbull brought to prime ministership was already fracturing as he fails, day after day, to live up to his own values, and reneges on his strongly held views. Abbott flagrantly and unashamedly broke his promises. With Turnbull it is subtler; he is saying and doing things that we all know are contrary to his position. This is perhaps most obvious with the issue of climate change, a matter that was covered exhaustively in the first in the series.

This the second, deals with Turnbull’s position on marriage equality, the Gonski reforms, the NBN, Australia becoming a Republic, his immigration policy, his cities policy, and his economic policy.

Marriage Equality. Everyone who has been listening to Turnbull knows that he is strongly in favour of marriage equality. He has said so many times in parliament and out. Moreover, he advocated a vote in parliament to determine the matter. But once he became PM he reverted to Abbott’s delaying tactic of a plebiscite after the next election. Although he would regard the result as binding on the parliament, his old guard of conservatives, Eric Abetz, Cori Bernardi et al vow to vote as they wish, irrespective of the views of the electorate. It seems as if this conservative clique is calling the shots, and Turnbull does not feel secure enough in his hold on leadership to stand up to them. What a disappointment from the one who challenged Abbott on the grounds of poor leadership!

The hope that Turnbull would reverse the Abbott tactic, and either have a vote in the parliament or at least hold the plebiscite at the time of the election, thereby saving an estimated 160 million dollars, has so far been dashed. If he is hoping to run either of these lines, he is leaving it pretty late,

Disappointingly, the promise of a Turnbull different from Abbott on this important social matter has been tarnished.

The Gonski school reform is another area where Turnbull’s promise is fading. He talks about the need for innovation, agility and entrepreneurship, but doesn’t add that these attributes are built on a foundation of sound education that starts in preschool and extends to university and beyond. And it must be available to all who can benefit from it. The Gonski school reforms were designed to bring this about. After telling us all pre-election that he was on the same Gonski page as Labor, Abbott reneged post-election on the vital last two years of funding. Any hope that Turnbull would see the fallacy of curtailing spending on education was dashed after he and his education minister repeated the same weary line that ‘you can’t solve the schooling problem by throwing money at it’. Apart from being a stupid thing to say, suggestions about how the government would solve the problem, with or without money, were never forthcoming. So Gonski is in limbo.

The creation of a smart, innovative, agile nation will have to wait until Turnbull works out what to do about school education. His attitude to education accelerates disillusionment about him.

The NBN project has been a great disappointment for those who expected him to handle the NBN project with skill and flair. We all know he is a tech-head, a nerd when it comes to communications gadgets, the founder of OzEmail, one of our earliest email services. We remember that he was instructed by Abbott to ‘demolish the NBN’ which Labor had initiated, but hoped he would find a way of maintaining its initial design, which was to provide a super-fast broadband service to 97% of Australians with ‘fibre-to-the premises’ (FTTP) technology. He salvaged the NBN from Abbott’s onslaught by adopting a multi-technology approach, and substituting the inferior ‘fibre-to-the-node’ (FTTN) option, where fibre extends only to boxes on street corners, with Telstra’s old copper wire finishing the connection to the premises. In doing so, he lumbered this nation with a second rate facility just when we needed to be world leaders in an increasingly competitive global environment.

In a comprehensive assessment of the Coalition’s FTTN NBN in September 2105, Richard Chirgwin, telco analyst and journalist writing in The Register, gave credit for some aspects of the government’s rollout, but was scathing about many, for example, in the critical areas of technology, the rollout timeline, speed, and the cost, He wrote:

The Liberal Party's pre-election policy document stated ”Our aim is that everyone in the nation should have access to broadband with download data rates of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by 2016”.

“That timeline was quickly exposed as optimistic and the "aim" unrealistic. The universal 25 Mbps service promise has now been pushed out to 2020.

“Fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), however, has to be regarded as the greatest disappointment of the policy: the government has failed to deliver either the rapid rollout or the amount of savings promised in the policy.

“Approximately 65 per cent of the FTTN portion of the rollout is expected to be completed by 2016-17. The remaining 35 per cent will be deployed in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and will in most cases be in areas served by HFC [Hybrid Fibre Co-Axial technology] networks”, the policy stated.

“At the most recent NBN presentation, the company hopes to activate 1.8 million premises on FTTN by 2018. That's a little late. Also, absent a full footprint plan detailing which premises will receive which technology, it's impossible to say if the promise of 65 per cent FTTN completion is on track.

Verdict: Promises not kept.
Turnbull was scornful when he spoke of the cost of Labor’s NBN, which he deemed prohibitively wasteful. He ought now to be eating his words. Chirgwin had this to say:

Cost: By far the worst performance is in the matter of the cost of the NBN.

“The pre-election assertion that [Labor’s] FTTP network would cost $90 billion was quickly revised down to $73 billion, which is still a lot of money, but at the same time, Turnbull's statements about the cost of his multi-technology model have repeatedly been revised upwards.

“The $20.4 billion capex [capital expenditure], and peak funding of $29.5 billion, were obsolete within a year, and after several revisions, the most recent estimates for the NBN build are peak funding of between $46 billion and $53 billion.

“The government protected its own books by the simple expedient of capping its investment. To meet the balance, NBN will have to raise its own debt.

Verdict: The government has performed no better than its predecessor in making cost forecasts.”
You can read the sorry story in full here.

The use of the image below to head Chirgwin’s piece tells the story.



In summary, Turnbull’s demonized Labor’s FTTP NBN, and made wild promises about how much cheaper the Coalition’s FTTN NBN would be, and how much faster it would roll out to more homes. Once again he brought disillusionment to many – another Turnbull promise remains unmet.

Australia becoming a Republic has been a Turnbull dream for years. He was a member of the Australian Republican Movement since its formation in 1991 and later chairman. He headed the ARM team at the 1998 Australian Constitutional Convention, but John Howard’s manipulations thwarted his endeavours and the referendum in 1999 was lost, a stinging defeat that still lingers in Turnbull’s memory. Yet his advent to prime ministership kindled hopes that at last this nation might move away from being a constitutional monarchy to becoming a republic. Writing in The Age, Tim Mayfield expressed this hope in Australian republicans take hope from Malcolm Turnbull's ascent.

Expect yet another disappointment on this front. Perhaps understandably after his bitter 1999 defeat, he seems in no hurry to address the republic issue. He seems to be unwilling to spend any of his considerable personal political capital on this venture, especially in the face of resistance from his monarchist colleagues.

Political survival is more important to him than pursuing the cherished principle of Australia becoming a Republic.

Immigration policy has been dealt with here recently in Australia’s diabolical dilemma. We are still waiting to see if Turnbull returns the 267 adults and 72 children now in Australia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. NZ Prime Minister John Key has shown his compassionate face by offering to take them. Will Turnbull persist with the harsh Abbott policy, or show that he has a more benevolent attitude?

Cities policy was hailed as one of Turnbull’s most enlightened moves. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in September of last year, in an article titled: Turnbull government's cities portfolio: What does it mean and will it work?, Nicole Hasham reported the reaction of Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams: “…the decision to appoint a Minister for Cities is simply an idea "whose time has come". Hasham continued: “Infrastructure chiefs across the nation have been buoyed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's enthusiasm for urban planning, including Jamie Briggs' appointment as the first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment and the government's new willingness to consider public transport investment."

That was then. What has happened since? We know what happened to Jamie Briggs, so how will his successor, rural MP Angus Taylor, fare? Turnbull has rejected suggestions he has downgraded cities policy in his ministry reshuffle.

At the very least,we expect Turnbull to discard Abbott’s environmentally destructive pro-roads, anti-public transport attitude.

Anthony Albanese, who carries the splendid tag: ‘Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Shadow Minister for Tourism, and Shadow Minister for Cities’, is sceptical about progress so far. Here’s what he said a few days ago about Turnbull’s disappointing performance so far:



This piece could go on and on cataloguing Turnbull’s disappointing performance, so let’s finish with his economic policy.

Nobody disagrees with his view that this nation needed to be ‘agile’, ready to grasp the abundance of opportunities here and overseas. We all agree that in the wake of the downturn in mining the economy needs to reshape itself. The renewables industry was just one such opportunity for readjustment in our economy.

Underpinning these needed adjustments is the acute need for fiscal reform. Nobody questions the need for tax reform, industrial relations reform, or welfare reform. The Turnbull government’s progress on these fronts has been slow, erratic, minimal, and flawed. It could hardly have been much worse.

The GST was the first target. Labor made its position plain from the beginning. But the Coalition procrastinated, bumbling along insisting it was still ‘on the table’, until finally a few days ago its abandonment was announced by Turnbull, followed by his treasurer. Even after that, Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash, was insisting the GST was still on the table! The disorganization and indecision was awful. No reasonable person would deny Turnbull and Morrison the right to have the effect of changing the GST modeled by Treasury, but with all the punch that Treasury has, why did it take so long for Turnbull and Co. to reach the same conclusion Labor reached months ago?

Reasonably, Turnbull rejected any change on the grounds that the net benefit would be too low, and the political cost too high. He has always emphasized that ‘fairness’ must characterize any change to the tax mix, but the lack of fairness inherent in this regressive tax was not his stated reason for rejection. Lack of fairness was Labor’s prime reason for rejection. It knew that increasing the level and scope of the GST would increase the already-high level of inequality in this country. Inequality does not feature in Turnbull’s arguments.

The removal or reduction of concessions that favour the wealthy in superannuation, negative gearing and capital gains tax has always been a fertile field for increasing revenue. But the top-end-of-town oriented Turnbull government has shied away from these obvious opportunities. Turnbull challenged Abbott on the grounds of his poor economic leadership; we are still waiting to see if Turnbull’s is any better.

Labor has outlined its policies, as have the Greens, but the Turnbull government flounders, adding indecision to uncertainty. I believe this is principally because of treasurer Morrison’s ideological obsession with reducing taxes. He sees removing concessions as tantamount to increasing taxes.



At his National Press Club address last week we saw the fiscal dithering of the Turnbull government writ large as Morrison waffled for 46 minutes telling what we already knew about the tough financial situation this country is in, that repairing it would be a long haul, taking on Test Match dimensions rather than those of a 20/20 Big Bash (no doubt he thought this was clever framing), and that any tax relief would be ‘modest’, and a long time coming. While using his copious words to berate Labor’s proposal, we did not hear one word from him about the Turnbull government’s policy on negative gearing, superannuation and capital gains, or for that matter on any other fiscal policy. The speech was vacuous and insulting to the NPC audience that gathered expecting to get at a least a morsel of information on these crucial matters.

Morrison was attacked repeatedly the next day on talk back radio over his arrogant disrespect for those seeking information about important government policy, but fobbed off his assailants with his usual torrent of words unstoppably tumbling from his loquacious mouth. Bernard Keane of Crikey in his brilliant piece: Waiting for ScoMo - in which no policy happens, twice, aptly described Morrison’s NPC speech as “…more a one-hander version of Waiting for Godot, the play in which, famously, nothing happens, twice.

But at least in his post-address talkback appearances he did introduce us to the ‘unicorn’ frame. Morrison is not much better at picking apt metaphors than he is at picking apt fiscal policies. Let me take you down a side road for a bit.

We all know what this mythical creature looks like, but why did Morrison use the unicorn as a metaphorical frame?

I looked through Renton’s Metaphors but found no reference to the unicorn. Wikipedia did not help either. In fact it said: “In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin…its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness.” Not what Morrison intended!

Another source asserts that chasing unicorns is looking for the right job. Surely not what Morrison was thinking!

In the Hebrew Bible it was often used as a metaphor representing strength…a wild, un-tamable animal of great strength and agility. Agility is what Malcolm desires; perhaps Scott does too!

I suspect though that his metaphorical meaning is that ‘chasing unicorns’ is the pursuit of something that, for all intents and purposes, is unobtainable, as unicorns don't exist.

He might have been wiser to tone down his rhetoric by choosing a more understandable metaphorical frame – perhaps ‘chasing rainbows’ would have resonated better.
That’s enough about the cascade of disappointments that have come flooding from our new PM, his treasurer and much of his ministry. To many, Malcolm is a likeable fellow. Well-educated, well-spoken, dignified, prime ministerly, he held out such promise to an electorate tired of the combative, aggressive Abbott. Turnbull heralded a new era for voters tired of the embarrassment of having Abbott as our leader, relieved that at last we had one who could make us feel secure, if not proud.

Then the disillusionment began. Day after day, as the Coalition vacuum cleaner sucked up policy opportunity after policy opportunity into the dust receptacle of abandoned prospects, disappointment grew.

Disappointment is contagious. Initial goodwill towards Turnbull is fading day after day as he and his government dither, ply us with platitudes, make faraway promises, dishonours them, does nothing, goes nowhere, marches on the spot, yet talks as if they have grand plans, sadly for a distant and receding future. Reflect on what Morrison said in his NPC address and you will see what I mean.

Some Labor supporters might want to see the Turnbull government fail, but even those must be demoralized by the reality that the awful Abbott government that did so much damage has been replaced by a torpid do-nothing outfit that seems lost in the political wilderness without a compass.

The Magic Malcolm that so many welcomed seems to have gone up in a Puff of Liberal Blue smoke.




What do you think?
This second pieces concludes this short series on Turnbull’s shortcomings and his backsliding as he fidgets under the repressive thumb of the reactionaries in his own party. If he cannot cast off the conservative curse, clamber out from under the repressive influence of the Abbott-led opponents, he may never show us the Real Malcolm Turnbull, whose values and genuine beliefs have made him so popular with the voters.

Will he be crushed into humiliating submission, crippled by forced conformity, curtailed in every move his better self tells him to make, incarcerated by those who gave him power? Even Laborites hope not. We know the Malcolm of old; we were hoping for something better this time around. But so far we have experienced only disappointment and disillusionment.

Do tell us what you think in the comments section.

Same old same old

[Can you pick the difference?]

On 14 September, Malcom Turnbull was elected leader of the Liberal party and, as a consequence, became the 29th prime minister of Australia. There was an almost immediate change in the timbre of political discussion. But has anything else changed?

For example, Peter Dutton retained his position as Minister for Immigration and on 24 September, in response to another small wooden boat carrying 18 asylum seekers being stopped (or disappearing into the ‘operational’ black hole), said that the government’s policies had not changed.

The day before Turnbull had suggested that policies relating to the Nauru and Manus Island detention (or processing) centres could be reconsidered by cabinet but in a later interview on the same day reiterated the existing policy regarding people arriving by boat:
“We cannot take a backward step on this issue,” he said.
“There will be no resettlement of the people on Manus and Nauru in Australia.
”They will never come to Australia.”
Scott Morrison replaced Joe Hockey as treasurer in the Turnbull ministry and in his first press conference as treasurer on 23 September basically promised that the government would continue cutting costs (aka reduce government services). He insisted:
“We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”
He vowed to pursue the Coalition’s savings measures from the last budget, in particular, the changes to Family Tax Benefit system the Senate has rejected.
It was noted by the reporter that he used the phrase ‘work, save and invest’ numerous times throughout the press conference (another three word slogan — perhaps he just can’t avoid old habits — although Labor has since discovered that it was used in John Hewson’s Fightback in 1993.). I think that reflects the business focus of the government. I’m not sure how one could apply that phrase to a cleaner on minimum wages: work — yes; save — a bit hard on the minimum wage, or less in some cases; invest — invest what, the five cents they have left or the debt run up on the credit card just to meet living expenses! I think it is clearly a phrase aimed at the traditional Liberal heartland of small business and was perhaps deliberately spoken for that reason — unless, of course, they think the workers, savers and investors are three different groups of people, which is possible.

That night on the 7.30 Report, Leigh Sales challenged Morrison on his spending versus revenue statement and his answers were less than convincing but reinforced the view prevalent under Abbott that cutting government spending, rather than raising taxes, was the preferred option:
… to ensure that we spend taxpayers’ money the best way we can and we raise as little as we need of it and we spend as little as we have to of it to ensure we get the right balance.
Despite Sales pointing out that revenue was not even meeting the government’s own forecasts, Morrison insisted he was not in the camp that thought spending issues could be solved just by raising taxes. Sales pointed out that, currently, while expenditure may be 26% of GDP, revenue had fallen to 23.5%. Morrison avoided a direct answer and pointed out that revenue was projected to rise to 25% of GDP: ‘If you trust the projections’ Sales retorted.

I find it mystifying that in relation to raising taxes to increase revenue, he said:
… I have to focus on the things that I can control and what I can have an influence over is how much the Government spends of taxpayers’ money.
Is he suggesting that he has no control over taxes? I suggest that he has a few more briefings from his treasury officials before attempting another interview — he is the treasurer, after all, not the finance minister.

On 27 September, it was revealed that Health Minister Sussan Ley had commissioned a review of the 5,700 medical services subsidised by Medicare. There are some valid reasons for such a review but other commentators have pointed out that a Liberal government review of anything is usually code for a cost cutting exercise. I agree and, given the approach laid out by Scott Morrison, it is certainly not going to lead to an increase in funding.

There was one flickering light at the end of this tunnel when Finance Minister Mathias Cormann announced on 28 September that superannuation would be considered in the government’s white paper on taxation. That was a change on Abbott’s statements that his government would not change superannuation concessions. It raises the possibility that the Turnbull government may be prepared to consider raising revenue in that way — despite what Scott Morrison had been stating only five days earlier. It is interesting also for the fact that Labor has already indicated that it will consider changes to high-end superannuation, so is this no more than a positioning for the next election? — if there is little to choose between the parties in terms of policy then it may come down to a contest between leaders and, at the moment, Turnbull would win that fight.

Another aspect of the announcement was that Cormann made it on Sky News before Morrison also became involved. That was a change. Under Abbott, he would likely have made such an announcement himself. Morrison had also suggested on the 7.30 Report that the prime minister would only be involved in budget discussions on strategic issues. There were reports that Abbott had involved himself in all aspects of the Liberal’s first budget in 2014. So it appears Turnbull may be returning to a more traditional form of government with greater responsibility left with ministers (at least for now). In that regard, it was also interesting to note that the new education minister, Simon Birmingham, made the announcement that legislation for the deregulation of the higher education sector would not be brought back to parliament before the next election.

Turnbull himself has, so far, had little substantive to say. He has made two major announcements: one on the $100 million package for domestic violence and the other a $1.3 billion spend on vehicles for the Australian army. Neither of those announcements, however, can be credited to the Turnbull government. The army vehicles have years of history, including the production of prototypes and testing by the army, and the announcement was just the completion of a long process. And the domestic violence announcement came so soon after Turnbull became prime minister that it is highly likely the package had been in development by the public service for some time. It is interesting to speculate what impact those announcements may have had if Abbott had announced them.

Turnbull did undertake a number of interviews and make appearances soon after he became prime minister: on the 7.30 Report, on Sunrise, on The Today Show, with Michael Brissenden on ABC radio, and with David Speers on Sky News. He said little of substance in any of these interviews — accepting that he had not yet been two weeks in office.

He made clear that he would be retaining the existing policies as regard same sex marriage — a plebiscite, although he has hinted it may be held earlier than was envisaged under the Abbott approach — climate change and, as discussed earlier, ‘boat people’ (and he did not mention the republic). When asked whether that was consistent with his earlier comments and, sometimes, criticism of those policies, he had two answers. Firstly, that he had in fact supported the government policies as a member of cabinet and secondly:
Well, there will be changes to policy if they don’t work as well as we think, or we think others can work better. Again, none of this is written in stone, but my, what I’m saying is I don’t have any plan to change those policies because everything we see at the moment suggests they’re working very well.
So he does not rule out policy change but is being very careful how he words his approach to it. He has also emphasised the need for such changes to come from ministers and be agreed by cabinet: he is trying to avoid the criticism of his first term of Liberal party leadership when it was said that he tried to run the show himself as evidenced by his agreement to an ETS with Rudd even though it was opposed by many in his party. The other side of that coin is that to achieve policy change he will need to carry the Right of the party with him. He has tried to retain its support with people like Dutton and Morrison in his cabinet but it leaves open the possibility that a minister may, as Turnbull did himself, express public views that are not consistent with government policy. It is still a potentially unstable situation.

He did, however, make some comments that may show where his real interests lie:
We have to lift our productivity. We have to be more innovative, more competitive, we have to be more productive.

What you will see is the Government proceeding to deliver on an economic reform agenda that will promote productivity, will promote innovation, and will continue to promote business confidence and investment.

Well, the industrial relations reform, which is — labour market reform, is a — has been a very vexed one. … I think the important thing is to seek to explore ways in which we can achieve more flexibility, higher levels of employment, higher levels of business activity … the challenge for us is not to wage war with unions or the workers they — that they seek to represent, but really to explain what the challenges are and then lay out some reform options.
Three key points to note from those statements are:
  • the repeated need to improve ‘productivity’
  • the way he equated ‘industrial relations reform’ with ‘labour market reform’
  • the way the government will ‘lay out some reform options’ after explaining the challenges.
Turnbull’s approach was challenged by Terri Butler and Andrew Giles in an article in The Guardian on 28 September. They argued that labour productivity has actually increased in recent years and that it is multi-factor productivity that has slowed: multi-factor productivity takes account of the contribution of technology, advances in knowledge and improvements in management and production techniques in increasing output. Turnbull has not made clear whether he takes that wider view or is adopting the business blueprint that increased productivity means decreasing the cost of labour (attacking penalty rates and conditions).

Butler and Giles also suggest that Turnbull’s explanation that options will be laid out after explaining the challenges ignores that a genuine consultative process includes agreement on what are the challenges. Turnbull claimed to have such agreement in the economic leaders’ meeting he held on 1 October but there is no indication of agreement on the measures required. That will remain a decision for the government and on early Turnbull utterances it is not likely to do the workers any favours.

In essence, Turnbull is currently mouthing platitudes towards workers but there still appears an underlying neo-liberal approach giving prominence to the market and possibly further deregulation of the ‘labour market’.

We also have Turnbull’s political judgment. It was questioned after the Godwin Grech affair. Has he learned lessons from that? The appointments of Sinodinos and Brough to his cabinet may suggest not: they both have issues of integrity hanging over them, let alone possible legal issues.

In his first incarnation as Liberal leader, it was said that he was inclined to waffle. That has been evident in some of his early interviews as prime minister but, in his defence, he has not yet had anything substantial to speak about. He has promised to ‘explain’ government positions to the electorate but whether he can strike the balance between Abbott’s three word slogans and his own proclivity to waffle, remains to be seen.

So we have, at least for now, the same old policies, and at least some aspects of the same old Turnbull. Whether he is able to change his nature and change some of the policies appears to depend on whether or not he is able to gain support from the Right of his party in both the cabinet and party room. As 2353 suggested last week, we could be in for an interesting ride.

What do you think?
Can a leopard change its spots? Can a Turnbull change its nature? Many questions about the ‘new’ Turnbull will only be answered by the passage of time but they are questions of which we must be aware and that we must keep in mind if we are to judge his future performance.

Next week we continue the Turnbull theme when 2353 suggests we ‘Won’t get fooled again’.


Pass the Popcorn


It is now a month into the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull. Based on previous history, Turnbull is considered to be a ‘left wing’ Liberal, judging on his pronouncements over the years — being in favour of emissions reduction, same sex marriage, Fibre to the Home (FTTH) internet connections and other issues usually attributed to ‘the greenies’ and ‘latte drinkers’ from the ALP. When Turnbull outmanoeuvred Abbott, there was a delay in the necessary trip to the Governor-General to be sworn in as prime minister as the Nationals (the junior partner to the Coalition) wanted some additional conditions added to the agreement between the Liberals and the Nationals in order to retain the Coalition. Most of these conditions were to ensure the conservative policies espoused by the Abbott government were retained.

So far the major difference between Abbott and Turnbull seems to be actions like the release of a policy to inject $100million into programs to eliminate domestic violence and assist the victims. Announced by the newly minted Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, and flanked by Turnbull and Rosie Batty (current Australian of the Year and domestic violence elimination advocate), Turnbull’s contribution was to correctly state that being disrespectful to women was ‘un-Australian’. It is doubtful the previous holder of both the prime ministerial and minister for women roles would have made the same statement. However to give the previous incumbent some credit, pulling a policy like this together probably started under his tenure.

The political blame games have begun in earnest. Probably the first off the block was Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin. A few days after the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to the prime ministership, she gave a speech at a ‘Women of the Future’ event in Sydney. In the speech, she argued that she was not responsible for the demise of Abbott, she did not control access or policy in the prime minister’s office and she refused to be defined by ‘insider gossip’. Credlin also claimed:
… she had been unfairly targeted by the media because of her gender and that there were different standards applied to women in powerful jobs. “If I was a guy I wouldn’t be bossy, I’d be strong,” she said. “If I was a guy I wouldn’t be a micromanager, I’d be across my brief, or across the detail.

“If I wasn’t strong, determined, controlling and got them into government from opposition, then I would be weak and not up to it and should have to go and could be replaced. So, it’s very binary when it comes to women.”
Katherine Murphy, writing in The Guardian disagrees, as does Barrie Cassidy from the ABC and Michelle Grattan who writes for The Conversation. Murphy, Gratten and Cassidy paint a picture of a controlling person who isolated her ‘boss’ from reality to such an extent that he didn’t see the writing on the wall. The obvious response to Murphy, Grattan and Cassidy is ‘well they would say that, wouldn’t they’ as each has written critical articles on Abbott and his government in the past. When Janet Albrechtsen writes a similar opinion piece in The Australian (paywalled), maybe there is some truth to the claims. (It is interesting that this type of writing is only done after the demise of the victim such as Rudd or Abbott — but that is a discussion for another day.)

Peter Costello, hardly a friend of Abbott’s, appeared on Four Corners and claimed it was almost certainly the right decision to elevate Malcolm Turnbull. Part of the justification was:
I think probably in the end it was the polls. That a majority of his colleagues felt that they were not going to win the next election and in those circumstances they decided to effect a change.
Clearly the conservative political media identities weren’t happy and they were prepared to let everyone know about it. On Channel 10’s The Project, Andrew Bolt made an appeal that Abbott really was a ‘decent bloke’ and that a number of his positives — such as his community service through Lifesaving — was ridiculed and thrown back at him. Ray Hadley raged against the 53 ‘dunderheads’ that voted against Abbott. Alan Jones wasn’t in a good mood either:
Judas, Judas, people not happy, the way it’s done, I mean the way it was done was beyond belief. The way it was done, unbelievable.
According to The Saturday Paper, the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull has fuelled a war within News Corp Australia. It seems that some within the organisation have decided that Abbott lost and have (perhaps reluctantly) thrown their support behind Turnbull as prime minister. Others haven’t. It must have been galling for some News staff that Turnbull started and finished the day after the demise of Abbott on ABC programs. On his radio program, Bolt declared that:
“We’ve actually won. Me and Alan,” he boasted. “We’ve house-trained Turnbull … we knocked him into shape, Alan and I.”

Then at tortuous length, he went on to enumerate all the ways in which Turnbull now was presenting as a convincing analogue of Tony Abbott, all because of the brilliance and courage of himself and Jones.

“Alan and I will bask in our success,” he concluded. “Behold our neo-Turnbull. Let the Left weep.”
Our good mate Cory Bernardi has a long history of opposing Malcolm Turnbull. It probably started when then opposition leader Turnbull sacked Bernardi from his front bench in 2009. In 2010 Bernardi was at the [US] Heartland Institute’s convention claiming that ‘Malcolm misled us’; in 2013, he was ‘advising’ Turnbull to accept the conservative position on same sex marriage; and as recently as early September complaining that, while his new NBN connection was fantastic, the organisation of NBNCo (part of Turnbull’s then communications minister responsibilities) was less than acceptable. He (along with Andrew Bolt) is openly talking about setting up a new party — one would assume for ‘true’ conservatives.

Apart from the problems involved in running the country, Turnbull seems to have a fundamental problem in policy and governance within his party. The Nationals have an agreement that some of the more contentious Abbott era policies will remain in place. The Bolts and Jones’ of the media seem to think that while they haven’t anointed the current prime minister, they have his measure. Meanwhile the Australian public seem to think that Turnbull will cure all the ills of the Abbott era. Effectively Turnbull can’t win. Turnbull needs the Nationals as he cannot govern in his own right — he needs 76 House of Representatives members to do so. He has 75 MP’s that identify themselves as Liberals. If he doesn’t keep the Abbott era policies he stands to lose the Nationals and the conservative media as well as the ‘right wing’ of the Liberal Party who may decide that the Bernardi party isn’t a bad place to be (with a further reduction in the number of Senators that Turnbull can rely on). If he doesn’t change policy from the Abbott era, while the Nationals and right wing will stick with him, he stands the risk of being seen as trying to sell the same agenda from a better postcode, in a nicer suit.

Either way, Turnbull’s initial bounce in the polls is not a precursor of success. While the ‘preferred PM’ statistic has changed significantly, the ‘two party preferred’ has only moved a few points, and recent history in Queensland and Victoria would suggest that 51-49 in your favour is not an election winning lead. While it all seems calm and serene on the surface, it is probably a reasonable assumption that just under the water, the business of working a way through the policy problem is being worked on night and day.

So Turnbull has to negotiate a Senate that he doesn’t control; a former chief of staff who is out for revenge — claiming the gender card as there is no other basis for the argument; potentially an ex-prime minister who will sit and stew on the backbench becoming a lightning rod for discontent in a similar way to Rudd and Keating; sections of the media that believe and publicly proclaim they have the sole prerogative to pick the prime minister of this country; members of his own party who are talking about leaving; a large section of the public who are expecting change for the better; along with an Opposition that is, according to the opinion polls, knocking on the door of majority popularity. All of these groups will have no problem in finding any number of statements Turnbull made in the past that directly contradict his political party’s current policy settings. While wise people change their mind when presented with additional information, Turnbull is already looking vulnerable on the continuation of the Abbott ‘Direct Action’ climate change policy.

The next few months are probably going to have more twists than the latest action movie. A comfy seat, dimmed lighting and popcorn seems to be appropriate.

What do you think?
Another former Liberal prime minister once said ‘life wasn’t meant to be easy’ and that may be true for the new prime minister. Can he ride the waves and survive the swirling currents around him or will he wipe out?

Next week Ken continues our look at new PM Turnbull in ‘Same old, same old’. And also watch out for pieces on this theme by Ad Astra on TPS Extra.