The fatal march of the fiscal lemmings

There’s lush high country that all political parties seek to occupy.  It’s called the ‘land of economic credibility’.  If you live there the people trust you with the economic management of the country or the state.  It has a high peak that no party has ever climbed.  But to occupy even the lower slopes is regarded as a politically powerful place to be.  At the edge there’s a cliff.  Below it is a steep slope on which it is hard to maintain safe footing.  Below that the terrain falls away steeply and the surface become so slippery that once on that greasy slope, the slide accelerates right to the swiftly flowing torrent far below.  Even if the fall is survived, return to the high country becomes almost impossible; it takes a long, arduous walk around the mountain. [more]

John Howard, Peter Costello and their Coalition Government were seen by the electorate as having economic credibility.  Not by everyone, but by enough to entrust them with managing what was in the latter years a buoyant economy fuelled by the resources boom.  Some would say that it didn’t need genius to run an economy that was rolling in unprecedented resources revenue.   Nevertheless the Coalition remained well ahead of Labor in ‘handling the economy’ stakes, even when Labor was eclipsing the Coalition in other attributes.  In fact it is only relatively recently that Labor has drawn level, as demonstrated in the August 17 Essential Research Report In the same report, when the proposition was who was best, Kevin Rudd or John Howard, at ‘handling the economy in the interests of working people’, 50% said Rudd, 25% said Howard.  On August 18, Possum wrote in Pollytics in a piece Essential Report – The Fickleness of Political Mythology “One of the great pieces of political mythology over the last decade was the towering strength of Howard on the Economy and Defence and Security as issues. There was absolutely no doubt he rated relatively highly at the time, but as is always the case with these things, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of incumbency in boosting such ratings.”

Whatever the argument about Rudd versus Howard on economic credibility, the situation has not improved for the Coalition since Malcolm Turnbull took over, despite his experience in business and banking.

A July 27 2009 Essential Research Report showed the Government ahead of the Coalition on most economic parameters: ‘protecting your wages and conditions’ 28% ahead; ‘dealing with the global financial crisis’ 19% ahead; ‘protecting jobs’ 18%; ‘handling the economy in the interests of working people’ 16%.  There were several others that were more even, but with labor still ahead: ‘making taxes fairer’, ‘regulating banks’ ‘keeping interest rates down’, ‘keeping unemployment down’, ‘handling the economy’, ‘planning the economy long term’, and ‘handling inflation’.  In fact the only item on which the Coalition was well ahead, by 14%, was ‘’managing Australia’s debt’.

Newspoll runs questions on the economy intermittently – there should be another soon – but as far back as October 2008 Dennis Shanahan ran a piece in The Australian, Rudd overtakes Turnbull on economics that began: “Kevin Rudd has emerged from the days of the financial crisis as popular as he ever was and has overtaken Malcolm Turnbull on economic management.  The Government's $10.4 billion emergency economic boost and the guarantee for all bank deposits have been enthusiastically endorsed."  Further on he writes: "Vitally, Rudd has also broken away from the Leader of the Opposition on economic management. Only a few weeks ago Turnbull's merchant banking background had his nose in front of Rudd, but that has reversed."

Effectively Turnbull has ceded economic credibility to Rudd, and to date shows no sign of reversing that.  The Government now occupies the high country, not the Coalition.  How has this happened?

There are many reasons, but a resolute intent to oppose everything, which no doubt he believes is what he’s supposed to do as Opposition leader, seems to be at the core.  Take the stimulus package.   After briefly saying the stimulus was about right, he then said it was too much and poorly targeted, then after passing the first package he opposed the next.  He and his colleagues have hardly acknowledged that a GFC ever existed, and now although almost all commentators agree that a looming catastrophe has been averted by the stimulus, he refuses to acknowledge that it has had any beneficial effect and is saying that the stimulus wasn’t necessary, that the Government panicked, spent too much and racked up massive debt, with deficit budgeting for years to come, and now he says the Government must rapidly withdraw the stimulus.  Asked what he would have done, he concedes he would have used a stimulus, but about half that of the Government, he would have targeted it better, and would have consulted more widely before starting the schools program.  He seems not to have grasped that speed was of the essence.

His ever changing position must be hard for even his rusted-on supporters to endorse; for the rest of the electorate he must seem to be confused about what to do.  Credibility is steadily eroded by such uncertainty.  The polls reflect this.

Today in Question Time, Craig Emerson, Minister for Small Business, in search of public support for the Opposition leader’s ‘withdraw the stimulus’ call, cited thirteen sources that insisted that the stimulus be continued, from international bodies and officials such as the IMF, OECD, World Bank, G20 finance ministers and central bank governors, the US Treasury Secretary, and at home the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, all the bank economists, Treasury, and many independent economists.  All expressed caution about precipitous withdrawal of the stimulus. 

The only international body expressing a different view was the Bank of International Settlements that warned in June ‘that fiscal policy was at serious risk of overshooting’.  Some local commentators, all of which believed the stimulus was unnecessary or too large in the first place, such as Warwick McKibbin, Henry Ergas, and economics writer for The Australian, Michael Stutchbury, are among the few who support stimulus withdrawal.  Stutchbury writes about this today in Unwind the stimulus.

So Turnbull and the Coalition are virtually isolated.  The Greens have proposed a Senate enquiry into the stimulus, which the Government has supported, which will involve Ken Henry and possibly Glenn Stevens.  It would be surprising if they did not also endorse the government’s position.

With each foray into economic matters Turnbull and his finance colleagues slide further downhill.  They now seem to have slipped over the cliff.

In today’s Question Time, Opposition members, starting with Turnbull, asked the weakest of questions about the stimulus, to be greeted with a full frontal assault from Rudd and his ministers.  Attempts to put down Julia Gillard by Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop over the schools program failed, and in answer to a Dorothy Dixer, Anthony Albanese dismembered the Coalition accusation that the Government’s infrastructure spending was overt pork-barreling.  Turnbull asked only two questions in the first hour, and looked dispirited as well he might have been following polls over the last week. 

Morgan on Friday with a TTP of 61/39, the same in Essential Research Report yesterday, and Newspoll today steady on 55/45, gave little cause for optimism.  The only tiny bonus in Newspoll was that Turnbull’s satisfaction rating had climbed one percentage point, his dissatisfaction had fallen four points, giving him a net rating of negative 21 points, an improvement on his negative 31 points in early August.  At the same time Rudd’s approval has gone up three points, dissatisfaction down three points, giving a net positive rating of 38 points, his best for six months. And in the Preferred PM stakes Rudd has gone up a point to 67 while Turnbull remains on 19.  As an aside, Glenn Milne’s ‘honeymoon over’ prediction and his other ‘feelings’ about Coalition revival are clearly wrong – once again!

The other aspect of this saga, scarcely mentioned except by Government members, is that withdrawal of the stimulus is built into the entire package.  The cash bonuses had an early effect, and even when that money was initially saved it flowed later into the retail sector that can attest its good effect, but has now largely run its course; the schools program then boosted jobs in the building sector while improving schools infrastructure, but will phase out as the buildings are completed; and will be replaced by larger infrastructure projects – roads, rail, ports and broadband – that have taken longer to initiate and will go on for years.  So far from the ‘reckless spending’ that the Opposition likes to paint as never ending, phased withdrawal of stimulus is inbuilt and progressing.

With the strength of world and local opinion against abrupt withdrawal and with withdrawal already occurring as part of the program, why does Turnbull and the Opposition continue to attack the Government and insist that the stimulus must be reined in now to stem the spending, as if the loss of jobs and the failure of small business that the Government insists would follow, would be inconsequential?  In the equation ‘save jobs and businesses now and pay later, or sacrifice jobs and businesses now to avoid debts later’, the Opposition chooses the latter.  Those who would lose their jobs and businesses might have a word for the Opposition.

The impression one gets from doorstops and in QT is that Opposition members are less than enthusiastic about following Turnbull’s lead.  Even he appears to lack enthusiasm.  So is he just going through the motions because he doesn’t know what else to do?  Or does he, in his inimitable self-confident style, really believe this is a winning strategy?  Do his Coalition members believe in his strategy?  Can they not see that the public is not behind them, that the electorate is not listening, not believing, as demonstrated by this week's Essential Research Report that showed that 57% agreed that the stimulus had prevented a serious recession while only 30% disagreed?  Or are they just behaving like lemmings ready to follow him over the cliff to a sad fate?

The lemming metaphor is fitting for people who go along unquestioningly with unsupported opinion, with potentially dangerous or fatal consequences.  By all accounts Turnbull’s opinion on the stimulus is virtually unsupported.  By following lemming-like in his path, the Opposition runs the risk of the fate that lemmings often suffer. 

Why won’t they stop and seriously question in the party room whether Turnbull's strategy has the capacity to gain them the traction they need to stop them sliding over the edge where their leader and his close colleagues have already gone?  If they did, and tried a more positive strategy, some might survive to rebuild the economic credibility they so desperately need.

What do you think?

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Bushfire Bill

9/09/2009When I was at school and university and hadn't done enough study I had a master strategy for pcoping with exams I shouldn't really have attempted, much less dreamt of passing. I'd pick the rogue question; take the contrary case. It went like this: in Ancient History at school, while everyone else was swotting up on The Peloponnesian War, I learnt the translated plays of Aristophanes by heart. The only possible question on that topic was about the author's reflection of contemporary Athenian society in his plays. So when I saw the Ancient Greek Drama question reading, [i]"The plays of Aristophanes reflect contemporary Athenian society. Discuss, with particular reference to.... etc."[/i], I knew I was home and hosed. Being an Arts/Law student, in Philosophy exams at university I always answered the question on whether obeying the law was moral in itself. In my Law exams, I answered the question on whether morality was reflected in the Law. The rest waded through turgid volumes of crusty logic, Existentialism and Linguistic Dialectics (whatever that was). I got two bangs for every buck by juxtaposing my Law into Philosophy and my Philosophy into Law. The key to all this was to pick the unique position, or answer the question that nobody else would answer. You cut down on opposition, you probably knew more about the subject than the exam marker... and if you didn't he was flattered that at least [i]somebody[/i] had shown an interest in his topic. Compared with doing actual work, with fair dinkum study, taking the odd-ball questions gave you a fighting chance to pass. We can lump in the Opposition's current contrariness on The Stimulus with this well-worn undergraduate technique. All the requirements are there. 1. They thought they'dbreeze back into government with a couple of regulation scandals and a little time for the errant voters to realize they'd made a mistake in 2007. No need to do any work. 2. Consequently the Opposition has developed no new policies since they lost government. Neither have they indulged in any deep thinking about anything to do with government, preferring the parliamentary equivalent of practising their pool shots, or boning up on their ping-pong skills at the sports union during lecture times: endless Question Time points of order, arrogant doorstops and Silver Bullets. They were robbed of government, so [i]ipso facto[/i] there was and is nothing wrong with their policies. Why waste all that brain energy developing new ones? 3. I was a bright kid, pretty intelligent, had always done well at school level examinations with minimal study. Why should university exams be any different? My mates (the ones I played ping-pong with) assured me that with a little cramming at the end of term I'd pass with flying colours. Likewise, the Coalition's mates in the media have assured them (on numerous occasions) that the honeymoon is over, that Rudd is a dud, a phoney, prolix, a toxic bore, tangled in his language, The Milky Bar Kid, a thief, a rorter, a puppet of the NSW Labor Right, all spin and no action, all action and no spin, a debt junkie or (I saved the best till last) they "feel something in the air." No need to study Malcolm and friends, you'll shit it in. Just cram a bit during the campaign, run a few scare ads, mention "debt" every second word, and point to those hated signs outside schools... oh and yes, accuse Rudd and Gillard of being "socialists" and the people will come screaming back to you, just in the nick of time (for them). 4. To make up for the lack of study and policy development during term, to balance the lazy self-indulgence of believing that QT points of order impress anyone, as a counterweight to reliance on Glen Milne's "something in the air", the Opposition has picked not the odd-ball topic, but the odd-ball [i]policy[/i]: [b]"Recession? [i]What[/i] Recession?"[/b]. From that choice flows everything... if there's no recession then we don't need a Stimpac. If we don't need a Stimpac then any money spent must be a rort. If Labor is rorting then it wouldn't surprise them if it was KRudd who ordered the hit on the hapless McGurk in his driveway, or Albanese, or Arbib.. or maybe [i]all[/i] of them together! Just get Pies to put that one out on [i]Insiders[/i]. That'll plant the seed. Throw in "Ipswich Inc.", Kevin-07, Madam Dear Leader. Best of all: [i]nobody else agrees with them[/i]. That's the key. They have the ground all to themselves. And who knows: it might be true! Now, when that exam question comes up, [i]"The Stimpac has had no beneficial effect on the Australian economy. Discuss"[/i]... the Opposition is on London-to-a-brick to impress the voter. The coalition wrote the book on economic denial (with a brand new chapter every week). If only all the exam markers were opinion writers for [i]Tha Australian[/i]. That'd make it certain. Oh well, you can't have everything...

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9/09/2009BB A fine analogy - you’ve touched all the pertinent points. Did you notice on [i]AM[/i] this morning that Turnbull went through all the points he has made for weeks – nothing new, just the same tired mantra we’ve heard [i]ad nauseam[/i]. Either he has no other strategy, no other story, or he really believes the electorate will eventually come round to his viewpoint. Sadly for him, there’s nothing in any of the opinion polls that could give him any cause to believe that.

Cavitation

9/09/2009Being in parliament shreds the reputations of those whose public images outshine their actual abilities. Malcolm Turnbull is one such. Clearly, he is one of those aggressive lawyer types who achieve things by being relentless until their opponents eventually just give up because they have better things to do. This personality type is a small sub-set of the population, and can achieve results for a while, but sooner or later the "Peter Principle" operates, and they move into a role that requires more than just a skill of being overbearing. Arrogance is common among high-achievers and politicians, but it must be applied very skillfully, and is a two-edged sword especially for politicians. The problem is that Turnbull has not learned any other skills, and is at a loss now that his singular ability has been proved as ineffective. Does the Liberal Party have an economic policy? They seem to be rejecting Keynesian economics now that nearly everyone else has dusted off their old textbooks. Being in opposition is the perfect time to junk the old and failed set of policies, and jump ahead of the game, by adopting a new set. The Liberals are not managing to do this, and seem to be in denial that the world is a very different place to where it was a year ago. The Global Financial Crisis is a historically defining event, the first since 9/11 2001. Just as the Labor Party failed to adapt to 9/11 for several years, the Liberals seem to be following the same path in response to the GFC. Maybe it is all just basic human nature playing out.

Bushfire Bill

9/09/2009When it's the night before the exam and you haven't even opened the text book (much less read it) the only thing to do is rely on bluff and surprise tactics. There's not enough time left to develop real policies. Their friends at News Ltd. do them no favour by promoting a rolling schedule of scandals and half-truths as the way out. I really do wonder sometimes why they have settled on ploys like the QT Points Of Order tactic. When was the last time anyone saw one of these points of order televised, or even discussed on the TV news? In my case, not once. What does it achieve, except to hold up proceedings with almost invariably disallowed POs. They do it because they can. All they need to do is approach the despatch box during an answer. The Speaker tells the minister to resume his or her seat. The opposition shadow says three or four words before he or she is told there is no point of order, and the minister continues on. The only point to all this, as far as I can see, is that POs are one of the few surviving methods they have left where they can force the government to do anything, even if it's just to sit down for ten seconds. Voting things down in the Senate is another. Receiving equal (if not greater) air time from the ABC and News Ltd journalists as if they're a genuine "alternative government" is a third. They cling to their vestiges of power and prestige. Doing this does them no good, but it sure beats working. Paradoxically, if the media ignored them, or even ridiculed their antics in the way they deserve, it'd probably be better for the Coalition in the long run, perhaps even the short term. They'd be forced to work for their dole. As long as they don't have any pressure on them to come up with the policy goods, as long as they believe (and their mates tell them) that all they have to do is take the contrary path, they'll be stuck in the past and stuck in opposition. I, for one, hope they never figure this out.

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9/09/2009Cavitation You are right when you say that Turnbull is an example of the Peter Principle. He has risen to his level of incompetence. He was a successful barrister, businessman and banker, but the skills that applied to those pursuits do not apply to politics. I have argued all year that Turnbull is not a politician, and in February I penned [i]Malcolm Turnbull’s intelligence[/i] http://www.thepoliticalsword.com/post/2009/02/24/Malcolm-Turnbulle28099s-intelligence.aspx which advanced the argument that his undoubted intelligence in many areas did not extend to political intelligence. As you say, the Coalition has not developed new policies; indeed the only one who has written anything recently about Liberal philosophy and policy is Tony Abbott. Malcolm Turnbull did not even contribute to [i]Liberals and Power[/i] edited by Peter van Onselen. He has never revealed his political creed, except to say that he believes in entrepreneurship, ‘having a go’, freedom of choice, support for small business (the heart of the economy), and implicit in his meagre utterances is belief in free markets and small government, although he doesn’t use those words. Judging from what he says he is a political philosophy lightweight. So commentators rightly say they don’t know what Turnbull stands for, except of course promotion of himself. BB I too am intensely irritated by the Opposition’s countless ‘points of order’. They get slapped down every time, but persist. Sometimes I think they just don’t want to hear the reply, as so often the answers hammer the Coalition with its past history, destroy its assertions and ridicule its rhetoric. Yet all they achieve is to waste time. Perhaps that’s their strategy – to diminish the duration of the pain to which they are subjected every QT. I agree that they are lazy policy-wise and are relying on their rhetoric to get them home in the long run. Further on Turnbull’s [i]AM[/i] appearance this morning, I noticed that he used, I think for the first time, the word ‘pessimistic’ to describe Kevin Rudd’s view of the global economic situation, which is code for his view that ‘the GFC wasn’t all that bad after all’. Tell that to the thousands who have lost their jobs; tell it to the even greater number on short hours; tell that to small businessmen who were on the verge of losing their business; tell it to larger businesses that cannot raise capital because of credit restrictions that still exist; tell that to the retailers who feared a terrible downturn only to be rescued by the cash bonuses, and now that the effect of these is phasing out, are facing reduced sales in the months ahead; tell that to struggling fast food outlets and restaurants who have had to reduce staff and endure marginal income; tell that to workers in the tourism industry who have lost their jobs and those who are just hanging on because of the stimulus; tell that to the airline industry that is in the midst of a severe slump in passenger traffic; tell that to countless self-funded retirees whose nest egg has halved in value and those who have had to return to work because of that; tell that to those near retirement age whose superannuation can no longer fund the retirement they planned, and who therefore have to work on. In QT yesterday Anthony Albanese, playing on the Fielding episode, put it beautifully when he said “I can spell ‘out of touch’ – ‘TURNBULL’”. On ABC 774 radio this morning in the regular slot for the ‘spin doctors’, one put forward the hypothesis that the Turnbull mantra, although it sounds hollow now, is based a long-term strategy derived from focus groups that eventually the people will become worried about debt and deficit and rising interest rates which of course he will attribute to the stimulus, rather than, as Glenn Stevens indicated, will be no more than a return to normal rates from the ‘emergency’ levels required to counter the GFC. That sounds plausible, but Turnbull may find that even that may fall flat as it now seems that with the economy picking up, and in particular with China’s restored need for our resources, the deficit will be lower than budgeted, the debt lower, and the return to surplus budgets quicker. He may be on a loser, once again.

fred

9/09/2009I think the importance of 'the economy' as a political issue is overrated. 3 reasons. 1. Newspoll surveys have it about the same in 'importance' as a voting issue as Health/Medicare and Education. I looked at the last 3 Newspolls that asked this sort of thing, July '08 to Feb '09, and each of these 3 vote issues ranks around the 80 number with Health/Medicare a fraction ahead in 'importance'. So its just one of the 3 major vote grabbing issues. 2.Yet it gets a huge amount of attention, particularly at election time. Remember the Ltd News [and other] journos banging on about it at that time? Yet the Oct '07 Newspoll had it ranked fifth! After the other two and the Environment and Water Planning. Somebody is out of step here. I wonder why? Anyway if media bang on about it so much there is a self fulfilling prophecy aspect, it must be important if it attracts so much media noise musn't it? Not necessarily. 3.I believe it was the Clinton PR people who popularised the "It's the economy stupid" meme that supports the purported overriding eminence of the economy as an issue. Yet it was at the last election, when right winger journos and pollies were declaiming that the economy was good under the COALition so of course the COALition wouldn't be voted out would they? Yet they were. And thus emerged the idea that its not the economy its the "lived economy". [I believe George Megolagenis picked up on this at the time]. You can tell people everything is hunky dory, the economy is booming, the good times are here, but if enough people live a life that is not so, for example the 12% of Australians who were living in poverty at the time of the last election, and they KNOW that their life is not as the pundits claim, then the lived experience of these people, and the friends and rellies et al, will contradict the alleged primacy of the economy as an issue. The Economy' is an abstract. Lived experience eg health, school etc is personal. So they will vote against the alleged 'better economic managers'. And the pundits will be puzzled. But only for a while.

Paul of berwick

9/09/2009Folks, During the last election campaign there was some leaked internal Liberal Party polling (I seem to recall Possum analysing it). The presented chart was in essence, in the the voters' mind, what is the strength of the association between an activity of Federal Government and the Liberal Party. These activities ranged from education, health, industrial relations, indigineous affairs, military, economy, agriculture, etc, etc. The only positive relationship/association for the Liberals (Coalition?) was the economy. They either didn't "own" all the other issues/aspects, of it was neck-and-neck with the ALP. To me then, this is why they can only talk about the economy. For example, would you put the Liberals ahead the ALP on matters of health, on education? I think we're doomed to forever listen to Turnbull & Co talk about the economy until they own another issue. Mmmm.... Paul

Bushfire Bill

9/09/2009[i]"...Tell that to the thousands who have lost their jobs; tell it to the even greater number on short hours; tell that to small businessmen who were on the verge of losing their business..."[/i] It's the ones who haven't lost their jobs that would tend to believe there's no GFC. Until recently I was working for a firm that had a contract with a large retailer - fixed price, fixed rollout, 3 year contract. They are immune from the GFC. The employees are well paid. Almost every one of them pooh-pooh'd the GFC and the Stimpac. Every one of them derided the $900 cash bonus (and then spent it, claiming they deserved it, not like the drug addicts and dole bludgers, who didn't). I left that job for the noblest of reasons: I couldn't stand the bastards! The Y2K Syndrome was another case in point. Anyone who didn't suffer from it tended to think it was a chimera, an invention designed to enrich software companies and snake-oil salesmen. No it wasn't. Many businesses I came into contact with DID have Y2K issues (including my own). Some of these could have been catastrophic if they had not been detected in time. Yet, in both areas, the Stimpac and Y2K there were rorters and con men and anomalous situations. The Coalition's strategy is to only tell us about these people. They throw the baby out with the bathwater. If there is one school that has received a grant it can't use, then the whole program is corrupt and a total waste. Based on an $18 billion figure, the $250,000 that has been allegedly wasted on a 1-pupil school in Queensland (and this is disputed by Julia Gillard) is 0.0014% of the total: a tad over one thousandth of one per cent. Say there are a hundred schools like this (unlikely, but let's do the mind experiment): that's 0.14%, just over one-tenth of one per cent wastage. and so on. Yet the Coalition and media outlets like The Australian would have us believe the whole idea of a Stimpac is terribly misconceived because of a few - a [i]very[/i] few - anomalies. I really do not know what their alternative to the Stimpac is. Joe Hockey says he doesn't want to tell us because the government would steal his ideas! This doesn't square with the Coalition's oft-made proposition that they should be allowed to give the government a few helpful tips about economic management (after all they [i]are[/i] the "alternative government" aren't they?). If they are unwilling to back-up their own ideas with concrete examples during a TV interview when they have the chance, how could they possibly co-operate with the government in a more formal manner, when all decisions would presumably be collegiate and unattributable to any one source? They cling to the belief that on polling day, the voters, in a frenzy of hate and disgust at the Schools Stimulus signs outside the polling booth, will say to themselves, "Well, Joe said he'd fix it. Didn't say how, but I'd better switch my vote to the Coalition to be on the safe side." It's Cloud-Cuckoo Land stuff. If almost a year of blathering on about debt and deficit hasn't made a dent in the polls yet, doesn't this indicate they're on a hiding to nothing in pursuing this line? As I theorized above, the only reason they stick with such stupidity is because the ground they occupy has no competition for the space. No-one else (except a few News Ltd journos) agrees with them. If their long-odds outsider comes home they'll clean up. But they forget why outsiders actually have long odds: they're highly unlikely to win. The Coalition's increasing isolation out on their shaky limb was noted by Craig Emerson yestrerday in QT, when he quoted a long litany of supporters of the government policy (some of these not at all general supporters of the government either). This was greeted with cat-calls and hoots of laughter from the Coalition. They fiddle while Rome burns, spending more time on meaningless Points Of Order and guffawing than on policy and ideas. When you're assured of a triumphant return to government at the next election, wothout doing any work, there's plenty of time to burn with making merry. The Coalition cites interest rate rises as the next "test". They completely discount the possibility that mortgage holders are likely to understand that 3% interest rates are an emergency measure and that, of course, rates will rise. It's so lazy: "Interest rate rises are always bad for the government." Maybe once, but not today. They may even be a sign of recovery, a good thing. Nevertheless the Coalition wants the government to stop Stimpac spending and force thousands out of work, business to the wall, presumably for the goodness of their victims' souls, so that those same (by then) purified souls can continue to enjoy historically, even artificially low interest rates. They have no concept of the process as a whole, prefering instead to concentrate on only the negative aspects, ignoring the greater good. We hear this mantra also from the media. There is no thought to it except to create drama, tension, something to bash the government over the head with. Laziness everywhere. Glen Milne would call this "a paradigm". I call it "enemy action." The government's Stimpac and associated programs are potentially victims of their own success. If there is growth in the economy then it's too much growth. If there is negative growth than it's the "Rudd Recession". Remember the "Rudd Recession"? What happened to it? Disappeared forever, down the gurgle hole of Coalition spin. Now we have "The Recession That Never Was" - a 180 degree polarity flip - as a substitute to be taken seriously. That our growth over the past two quarters was only about a marginal 1.3% seems not to worry them. Would they have preferred 0.0%? A negative number? Joe (their economic spokesman) isn't telling us. It might give the government ideas. One day the "recession" is only avoided on a "technical" basis (surprising how GDP growth, any GDP growth, was never "technical" during Howard's time). The next day... there [i]is[/i] no recession. Does the Coalition genuinely think the public are that stupid that they haven't noticed the Grand Canyon-like chasm between these two arguments, made by the same party in less than a year? Do they really think they can dispel the public's joy that, on all the indicators, Australia has dodged a bullet, and get them to vote for the party that not only now denies there ever [i]was[/i] a bullet, but wasn't prepared to do anything about it when they were claiming the bullet [i]did[/i] exist? Howard was at least rational. I never thought I'd say this, but thank God for him. His good sense in keeping this rabble of an Opposition from making too many important decisions was indeed prescient.

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9/09/2009fred, Paul The question of whether the economy is an issue in people’s minds may depend on its current state. When everything’s going well it may not engage the electorate, but when it’s tanking, people sit up and take notice. This is the contemporary situation and perhaps why the Rudd Government is being rated so well. It is seen as having recognized the seriousness of the situation and having acted quickly to counter it, by all accounts successfully. Turnbull seems to think he can argue against this by making out that the crisis was not as bad as Rudd and Swan painted it, that they were too pessimistic and over-reacted, and the crisis is now over and so the stimulus should be withdrawn ‘before it pushes up interest rates’, a notion Sawn has refuted. Turnbull’s problem is firstly that it will not be easy to convince people that there wasn’t much of a crisis after all, especially those affected or whose friends were affected – the electorate is not stupid – and secondly to convince people that it’s all over. Today in [i]Business Spectator[/i] a piece by AAP says: [i]"Retailers can expect a tough 18 months ahead as the federal government's policy stimulus fades and growth in household income weakens, a leading forecaster says. Still, independent researcher Access Economics says the performance of retail sales through the worst of the global financial crisis has been 'nothing short of remarkable'.”[/i] Talking of the cash payments it continued: [i]"Enough money was handed out and a good share of the windfall – at least half – has been spent," Access Economics director David Rumbens said releasing the report. But while those windfalls added a temporary five per cent to the income of the average family, they were already drying up, as revealed in a June retail sales drop of 1.4 per cent."[/i]. In other words the crisis was very real, the Government’s stimulus had a strong effect, the effect of the stimulus is now waning as was planned, and that tough times are still ahead. Every point contradicts what Turnbull is asserting. In the piece [i]Political planning using Maslow’s pyramid[/i] http://www.thepoliticalsword.com/post/2009/08/27/Political-planning-using-Maslowe28099s-pyramid.aspx it was argued that people would not be interested in a party’s higher order issues such education and health until they were sure the party was capable of providing sound economic management. In that sense, having economic credibility was seen as a basic block in building support. Of course that’s the theory, but it seemed to have an effect in the 2007 election. As you say fred, the voters rejected a government whose economic credentials were regarded as good, but it could be argued that by neutralizing those credentials by persuading the people that he was an economic conservative not a cigarette paper different from Howard, Rudd was able to focus their attention on education, health, and of course IR. BB Another sound analysis. I notice that Wayne Swan is on to the Coalition strategy of trying to link a rise in interest rates to the Government’s stimulus and to not withdrawing it fast enough. We’ll hear a lot more from Government ministers about that. If you saw QT today you would have seen Rudd, Swan and Emerson hammer the Opposition on the subject of precipitous withdrawal of the stimulus. The Liberal member for Fadden was lampooned repeatedly over his doorstop statement that the only government in the world that is not withdrawing its stimulus is the Rudd Government, a manifestly incorrect statement. In the face of all the evidence that such withdrawal would be unwise, how can Turnbull continue his ‘early withdrawal’ line? Frankly he looks dispirited and just going through the motions. I’m hoping that your belief is correct that one day he’ll throw in the towel and turn his talents to some other endeavour. Finally, you will have seen how easily and repeatedly Christopher Pyne made a fool of himself addressing questions to Julia Gillard about the schools program. I don’t know why he persists.

fred

9/09/2009"Finally, you will have seen how easily and repeatedly Christopher Pyne made a fool of himself addressing questions to Julia Gillard about the schools program. I don’t know why he persists." Yep, I've just come from watching today's parliament on TV [purely accidental I tell you, I was just passing the teev, honest] and Pyne had transmogrified into someone else who was asking about $2 million somewhere allegedly being wasted whatever. It gave Julia the chance to welcome any details he had of one of the 24,000 projects which were being embarked upon thanks to the wonderful Rudd government, and although they have only had 49 complaints from those 24,000 projects involving over 9000 school communities she would welcome any details he had cos, of course, she wants to get it right and she can't comment yet because well you know there are 24,000 projects and over 90000 school communities doing wonderful things thanks to the Rudd government and she can't carry the details of all 24000 projects in her head, did you get that number? And she smiled. I dunno why they bother trying to score against her. Would you?

Ad astra reply

9/09/2009fred It was pathetic. Pyne looked like a schoolboy (his natural look) being lectured by his teacher, surprised that he is so slow to learn, and disappointed that he had not done his homework, not once since the schools program began months ago. At one stage he was even nodding in assent, like any good boy should. In today’s online [i]Australian Financial Review[/i] Alan Mitchell. economics editor, writes in a piece [i]Rudd must make hard calls: ”In politics, almost as much as in show business, you are only as good as your last performance. Kevin Rudd's performance in responding to the global financial crisis and recession was as close to flawless as can be expected from any politician. As Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens told the House of Representatives' economics committee, ‘I think an objective observer would say that the size and speed of that response has been one of the important factors in supporting private demand over the past nine months’.”[/i] Yet another ringing endorsement of the stimulus program. I haven’t access to the rest as it is subscriber only; if any of you do, please let us know what ‘hard calls’ Rudd should make.

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9/09/2009The editorial in [i]Crikey[/i] today [i]Transport infrastructure our road to recovery[/i] http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/09/09/crikey-says-82/ provides further support for not withdrawing the stimulus too soon: [i]“ The debate over whether the Government’s stimulus should be withdrawn appears impervious to facts – like that the only reason employment and economic growth have been sustained is because of the stimulus spending. “It probably won’t change the Press Gallery’s pretence that this is a matter for serious debate, but today’s retail sales and housing finance data demonstrate the fragility of the economy. They may have been small falls – 2% for housing finance, 1% for retail sales – but they come at a point where the economy is in the middle of a transition from the retail stimulus component to the infrastructure component, timed to occur between the June and September quarters. “In short, despite the Government pumping tens of billions of dollars into both sectors, they are nowhere close to normal conditions.” “The perversity of the stimulus debate is reinforced by the fact that, in the event the stimulus was halted now, it would kill off the highest quality spending, in economic terms. “While the cash splash has been handed out and the school buildings and social housing are going up right now, the spending component yet to ramp up is that being directed at significant economic infrastructure, particularly in transport, which everyone is in furious agreement suffered a relative underinvestment during the course of the last decade's boom. These are long-term projects that require years to complete, and which were unsuitable for the sort of immediate stimulus to employment the economy needed, but which will yield significant economic benefits, as well as a somewhat smaller number of jobs, as the economic recovery gathers momentum. “Still, we shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of the ‘stimulus debate’ story.” [/i] That just about says it all.

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9/09/2009In today's [i]Crikey[/i], Guy Rundle writes in [i]Turnbull is failing his party on every front: http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/09/09/rundle-turnbull-is-failing-his-party-on-every-front/ "There’s something cruelly apposite about a teenager’s round-the-world solo yacht attempt coming to grief, and the side of another boat, hours in — and Malcolm Turnbull’s furious reaction to Kevin 27’s somewhat partisan take on history at the launch of Paul Kelly’s new book The Parade of Obviousness (or something). "Of course Krudd was taking the piss. Book launches are a chance to get up peoples’ noses, a licence to annoy. Turnbull should have turned it into a joke about the PM’s lack of an off-switch, his inability to think in any way other than the partisan. "Instead, the remarks about a “communist party general secretary” are pure epic fail/own goal/shipping accident. No-one under 45 has much memory of senescent communism — Andropov and Chernenko were gone by ‘85, and Gorbachev resembled a smooth western politician — and the only one still around, Kim Jong-Il, was skewered by Team America: World Police (“ronely, I am so ronely …”) years ago. "And anyone who actually does remember the comrades knows that the comparison has no real heft. Either way it doesn’t work. It is so obviously a wrong note that you’d think Turnbull was, well, an American conservative. "Is this the worst Australian Opposition Leader evuh? He is certainly in the running. He is failing his party on every front. He lacks the skills and appetites to lead an intellectual renovation of Australian liberalism/conservatism, his strategic leadership has been obscure, and his tactical moves have been blunderful to watch. "He gets nothing right, and everything wrong. He has the least aptitude for frontline politics of anyone in recent memory. He is the proverbial leader of Winston Churchill’s mantra on Tory supremos ('if he is a drunk he must be propped up, a philanderer covered up for, etc etc … if he is no good he must be poleaxed'). "Politically, he is a teenager adrift, finding that what looked easy, what he was desperate to get out of the harbour to do, has hidden difficulties related to the presence of other, more considerable vessels. "It should be obvious to anyone with a skerrick of political nous that the culture/history/whatever wars, whatever usefulness they once had — and it was once very considerable — are, well, dead in the water. John Howard used them to give him a narrative after Dolly Downer — the man Turnbull is eclipsing with anti-talent — had gone to his epic fail, and they helped construct Keating as an elitist who fiddled with history while Roma burned. "For years after that, they assisted with a certain type of branding. Indeed for a few years we couldn’t really tell how much they mattered — was Howard’s refusal to apologise to aborigines and other such stuff really shifting conservative suburban votes — votes that would other otherwise go to Labor? "We’ll never know. What we know is that none of it mattered once Howard tampered with the IR system. Labor could have proposed compulsory ecstasy in schools and a war crimes trial for Keith Windschuttle and no one would have given a rats’." “If Turnbull really can’t see that there is no front to be opened here — that he has to facilitate the reinvention of a positive Liberal message in the years before the economy starts to grind the gears, and a neoliberal narrative starts to find appeal again — then he’s just gotta go. “It’s great fun to watch, but ultimately it’s just messing about in boats — or sinking ships.”[/i] What a penetrating analysis of our nation's Opposition Leader. It's tragic - we deserve better.

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9/09/2009Glenn Dyer today writes in [i]Crikey: "A 1% drop in retail sales and a 2.3% fall in housing finance for July, have provided a reality check on the question of whether stimulus spending should be hauled back. "Coming on top of the near six-year high for business confidence, and solid rise in business conditions, plus the rise in newspaper and online job ads for the first time last month in over a year, the recession, or rather the slowdown, is clearly over. Hence the campaign from the Opposition, The Australian newspaper and some economists, including the National Australia Bank which raised the issue of trimming spending in its monthly business survey on Tuesday. "Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull has gone on a 'cut back stimulus' sortie in the past couple of days, urging the Government to act on his demands. The Opposition and the Greens combined to force an inquiry next week into the stimulus spending, but the fall in retail sales and the easing in housing finance will make the Government's task of defending its spending much easier. "All Turnbull needs now is a rise in unemployment tomorrow and the Opposition will have snatched another defeat from the jaws of victory. "News of the slide in retail sales was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics at 11.30am, half an hour after the release of the September consumer confidence survey which showed a two year high in the latest data from Westpac and the Melbourne Institute. But the retail sales figures contained a timely reminder that there could be a slowdown this quarter, perhaps into the December quarter. "Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens warned of such a possibility in his post rate meeting statement last week when he said: "some spending has probably been brought forward by the various policy initiatives; in those areas demand may soften in the near term." "The news that there appears to be weaker than expected demand in retailing and for housing finance will take some of the pressures off the central bank to act sooner, rather than later to lift interest rates."[/i] Turnbull seems to have once again picked the wrong fight.

Bushfire Bill

9/09/2009As I said, the Coalition at the moment are a bunch of politically hedonistic men and women, frolicking with their frivolous Points of Order, their interjecting cat-calls and their contrarian economic positions before they just fall back into power (or so they hope). Their mates in the media do them no favours by propping them up in their delusions and promoting phoney scandals as short-cuts to government. At AA's suggestion I caught the last half and hour of QT today. What a bunch of demoralised no-hopers the Coalition was! The only half-decent non-Dorothy Dixer was from Bob Katter, who was forced, [i]inter alia[/i], into telling the heckling members on the Speaker's left to "Shut up and you might learn something!" Turnbull was there, trying to look studious and bored. Instead he looked deflated, at a loss to say or do anything, his head, at times, resting in his hands. Pyne was up and down like a yo-yo with his petulant POs. Ditto Uncle Joe Hockey. To mangle the famous ABC TV news phrase after the 2005 Budget: "They're on a loser... and they [i]know[/i] it." "Debt bad." "Rate rises bad." "Rudd's a Commie." They don't seem to have had an original thought for years. Meanwhile the world passes them by. People are getting back to work. Confidence is rising. And all they can do is quibble over whether we just survived, and by how much (if at all) the greatest economic meltdown since the Depression. Rudd looked bored. Julia didn't even have to get out of second gear. Albanese was performing his "naughty schoolboy" act. It was a joke. All they have is The Australian to continue cheering them on, whispering in their ears about their glorious past. You have to wonder why they bother.

monica

9/09/2009You know, people, your reports here are an absolute revelation. I came home tonight and listened to the ABC News Preview on 774, then PM, then the TV News, and could have sworn the Opposition was, to use the term used, "hammering" the government. It seems to me that segments of the ABC have gone quite mad. I don't know if anyone else has detected anything of this nature, but it seems to me that while the polling for the government keeps going positively, the more 'pro' the Opposition the ABC become. I reckon if you did even a basic time given to government and opposition in most programs now, there'd be a skew to the opposition. Glad to see you're still posting, A.A.

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9/09/2009BB I agree the Opposition’s performance in QT was a disgrace. They have decided they will get more traction attacking Julia Gillard over a few problems with the schools program, apparently not realizing how petty, childish and churlish they looked. As you pointed out, the financial dimensions of the few identified problems are miniscule, about the size of the Coalition’s imagination in framing QT questions. BB, monica Here in Victoria, ABC News decided to beat up the story as one of the Opposition changing its strategy by cleverly switching from criticizing the size of the schools funding to putting the Government and Julia Gillard under pressure over the details, throwing up spurious stories like the one about the one child school in outback Queensland supposedly getting a quarter of a million dollars. This is fictitious; the school has got nothing, and will not while its amalgamation with another is being discussed by the Queensland Education Department. But fiction will do for the Opposition; anything will do to fill the vacuum in their cranial cavity. On the [i]7.30 Report[/i] Chris Uhlmann treated the story in a more balanced way, giving at least some of Julia’s rebuttals. Chris seems more balanced since he’s taken over from Michael Brissenden. On [i]Lateline[/i] Christopher Pyne will be interviewed by Leigh Sales. I guess I’ll have to grit my teeth and watch. I just hope Leigh will not let him get away with his usual unsubstantiated comments, inconsequential stories, and sarcastic criticism without challenge. She should go to the interview armed with the Hansard record of Julia’s replies so she can challenge Pyne and shoot him down when he obfuscates, a skill he’s honed finely. Let’s see. I wonder if the Coalition has put a flea in the ABC’s ear and demanded more coverage. So in summary monica, what happened in QT and what’s being reported by the ABC are very different. The Opposition acted like unruly schoolchildren in QT and were slaughtered by Government ministers, on all topics, not just the schools issue. But you would never guess this from watching ABC news and current affairs. Let’s hope [i]Lateline[/i] is less biased. I’ll keep posting so long as the media and politicians need putting to the sword.

Ebenezer

9/09/2009Yes Monica, the only way to watch the ABC news now is with the sound off. Much more enlightening that way at the moment.

Bushfire Bill

9/09/2009[i]"Chris Uhlmann treated the story in a more balanced way, giving at least some of Julia’s rebuttals. Chris seems more balanced since he’s taken over from Michael Brissenden. "[/i] This whole story could be stopped (and rightly) if one - just ONE - journalist took the time to examine Gillard's replies, go into the details and present the facts. Yet they continue to present this "schools wastage" as a "debate"... "he said, she said". Uhlmann was not much different on this tonight. He very carefully did not examine the facts and presented each "side" as if they were equally valid in fact, although only one could be as the positions were diametrically opposed. He was more concerned with playing plaintive guitar "outback" music over visuals of the lonely school on the prarie, than actually asking the principal or the teacher exactly what was going on. It's a deliberate refusal to put the story to bed. He (and his colleagues) have vested interests in keeping it on the boil. Reminds me of the Kirk Douglas movie (can't remember the name) where he could have immediately rescued the little boy who fell down the mine shaft but, as a journalist, decided not to so he could string the story out for a few days. In the end the little boy died. I expect no better from Leigh Sales tonight. Oh, she might try asking the question a couple of times, but she'll most likely just give up when Pyne refuses to concede.

monica

9/09/2009More power to you Ad Astra, and I'm very appreciative of your contributions, BB, janice, Ebenezer.

Bushfire Bill

9/09/2009Yep. I was right. Leigh let Pyne prattle on as if it was an election broadcast. She asked him once or twice where their cost cutting would be and then pretty tamely accepted his answer. If it had been a Labor minister there'd have been blood on the floor (as with Swan the other night). What is the fascination with Pyne? He seems to have taken over from Downer as the resident Mouth from The South. When was the Coalition going to announce their cuts? "At the appropriate time" What would the cuts be? "Labor will steal them from us so I won't tell you." Really pretty flimsy interviewing. If the cuts the Coalition are advocating are so urgent, and (as they claim) most of the money will be blown by next year, how can they wait until the election to announce such urgent restorative measures needed to save the country from decades of debt? "Wait and see." Ridiculous.

Cavitation

10/09/2009In today's "Australian" is a story that the Liberals will go to next year's election with the policy of cutting back government spending. In the midst of the biggest world financial crisis since the great depression! So, the Liberal's economic policy is going to be to rerun the British Conservative Party policy from the 80's... So, is the popular moniker going to become Malcolm Thatcher or Margaret Turnbull?

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10/09/2009BB Sadly, our apprehension about the Leigh Sales interview of Christopher Pyne wasn’t wide of the mark. She tried, rather tentatively, to ask the hard questions, but was bulldozed by Pyne who deflected several hard questions and then came up with the Joe Hockey answer about what the Coalition would do – we’ll tell you in good time for the election; if we gave you our ideas the Government would steal them! We’ll hear that over and again. If the Coalition’s ideas are so brilliant, how responsible is it to deprive the country of them until election time? The answer is that either they don’t have any ideas that the nation would consider brilliant, or, if they do have good ideas, they are more concerned in keeping them secret to their own advantage than in helping the nation in this time of financial crisis. That is the ultimate in self-seeking politics. Compared with her aggressive and at times rude interview of Wayne Swan when he was in London for the G20 finance ministers’ meeting, this interview, like her interview of Hockey, was courteous, minimally assertive, and smilingly accommodating. I hesitate to call her pro-Coalition, but she’s getting close. I still wonder if she reflects ABC policy rather than her own orientation. In the same way, I wonder if Chris Uhlmann’s report last night was a reflection of ABC policy, that to avoid the accusation of bias both sides must be given equal treatment. However, as you point out, although the two sides of the arguments are not equally powerful, they still get similar coverage. I thought Julia answered every question in QT with solid facts and conviction, and when she didn’t have the facts, she said she would get them. Yet Julia’s rebuttals were not given the same emphasis. Of course the negative, the dramatic, the complaint always has much more appeal to the media than any refutation. That’s the sinister reality of the mainstream media. Cavitation I presume you were referring to the Matthew Franklin piece in [i]The Australian: Joe Hockey vows to slash $14bn of government spending[/i] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,26052197-601,00.html Again he declines to nominate how he will achieve his $14 billion a year cut. It’s easy to make grandiose but vague promises from Opposition, and then refuse to elaborate. The question is whether the electorate will believe such promises. With the economic credibility of the Opposition at such a low level, as this piece asserts, only the rusted-on supporter will have faith in what it says and applaud.

Ebenezer

10/09/2009That's there whole problem right there. To announce where he would cut 14 billion would require something they don't have. [b]A POLICY.[/b]

Rewi

10/09/2009As far as I can see there is a very good reason for the Opposition to continue to hammer away on these kinds of lines: they get excellent bang for their buck from the media. Who cares how despondent they may look in Parliament, if all the public sees is their (rabble) rousing performances on TV at night? The feedback loop of front page to first question and back again perpetuates the most important campaign in the country at the moment: narrowing the gap. Does this have anything to do with the notion that good governance requires a strong (no, not necessarily effective, or good) Opposition? If you carry that argument too far, you get to the point that the substance of an argument doesn't really matter, what matters is reducing the gap in public opinion so that the Government feels under pressure to perform better. How the government is actually performing, that it may actually be performing as well or better than it is reasonable to expect, becomes irrelevant. It's all very well to point out the obvious errors and flawed analyses that the media may engage in, but I don't necessarily buy the line that it's because the analysts are pro-Liberal. How could they be, with such a shambles? What I think might be happening, as has happened so often in the past (I'm thinking especially of the West Australian here) is that the Fourth Estate is taking on the role of de facto Opposition because the real one is such a shambles. If that's true, it's because of their two-fold motivations of creating 'newsworthy' conflict in the absence of such conflict appearing of its own accord, and a misplaced belief that they are the guardians of responsible government. I'm not sure if it helps defuse the arguments running against the Government at the moment, but perhaps it's time to start naming (if they haven't already) not only those in the Chamber who get it wrong, but their de facto Opposition colleagues as well.

janice

10/09/2009I have nothing to contribute to this topic - AA and BB have said it all so I am able to sit back and enjoy reading all the posts. Besides, I have been reluctant to tune into the QT Farce Show which gets more ridiculous as time marches on. At the moment I'm giving my time to a Nankeen Kestrel my neighbour picked up in his paddock. The bird is bright-eyed, calm and unworried so I'm beginning to wonder whether he might be the one I raised from a fledgling a couple of years ago. Anyway, doesn't seem to be much wrong with him so when I'm sure he's eating okay (have to collect beetles, grasshoppers and entice the cat to give up a mouse or two) I'll just leave the cage door open and let him decide when to leave.

Bushfire Bill

10/09/2009[i]"If that's true, it's because of their two-fold motivations of creating 'newsworthy' conflict in the absence of such conflict appearing of its own accord, and a misplaced belief that they are the guardians of responsible government."[/i] The 4th Estate is doing more harm to the Opposition than good. In propping up their vacuuous arguments, they give the Opposition a sense of effectiveness they do not deserve. In doing so the media make it easy for the Opposition to convince themselves they are travelling well. This doesn't mean we should not call the media on their beat-ups. I think they often stop a little shorter of the distance they could go because of criticism from the net and fair-minded politicians. The famous Newspoll boilover in 2006 was a case in point. Directly challenged by political blogs, Shanahan and The Australian management went ape, writing rebuttal articles and even an editorial or two. They named names among bloggers whom they found to be particularly (in their opinion) wrong-headed. Their own web-site blogs were shut down prematurely with only a dozen or so comments because of the overwhelming negative response from internet contributors. They have been much more circumspect in their interpretation of the poll they "own" ever since. This was a win for the great unwashed out here in the blogosphere. Sites like this one are part of the perpetual vigilance required (not to make too a dramatic a case, I hope) to keep the media more honest than they would otherwise be. Even if their business [i]is[/i] to provide a de facto opposition when the real one is failing, this does not excuse egregious mistruths, failures to investigate and simple relaying of press releases, the "he said, she said" technique. The ABC went to all the trouble a couple of nights ago to send a camera crew to an out-of-the-way dusty town in outback Queensland to film footage of the school with one pupil that allegedly received $250,00 for a new hall. Why did they not proceed inside and ask the teacher what was going on? Why no interview with the Queensland Education Department on whether Gillard's "amalgamation" story was true or not? Instead all we got was argey-bargey from QT as the source of factual material. Later, on Lateline, Chris Pyne was allowed to go feral by Leigh Sales. We only have Chris Pynes word about the "cock-ups" the affected schools are experiencing. We are still no wiser about the [i]real[/i] facts of the matter of the one-pupil outback school, just as we are also not well, or even adequately informed about the Abbotsford school in Sydney. We have been told there is "community concern" about the replacement of four 50 year-old classrooms with four new ones, but who was interviewed on this subject? Just one person: Robert Vellar, the head of the school's P&C... repeatedly interviewed, on TV and radio. One other person, a manager of a couple of dozen child-minding centres in Tasmania went on camera to discuss problems she had with denial of access to her businesses due to construction, and that was it. On these two interviews and some footage shot in outback Queensland (but no interview there) the ABC has presented the entire Opposition case that the Schools Project is a monumental disaster, full of cost overruns, rorts, disgruntled parents and governmental mismanagement. "He said, she said. Joe and Joanne Public: [i]you[/i] figure it out." To put this into perspective, consider this arithmetic. If each of the 49 complaints to Julia Gillard about the funding was worth the whole $2.5 million that the Abbotsford school was worth as a worst case scenario (and this is by no means the case: for instance the one-pupil scholl dispute involves only $250,000), that would mean 49 x $2.5 million dollars - $12,500,000 - was in dispute. As a percentage of the total $18 billion allocated for the Schools Program this represents a maximum of 0.68%, or [i]two-thirds of one per cent[/i] of the total investment (and most probably less than that). 49 complaints out of 9,000 schools is 0.54% of the total number of schools involved. Yet from these paltry statistics - laudable in any other field of government funding, much less [i]emergency[/i] funding - the Opposition and the ABC have based their case of almost total chaos in the scheme. All of this has been done oveer the last few days with just [i]two[/i] interviews of members of the public with no counter views presented, plus the voluble but details-free contributions of Joe Hockey and Chris Pyne, aided and abetted by mulley grubber bowling from the media, in particular the ABC. In return for this "chaos" we have become the only developed country in the world to avoid recession. Our unemployment figures have plateaued at an unexpectedly low level over the past three successive surveys. Our economic confidence is at one of its highest levels in years. Job ads rose last month. Our banks are safe because of the deposit guarantee and the credit guarantee provided by the government. Thousands of schools, millions of parents, hundreds of thousands in the construction industry and their families have been given infrastructure that in the overwhelming number of cases they are perfectly happy about. The Opposition's answer to this? "We will make cuts. Our hand will be forced by Labor profligacy. Don't blame us. Blame Labor when you lose your job, or a vital piece of infrastructure is cancelled." Where will the cuts be, and when? "When? At the appropriate time. Where will they be? We're not telling. Labor might try to take the credit for them. They are urgent. Every day we spend more requires a month of repayments. But things are not that urgent that our brilliant solutions - which we will not tell you about - cannot wait until it is politically more expedient for us to announce them than it is now. All you need to know is that we are low tax party, so it won't be new taxes. Call back around the next election and we'll have more for you. Meanwhile, we will vote down the $2.9 billion Medicare Rebate reforms for the rich, for a start. We not [i]that[/i] desperate to fix the economy." In many ways Labor has made a rod for its own back by being too successful in combatting the GFC. That success has allowed the naysayers (who I bet all took their $900, by the way) to pretend there never [i]was[/i] a GFC, that it was all an invention of back-room Labor hacks to pork-barrel marginal electorates. Never mind the rest of the world. Australia can be quarantined from the globe. It can be regarded as completely different to every other nation. The fact that every other country in the world agrees with us on the effectiveness of stimulus packages can be dismissed in two parts. First, who cares what other countries think? Second, it's all a plot by Bill Clinton and a shadowy left-wing cabal to shore up the Democrat and Labor vote (true story, Joe Hockey told us!). Of course Australia can[i]not[/i] be quarantined from the rest of the globe. This is due to the internet and greater access to overseas news, much of it available live if required. The local parish pump version of history no longer holds as much sway as it used to. This must drive the Murdochs of this world and the rest of the lofty opinionistas in other media outlets crazy. They must be gnashing their teeth that they can no longer tell us what is good for us (summed up as "Just Vote Liberal"). Australia's access to world news, views and economies is what Rudd and his government have working in their favour. Outrageous spin by the Coalition and their media minders no longer gets as much traction as it once used to. Media monopolies are leaking like sieves. But if we cease to keep up the good fight, there's a chance they could still win, despite the odds against them.

Rewi

10/09/2009Bushfire Bill, a typo in para 6 which does nothing to affect your later calculations: "49 x $2.5 million dollars - $12,500,000 - was in dispute" missing a 2: $122,500,000.

Kersebleptes

10/09/2009Nothing much to add, except- what a bunch of bloody Micawbers they are...

janice

10/09/2009 The 4th Estate, in its fight for relevance and advertising income in the face of a changed world where the internet rules, has descended into a rabble just as has the Coalition who still live in denial that they were unceremoniously chucked out of government. After all, it wasn't so long ago that the media, in particular the print media, were the king makers that political parties bowed to in order to get 'good' press and support (at a price, of course). It is obviously infuriating for the media opinionistas to find a Labor Government in office and it's leader refusing to bend his knees to genuflect and pay homage to those who think they can still sway public opinion. I can see the crumbling castle from where the Murdoch and Fairfax press are coming but I do not understand why the ABC has suddenly become so feral. The ABC is our national broadcaster. It is publicly funded (although starved of funds under the Coalition) and we deserve far better than is being dished out at present. Time, I think for the Rudd Government to get stuck into the ABC to clean it out and set it back on track to once more be the broadcaster the people can trust to present the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Bushfire Bill

10/09/2009Thanks Rewi. I guess I have what can be now called "Fielding's Disease". I thought that total looked a bit low when I typed it. So I checked and STILL read "$12,500,000". I put it down to Windows calculator not using commas as digit separators. Thanks again for the correction.

bilgedigger

10/09/2009The Opposition does not have to convince the those who prefer Labor or Liberal - they are aiming at the swinging voters like my brother who sits and watches the news on two channels and takes at face value how events are portrayed. It makes a difficult visit when we are forced to watch the bilge regularly run in the media and then to hear him say the Labor Party are making a mess of things. I think I'll end up either throttling him before the next election or cutting off visits.

Ad astra reply

10/09/2009Ebenezer, Rewi, janice, Bushfire Bill, Kersebleptes and bilgedigger Thank you all for your contributions today. What you have written prompted me to put together another piece, [i]The dark art of opposition[/i], which I have just posted. I have drawn on your comments, and BB I’ve used your calculation of the cost of the disputed school projects. When I read Barack Obama’s speech to Congress, it seemed to describe a parallel to what we saw yesterday when the Opposition in the Senate rejected proposed changes to the health insurance rebate. So I used it to illustrate the perversity of oppositions. I could have written much more on the subject, but put a stop to the piece lest it become too long.
How many umbrellas are there if I start with two and take 2 away?