So You Think You Can Dance?

Watching the 10 Network’s So You Think You Can Dance on Sunday night reminded me of the political season about to begin this week.

The ikonic show, about undiscovered wannabees who, enraptured by high hopes of stardom and fame, enter a multi-stage dance competition – with us as intimate voyeurs of their every move - tells us a lot about human hope.

There was the plain, frumpy girl who believes Jesus is with her at every step. The lithe, enchanting young aboriginal man whose mum’s indifference to his dancing caused tears all around. The thirty-something hoofer who has been around the traps and is destined to stay trapped. The conga line of untrained hip-hop shakers and rollers with their limited talent no match for their unlimited energy. The semi-professionals, expecting to make it easily into the finals. The Hard Judge, the Mother Judge, the Cooly Professional Choreographer Judge. Hopes and expectations dashed. Dreams come true. Life in the raw, or as raw as a heavily edited commercial television show can present it: the Life Struggle, through the medium of movement, youth and expensive SMS voting fees.

On the political side of this metaphor we have seen the surprise elevation of Tony Abbott, a wildcard candidate, to the leadership of the Liberals, by one vote. The Glamour Boy, Malcolm Turnbull, has been voted off the show. The once fresh-faced newbie, Rudd, is now regarded as the stodgy old incumbent, araldited into the same seat as Howard, never seen in budgie smugglers, rarely out of a suit. His routine, especially in the Climate area, trashed with the disappointment of post-Copenhagen days, could do with some sprucing up as the bare-chested, lean-and-hungry challenger takes the fight to him. Abbott is flanked by the glamourous Ice Maiden, Julie Bishop, and the once-jovial but now permanently grumpy Joe Hockey who mocks every move Kevin Rudd, his former TV friend, makes.

The Liberals and Nationals, thrown out of a previous series in the grand final, decimated by the shock desertion or expulsion of senior members – Costello, Downer, Vaile, Howard, Nelson, Brough – have reinvented themselves as the underdogs, running a low budget campaign to steal the public’s hearts with honesty and true grit. Kevin, on the other hand, jets about the world like a Little King (how dare he use the Prime Ministerial plane for overseas jaunts?). He rarely utters an un-convoluted word according to his critics, who are many and mostly angry. The implication is that he is a phoney, couldn’t lie straight in bed. But you have to admit, the man has talent when it comes to winning the People’s Choice Award.

Abbott is a flawed character. He preaches against extra-marital sex, yet he fathered a child, then deserted both the baby and the mother, only to find that the baby never existed. Whether this is worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy or a comedy I cannot decide. He is a religious zealot who has a habit of sinning and then, in good Catholic tradition, confessing publicly. He is the whiskey priest, flunked out of the seminary for the green fields of Oxford and politics. By contrast, Rudd’s one known foray into the underworld, the Scores Incident, was so surprising to the voters that it saw his ratings shoot up, presumably in delight at the possibility of a glimmer of raunchiness in his character.

The common thread between each side of politics is that they both think they can dance.

Tony told us the other day that government is easy. You just make a promise and stick to it. You take a line and then abide by your decision. It’s a dangerous tack to sail for Tony, who has never been known to stick to any policy in his political life or, more to the point, has rarely been seen saying the same thing to any more than one group of listeners at a time. His waverings on Climate Change have wandered from True Believer, to pragmatic acceptance, to 'It’s crap', to his current position: although he doesn’t believe action on climate is necessary, he proposes to fix our environment by spending no money, using volunteers and 'incentives'. I can see the Hard Men of the coal industry dutifully falling into line on that one.

Kevin, despite the misery of Copenhagen, in the face of continuing revelations of flawed climate science (even if only here and there), is sticking to his guns. There are too many eggs in the basket of ETS to abandon it now. If he did so it would likely signal the beginning of the end of his government. Tony has given the public an out, an excuse to reject action on Climate Change. Sure it’s an impossible dream, but this is Reality TV, not reality. Kevin’s performance on Climate, supposedly his strong suit, has been technically difficult and reasonably well-executed, but is starting to be seen as too clever, lacking panache.

Never mind his brilliant performance in the GFC round, where he danced rings around several challengers in a largely impromptu performance that saw Australia come out on top of the world. Never mind the lowest interest rates in decades, the best prospects for infrastructure, comparatively modest unemployment, an about to re-boom economy, Kevin’s government is still seen as the least preferred Economic Managers compared to the Coalition. It makes you wonder what else “Good Economic Management” is about if it is not about these things. According to Essential Research the voters believe the parties who would have had them out of work, their schools without infrastructure spending, their industries fending for themselves and who told us first there was a Rudd Recession and then there wasn’t... are the savants of economics. Go figure! I guess it’s all about presentation on the night.

Which brings us to the media, stacking the studio benches with loud adoring fans, spruiking a miracle Coalition resurgence in a loud attempt to try to cover up for policy holes and inconsistencies you could drive a debt truck through. To get around Tony Abbott’s predilection for inventing policies on the run, for making it up as he goes along, they have invented the myth of the “Conviction Politician”. Tony Abbott is man who believes in what he says, at the time he says it, no matter how many times he contradicts himself. This isn’t political cynicism on Tony’s part. It’s a genius for improvisation. The conservative Papist, whose sins (long forgiven by a supportive press) prove merely the morbidity of the flesh, is up against a government that is given only grudging praise for its great successes so far, and whose Prime Minister is mocked and condemned for the slightest falter, be it fairly shaking a sauce bottle (instead of sucking it), or swearing at a poor young flight attendant. Rudd’s government is supposed to have defeated the GFC and kept all its promises, while all we have from Tony Abbott is promises to produce glittering prosperity from the Magic Pudding of 'budget savings'. Never mind that 'budget savings' means a sharp curtailment of social welfare, infrastructure and spending on other government priorities, the Conviction Politician will see us through... somehow. We can worry about that later.

So, as we exit the preliminaries and get to the series proper, junkies on both sides will eagerly await the Reality TV show called Question Time. They will hang off every word and nuance, forgiving on the one hand, condemning on the other. The wannabee from two seasons ago has become the solid favourite. The reactionary Catholic man we thought we all knew as an opportunistic hypocrite, preaching what he never practised, has been reinvented as the plain-speaking saviour of the nation. On the sidelines it will be a fascinating exercise in whether the media, deprived of the river of gold of government advertising (a promise kept, but rarely referred to), still have the clout they believe they should have.

They all think they can dance, but can the fat lady sing?

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Kersebleptes

1/02/2010Lovely to see another article from you, BB. I was thinking as I read it that it was an unusual style for Ad Astra to use- before I realised who it was. An audience-voting dance show. Oh dear, what a good comparison! Remember, of course that each principal contestant has their backing troupe. Can't forget them. But then you'd have had to describe them. That's not so hard for Kevin's lot- they're a bit predictable, perhaps, but don't they know their moves well (apart from that bloke with the military look who tripped up slightly a couple of times, was hooked off and replaced)? But Tony's backing group. How to describe their dancing? I'm not even going to try. No wonder Tony's getting right up to the camera- it keeps the rest of his team out of shot.

Ebenezer

1/02/2010Tony only has one step, oppose, oppose, oppose. It's a boring tired repetitive old step but we will not have to suffer it long, for soon it will be "exit stage right." Next contestant please! Cheers Eb. :)

Paul

1/02/2010Isn't politics show business for ugly people?

Rx

1/02/2010Fear can make humans do irrational things. Hence the Coalition employs fear as as their signature political tactic, fully aware that only irrationality could induce the public to vote against its own self-interest.

lyn1

1/02/2010Hi Ad and Bushfire Bill Bushfire Bill "So you think you can dance" is a very enjoyable piece, I have enjoyed every word. As I was reading and smiling at your words, I could see the angry Liberals dancing everywhere in front of camera's with grumpty looks on their faces, Julie Bishop a ballerina, Tony Abbott rap dancing, Joe Hockey tap dancing, Eric Abetz a hip hop dancer, Bronwyn Bishop a belly dancer, Barnaby Joyce the actrobat, they all think they can dance, what a concert. (Reality TV show called Question Time) your words Bushfire Bill, You might like to read an interesting piece today from Grogs Gamut about Question Time, (predicting what will happen in tomorrow's QT will be as easy as going to see a production of Hamlet and wondering if anyone will die says Grog). Joe Hockey, Chris Pyne, Peter Dutton, Julie Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop, Kevin Andrews: all of them sooks who can’t cope with being on the opposition bench. http://grogsgamut.blogspot.com/

BK

2/02/2010BB This contribution of yours is a ripper! You ought to be doing a Jack the Insider blog on one of the dailies. Thanks for your continued insight and entertainment.

janice

2/02/2010Brilliant piece Bushfire Bill. The dance competition is nearing the finals and the would've-been priest is adding twists, turns and sidesteps to his choreographed routines. He practices to a block of cheerleaders urging him on with flowery praise. The defenders of the prize plod onwards as they strive to maintain their technical perfection (a more boring set of routines) while calmly and methodically practicing for the grand finale. Will the would've been priest present his grand finale routine and be judged as presenting more of the same old, same old? Will the defender earn kudos for a technically perfect routine that promises bigger and better things to come? The grand finale is the time when we see whether the fat lady can sing or not.

HillbillySkeleton

2/02/2010I'm too depressed today to say much of anything, except 'Style over substance' appears to impress the voters mightily.

Bushfire Bill

2/02/2010Thanks to all for your kind comments to my feeble efforts. Lyn1, reading the piece on QT at http://grogsgamut.blogspot.com/ , reinforces the point that theatre is all-important to the political junkies, because it is important to the political commentariat. The political columnists, still hankering for another fix of Peter Costello or Paul Keating - "star performers" in QT - mark Rudd and Swan down for dullness. It's like dancing judges, or perhaps even diving or gymnastics judges: they pick on minor points, micro increments in degree of difficulty and examine them through the completely artificial microscope of "performance". They are in the Gallery not to judge the policies, morality or the quality of decision making. They are there to first create an artificial set of criteria - ability to "perform" - and then to score the participants upon this basis. The question is not how sincere a politician is, or how truthful his answer. It is how sincere he or she [i]appears[/i] to be, or how [i]apparently[/i] truthful is the answer. A hesitation, a stumble and the Prime Ministers is "stumbling" or "onthe back foot" over whatever tricial matter is under examination. Worse, we are told - as we are told with the wannabee dancers - that somehow these antics and the assessment of them is important. The ability to fool an audience through convoluted steps and the [i]impression[/i] of integrity is all that counts. As the old saying goes, "If you can fake sincerity, the rest is easy." We are asked to judge both the dancers and the politicians on their skills at [i]faking[/i] competence, not by their [i]actual[/i] competence for the job. It is a closed loop, a confected standard. But as long as the audience falls for the line that art should remain triumphant over reality, then it will persist.

HillbillySkeleton

2/02/2010A point I think you haven't made yet, BB, with your allusion to 'So You Think You Can Dance?', is, to broaden its perspective, the increasing tendency of politics to have its lines blurred with reality TV, so that now, and especially in the US, we seem to want our politicians to come with, not only policies, but the complete lifestyle package as well. I mean, how many participants in the latest Newspoll survey have been impressed enough to give Abbott a tick based upon nothing more substantial than the fact that he is a member of the Surf Lifesaving and Volunteer Firefighting associations, and rides a pushbike? These are increasingly large demographics as well, as Mr Abbott no doubt has realised. And, instead of The Addams Family, we are being bathed in the life, times and thoughts of The Abbott Family. Which is also the other angle that any Reality TV series covers extensively to suck the gen. pub. in. Being the behind the scenes colour amd movement, which gradually sucks you in to caring about the people in the Reality TV show. You just have to look at the phenomenon that Sarah Palin, and her family, have become in the US. A political contest as a continually-evolving reality TV exposition. Also, the Republican winner of the Massachusetts' Senate seat, Scott Brown. Obviously the Republican Party have realised that to be able to pull-off a come-from-nowhere success it helps to be handsome and telegenic. If not, well, you have to go back to the old method of establishing credibility via your policy positions. Tony Abbott is obviously hoping that his political Reality TV play for power will culminate with the jury prize in about September this year. Thankfully, I always approach politics with my eyes closed and my ears open.

Ad astra reply

2/02/2010janice, BB, HillbillySkeleton Apropos the application of the reality TV metaphor to politics, Christian Kerr’s article is germane: [i] Take a good look, MPs are vote people[/i] http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/houserules/index.php/theaustralian/comments/take_a_good_look_mps_are_vote_people/ Ignore his last sentence, a gratuitous albeit ignorant throw-away line, so typical of that writer. HillbillySkeleton Don’t be depressed – for Tony Abbott this [i]Newspoll[/i] is as good at it gets.

colen

3/02/2010As good as it gets, is it. It may get a lot better, then Hillbilly Skeleton will really be come a "Ghost". I enjoyed this one by BB pretty even and fair.

BH

3/02/2010How right you are, BB, about the media wanting a performance. Yesterday Lenore Taylor, who I think writes fair articles on CC, was on SkyAgenda with Misha Schubert. Taylor wasn't all that enthused by Abbott's new policy, but Misha Schubert couldn't keep the smile off her face. Both thought Abbott was winning the politics of it all. They have their 'star' performer.

lyn1

3/02/2010Hi Ad The Political Sword back on Crikey yesterday and again today, congratulations to you Ad and Bushfire Bill. http://www.crikey.com.au/ http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/02/03/media-wrap-ripping-the-guts-out-of-abbotts-climate-change-policy/ Ad the piece Ripping the guts out of Abbotts Climate Change policy has 14 links to MSM, another frenzy!

Ad astra reply

3/02/2010Lyn1 Thanks for the links. It is gratifying to see [i]TPS[/i] featured again on page one of [i]Crikey[/i]. BB does it again. Just one day out the flaws and holes in the Coalition policy are being exposed, and even more damaging the incompetence and amateurishness of Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce in explaining its detail. Joyce is already out of his depth. Our retail politician [i]par excellence[/i] will soon run out of smart one-liners, and further expose his gross ignorance about his shadow portfolio and climate change. Some in the media, keen to stoke up a 'contest', even if a quasi one, instead of exposing the defects in the Coalition policy are irresponsibly talking it up on the grounds that because it is easier to understand than the Government's ETS, it will have appeal to the masses who don't understand carbon trading schemes. So they promote a flawed scheme, un-costed and very fuzzy around the edges as preferable to the Government's ETS because of that. It doesn’t matter if it works or not, so long as people understand it. Its time everyone in the media acted responsibly by trying to explain the two schemes and objectively pointing to the pros and cons of each, thereby assisting the public decide which is better. But as Paul Kelly points out in his book [i]The March of Patriots[/i] the media thrive on conflict, so any conflict is exploited for its ‘news’ value, and if there is little or no conflict inherently, the media will create it. What hope is there that people will be able to reach a reasoned position on this difficult subject when the media not only don’t help, but deliberately obscure the matter? [i]The Piping Shrike[/i] has an interesting piece [i]Destroying Abbott[/i] at http://www.pipingshrike.com/2010/02/destroying-abbott.html

Ad astra reply

3/02/2010Paul Kelly tries to summarize the differences between the Government's ETS and the Coalition policy at http://player.video.news.com.au/theaustralian/#Bm5u98l_7qDlKLxraXoL7tVHhl4iiLkw

Bushfire Bill

4/02/2010A key feature of reality TV is that the situation the contestants are placed in is artificial. They are dropped onto an island to "survive", despite being surrounded by presumably well-fed camera crew and production staff. They are given a restaurant to start from scratch. They are locked into a room together and vote out a loser each week under the surveillance of hidden cameras. There's even one where they have to groom different types of dogs in order to become "America's Top Celebrity Groomer". And of course on [i]So You Think You Can Dance[/i], ballerinas are forced to perform salsa, rock and hip-hop, while street hoofers are obliged to become ballet dancers, at least for one or two episodes. The aim of all of them is to present an artifical situation so that emotions can be plumbed, participants can cry and fail, or joyously succeed, even if only to make it to the preliminary first 100, or (if they are lucky enough to get into the show proper) the next round. There is drama as the judges deliberately string out the announcements of their decisions, tense scrutiny of the contestants' faces using close up camera angles and of course the screaming cheer squad occupying the bleachers, each sub-group with their favourite. When you think about it, how important is getting on with a bunch of no-name drop outs in a sealed room? How significant is it that one dish at one reality TV restaurant was better or worse in its presentation, or the thickness of its sauce than another? How vital is it that a fit young person can dance the tango, or cannot dance to a rock beat, or with a partner? Very little, I'd think, but the premise of each of these shows is that they are lenses that focus our attention on "the human condition" - disappointment, joy, triumph over adversity, ability to accept failure - much more than they depict the particular subject of the show. The situations are artifical. The emotions are real. Likewise with the Political Reality TV Show, we have now come to the point where whether the planet is warming catastrophically - leading possibly to megadeaths, famines, wars, extinctions and drastic curtailment of arable land around the globe - has now been reduced, according to Dennis Shanahan and several other commentators, to a "political issue". Of course, being political writers, this is inside their comfort zone. They know very little and could hardly care less about whether the science of Climate Change is accurate. They don't see it as their responsibility to educate the public about the pros and cons of the attached physices. As long as, completely artificially and in isolation from the realitry of the situation, they can depict the gamut of emotions, despairs, disappointments and triumphs of the [i]politics[/i] of Climate Change in an entertaining way, mush as the they do with the pointless sham that is Question Time (as life in microcosm), they are happy. A trivial mistake about Himalayan glaciers in the IPCC documents is not seen as just that - a perfectly understandable human blunder by a minor science writer in India, cherry-picked out of a huge body of rigorously researched and accurate scientific research - but as (!) a condemnation of Kevin Rudd's entire Prime Ministership, policy platform and reason for being, along with his government. Somehow Kevin Rudd is connected to this Indian scientist and the people who mistakenly included his unreliable report in the IPCC papers. This is the "butterfly effect" writ large. In the cauldron of the Political Reality Show, the slightest nod, wink or misunderstood nuance is amplified out of all proportion, and with scant or zero consideration of the [i]real[/i] "reality" outside. Political performance and popularity is measured daily, sometimes even hourly, from press conference to doorstop to hesitation to point of order. Ridiculously, Barnarby Joyce's mishap with "trillions" versus "billions" has stimulated several web site front page articles by prominent journalists. As if it meant anything, to anyone, except these political tragics trying to justify their high salaries! It is a tragedy in itself that Climate Change has now been officially dubbed "a political issue", subject to the relaxed evidence rules and opinionated musings of hack journalists, the reality judges, self-appointed. No longer is it important whether we are about to fry ourselves alive as a species. It is only important whether Tony Abbott can duck and weave his way out of a curly question from a nameless hack in a media gaggle on Thursday. We don't need facts or science anymore. The only conclusion that is important is the tally of SMS votes at the end of each episode and whether these can be influenced by agenda-driven writers and their bosses with political axes to grind. I wrote recently that I was not "across all the science" on Climate Change and that ultimately I fell back on a political position in deciding which way my opinion would point. This was not to say I wasn't [i]interested[/i] in the science, but that I didn't have time for it. With the latest few articles on the subject of the Coalition's position versus that of the government, we have now been granted permission to discard even an [i]interest[/i] in the science. All we need to know, in the Reality TV Show that is politics in Australia, is who embarrassed whom, who was better on the 7.30 Report, what lie stood up more successfully under scrutiny than the other did and bugger the science. Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a show. The truth lies elsewhere.

Kersebleptes

4/02/2010Oh, BB. You speak the truth. My keyboard is at risk of breakdown because it is flooded with tears. And despite your quality writing, they're not tears of joy.

Ad astra reply

4/02/2010BB Sadly you’re so right. The science takes a back seat while the lesser journos irresponsibly play with the more interesting and ‘newsworthy’ politics of climate change. Where are the columnists who can give us the lowdown on the science and the schemes that purport to curtail carbon pollution? Paul Kelly’s videoclip http://player.video.news.com.au/theaustralian/#Bm5u98l_7qDlKLxraXoL7tVHhl4iiLkw first canvassed the differences between the two approaches, but ended up talking about the politics. Kersebleptes, much as we might wish for an informed appraisal of climate change science and the alternative schemes that might combat global warming, we will not see it in the MSM – it has already decided the politics is the main game, just as it is in reality TV. In taking this stance they not only do a disservice to the public they inform, but jeopardize future generations by diverting attention from the scientific evidence that points to the looming climatic disaster. The blogosphere should come to the rescue.

You must be kidding

4/02/2010I shake my head when I flick through many of your comments when you are putting in the political sword ... I suspect it is rubber as opposed to a blade ... the word denial comes up a lot though. Apparently the Coalition is in denial for losing the last election. Folks you must be kidding surely, they sit opposite the government with it's large numbers of members, they don't get a fair shake of the media compared to the barrage that was dropped on the previous government ... they are bombarded about leadership, need we recall the many leader Labor had during their years in opposition and then in a classic display of denialism Ad Astra portrays the Rudd Government as deliberately slow and cautious ... you have to be kidding. Okay given no one has stepped up the the plate and disclosed the good things about the government let's look at a few. Their election campaign slogan was "this crass spending must stop" ... "we will make it fairer for workers" ... we will say sorry ... we will build more houses ... every child will have a computer in the education revolution ... the list goes on petrol watch, grocery choice ... oh yes ... if the state governments have not got their act together on hospitals by mid 2009 we shall take them back ... and yes another, we will sort out the water issues. Oh and of course ... we will save the world by reducing the temperature. As many of you subscribers are across almost everything you will no doubt have a view about Maslows theories ... basically he said we have basic needs and when these are threatened watch out ... now apply that to the last election ... basic needs ... water, housing food, finacial security ... all these issues were apparently under threat. Drought which is "obviously" caused by climate change and not the weather affected water ... the Howard government was apparently not moving fast enough on that so a big cross for them ... Rudd will fix it ... mind you rain did. Housing interest rates were going through the roof so to speak ... so after years of prosperity the house (shelter) was under threat ... and another cross against Howard ... of course Rudd will fix that with his promise of more houses more land to build houses ... we just don't when that promise will be fulfilled ... the next issues was food prices ... going through the roof and of course this had nothing to do with drought and petrol prices ... another cross against Howard ... then we had the scare campaign to end all scare campaigns about the workplace ... the unions did a great job and sold the story of security very well and another cross against Howard and of course Rudd promising security then one would vote for him. Add to this of Howard’s age, his time in office and the browbeating of the media on every issue and no wonder the populous moved. Rudd came in to power on action ... not to tread softly and be considered as some of your correspondents would have us believe. Mind you the hatred from some of your writers about the Coalition must have built up for years and years and now they still attack them ... who cares what the coalition does or says ... they are not in government ... it is the government you should focus on. So let’s look at some of the bigger issues. GFC – when retailers were telling the government and anyone else that demand had dropped in early 2008 what happened ... two interest rate increase, the government said the inflation genie was out of the bottle. What happen severe demand dropped off an in August the manufacturers said their forward orders were well down ... panic at the bank and massive rate decreases ... what did the government then do ... well nothing until late October ... they announced a stimulus which wouldn’t kick in until the new year ... so this idea it was the extra cash in the market that impacted prior to xmas 2008 is a nonsense given most low income folks didn’t get their money until very late December and January 2009. Retailers were advising the economy was coming back but commentators following the government’s lead were saying the end is nigh and predicted 8.5% unemployment ... now remember ... full employment is considered 5% and we have not gone beyond 5.8% in this crisis ... when then sank tremendous amounts of money into constructing halls ... now classified as the education revolution ... but my son still hasn’t got his computer as promised. Where else did the stimulus monies go to ... and why do we need to continue spending it. The GFC was a top end recession. If you kept your job and most Australians did then it didn’t impact you ... so this great idea we missed the GFC because of government expenditure does not consider the importance of our mining exports, the value of the Australian dollar and the significant shortage of labour we had in 2008 when we were arguing about importing labour. So who is in denial about the GFC? ETS – whether one believes the science and the way it is presented is not important it’s what we do about it ... do we begin trading in pollution and passing those costs through the supply channel ... well many countries have tried it and guess what ... it doesn’t work to reduce emissions ... it does create a new industry and makes folks rich but at who’s expense and this is the important question ... if emissions are the problem, then trading in them is not the answer. Copenhagen exposed that farce and to suggest Australia should go it alone is a nonsense no matter how much we love the earth. Don’t forget Mother Nature is much more powerful than “man” and thus it will survive, the question becomes will we and in did the philosophical question is should we ... if it was alright for the dinosaurs why not us. Health ... no action Computers ... no action Housing ... no action Ab Affairs ... no action IR ... action but I point to the Pilbara ... the union defied the government the FWA and everyone else until the employer capitulated ... welcome to the old world folks ... remember the 1980’s. Today on radio there was a case of a student working 2 hours a week ... no longer has the job because the minimum hours per day are now three. Or the case where casuals are now required to move to part time ... this is the new IR regime which has taken us back before the Keating model. I could go on but I suspect if you have read this far you would be in denial about these important issues. So if you are serious about putting the sword in ... focus on the government and stop worrying about the opposition

Ad astra reply

4/02/2010You must be kidding Thank you for taking the time to comment so fulsomely on [i]TPS[/i]. Much appreciated. You make many pertinent points – it’s a pity that your use of extreme assertions detracts from them. Jumping towards the end of your comment, you say: Health ... no action; Computers ... no action; Housing ... no action; Ab Affairs ... no action. Now you know that is incorrect. Let’s take them seriatim. Health: There has been a large amount of money spent to reduce waiting lists, super clinics have been built, not a lot but several, and the most comprehensive review of health for decades has been completed and over 100 recommendations are being considered by Government. No, the Government has not taken over all hospitals but Nicola Roxon is in the final stages of negotiations with the states. Let’s see how that plays out. Having worked in the health field for fifty years, and being familiar with its complexity, I would not want a back-of-the-envelope approach to health reform. If you look at http://www.alp.org.au/category/tags/health you’ll see other initiatives. So it’s wrong to say – no action. Computers: Not all kids have their own computers, but there are many thousands out there and the numbers are growing. A strong start has been made: 290,000 computers granted, slowed down by the GFC, but ongoing. Reference http://www.alp.org.au/search/node/Computers%20in%20schools . So it’s wrong to say – no action. Housing: There have been numerous housing initiatives, including many to boost public housing. Read http://www.alp.org.au/search/node/Housing for the details. So it’s wrong to say – no action Aboriginal affairs: Almost every day Jenny Macklin announces another initiative. Although achievements are hardly monumental, there has been an enormous effort put into indigenous affairs. A short time ago an initiative to provide freehold land to indigenous people in the Alice Springs area was welcomed by all concerned. Read more at http://www.alp.org.au/search/node/Indigenous%20affairs So it’s wrong to say – no action You write extensively about what you believe the Rudd Government has not done, the promises you believe it has not kept. You defend the Howard era and insist that instead of criticizing the Opposition, we should focus on the Government. Of course we should expect the Government to deliver what it has promised, to explain to the people why it has been unable to do that to its full extent, and to let the public decide at the upcoming election if its stewardship has been satisfactory and worthy of renewal. But to imply that the policies of the alternative government should not be subject to similar scrutiny is to deny the basic tenet of democracy – that the public be fully informed so that a reasoned judgement can be made about which party should govern it. You mention Maslow – yes, we are familiar with his Hierarchy of Needs. That was the basis for Kevin Rudd’s emphasis on economic conservatism before the election. He wanted people to feel economically safe above all else – to satisfy a basic human need. And he has delivered by shepherding Australia through the GFC to arrive at the other side better than any other developed economy. Of course there were other factors operating, but to play down the value of the stimulus measures, and harp on the debt incurred, is to deny what most economists, including many sceptics, now acknowledge was a successful intervention. By all means let’s debate the pros and cons of Government and Opposition policies, but let’s do so with verifiable facts and figures and well-reasoned arguments. Extreme positions simply evoke annoyance and denial, and kill off sensible discourse. Come back again.

Kersebleptes

4/02/2010You must be kidding, A sword thrust has a precise target. Loading both barrels of your comment with bile, and then spraying it indiscriminately over every conceivable topic (regardless of applicability), definitely does not. One of the more refreshing aspects of the Rudd Govt so far has been the way it has systematically gone about making its election platform a reality- notwithstanding the interruption of the GFC (I can't think of too many governments around the world that were any more cognisant of the impending crisis than Australia's), and politically-motivated sabotage in the Senate. The greatest impediment to the political process in Australia at the moment (ignoring that elephant called Rupert in the corner for now) is, tragically, the Coalition- which includes one of the country's two major parties. The Coalition's absolute lack of scruple, its literal disdain for useful policy development, and its yobbish readiness to sell Australia out on critical issues such as Climate Change, completely trump the undeniable flaws that exist within Federal Labor. PS- My niece has her school computer. Your son must be an outlier!

Bushfire Bill

4/02/2010A couple of points YMbK made deserve extra scrutiny: [b]The GFC was a top end recession. If you kept your job and most Australians did then it didn’t impact you ... [/b] The logic here seems to be we kept our jobs, so therefore there was no GFC. It's like saying the patient with the fractured skull survived the operation, so he mustn't have needed to be operated on. Or, planes didn't crash, banks didn't go bust at midnight on on December 31st, 1999, so Y2K was a complete furphy. There are very few [i]credible[/i] economic commentators who have not given a great deal of credit to the government for their response to the GFC (some of them have had to eat crow in the process, too). On the other hand, many of the anti-government naysayers spent a great deal of their time arguing that, despite two consecutive negative growth quarters not being recorded, we were in a "recession" anyway (usually a "recession" that neatly conformed to their own private definition). Many of these now, like Joe Hockey, having been recession doomsayers, now claim we never had a likliehood of recession at all. YMbK, please inform the millions of workers in the USA and elsewhere around the worlds who have lost their jobs that because the recession was "top end" they needn't be concerned about their new-found misery. [b]...so this great idea we missed the GFC because of government expenditure does not consider the importance of our mining exports...[/b] This is plain wrong. The value of our mineral exports was fully factored into the calculations that showed the stimulus package made the difference between staying above water and drowning. In any case, a chippie in Blacktown, Sydney, couldn't care less about whatone of his colleagues was doing at the Pilbara ore fields, no matter whether it contributed to a generalized national economic performance or not. He wanted a job in Sydney. The Rudd Stimulus package gave him, and many other tradespeople in small towns and suburbs across the nation work [i]where they needed it most[/i]: in their home town, or nearby.

You must be kidding

4/02/2010With the deepest respect to Bushfire Bill I suspect we see what we want to see. I ask what measurements constitute a recession and a financial crisis? You say that economists got it right when applauding the government. These are the same economist who never saw the crisis coming; the same ones that agreed with the RBA when they were increasing interest rates in early 2008 although demand had already dropped. These are the same economists that were surprised when retail sales in November 2009 were very high when they predicted a lesser figure, the same ones who said December sales figures would be high when indeed today the figures say they are low. So economists have no idea about predictions in this volatile time. Some facts would be very pertinent though Bill ... was there a labour shortage in June 2008? Answer yes ... so why predict a high unemployment rate from November 2008 as the government did by saying it will quickly rise to 8.5% when in reality we have been lucky enough to keep it below 5.8%. Tell me Bill how did the stimulus package help retain employment as where does the money flow and how does it help the economy. Perhaps you could explain that ... perhaps the chippy in Parramatta will help the employment of a printer in Orange ... you might be able to explain that as you suggested. Production of course is important and in Australia that tends to be primary production yet these industries are low employers. Manufacturing of course is important but we cannot meet demand if demand is not there. So consumer confidence was important to increasing demand. The mass employment industries are the service sector, in particular retail and hospitality. If you look at the quotes from these sectors they do not agree with your proposition that we suffered harshly in Australia during the GFC. Consumers were constantly told that the sky was falling and unemployment will be with us shortly ... no wonder their confidence went down and no wonder demand dropped off ... but consumers were not out of the market for very long. So the question then is what industries suffered ... mostly the finance sector. This amounts to borrowings, and other financial matters. How then did that impact an average employee ... say earning $60,000 with three children and a mortgage? I would submit that employee has not been impacted by the GFC ... they have retained their job, they got a significant payment in late December 2008 and another $900 four months later ... what did he/she do with that money ... retailers will tell you they never spent it ... (refer to ANRA). So where has the GFC impacted Australia ... going into the GFC, we had savings, we had a labour shortage, but we also had a high debt ... specifically consumer debt was out of control. So the government (read taxpayers) redirected our wealth to pay off debt on credit cards. Was this the stimulus that Bill was talking about? Do you have an issue that taxpayers should be paying off consumer debt ... I do ... and I would be surprised if anyone would. So BB could explain how this stimulus worked by paying off consumer debt. So BB rather than write in cliché and generalisations ... focus on why we picked the $42 Billion as stimulus ... why this figure ... why did me provide cash payments when perhaps we should have allowed the market correct itself before providing cash ... you will remember BB that the RBA drastically reduced interest rates ... given ad adstra’s submission that the government acts with caution... why then did the government not wait before releasing funds ... say around March ... the point being throwing money is not a stimulus and of course it is popular. This idea that we spend now to satisfy a political need which future taxpayers will have to pay for ... it took 11 years to pay off debt and provide some savings ... all gone within some 24 months ... and indeed the debt now is quite large ... so BB ... do you truly support that?

Bushfire Bill

4/02/2010Well YMbK, at least you're not just spitting out bullet points for a change. Thanks for your comprehensive posts. I also suspect that "we see what we want to see". That maxim applies to both sides of the argument, though. I also agree that economists have spent a lot of time lately clearing egg off their faces. One little "oopsie" you missed was this week's certainty that interest rates would rise again. I take your point: economists haven't exactly been known for getting it right lately. However, in the case of the GFC response, they nearly all had it wrong to start off. It is only recently that all but the most intractible have given up their doom and gloom. Why is this? Because it is undeniable that Australia has weathered the storm better than the vast majority of countries. The single most discernable reason for why Australia was different was in its government's approach to dealing with the problem. Almost alone among other countries our government went in hard and fast, literally giving cash away in their zeal to prop up the retail industries. Secondly came the School Stimulus. I share your distaste at this being masqueraded as an "education Revolution". In reality schools were picked because they were in every little town, most had projects ready to go (lacking only money), they were exempt from planning restrictions and outside interference, being state-based institutions, for the most part. They needed huge inputs of manual labour to get their projects off the ground, but no too much large infrastructure (as roads, or hospitals might have had). Despite the pretty-well overall good done by providing much-needed school facilities, any revolution in education was an afterthought, put on by the spin doctors. Whatever the ups and downs, a larger than expected number of tradespeople stayed in work as a result of the stimulus package. Their families had a weekly wage coming in. The retailers who depended upon their custom had customers. Imagine if these tradespeople and their suppliers had had [i]nothing to do[/i]. What would the unemployment figures have been like then? A lot higher than 5.8%, I think. I believe that much of your sledging-off of the stimulus package is because at first people like you predicted failure. Then when it succeeded you invented a new tack: there never [i]was[/i] a recession requiring a stimulus package. While you sledged, Rudd acted. It's no good saying, recession or not, that Rudd blew it. It sounds awful like sour grapes. The money that has been borrowed has been reduced to under half what was expected. Notice even Joe Hockey doesn't bandy the "$300 billion" figure around, as it is now closer to $140 billion, and falling. Rather than wait and see - something that has caused untold misery in previous recessions - the Rudd government acted, and you just can't accept that, can you? You have to try and find a way to make even success look like failure. The simple arithmetic remains: subtract the jobs provided by the stimulus package from the economy during the GFC, and then say with a straight face that we weren't in economic trouble. The reason I think the economists are right about their attriibutions of success to the government is that they conform to the facts as we know them: we [i]have[/i] avoided a recession. We did [i]not[/i] go broke, as originally predicted. Finally the economists have faced facts on the GFC. I wonder whether you will, YMbK? As to popularity. Of course the "Cash splash" was popular. It saved our economy. Are you suggesting that thre government shouldn't have done anything to save themselves being accused of pandering to the mob? I doubt whether that would have done them any good in your eyes. Whatever they ended up doing, the likes of you would have condemned it, as Joe Hockey has already done with his "Rudd Recession" and his "Recession? What Recession?" flip-flops of the past. The call was made. The government acted. And the best its critics can say is that the government's unique actions had nothing to do with the now uniquely good situation our economy and nation find themselves in as a result. Much of the borrowing done was to replace lost tax revenue anyway, which any government would have had to do (unless you think cutrbacks were the answer to the recession you just told us we never had). Your argument does not make sense. You can't have it both ways.

Macca

4/02/2010Your little blogsight must be having an effect somewhere AA.Am I alone in thinking that YMBK is trolling direct from the Libs backroom? Although to get one of Barnabys mob to contribute here, we have to lower the tone of the discourse and use words of one,maybe two syllables. That will never happen.....will it? Tell me it aint gonna be so.

Michael Cusack

4/02/2010Under AA this blog has consistently been very,very good. With the addition of BB it is now superb.

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4/02/2010Macca, Michael Thank you for your kind comments. I agree about BB's contributions - they are superb. What began as BB posts during the end-of-year break are now to be a regular feature of[i]TPS[/i]; I'm sure visitors wil be as delighted as I am.

lyn1

4/02/2010Hi Ad I am delighted as you are about Bushfire Bill's posts being a regular feature and they are I agree superb, but as I said on your anniversay I love your posts makng my life. Thankyou Ad for inviting Bushfire Bill, but we need you too.

janice

5/02/2010All you have to do You Must Be Kidding is to connect all the dots to come up with answers to your questions. For instance, the Government's stimulus package worked so well because the 'cash splash' = spending = retailers have liquidity = less or no job losses. The money allocated to school projects = jobs for builders/plumbers/electricians = money to spend for their families = viability for small business to keep employees rather than sending them off to join the dole queues. The sum of both the cash splash and school infrastructure spending kept the economy ticking over. Confidence is that thing that drives an economy and it is lost very quickly when there's even a whiff of economic instability. Business lays off its workers and puts off any sort of investment; people stop spending for fear of losing their jobs and the unemployed can't spend. With less money circulating through the economy the problem grows and more and more people are laid off. The Rudd Government took the advice of Treasury to move fast and hard and that is why this nation avoided a full blown disasterous recession. Had it not done so Australia would not be in the position it is in now with unemployment peaking at 5.8% instead of 9 or 10%. Our debt is miniscule compared with other nations. BTW don't confuse government debt with consumer debt - People were encouraged to borrow during the Howard decade and so millions of Australians have maxed out credit cards and mortgages only Big Business would venture into. Somewhere along the line we forgot to counsel our children to be wary of living beyond our means; that credit is okay provided it can be paid back with ease and without being forever on thin ice and hoping it won't give way.

Bushfire Bill

5/02/2010Well said, Janice. Confidence in any economy is king. Too much, and you get artificial booms. Too little, and you get equally artificial busts. The way that many economic journalists were wishing misery on the Australian economy in the first year of the GFC was disgraceful. Their prognostications of doom went way beyond reasoned reporting and opinion. Sure, things were bad, but the nightly, relentless, universal negativity we heard from them probably added significantly to the harm we did suffer. A case in point was whether we were "in recession". When the traditional definition - two consecutive quarters of negative growth - did not eventuate, we had economics writers everywhere spruiking their own private definitions, the looser, the better. It got to the stage where "feeling discouraged about our immediate prospects" was just about enough to define "recession". Interestingly, when Howard was in government, they mostly stuck rigidly to the "technical" definition outlined above. But in the case of Rudd's government, the same commentators were egging on the economic Grim Reaper, making too much doom out of only a modicum of gloom. Suddenly the generally accepted definition was merely a "technicality". We had bucketloads of recession, wherever we turned and whomever we asked. The Coalition used this beat the government over the head. Joe Hockey's "Rudd Recession" became a commonly spouted phrase. We were going to have record unemployment, a decimated economy. Joe could hardly contain his joy at this prospect. Then, when recession didn't happen, suddenly we had had no recession at all. It was all down to Howard's brilliant economic stewardship. Either Rudd was all to blame for the "recession we never had" (Joe's new term for it) or he had no credit due for avoiding it. Managing to utter these two contradictory statements at different times, to different audiences, out of different bodily orifices simultaneously convinced a few that the Rudd government was economically illiterate. We still see them slightly behind on "Economic Management", amazingly, as they are mostly ahead on the bullet points - infrastructure, interest rates, higher employment, fairer workplace, etc. - that comprise "Economic Management". I despair sometimes that the voting public will give Rudd government a big tick on the daily details of economic management, and then score them down when it comes to the plenary question. I'm not saying the polls are wrong, at all. That would be too easy (and incorrect). I'm saying that I'm puzzled by the cognitive dissonance displayed by a substantial number of (but by no means all) observers that they should give the "Economic Management" guernsey to the party they have just said were [i]less[/i] preferable to the government on most points actually regarding the economy, and who would have withheld stimulus spending, prefering instead to "see how things turned out" while their fans' jobs were stripped away from our workforce.

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5/02/2010Lyn1 Thank you for your kind words. I hope that BB and I can provide you with some interesting reading in 2010. janice What you write always has a ring of commonsense and authenticity. I hope that balanced comments such as yours will temper the more extreme views some visitors prefer to express. BB I wonder why we still listen to economists, especially economics correspondents. They almost always get it wrong - so much so that prediction using a coin would have a greater chance of being right. I’ve just posted [i]Tony – this is as good as it gets[/i]. I hope you all enjoy it.

You must be kidding

5/02/2010Hmmm the crisis we had when we really didn’t have a crisis. This contributor is accused of being from the Liberal Party, spitting bullets, lowering the tone of discourse, one syllable words, connecting the dots, and other implied suggestions that someone with a differing point of view is somewhat retarded in thinking. Interesting that in a free democracy that folks are so blinkered that they have to revert to abusing the messenger than consider the argument ... Norman Gunston was always saying that when folks found it hard to respond to his questions they always referred to his shaving mishaps ... so we laughed, possibly a good metaphor for some blinkered thinking. Suffice to say it is the debate that makes a democracy and a breakdown of structures comes from those that abuse and stifle debate. The point about confidence is an important one ... consumer confidence was shot prior to Christmas 2007 yet the RBA still raised interest rates another two times ... indeed the Government at the time argued the inflation genie was out of the bottle. It usually takes at least three months for interest rate changes to affect the market thus the bank acted too keenly and the government didn’t see it coming ... shopping malls were empty in March and April yet paradoxically there was still help wanted signs in most shops and the general sense of the proletariat was that things were okay. But they weren’t and the time to act was then ... needless to say when Access Economics was predicting growth service industries were disagreeing, demand was already stopping. Add to this uncertainty the sudden rush to negative language towards the end of the year ... just when consumers were coming back into the market after the significant interest rate change in September 2008 the narrative changed to gloom and doom ... I’ll let you smart folks work out who was driving the negative narrative so that I won’t be accused of being a Barnaby Boy. Did we need the initial cash hand out ... well given we had just received tax cuts in July 2008 and significant interest rate reductions in September, October and November perhaps the timing was questionably premature, why not let the market respond to those two spate actions ... perhaps if they had waited until after Christmas and considered the December quarter retail figures ... which were good ... then maybe that was the time to release cash if they needed to. But this idea that the first payment was used to spend is a falsity because the figures do not support that argument. At that time unemployment was still low, although the finance sector was releasing staff other businesses that 6 months earlier were complaining about not being able to recruit staff retained theirs. The damage Treasury and indeed the Government did in predicting major shedding of staff was irresponsible given that it didn’t happen but it did stop people spending. So narrative was important ... if you go back over the commentary at the time you will see the negatives coming from every quarter of the community ... except the figures didn’t support this view ... yet the government still acted ... they released even more funds ... although consumer confidence was showing signs of recovery ... contrary to economists and government commentary. And again consumers did not spend the cash. The largesse of the government is welcomed by most who received it ... did they spend it as they were directed to do ... and save their job ... the answer is clearly no ... this is evidenced by retail trade figures during that period. So this idea that the cash handouts worked clearly is not true ... So what has happened ... consumer demand returned because the threat of job loss did not eventuate, thus Economics 101 suggests that if demand increases so too does supply thus our manufacturing increased to such an extent we could not deliver and as an example we had to import pink batts from overseas ... thus exporting the stimulus funds. So here is the question ... how much was the right amount ... and why did we spend it on halls ... surely aged care could have benefited from increased capital, maybe disability services would have benefited, perhaps indigenous affairs might have benefited ... so why schools ... perhaps the Roz Kelly management book was left behind on how to increase the community support (read votes) ... more votes associated with a school than there are with aged facilities or disability services... I dare say I have used many words here of more than one syllable so I am sorry to disappoint ... but as my father used to say about hire purchase ... it may seem good to have it now but sooner or later you will have to pay ... and folks it seems you don’t care that sooner or later someone has to pay. And as a post script ... I know you have said that you don’t read the Australian but two interesting stories on the front page today ... it reminds me of the 1980’s ... back to the future then.

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6/02/2010You must be kidding Apologies for the slow response; I’ve been feeding the post of yesterday. I’ve read your detailed post a couple of times. Bushfire Bill has commented on it on the post that follows. I’m not sure I’ve got the complete drift of your argument, but you seem to be arguing that the stimulus package was largely unnecessary, failed to meet its objectives, for example increased consumer spending, and was ill-directed into the schools programme. That the other areas you mention are worthy is undeniable, but were they ‘shovel ready’? My reading of the effect of the cash bonuses was that although initially much was saved to pay off mortgages and credit card debts, that subsequently loosened up cash for consumer spending, thus producing a trickle effect that was reflected in increased retail sales for a substantial period, and at least as importantly, rising consumer and business confidence. Unemployment that was predicted to rise to 8.5% peaked under 6%. Now you can attribute all of these occurrences to other variables, and argue that the stimulus was unnecessary and ineffective, but it’s a mighty hard argument to sustain. Most economists, including most of those initially sceptical, now credit the stimpac with having a laudable effect. Of course the Opposition, and seemingly you too, disagree, and give the stimpac little or no credit, but of course lots of brickbats for ‘running up debt’. ‘The market will sort it out’ was the feeling among the sceptics, and if a lot of people lost their jobs, too bad. – at least we would have avoided debt. Then of course some argued that there was no recession so we didn’t have to do anything anyway, and we didn’t get high unemployment so the stimpac was not needed to keep people in jobs. It’s pretty convoluted reasoning, but those who wish to give the Government brickbats instead of credit happily believe it.

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6/02/2010Folks Since all we seem to be attractung now is silly spam, I'm closing comments on this post. If you have antything further to contribute on this post, please use the following one [i]Tony - this is a good as it gets[/i].
How many umbrellas are there if I start with two and take 2 away?