28 August 2008

Shred their credibility

Imre Salusinszky is another one who has gone from the far left to the far right without any pause for reflection on the ameliorating influence of the moderate centre. In this piece he shows a Colless-like enthusiasm for being swept up by the hype without drilling down to the core issues about privatising NSW electricity.

It's the wrong time to sell NSW's coal-fired electricity generation and distribution systems, for four main reasons:

  1. None of the buyers have enough money.

  2. The current government will stuff up the sale, adding "sweeteners" that will rebound for years to come.

  3. The facilities are out of date - you'd hope that the private sector would invest in new facilities (just like they have with freight rail beyond the major cities!) but the technological and regulatory environment is radically uncertain.

  4. The Coalition are entitled to be sick of Labor having a bag of money to beat them up at election time. The link between success in the sale process and generosity to the ALP would be strong. Sussex Street might oppose the sale for now, but they'd get over it once the donations began rolling in.

The bleating from the private sector is not motivated by far-sighted visionaries with the good of the state uppermost. It is motivated by chancers frustrated from making a short-term killing from a bunch of mugs.
Never mind that the business community will abandon the Coalition as a lost cause. Never mind that the embattled Iemma will be gifted an issue - strength of leadership - with which to cane O'Farrell.

Yeah, the business community. They've been ignoring and hectoring the Liberals for a decade, splashing ridiculous amounts of money at (what was, at its best) a second-rate government, and now the Liberal Party is the "party of business". There's more to "the business community" than rent-seekers and spivs, but you'd be forgiven for not realising this if you looked at the shills lobbyists.

David Elliott used to be a PR man for the pubs, who poured millions into ALP coffers on his advice. When he ran for Liberal preselection the far right painted Elliott as insufficiently loyal to the party. Now, Elliott is doing the same again for a different bunch of rentseekers, trying to do to O'Farrell what he did to (for?) Peter Collins. At least I'm open about being a former Liberal and not having that party's interests at heart, David Elliott has done much more damage to the Liberal Party than I have.

Barry O'Farrell should take his chances with the leadership thing. Morris Iemma has failed to lead the Labor Party toward electricity privatisation, and now he thinks he's leading the Liberal Party.
By rejecting the bills, O'Farrell can repeat his predecessor Peter Debnam's trick during the scandal surrounding disgraced former NSW Aboriginal affairs minister Milton Orkopoulos in 2006. By attempting to widen the scandal to include former NSW attorney-general (and current federal Home Affairs Minister) Bob Debus, Debnam snatched defeat from the jaws of triumph.

Nobody accepted the link between pedophilia and homosexuality, and nobody took Debnam's word for the Debus-Orkopoulos "link". Debnam was stupid to accept advise from Lynn and Gallacher - two architects of NSW Coalition failure - to that effect. Mind you, voters were stupid to believe Iemma, whose "leadership" has now collapsed and not even all the money in Sussex Street will bring him back.

Everyone accepts the link between Iemma, public assets and the capacity for an awesome balls-up that will reverberate for a century. There is no linkage between privatisation now and electricity security going forward, and it is Iemma, not O'Farrell, who has to be called to account for it. When O'Farrell becomes Premier, points 1, 3 & 4 above will have disappeared and David Elliott can help the Liberal Party for a change.

Update: The Iemma-Costa out-of-Parliament solution is the dodgiest piece of public policy since Rex Connor and Clyde Cameron attempted to find other ways of funding the 1975 budget. And didn't that end well for Labor?

Update 2, 31 August: This shows Elliott at his most pathetic. He gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars every year by people who wish to avoid getting blindsided like this. Turns out that Dave should've seen it coming and acted in his employers' interests. Whoops! Get to work you clown.

04 August 2008

An easy tool

Peter Costello will never become Prime Minister. It will be too hard for him to shake the already-calibrated Labor theme that he didn't do enough to head off the economic predicament we're now in, and the political predicament the Coalition is now in.

Never mind Tom Elliott the economic commentator/fund manager, the commentary on Costello belongs to a less-consonanted Tom Eliot from yesteryear:
And I have known the eyes already, known them all —
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

The idea that Costello had idled his way to a near-recession will counteract the hopes people have for him as an economic messiah.

There are two aspects to the economic predicament Australia is in. First, there is the US sub-prime mortgage crisis. Costello deserves no blame for this, but there is no ability to give him any credit for heading it off, or for giving pointers on how to avoid it now that its impact is being felt. Had Costello warned Swan to act, and had Swan ignored that advice, the Liberals would now have a stick with which to beat the Coalition: he didn't, so they don't.

Second, there is the impacts of global warming, and attendant measures such as an emissions trading system. Costello has done no more on the environment than anyone else. He might have been less strident a climate-change denier skeptic than Howard, but he was still in the Cabinet that spiked Kyoto in 1997, muffed water allocations on the Murray-Darling, and otherwise gave Peter Garrett too much of a platform to effect his mid-life career change.
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all” —

So: Peter Costello doesn't have the economic credibility his boosters would hope. What does that leave his fans with?

  • His Parliamentary performances? These were only morale-boosters for those who were already Coalition MPs, and did nothing for those who would maintain or boost the numbers of Coalition MPs to government levels.

  • His personal warmth? Might be able to match Rudd on that score at times, but that diffident reserve will not be denied.

  • WorkChoices? Not quite the deal-breaker Labor would hope, but the Coalition have a lot to live down. It's not clear that one of the founding members of the H R Nicholls Society can make the case that the Coalition are not going back down that track.

  • A Costello leadership means a higher profile for Chris Pyne. Oh yes.

  • Walking across the Bridge in support of Aboriginal reconciliation? Yeah, probably - depends on how he handles the inevitable changes to the Northern Territory Intervention.

It's all very well for hair-shirt commentators to demand that Nelson make Costello challenge him, but he won't. Costello will leave any thrown-down gauntlet where it lies. Nelson is gone whatever happens, he'll simply be removed and replaced - but if he is replaced with Costello, Nelson will be entitled to feel ill-used. Costello won't look tactically clever for having avoided the hard decisions Nelson has faced (and not handled well) since November - if he becomes leader Costello will look, to coin a phrase, mean and tricky.

Jackie Kelly was right: Costello is not your man to win back Liberal seats in western Sydney (or, for that matter, seats like Bennelong). He's flat out finding a suitable candidate for eminently winnable seats like Chisholm.
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous —
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Opposition Leader Costello has some hard decisions to make in charting Liberal policy in a number of areas: balancing competing interests, including those feeling slighted by Rudd without taking on politically poisonous ideas, establishing clear differences with Rudd without being divisive, establishing political superiority in areas that matter. Costello would keep Rudd on his toes at times but Labor already have his measure. The next Liberal Prime Minister must be able to build an appealing and credible post-Howard Liberal narrative. Costello can't do that and won't.