29 February 2008

Greg Sheridan: bad for Australia

Greg Sheridan's analysis of the world in which we live is poor. Readers of The Australian are poorly served in understanding the United States, and Australia's relationship with it, because of this poor analysis.

He presents his opinions as "respectable" because he interviews someone with an impressive-sounding title, prints what they say as fact or otherwise laudable, then when Greg parrots their own opinions back to them, that's "respectable".

This piece on the possibility that Barack Obama might become US President plumbed new depths in silliness and showed that - far from being a shrewd observer of the world beyond our shores - Sheridan is some sort of gimp who's trussed up in the abandoned building of neoconservatism.
The case for Obama rests on the fact that greater US power and prestige directly benefits Australia.

The "greater US prestige and power" Sheridan refers to is the notion that after Bush, the only way is up. They're trapped in a silly mindset which has led to a range of silly foreign policy positions, from the sheer absence of any adequate response to post-Castro Cuba (an inevitability for 49 years), the absence of any rethinking of Iraq now that so much has changed. Obama promises a new and fresh way of looking at these and other issues, and these inspire hope.

That, and the fact that "the case for Obama" will be made by millions of Americans who do not give Australia a second thought.
Obama’s soaring rhetoric seems to serve no purpose beyond itself.

This doesn't explain why he is the frontrunner to become the next President. This criticism was valid when made against other candidates, like Mitt Romney or Joe Biden, who have since fallen by the wayside.

The same criticism may be made of JFK, or George W Bush in 2000 (except for the "soaring" bit).

That explanation is Sheridan's job. His failure is not some inadvertent slip, it is endemic.
This is bad for Australia in four ways. It has led Obama into protectionism, he campaigns against Clinton because her husband passed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Second, the Left of the Democratic Party has no interest in Asia and can barely find it on a map.

Most important, Obama steadily increases the stridency of his opposition to US troops in Iraq.

First, Greg can't even count to four. Second, his assertions about Obama and Asia are directly refuted by this, a striking piece of intelligent thinking that might not come off - but wouldn't it be great if ...

The fact that a rival publication gazumped Greg is no excuse for him ignoring it. In fact, it's a dereliction of duty on Sheridan's part.
Members of the Bush administration are worried that the Democratic primary has gone on so long.

So what? They would, wouldn't they. This sentence shows that Greg Sheridan is not smart enough to do his own stories but has to have some fathead Yank with too little to do in a government job spoon-feed Greg his stories.
This has resulted in both Obama and Clinton appealing only to the Democratic base on the Left, and not yet tracking back to the centre.

This is what happens in American politics: Democrats track to the left and Republicans to the right until their respective conventions, whereupon they track to the centre as far as they credibly can until polling day. If I was a foreign policy expert, I'd point this out to my readers rather than leave it hanging there, giving clowns from the Bush Administration credit they don't deserve.
Iraq has faded as an issue because the US strategy there is now working. There is a real chance the US could prevail in Iraq ... But Obama, playing not least for the Hollywood Bush haters, has left little room to manoeuvre as president on Iraq.

The "Hollywood Bush haters" aren't much of a constituency, as Al Gore and John Kerry found to their cost. What Obama has done is transcend the frame of the Iraq debate; that takes skill and courage, and Sheridan should at least describe these qualities for readers, however little he shares them.
Obama is all over the place on foreign policy. He has threatened to bomb Pakistan to kill terrorists (imagine if Bush or McCain had said such a thing) ...

Yes, imagine. It would be an admission that Bush's policy of treating Musharraf with kid gloves has failed, which it has. Fuck them, a few nasty little madrassahs go up in smoke, and no harm done.
... but also to journey to Tehran to fix a grand bargain with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Not ruling out meeting the guy doesn't constitute "a grand bargain", any more than Nixon meeting Mao constituted a defection.
Finally, the Left of the Democratic Party cares least for the military and for alliances.

What about all those "Democrat wars" in American history, and their pleadings about the UN and Bush's running roughshod over traditional alliances? I have trouble forgiving Sheridan's ignorance of the field he claims to cover, but I won't forgive dishonesty on that scale.
But the chief way Washington conceives of Australia is as an ally, and the chief US thinkers about us are the military.

That free trade deal was a waste of time then!
In my view the best candidate from Australia’s point of view is McCain ... Because he has been such a fierce critic of the way the Bush administration initially mismanaged Iraq, and the war on terror more generally, he can plausibly represent significant brand change from Bush, while still being from the same party. Though he cannot compete with Obama in the celebrity stakes, he has a sincerity which many people internationally might well respond to.

McCain has moderated his opposition to Bush to the point where their policies are identical. Even those who despise Bush agree that he's sincere. Sincerely perpetuating the mistakes of Bush-Cheney would be appalling for America and those who admire it still.
One reason McCain would be good for Australia is that he would stay strong in Iraq. He would not let the Middle East spin out of control.

The chief criticism of US policy in Iraq is that the more you continue current policies (or, as Sheridan puts it in his insecure way, "stays strong"), the more it spins out of control. This has been a long-standing criticism, backed p with much evidence over many years. Greg Sheridan betrays himself, his employers and his readers by whistling past that graveyard.
So why do I think an Obama ascendancy could cause war in the Middle East? It’s a simple calculation ... Many Israeli leaders say that a nuclear armed Iran represents an existential threat to Israel. If they really believe this, they have no alternative but to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. If they believe McCain will win, they will have faith that the Americans, one way or another, will try to handle the Iranians. If they believe Obama will win, they not only believe he definitely won’t handle Iran effectively, but he might even stop them from doing so.

It's not a "calculation" when you're spooked by unnamed Israelis.
If Bush believes Iran will go nuclear, he might have faith that McCain could handle it. He will have absolutely no faith that Obama would handle it.

This is the guy who sat back and did bugger-all when North Korea and Pakistan went nuclear. Who cares what he thinks?
The odds are against a US strike on Iran under any circumstances, and I would say the odds are even against an Israeli strike. But either or both are much more likely if it looks like Obama will win.

Sounds like they're inevitable no matter what happens. And aren't those National Intelligence Estimates a load of rubbish! Wish you'd told us that six years ago, Greg.

At a time of political change at home, and far-reaching change abroad, this is no time to have Greg Sheridan at The Australian.

28 February 2008

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything

My piece in New Matilda showing why the Liberals are pretty much stuck unless they grow some brains and get over themselves.

27 February 2008

Polly filler

John Roskam doesn't understand the sovereign role of the majority of voters in setting the direction of government in this country, apparently.

Keating had dragged reform of economic policy along at a cracking pace. Issues such as Mabo, the Redfern speech and the republic threatened to do so with social policy. The whole idea of John Howard was to ease the pace of social reform and see which elements really were unsustainable, and which were just victims of Keating's sharp tongue.

Howard showed that the republic was not an issue that burned in the national soul, and that Australia wasn't so desperate to be shot of the monarchy as the old Fenians in the NSW ALP Right. Howard thought that 1950s paternalism was an idea not properly tried in Aboriginal policy. He thought that unions could be legislated out of the employer-employee relationship. He thought that processing a refugee application required the refugee him/herself to be "processed". He thought that if the Americans went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Australia should send a deployment that was big enough to attract political attention from Washington yet small enough to minimise monetary and casualty cost.

Howard has now outlived his usefulness. He was wrong not to apologise to the Stolen Generation, those who were removed from Aboriginal families for no reason other than they were Aborigines. He was wrong about refugees, the incarceration of people within a legal void is a poor preparation for life in Australia or anywhere else. He was wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan has developed to a point where Australian forces are no longer required.
Good policy doesn't turn into bad policy overnight.

No, but an idea that upset a majority of the population was never sustainable. The Rudd Government's policies on the matters Roskam identifies as the core policies of the Howard government surprise only those who dismissed the very prospect of a Rudd Government until it actually came about.
If key policies can be ditched so quickly after what, in the end, proved to be a relatively narrow election loss, voters will inevitably ask whether Liberal MPs ever believed in those policies in the first place.

Those policies were imposed on Liberal MPs, who did not question them closely. They accepted Howard's assurances that they were both good policy and that they would lead to electoral success, and are now bearing the consequences of his failure of judgment. Roskam feels that they should bear this and other failures of judgment in perpetuity, like the rock of Sisyphus.
There's also the problem of what replaces the old policies.

This is a pressing problem for the government, which promised to replace them but was less than precise about what; they are responsible for governing, and responsible also to their Labor base. They have to replace WorkChoices with legislation that is acceptable to the Labor base but which is also sustainable across a diverse national workforce in a growing, changing economy. Good luck!

The Liberals have been excused the pressing responsibilities of government. They have to come up with a policy before the next election, and can learn from the mistakes that Labor are making. They needn't be hurried as John Roskam would wish, and indeed Roskam does himself no favours by urging them to do so. This lot are busy exercising the freedom to think for themselves, a precious quality that must be nurtured over time.
None of this is to say that policies cannot ever be changed. When circumstances alter, policies should be altered.

This assumes that WorkChoices adequately addressed the challenges facing Australia in 2005, much less in 2007-8. It didn't, and doesn't. It was a policy for 1985, when the ACTU and the H R Nicholls Society were at the peak of their influence.
What's notable about each of the Liberals' recent policy changes is that each was done in a hurry and each was done in reaction to something that Labor did.

Sounds like the Liberals are getting used to Opposition, John.
The Liberals can't afford to be put into such a position again.

This is why they shouldn't have frittered government away, and should act as an incentive for them to get it back again.
But at the moment there's every chance that the Liberals will respond to Labor's moves on the republic in the same way as they responded to Labor's initiatives on the apology and the Pacific Solution.

This is true, they run the danger of following Kim Beazley into reactive, crumbling opposition. It took Beazley ten years to get to that point, not ten weeks.
Many Liberals would say that the very last thing they need is a divisive internal debate about the republic. But if you can't have a divisive internal debate when the party is in opposition, federally and in every state and territory, then it's legitimate to ask when would be a better time.

Well said. Some debates cannot be fobbed off an it is poor political management even to try.

The best thing for the Liberal Party would be if the decision on the republic were taken out of their hands: if the voters decided on a republic, Liberals would have to decide whether they really wanted to be part of a governmental process from which the Crown was absent. Some Liberals feel they should take an active role in shaping the republic, but it would be extraordinary - too much to expect, really - for any Liberal leader to do that and keep a united party at the same time.
It will probably take three years for the Liberals to arrive at some sort of position on the republic. The advantage of starting the debate now is that they'll have the time to engage in analysis and reflection.

This assumes an environment tolerant of differing opinions, and the Liberal Party is the opposite of that. Moderates found this out in the late 1980s when they started losing preselections, political death being the ultimate form of censorship. Roskam has no excuse not to know better.
It's something the party hasn't done enough of since November 24.

Nor for the decade-and-a-half before that. There's the flaw in your argument John. For some time yet, debate within the Liberal Party will lumber and lurch like awkward teenagers learning to dance (the presence of cretins like Sophie Mirabella won't help). Clapping your hands in annoyance and insisting they all bounce and glide like Nureyev might make you feel better, but any sensible person knows it will be a slow process - until the next Leader comes along, with a gang of enforcers compelling everyone to shut up.

Roskam's despair of the political process is echoed by his colleague Chris Berg, and reflects a tendency of denigrating democracy itself - not just the odd dodgy decision, but the very idea of having government policy responsible to and reversible by the popular vote. Insofar as the Eye Pee Yay warrants concern, this is a worry and deserves close attention.

26 February 2008

Rain dogs

Dogs navigate their way around by patterns of odours. From American cities comes the phenomenon of "rain dogs", where a sudden downpour washes away the patterns of odours and leave dogs stranded wherever they find themselves, without any sense of how to get home.

The Liberal Party are a bit like rain dogs at the moment, with all their familiar reference points gone and no sense of direction. This is why Gerard Henderson has demonstrated his firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick by using the media to attack the media. The headline writer of this piece has framed Henderson's article as though it is the Liberals, not the media, that is being criticised.

The headline writer has it right. It is the Liberals who need a new sense of direction and purpose. They, and Henderson, also need to understand that sometimes the media will be critical of them, if not outright unfair.
Bongiorno put it to Pyne that he should not raise the issue of Kevin Rudd's past dealings with the West Australian operative Brian Burke since this was "raking over old coals" ... can anyone imagine Bongiorno telling Senator Bob Brown three years ago that he should not raise the children overboard affair against John Howard since this had been adjudicated at the 2004 election? The Bongiorno question provides just one example of how some journalists apply different standards to the Coalition as distinct from Labor.

Burke is "old coals" because we are talking about a minor political issue - not at all equivalent to the life-and-death magnitude of children being thrown into the ocean and a group of people, if not Australia's entire humanitarian migration program, vilified by implication. The Coalition are working themselves into a state over nothing, and journalists do us a favour by bumping them off their talking points.
The cartoonist Michael Leunig, The Age's house leftist, set the tone recently when he bagged the Prime Minister's apology speech as being both "feeble" and "banal".

Henderson might tilt at Leunig out of habit, having spent four decades doing so, but criticism from Leunig is to be expected. Henderson asserted but did not establish that Michael Leunig sets the tone - in The Age or anywhere else. Does Paul Bongiorno, or anyone else "bagged" by Gerard Henderson, really take their cues from Michael Leunig? Honestly. Certainly not worth complaining about, Gerard.
How about that?

There are no prizes for nailing whimsy, Gerard.
The left's critique of Rudd will not help the Coalition. All the Liberals and Nationals can do is to perform as well as possible in a difficult environment. So far, the evidence indicates that they will need to enhance their political skills.

Well, no shit! After a penetrating insight like that you'd expect Henderson to set some performance indicators, and at least show us what political skills might look like. After twelve months of frittering away a strong incumbent government in a time of economic prosperity, you'd expect that Henderson would have identified this lack of political skills a lot earlier.
But there was no obvious reason why [Joe Hockey] saw fit to tell [ABC reporter Liz] Jackson, who is hardly a fan of the Liberal Party, that his colleagues were ignorant about the details of key legislation. A senior Liberal should be able to find a place to download somewhere other than in front of an ABC camera.

This does not go to the question of political skill. Hockey did keep his criticisms to himself, or within Liberal circles, before the election. Fat lot of good it did Hockey or his party, Gerard. It is now fair to question the utility of that tactic.

Some Liberals in the last Howard Cabinet have already gone, having lost their seats. Others, such as Nick Minchin and Peter Costello, won't go and won't stay to make a useful contribution, either. Hockey is right to be frustrated with such people, and right to put this in the forum they can least effectively manage: the public record. The Liberals need to recast their image and insiders have a role in that by putting hitherto unknown facts into the public record.

Jackson doesn't have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal to be worthy of an interview. It is a measure of political skill that Hockey should use an experienced, possibly antipathetic journalist so effectively to his own ends. There may come a time when all journalists are to the right of Gerard Henderson, but until then one must do what one can with what one has. Jackson did not - and could not - dictate how her interviews are received by viewers.
Meanwhile, in the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, the Liberal backbencher Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has decided to focus on the domestic pets of the Prime Minister and his wife ... As with her past hyperbolic criticisms of the ABC, Senator Fierravanti-Wells's critique of the Rudds is completely counterproductive and, as such, worse than a mere waste of time.

Now if a journalist - any journalist - made the simple observation that Fierravanti-Wells is a hack and a waste of time, Henderson would hop right into them and onto the bandwagon of lefty journalists. The mistake here is to believe that Fierravanti-Wells is capable of better, and that she has a useful role to play both in holding the Rudd Government to account as well as in shaping the next Liberal Government.

I realise that Henderson hasn't said that Fierravanti-Wells isn't a waste of time - but I'd say that you can't produce any evidence of any contribution she has made that would mitigate such embarrassment to self and party.
... the high employment record of the Howard government will look quite impressive.

Not when you consider the jiggery-pokery used by the Howard government to redefine unemployment.
The Prime Minister and the key economic ministers (Gillard, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner) are well aware of the potential difficulties in [wages-driven inflation]. The problem for Rudd Labor is that it sent out a message before the election that working families had suffered as a result of Work Choices ... it would be reasonable to assume that working families expect that they will receive higher remuneration under Rudd than under Howard. This could put greater pressure on wage growth.

The reason why the Liberals lost the last election was because of the jarring dissonance between its two main messages. On one hand, they said that the economy was doing well; on the other hand, the message of WorkChoices is that individual employees may not share in the general prosperity. The message of the Rudd Government is that all that economic sunshine has now led to a spate of economic sunburn and economic melanoma. The idea of interest rate rises is to curb inflation, and it is too early to blithely deem this the failure that Henderson would regard it as. Some of the assumptions that Henderson makes, such as an aggressive and powerful union movement and a centralised wage-setting system, no longer apply.
... it is likely that Labor will suffer some political cost if fuel and electricity prices rise as part of the solution to climate change as envisaged by Garnaut. Such an eventuality should put the Coalition back into the political debate - even if the majority of journalists remains hostile or indifferent to its message.

The quality of state-provided facilities provided by Labor governments has fallen inversely to the costs of maintaining them. Yet, the Liberals are only in the debate as naysayers, for piss-weak parliamentary tactics and internal turmoil. The idea that Kevin Rudd will grow weary and drop government back into the lap of the Coalition is fanciful.
Opposition is invariably difficult.

Many things are difficult, Gerard. Journalists can be sympathetic or unsympathetic, but just as they should be judged as to whether they are applying the appropriate scrutiny, members of the opposition should make sure they measure up to the business of government before deeming the Australian media beneath their dignity. Uncritical support just gets filtered out, which is why Glenn Milne (and, indeed, Gerard Henderson) has not swung a single vote anywhere or anything.
... it is somewhat easier if those in opposition do not trash their own policies (past or present)

They need to do this, Gerard, to demonstrate that they have something to offer voters other than nostalgia. Some people may get hurt in the process, but that's politics.

Da G-dog has complained once again about the existence of leftists in the media, and equated political skill with his own wishes. He thinks the Liberal Party should settle into opposition as one would settle into a comfy armchair, controlling the media remotely. Henderson is being unreasonable about the media - there is no friendly or unfriendly coverage, only different degrees of scrutiny - and setting fanciful and absurd standards for the Liberals. This makes him no better than those he criticises; worse if they take his advice, and worst still if people ignore him.

24 February 2008

One for Chris Berg

No wonder The Sunday Age is getting a new editor. The genius who gave us a double serving of Jase (it is still only a fortnight since his last Pine 4 Pete) and Chris Berg needs to move on as soon as possible.
ANYBODY who remembers that photograph of Peter Costello gleefully surrounded by newborn infants knows one thing:

... you are a political tragic from Melbourne who needs to get over your Costello fetish.

Let's fossick through this train smash and see what, if anything, we can pull from the wreckage.

Chris says the baby bonus is poor policy, and he may even have a point. It has come in mighty handy here at PoHo. The general and the specific collide once again, a dilemma bedevilling both governments and institutions analysing public affairs. Does Chris Berg face this challenge squarely? You have to be kidding. All we got was this lazy piece:
Costly, blunt and poorly designed policy instruments have just as many unintended negative consequences as benefits.

So when the Federal Government this week announced an inquiry into the possibility of paid parental leave, it was tough to remain optimistic.

Oh no, the Federal Government has announced an inquiry! Better for the current government to keep on keeping on and avoid all those costly inquiries, surely.
... most proposals for paid parental leave would require the Government to pay a nominated parent roughly the minimum wage for a dozen or so weeks.

Certainly, this is far better than simply requiring businesses to pay the cost of the leave out of their own pockets. The biggest risk that government-mandated workplace entitlements pose is that they make it more costly to hire workers — and the unintended consequence is that employers are reluctant to hire in the first place.

Have you learned any lessons at all from similar proposals for compulsory superannuation, Chris, and if so what were they? At a time of skill shortages and NAIRU, could this be any more than a scare campaign?
Paid parental leave could also break a fundamental principle of good welfare policy — the most effective policies are means-tested policies.

I'd have no trouble with the baby bonus being means-tested, but we're talking about paid parental leave - which looks like becoming a condition of employment rather than a transfer from the state. As a working condition it is partially determined by my own ambitions, talents and capacity for hard work, rather than arbitrarily-defined means tests from the dead hand of the state.

It is the sort of campaign that used to come from the union movement, and the fact that it is now coming from a government inquiry gives an interesting insight into the role of the union movement under a Rudd Labor Government.
At least the issue of parental leave has been referred to the Productivity Commission — the government's independent research department that can claim much of the credit for advancing the cause of economic reform since its inception. This contrasts with the worrying reluctance of Labor to trust the commission with anything else important.

Inquiries into climate change, car manufacturing and international trade have all been established separately — Kevin Rudd may not trust the government's experts to give him the answers he wants.

One would have thought that putting the Productivity Commission to work on the Australian car manufacturing industry would have been an exercise in cognitive dissonance, similar to driving a Mercedes Benz into a lake. To have the PC take on these many weighty matters would require of it the kind of bloat we have seen from the various security organisations, an increase in quality not necessarily matched with quality and decried by people not dissimilar to Chris Berg.
But the biggest problem with a paid parental leave scheme is how it encourages the redefinition of our relationship with government.

No it doesn't. There have been enough examples of poor outcomes resulting from the absence of parental leave, plenty of kite-flying and submissions from various organisations - this is a clear example of government responding to community concerns as it should.
The baby bonus has already established in the mind of Australians that having children is more than just a personal decision — it is part of a long-running negotiation between parents, the Federal Government and the tax office.

Rubbish! It was a policy determined by a political party which won an election. The Tax Office did what it was told - no negotiation there. The Federal Government that introduced his policy was voted out. That just leaves parents - if there's money available by filling out a form, then fill out that form!

This poor framing leads Chris to an inevitable bout of silliness which could have been avoided:
soon no one will start a family without lengthy consultations with the Australian Taxation Office and Prime Minister's Department.

Oh dear. Put down that copy of Brave New World and take a serious look at the community in which you live, Chris. Only then should you be assessing policy against that. Instead, it's once again with the silliness:
But the people whose decision could be influenced if they are given a few grand by the government may not actually be the best parents.

Who are these people? Where are they? If the government taxed people every time a child was born to them, would this really - no, not in theory - discourage irresponsible people from becoming parents?

We can't have government policy hostage to figments of your imagination. That's probably why there's an inquiry. Is the Eye Pee Yay making a credible submission to that inquiry, Chris, or are you going to slap something together in your careful way?
And the problems of ageing populations and skills shortages don't have to be resolved by funnelling subsidies to young families. It would instead be better for children if individuals were allowed to come to their own decisions about parenthood uninfluenced by politicians desperate to pay their way out of the latest political crisis.

I always thought the link between the baby bonus and the skills shortage was fairly tenuous. Your article would have been better had you stuck to that, Chris.

Who are these individuals whose decisions about parenthood depend upon a sum of money that doesn't begin to meet the medical bills associated with childbirth, let alone the costs of child-rearing? Who are they, Chris, and why do you flay imaginary people for bending weak politicians to their will?
Perhaps if the government really thinks that we have a population problem, it could be looking carefully at increasing immigration — skilled and non-skilled — and relaxing the high costs of work visas.

Considering that Australia has one of the world's largest migration programs - skilled and unskilled - already, this off-the-cuff suggestion might not be the thunderbolt you seem to regard it as. Plenty of studies have examined the pros and cons of that in the current context - go review some and stop wasting everyone's time.
Nevertheless, introducing subsidies to new parents conveniently supports Rudd's working families narrative. It's politically savvy to pay off your supporters.

Considering that the whole idea of the baby bonus was to forestall the very idea of a Rudd Government it can't have been that savvy. You wouldn't know political savvy if it bit you, Chris.
The fundamental question that the Labor Government's proposal for parental leave raises is whether parents should have children for themselves, or for society.

No, the question it raises concerns the nature of remuneration for labour, Chris.
what parent spends time thinking about how starting a family could help Australia's OECD rankings? Hopefully none.

You've lugged this straw man through your whole article and now you've finally let it drop. How much better if you'd set fire to it and gone and done some research instead.

Jason Kissofdeath

Jason Koutsoukis was wrong about Peter Costello, and there is no reason why he has any more authority on Brendan Nelson in not one, but two articles in today's Age.
"It is certain, absolutely certain, that Brendan Nelson will not be leading the Liberal Party at the next election," said one Liberal frontbencher. "He is held in contempt by most senior people. People simply do not respect him."

If this had been made known before last year's ballot, it might have changed the result.
While no Liberal MPs were prepared to criticise Dr Nelson on the record, the leadership talk nevertheless had the ring of the beginning of a campaign to oust him.

Well Jase, all that ringing you've reported on the imminent challenge from Costello must have given you tinnitus.
Favoured by an increasing number at the moment is the former workplace relations minister Joe Hockey.

Oh no! This is the hook for Jase's career over the next five years: Waiting for the Hockey Challenge. I like Joe and think he could do well, but what he - and the Liberal Party - needs is less endorsement from Jason Kissofdeath, not more.
As manager of Opposition business in the House of Representatives, Hockey has also shown early signs of being a skilled parliamentary tactician.

He looked a bit too responsible for that Cardboard Kevin debacle for mine. Your article would have been better had you addressed that, Jase.
As long as he doesn't rush himself, Hockey may well be the Liberals' best long-term hope.

This may be true, but it's not clear what you're asking of the Liberal Party here Jase. Are the Liberals in such dire trouble that they need to punt Mr 9% as soon as possible? If so, why stuff around with Turnbull or whomever else?
Turnbull ... misread the party room mood during last year's bid to win the leadership against Nelson, and has many of the overweening personality flaws that proved insurmountable for Costello.

At least he's actually contested the leadership, Jase. I'm not sure about Turnbull either, but he is the nearest thing the Liberal Party has to Bob Hawke: he is an itch that party just has to scratch. Hawke was also a man of overweening, but not necessarily overwhelming, personality flaws. It's Jase's job to consider the man in greater depth than he has. If Turnbull puts the wind up the Rudd Government's first Treasurer, why shouldn't he go up against Rudd? If Turnbull could do for a few other Liberal MPs what he did in his own seat, he'd be Prime Minister.

Jase's failure to think about what he says undermines his spot at kingmaking:
Hockey has an amiable and warm presence.

Just like Kim Beazley, Jase?
He is popular, moderate ...

How do you suggest he shake off the tag of Mr WorkChoices, Jase (unless Julie Bishop is doing that for him)?
... and from the key state of NSW.

As opposed to whatever state Nelson and Turnbull come from; a state which can't even decide on a State Director, can't get behind one of the two best Liberal leaders at state level, and which can't and won't purge the Taliban.

Nelson's a joke and part of being an ex-Liberal means I don't much mind who replaces him. Joe Hockey was a good guy when I knew him, but that was long ago and we've both changed. The issue isn't the Liberal leadership per se, it's whether readers of The Age are well served by Jason Koutsoukis. I'd be surprised if nine percent of the target readership of The Age would agree.

21 February 2008

Shanahan's margin of hypocrisy on polls

One of the clearest examples of poor reporting from a senior Canberra press gallery
was Dennis Shanahan's reports in The Australian trying to interpret last
year's polls in a favourable way for the Coalition. All throughout 2007, polling
showed Labor with solid leads but ol' Dennis assured us that any day now, any
moment, John Howard would personally turn it around. Any day now ... after the
2006-07 summer ends ... after the Sunrise Anzac Day thing ... after the
Budget ... after the strip-club thing ... just you wait, all you lefty pundits you ...

It became a joke after a while, yet the biggest joke was that The Australian
kept him on their books. Now, he has the hide to have a go at his critics. Or try to.
Where is the margin-of-error school of polling now?

I know of no school, Dennis, but I suggest to you that gloating is not an activity
engaged in by losers like your good self.

Well done in getting away with an insignificant error without criticism, Dennis. I
hope it gets you through all those times when you feel besieged and put-upon. A
margin of 70% to 9% at a point when an election is hardly imminent is what it took
for you - yes, you - to stop fighting poll results and report them straight, rather
than try and keen for John Howard to come through once again.

A margin of 70% to 9% at a point when an election is hardly imminent is a lot
different to one showing 55/45 when an election is months/weeks/days away. Your
reporting of those polls was nothing short of disgraceful. You were basically trying
to tell the people of Australia that they were thinking something other than what
they were actually thinking, the very essence of poor reporting.

Dennis Shanahan is an experienced journalist, yet his experience was sidelined by
his yearning for more Howard. He was comprehensively shown up by people going
by names like Possum Comitatus, Poll Bludger and Mumble. People smarter than him,
people who knew more about voting patterns than he did, people who all but stole
the bread and butter out of his mouth.

Shanahan had no right to goad people who have rightly skewered him, or paint
them as politically aligned hypocrites. There was more to their criticism than
statistical quibbling; it was the repeated attempts to insert wishful thinking into
data whose framers try hard to position as impartially as possible. He disgraces
The Australian by refusing to slink away in embarrassment, then compounds
it by taking up company space by going ner-ner! at his critics (after first
misrepresenting them, because to accurately concede their point would end his

Isn't it time you pissed off to Washington, Dennis? Heaven knows you're doing
bugger-all good here. Watching the death-throes of one conservative
administration isn't enough, surely.

20 February 2008

The boy in the bubble

It is one thing to criticise "people who saw very little", but this criticism is simply not valid from someone determined to see only what he wanted to see. A bit like his old boss, really.
... it has been open season on John Howard.

No different from leaders who lost previous elections. 2004 saw open season on Mark Latham. 1996, on Paul Keating. 1993, Hewson. 1990, Peacock. 1983, Fraser. Get the picture? It is always open season on political losers. As Michelle Grattan points out, the Liberal Party needs to do that to secure its post-Howard future.

Galilee's sense of grievance can only be maintained in a bubble of ignorance. He has worked hard to burrow into the middle of that bubble, but what you sacrifice is a sense of perspective.

After Stephen Galilee's stellar work as Peter Debnam's chief of staff leading up to the 2007 NSW election, he had the good grace not to claim that "Time at least will be kind to Debnam", but that has deserted him now that people dare to Speak Out Of Turn.

Galilee relies on the reading-too-much-Piers tone, starting out with a fusillade of outrage to soften up the reader in the hope that his weak arguments might gain more force than they deserve (the "heroes of hindsight" alliteration has the instant staleness of Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism"; "the commentariat", all that rubbish).

The lumping together of committed Liberals and rusted-on socialists is a habit that will simply have to be broken.
the Howard haters of the intellectual Left

You don't have to hate Howard to wish for better government than he was capable of delivering, Stephen: trust me on this. It was not hatred that did for Howard in 2007; he could, as you well know, always deal with hatred.

Those who loved Howard as Galilee did and does were energised in reaction to that hatred. What did for Howard in 2007 was what did for him in 1987; sheer indifference.

Besides, "the intellectual Left" is redundant; is there a non-intellectual left? Is there really a sizeable chunk of the union movement, or any other non-intellectual organisation, that keeps the flame burning for Mao or Stalin? I know you and Gerard Henderson need to believe there is, but there isn't really.
After more than a decade in office, the challenges of the nation's toughest job continued to energise him.

No, they didn't. That's why he lost. He might have put on a facade, all those morning walks etc., but when Rudd talked about co-operation and climate change Howard had no idea what he was talking about, and didn't want to know. Being 'energised' doesn't involve micromanaging. It involves engaging with ideas, and working with others in good faith to find solutions.

Sometimes no amount of parroting the party line can make it true, especially after the election result puts public opinion beyond doubt.
But as the 2007 election approached, it was clear Howard's final challenge would be his greatest.

It wasn't clear that it was his final challenge though, was it? The feather-dusters on Howard's End at least grappled with the idea of the Liberal Party beyond Howard (and not necessarily in hindsight, Stephen).
Despite ... a vitriolic campaign from unions, Howard kept going.

Fancy the union movement criticising a Liberal government! In an election campaign! There's a turn-up that nobody could have foreseen.
Try hosting world leaders at an APEC summit while heading off a leadership crisis.

What was he supposed to do, cancel APEC so that he could work the phones? He should have headed off the crisis well beforehand. It's silly to praise someone for being tough in the face of problems which they have created for themselves.
Try managing the equivocation of nervous colleagues who believe you should cut and run, when not so long ago they were begging you to stay.

Well, John Howard has lived by that sword, no sympathy for being unwilling to die by it.
Try keeping your focus (and temper) while you and your family suffer cheap attacks fuelled by those ever-brave unnamed sources.

Ah yes, the Royal Family. Keen to involve themselves in political matters but not keen to suffer the slings and arrows that inevitably - inevitably - come with it. John Howard used to be a Liberal Party man, but as soon as he suborned the interests of his party to that of his family he was gone.

One of the telling images of election night last year was Jeanette and Tim Howard looking out at the Liberals gathered on election night. They looked out, not on friendly faces, not on fellow Liberals as hurt and as mystified as they; they looked on their fellow Liberals as a wild mob that would surge forward and tear them apart. They weren't just gutted; they were guilty. Guilty of a sense of entitlement that worked against, not for, the organisation that John Howard led.
Try maintaining your dignity while feral union activists wait outside hospitals and hotels to call you and your wife "Liberal c-ts" and tell you they wish you would die a "slow and painful death".

Again, this being ambushed by brave friends in the union movement is evidence of strategic idiocy. I remember Stephen Galilee and his friends engaged in similar activity against Labor people in his callow youth during the dying days of the Keating government, and his (real and perceived) factional opponents within the Liberal Party since.
All while your opponent coasts along, forgiven frequent errors of judgment, congratulated for the genius of his political flummery, by a largely uncritical media.

This is the sort of thing Keating complained about in 1996. It's only possible to see the wheel turning full circle when it's not about to crush you.

All those sentences starting with "Try ..." - I don't have to become Prime Minister to know that it's a difficult job. It isn't the only difficult job in the country. I respect the job, and I even respected the previous occupant for a time. What isn't respectable is the notion that no criticism is valid because of the difficulty of the job. From he to whom much is given, much is expected; much more than self-pity or a sense that one's own difficulties are more difficult than those facing others.
You can't always be right and in politics mistakes are magnified.

Not so much magnified as having consequences well beyond oneself.
Howard's trademark conviction served the government well for more than a decade. It was his brand: a willingness to make hard decisions for the good of the nation. But as the government's standing deteriorated, his conviction came to be seen as stubbornness.

Not all his decisions were right, and eventually that catches up with everyone. Not all consequences boomerang back within a 24-hour news cycle, and not all critics are "unedifying" or wrong. There are few things more ephemeral than a brand. I suppose that everyone you agree with has "conviction" and those you don't are "stubborn"; but it is true that his mistakes could have been headed off before they shook the ground on which the careers of Howard, Galilee and others stood.
Howard went to the election carrying the baggage of unpopular positions ... because, rightly or wrongly, he believed his positions were right for Australia.

So what happened here was that he couldn't pick the difference between a policy that was unpopular because it was wrong, and one that was unpopular for trivial and transient reasons. People around him - including Stephen Galilee - couldn't and wouldn't change his mind. So, the people put in place someone of different mind - someone from outside the Liberal Party. Stephen Galilee still can't get used to the idea that Big Daddy was Wrong, but at least he's smart enough to see the steps that might lead one to that conclusion. The phrase "rightly or wrongly" is a poor excuse for not grappling with those issues, for assuming that right and wrong are somehow equivalent.
I saw enormous respect and gratitude from the public. Their enthusiasm and friendliness swamped the anger of activists.

No it didn't, and the result of the election proves that. It also showed that Labor learned the lessons of 2004: Latham believed that the only way you could get Howard out was by hating him and making others share that hatred. People can be enthusiastic and respectful in meeting the Prime Minister without agreeing with him about everything.

There is such a thing as a Liberal activist, Stephen. I used to be one and you still are. Activist is an adjective, not a term of abuse.
From shopping centres to street walks, boardrooms to factory floors, few displayed anything other than appreciation for what he had given Australia.

So, in the tightly scripted environments you saw and helped create, you saw what you wanted to see - well done.

18 February 2008

The way to dusty death

Like the Liberals putting Scott Morrison in charge of silencing dissent over the election loss, the Nationals have put John Anderson in charge of burying their survivors. They probably thought they were being clever in spoon-feeding Milney, who has lapsed back into his louche ways now that actual investigative journalism appears to have given him a migraine.
The Nationals know exactly who to blame for their party's net two-seat loss at the election which reduced them to a near rump of 10 MPs in the House of Representatives: it was all John Howard's fault.

Well, either that, or it was the fault of people like John Anderson not standing up to Howard. Even the yokels at NSW central executive know they're wasting their time doing that. Anderson and all the other Nationals MPs and Senators voted for WorkChoices. It's gutless of the Nationals to blame Howard for their own choices.

The Liberals didn't need the Nationals in 1996-98 to form a majority in the House of Representatives, nor in 2001-04; having them on board was an act of charity on their part, and for once the Nationals should be grateful. The reason why the Nationals in Victoria have teamed up with the Liberals is because the Nationals are secure enough in themselves to know they offer a different product while recognising the importance of the Coalition. They know they don't have to go stark raving Barnaby.

It isn't John Howard's or Brendan Nelson's or anyone else's responsibility to define a distinct image for the Nationals: it's the Nationals' responsibility. Milney should have been clearer about this, interpreting the information he received and reflecting the self-delusion of these people back on them, rather than marvelling at his own cleverness at having documentation fall into his lap.
The document later expands on this point: "The core problem for the Nationals has been its declining independent identity.

"For almost 20 years, no federal leader has adequately reinforced the party's independent identity, to the point where, today, the words 'Coalition' or 'government' to the vast majority of voters, simply equal 'Liberal'.

John Anderson bears a large part of the blame for this. The submission is a waste of time, like chooks squawking at the fox that's been sent to guard their henhouse.
The brutal truth in Queensland is this: while the Nationals are the senior conservative party in that state, they hold only 17 seats in an 89-seat parliament, compared to eight for the Liberals. But most of the Nat seats are either in the west of the state, where the population is declining, or in the coastal hinterland. They are shut out of the growth areas, the southeast corner and the Gold Coast.

Because they know they are in a demographic death dive, they are desperate to co-opt the Liberal brand name.

The brutal truth of the Coalition in Queensland is this: there are 12,000 Nationals and 4000 Liberals in Queensland. In the state parliament the Liberals inspire no confidence that they could manage the state better than Labor, however much Beattie or Bligh stuff up.

The Queensland Nationals express this frustration by running three-cornered contest against the hapless Liberals. No urban-dweller, especially someone relocated from outside Queensland, wants to vote for a party that exists to redistribute resources away from the growth areas. Nobody wants to vote for a bunch of clowns either; despite the busywork that all Liberal leaders since Llew Edwards have done to trash the Liberal name, it has a cachet that [insert name of any Queensland Liberal politician here, any one will do] cannot fully destroy.

The Queensland Liberals would regard the growth areas as their 'turf', yet they can't win any more than a bare minimum of seats there. Elbowing the Nationals aside is the least of their worries.

There should be a Queensland Party. It should deck itself out in maroon and work out some way of keeping its traditional supporters online while also attracting new supporters: this is hardly unique to the Queenslanders, all opposition parties have to do this. Lawrence Springborg could be a good Premier if only he could get some decent ministers. The Queensland Party could sit with the Liberals or Nationals or become a third Coalition partner.
"The party should, therefore, give a high priority to reviewing its policies for rural, regional and coastal electorates. Having identified key policy objectives for the future, the leadership must publicise these, as well as the party's achievements, relentlessly, at every opportunity."

And most ominously for the Liberal Party, under the heading "Funding", this observation: "For the party to build its parliamentary numbers, it is more than likely that it will have to prepare for an increased number of three-cornered contests."

Not a word about how you convince those who had voted Labor to vote National again; these people don't understand why anyone would vote Labor, National or any other way, so it's best they not be heard from in charting the future of any political party. This skittishness about brand image and a relentless determination to promote, promote, promote without thinking about what is being promoted is a sign of a party determined to run itself into the ground.

Amid all the hysteria and bungling by Coalition leaders should be one clear rule: any three-cornered contest that does not minimise the Labor vote should not be considered. The Nationals might horsetrade this or that seat with the Liberals, and run three-corners where Labor cops it from both sides - but the Nationals should have the sense to opt out where they cannot seriously beat Labor. This might mean that they curse their own weakness, and take it out on Nelson; it would be interesting to see who would be in the weaker position, but it has to happen.
Vale John Howard. Or perhaps in the context of the Nationals, Vaile John Howard.

Fnaar! At the next election Labor should win about six of the seats currently held by the Nationals, including Truss' own seat of Wide Bay. Independents should win a couple of others until the Queensland Party gets on its feet. Barnaby Joyce should run against Bruce Scott in Maranoa. They should go the way of the Democrats, and such energy that does not die could manifest itself in a different form. The Nationals should dribble away and never again back the ute up to any Parliament in the expectation of pelf for dying communities.

17 February 2008

The sorry effort

After his first year as Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam tabled a document in Parliament called Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which outlined what his government had done in its first year. The then Opposition Leader, Billy Snedden, gave an off-the-cuff response that was so weak that his party realised Snedden could never beat Whitlam.

Brendan Nelson's response in the Sorry debate on 13 February 2008 showed that he is truly the successor to Billy Snedden: someone tone deaf to a sense of occasion and who is outclassed by both a superior opponent and a more deft tactician.

Part of the text of the apology moved by Parliament on 13 February 2008 reads:
... this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

Nelson's speech failed because we cannot be certain that children will be taken from their families for no reason other than their racial background.

He tried to muddy the debate by going on about clear cases of abuse and neglect; but Aboriginal children were taken from Aboriginal families where these factors were absent. It is that for which the Prime Minister apologised, and for which he and we all are deeply sorry.

Brendan Nelson is the leader of the Liberal Party and the successor to John Howard in that role. It was inevitable that some people were going to turn their backs on him, even if he had apologised fully and sincerely. In politics, you do not give your enemies ammunition: the far right of the Liberal Party do nothing more than give the far left justification for their positions; they need the incandescent rage of the stirred-up left as the pole star by which they chart their course. Nelson hasn't just angered the left; he has handed them a substantial and useful weapon with which to beat the Liberal Party.

Yes, Harris and Gleason spoiled the beyond-politics message of the day by turning their backs on Nelson. Their jobs involve crafting messages, and they sent mixed messages when their boss sought to be clear: Rudd should have sacked them. How much worse for Nelson to have not two but five - no, six; I include the boorish "presenteeism" of Chris Pearce - of his own MPs shirtfronting not only Rudd but their own leader and constituents. Claims by Pearce, Mirabella, Tuckey et al that the apology would achieve nothing would be fair if only they had something more to show on Aboriginal policy for their efforts.

Nelson did not apologise fully, he equivocated; he did not apologise sincerely, he was weaselly and disingenuous. He seriously thought than maintaining his own position was more important than redressing that of those much less fortunate, and for that he stands condemned.
In brutally harsh conditions, from the small number of early British settlers our non indigenous ancestors have given us a nation the envy of any in the world. But Aboriginal Australians made involuntary sacrifices, different but no less important, to make possible the economic and social development of our modern Australia.

In that paragraph is a reinforcement of the old Aborigines-as-victim mentality. Liberals such as Howard and Nelson claimed that welfare reinforced that mentality , and that they were trying to repudiate it. Yet, here it is: non-Aborigines made this country, and all Aborigines did was get in the way. Nelson would have you believe that Aborigines have made no active contribution to the nation, and only by being pushed aside could the new nation be born.

Australia is not a 'brutally harsh' country. Where I live is rather pleasant. Poms who've come here are far better off than they would have been had they continued to waste away on that consumptive little island off the coast of France. This is true of those who came two centuries ago as it is of those who came two weeks ago. That prosperity was made possible because Aborigines were, in every sense, disenfranchised.

It was that point in Nelson's speech that people turned their backs to him. At that point it became clear that he came to piss in the well from which reconciliation was to be drawn.
In some cases government policies evolved from the belief that the Aboriginal race would not survive and should be assimilated.

Yes, they sure did. This was a silly assumption from both a moral and practical perspective, and it should have been repudiated. It wasn't. It is easier to forgive those who stumbled around in their own blindness once you undercut the notion that they really had a valid point. The small kindnesses that flickered in the darkness of that policy seem all the brighter once it's clear that such darkness is a thing of the past.
Our generation does not own these actions, nor should it feel guilt for what was done in many, but not all cases, with the best of intentions.

This could apply to any episode of Australian history. I didn't fight valiantly at Gallipoli, but then I didn't assault any Egyptian stall-holders during training beforehand, either. This is straw man stuff, and denies one's own role as both product and agent of history.

The intention being apologised for was to passively exterminate the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It isn't genocide, because that's an active and violent policy.

Nelson quoted from confidential evidence tendered to the Wilson enquiry, and acknowledged it as such; then apologised for quoting someone without attribution, then repudiated that apology, the weasel).

In the instance Nelson quotes, there is nothing well-meaning about the actions of the police; nothing at all. He has undermined the case he would put.
It is reasonably argued that removal from squalor led to better lives – children fed, housed and educated for an adult world of which they could not have imagined. However, from my life as a family doctor and knowing the impact of my own father’s removal from his unmarried teenaged mother, not knowing who you are is the source of deep, scarring sorrows the real meaning of which can be known only to those who have endured it.

It follows therefore that if you undercut people's sense of self, anything you might be given, however grudgingly and niggardly, will never make up for that. It wasn't well-meaning to offer trinkets and baubles to patch over a profound wrong.
Let no one forget that they sent their sons to war, shaping our identity and place in the world. One hundred thousand in two wars alone gave their lives in our name and our uniform, lying forever in distant lands; silent witnesses to the future they have given us.

What does this mean? Fighting racial superiority in Japan and Germany gave that generation an excuse to practice it here?
Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Australians lie alongside one another.

Aha, so Aborigines did make a contribution to this country! I knew it!
Neglectful indifference to all they achieved while seeing their actions in the separations only, through the values of our comfortable, modern Australia, will be to diminish ourselves.

It is perfectly possible to reject the idea of assimilating out Aboriginality in all its forms without "indifference to all they achieved".

Speaking of indifference:
Alcohol, welfare without responsibilities, isolation from the economic mainstream, corrupt management of resources, nepotism, political buck-passing between governments with divided responsibilities, lack of home ownership, under-policing and tolerance by authorities of neglect and abuse of children that violates all we stand for, all combine to still see too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living lives of existential aimlessness.

Firstly, these elements are present in non-Aboriginal Australia. Second, Nelson should have had the guts to link this collapse of civilisation as a partial victory of the very concerted attempt to undercut Aboriginal society, for which the apology was tendered.
Annual indigenous specific spending by the Commonwealth has increased by 38 per cent in real terms to $3.5 billion

This is arse-covering by someone who spent part of the past decade in Cabinet, and does nothing for those who spent the past decade waiting for some benefit to manifest itself from this extraordinary amount.
Sexual abuse of Aboriginal children was found in every one of the 45 Northern Territory communities surveyed for the Little Children are Sacred report. It was the straw breaking the camel’s back, driving the Howard Government’s decision to intervene with a suite of dramatically radical welfare, health and policing initiatives.

No it wasn't, it was the excuse. The report was released years beforehand, and the intervention did not address - and in many cases went against - the issues raised in that report.
... the case of a four year old girl drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing petrol.

What did that have to do with the Stolen Generations? This was lurid and prurient in this context, serving not to apologise but to vindicate the henchmen of this great wrong: see what happens when you let Aborigines to their own devices?

It is a straw man to claim that no removal of any Aboriginal child from a toxic moral and physical environment is ever justified. Of course it is justified for all children to be spared such grave danger. Being Aboriginal in itself, however, is no danger to anyone; and those who believed (and still believe) otherwise were (and are) wrong.

It is not the Liberal Party's responsibility to make excuses for white supremacism. The bashings of Chinese goldminers in the mid-nineteenth century, the dictation test and the White Australia Policy, the appalling colonialism in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands; none of these warrant any bullshit about people meaning well. They were mistakes, the motivation behind them is abandoned, and thus we can reap both non-material and material benefit from that.

The Liberal Party should have repudiated the idea that Aboriginal identity should be systematically bred out of people, not engaged in the very sort of hand-wringing equivocations of which they frequently accuse 'lefties'.
I challenge anyone who thinks Aboriginal people get a good deal to come to any of these communities and tell me you wish you’d been born there.

At last, a dollop of humanity: but there is no reason why Aborigines should have to live as I do. This isn't moral relativism, nor is it an opening for child molestors. Aborigines live their lives, I mine. Most Australians respect this, Nelson and the Liberals should too.
[Neville Bonner] lasted two days [at school] before the non Aboriginal parents forced his exclusion.

What was well-meaning or compassionate about that? It was pig-ignorant and benighted, a prime example of the sort of policy for which the apology was tendered. Nelson missed this.

It was smart for Nelson to invoke Neville Bonner, wrong of him to do so as a token whose spirit and policies were missing from the speech. Would Bonner's life really have been richer or better had his wise old grandmother been substituted for some white woman?
We honour those in our past who have suffered and all who have made sacrifices for us by the way we live our lives and shape our nation. Today we recommit to do so - as one people.

This demonstrates that Nelson has missed the whole point of what was being apologised for: je ne regrette rien. One people, an assimilated people?

When Abbott describes Nelson's speech as "magnificent", he is patronising his leader. He meant well, poor Brendan. He did his best. But his best isn't good enough. Just as Stevie Wright missed his date with Fleur, Brendan Nelson has missed his date with destiny, and it is a shame that no mailman has dared to point out to him why.

We will now see the Rudd Government turn its attention to WorkChoices, free of any responsibility to follow up the apology - if not with direct compensation, then the indirect compensation that might even out the inequalities - that a sincere and focused opposition might have enforced.

12 February 2008

What are AWAs for?

Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) exist to enable employers and employees to trade away workplace rights and obligations that neither want, in favour of those they do.

It was silly of the Coalition to seek to impose AWAs on the very battlers (those earning average incomes or less) whom they relied upon to stay in government. The mooted compromise of extending AWAs to those at or above average incomes, such as those earning top dollar in labour-starved remote mining communities, was sensible and made the bureaucratically cumbersome no-disadvantage test unnecessary.

You could argue that Julie Bishop is going into bat for AWAs because she's from Western Australia, and is acutely aware of how necessary they are. Forcing highly-paid tradespeople in the Pilbara into the Edwardian machinery of awards is silly, and diminishes those from the labour movement who think they're doing workers a favour by insisting that all working arrangements must involve them. The mining companies can fight their own battles with the government.

It is more than understandable, it is to the good that Bishop would seek to both lend her support to positive policy, and to make the Government feel clumsy in its management of the perennially politically sensitive area of workplace relations.

That said, stories like this just don't help readers understand what's going on. Malcolm Colless hasn't thought about what has happened in federal politics over the past year or so, and he hasn't thought about what he's written. On that basis, it's not worth reading and it isn't worth having Colless report to Australian readers about a phenomenon he just doesn't understand.
Hopefully it also signals an end to the attack of the guilts that has gripped the Opposition since its defeat in last November's Federal election: guilt over losing this poll, guilt over its policies and it seems even guilt over having a majority in the Senate.

So any reassessment by a political party newly turfed into opposition is an "attack of the guilts", Malcolm?
Sensing this and capitalising on the despair within the Coalition the Rudd Government, and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard in particular, has been taunting it with claims that it has no right to exercise this power because the electorate voted with its feet on Work Choices.

How does that compare with the caring and sensitive way that the Howard government dealt with its Opposition, Malcolm?
Brendan Nelson, who is giving a very good impression of a transitional opposition leader ...

No disagreement there, but a fairly barbed aside in the current context. Let's hope there's a point in this sentence:
[Nelson] ... muddied the waters early on by rushing in to announce that Work Choices was dead. This ill-timed move played into Labor's hands and effectively pulled the rug from under the Howard government's industrial relations reforms that go back to 1996 when it introduced AWAs to enable more flexibility in negotiations between employees and employers on a one-to-one basis.

I'd suggest that having a majority of seats in the House of Reps and a sworn-in ministry "played into Labor's hands" more than anything Nelson could or couldn't have done. What is meant by "rug", exactly? I've heard legislation referred to as a "raft", or a "package", but a "rug"? Is workplace relations legislation like the Wizard of Oz: you have to believe, believe, believe to make your dreams come true?
The simple fact is that this system worked very effectively until the Howard government decided to remove no disadvantage provisions

Worked very well for whom, Malcolm? There is something pathetic about grubbing $100/week off a long-serving and lowly-paid employee. No wonder the business community did not rally to Howard's call to support WorkChoices by donating to the Liberal Party.

Does the role of WorkChoices in the Howard government's loss of office in a time of plenty warrant no examination at all, Malcolm? Nothing, only utter abandonment or strapping oneself to the mast?
Howard believed that in a situation of full employment workers had the upper hand in market negotiations.

is it possible that he was mistaken? Just possible?
... a fear campaign driven by Labor and the unions that created a perception of across-the-board exploitation of employees, particularly young people.

What it created was dissonance, the perception that one might not share in the economic bounty that Howard had apparently worked so hard to bring about. It's understandable that those who work in the media should overestimate its importance, but it does not make it any more true that your fellow citizens are sheep.
It now emerges that, faced with the increasing likelihood of election defeat, the Howard government considered an industrial relations rescue package that included a proposal to effectively scrap junior wage scales by removing discrimination on the basis of age.

This no doubt would have won applause from young voters who had been marching away from the conservative government in droves but employer organisations were unimpressed and forecast economic disaster if it went ahead with the strategy that was then abandoned.

Thank goodness those turkeys are no longer governing us, eh?

As a teenager on the NSW Central Coast, I saw my peers competing for the only jobs going in that area - retail jobs - with women in their twenties and thirties who were more motivated and had better understanding of customers and stock control than your average teenager. All the teenagers had going for them was junior wages. Many employers decided to wear the extra expense to get more reliable employees.

Far from being "no doubt" aimed to attract young voters, this policy threatened both to cut the first rung off the employment ladder for young Australians, and to hope they wouldn't notice until after polling day. The "marching" imagery is silly, as younger voters are the most difficult people to organise and control in the manner implied by "marching". 2007 was not 1968. It is probably more accurate to say that the conservative government marched away from young Australians and their future. Applause is fleeting, Malcolm; you can't take it to either the bank or the ballot box. It was silly for conservative strategist to seek "applause" from people who were ignoring them, assuming that's actually what they were doing.
Whatever the merits or pitfalls of this strategy, born out of despair, the result was that Labor was able to wreak maximum electoral havoc on the Coalition over Work Choices.

The merits of the strategy are determined by how well it prevailed, given the advantages of incumbency enjoyed by those who formulated it, as well as the multi-million-dollar advertising campaign funded by the then government (which Colless, strangely, does not mention).
Killing off AWAs will simultaneously undermine democracy in the workplace by stripping away individual rights while bestowing disproportionate power on the unions that have become increasingly irrelevant.

"Killing" is a bit emotive, isn't it Malcolm? Did individual rights in the workplace not exist before 2005 (when WorkChoices was first passed) or 1996? Is it not possible for the government to come up with a compromise in which unions are present, but neither omnipresent or excluded? Surely placing power in the hands of the irrelevant is a temporary measure, as we have seen.
Bishop is correct when she says that Labor's claim to have a mandate to roll back Work Choices does not give it the right to disregard all of the Howard government's industrial reforms, including AWAs.

No, she's not. Labor's claim to have a mandate (much like the Coalition's in times past) enables it to abolish all, or some, or none of the measures introduced by previous governments. There may be merits for retaining or amending certain measures, but debating these merits is not the same as denying any right to make the changes for which a majority of the electorate has voted.
The Opposition cannot allow itself to be intimidated by Labor on this issue.

And even if it did, how would the result be different? How is sticking to a failed and rejected policy evidence of non-capitulation? John Howard was boxed into unsustainable positions because he didn't want to appear weak, when defending the indefensible was actually the weakest thing he could have done. Why should the Liberals defend the indefensible, and how will this help their claim of being able to govern Australia going forward?
the risk of a wages explosion driven by increasing inflation will rise sharply once AWAs are ripped away.

Again with the emotive language, "ripped away". What about the proposal for AWAs above average earnings, Malcolm? What about Gillard's statements about a common-law instrument that might fit this purpose, Malcolm? A press gallery correspondent with your experience has no excuse for ignoring these things. Clearly, you don't have to be part of the labour movement to run a scare campaign.
It is a depressing reality for the conservatives that, having lost power after 11 years in Government, they almost certainly have further to fall before the tide turns and they will probably face at least two terms in the political wilderness.

Depressing for whom, Malcolm? Do you think that clinging to demonstrated failure will make a worst-case scenario more likely?
But while they struggle to bring about internal structural reform they must shake themselves out of their state of denial and get on with the business of being an effective Opposition if they expect to be taken seriously. And taking a leaf out of Kevin Rudd's me-too policy book is not the way to do it.

What about John Howard's me-too policies that so infuriated Keating in 1995-96? They work, and given that the Coalition haven't put a foot right since Rudd became leader, it might be best if you stop undermining your own positions, stop trying to ignite damp squibs, and tell us what's going on.

Malcolm Colless: your analysis of the political situation needs to improve for your credibility to survive beyond the end of the Howard government. If Milney can do it, you can too.

11 February 2008

Twilight of the monarchists

Those of us who support an Australian republic should hope that John Howard becomes Australia's first knight in twenty years.

At a stroke, the monarchist myth that the Queen is a figure above politics would evaporate. The myth that the support base of monarchists crosses party affiliations would go too, as those who support the monarchy and did (do?) not support John Howard, or vice versa, are few and far between. I believe that the monarchy is firmly anchored in the past rather than the future: the rise of Sir John Howard would render such an image inescapable, with the predictable harrumphing by David Flint only cementing this.

The "not this republic" crowd who helped scupper the 1999 referendum, led by people like Ted Mack, would not be able to ally with the monarchists over those who would strive for some sort of Australian republic.

If he cared about the Australian monarchical system, Howard should reject a knighthood. But that would be to place institutions above self, and Howard did not get where he is today by doing that. He and his wife would rather swan around like Lord and Lady Muck. This would help do the republic's work for it, and attract nobody to support the monarchy who hadn't already done so.

Too long silent

The Liberal Party looked to be out of power for a generation in 1972, but just under three years later it was back in government - led by Malcolm Fraser. His article on the Liberal Party is long overdue, and the problems he describes not unique to Victoria.

It's one thing for someone like me to complain about the Liberal Party, but it's quite another for a former Prime Minister from that party to do so. The issue about plebiscites across the party membership really is the only way to break the power of factions, and to place responsibility for them onto all party members. Those who put the Liberal Party where it is today could claim a monopoly of political sophistication, while those of us kicking against the bricks could be confirmed in our marginalisation.

The issue of branches and their linkage to specific geographic areas and electorates remains a structural flaw in the Liberal Party, and presumably in other parties too. Fraser offers no answers. He is spot on with identifying the fear social conservatives have of broad debate: that fear has been reinforced in recent years by the paranoid Darth Vader-style monomania of US Vice President Cheney, but it began from dissatisfaction with the dissent in the Fraser Government that eventually saw it unravel.

Journalism: when all other options are exhausted

Imagine my surprise when I saw some actual journalism coming out of MSM coverage of Canberra. Now imagine how absolutely stunned I was to see it coming from Glenn Milne. This is the sort of piece that really makes a difference in understanding how this country is governed. He doesn't just use unexamined quotes to pad out an article, like Jason Koutsoukis or Alan Ramsey, and nor does he use them as intellectual crutches like Josh Frydenberg or Greg Barns. This is examining the facade presented by politicians and contrasting it to the reality behind. This is pinning down the hot air around climate change. This is proper journalism.

Milne knows that what doesn't get funded doesn't get done, and what a government does and doesn't is the essence of governing, and the raw data people will use to hold government to account. This, we need.

I could be unkind and say that Milne has nothing else to do now that he's no longer being handfed morsels of nothing by Peter Costello, but I won't. Long may we see articles like this on how the country is actually being governed. I can forgive silly affectations like "Let me explain" if this is the quality that we can expect from the new Milne: if not, all the more reason to go him because he's capable of the good stuff and yet opts for the same fluff as everyone else.

10 February 2008

Think about it

It seems that John Roskam's straw-man work has spread throughout the organisation he heads, the Eye Pee Yay. Thankfully this peanut holds an honorary title, but it's the thought that counts: the thought that attacks can be prefabricated, targetted at imaginary abstractions and used to develop useful perspectives on government and society - abstractions that seem to wheel back and smite those who launch them. Chris Berg shows you don't need to be a committee to produce poor outcomes.
There is a strange fantasy held by many serious people in politics that if you get enough experts in a room, some sort of magical consensus will emerge and everything will be wonderful.

Really? Where, whom?
Given that it is unlikely the Rudd Government will adopt any of the summit's proposals - at least, none they weren't already familiar with - the 2020 talkfest is unlikely to do too much harm.

What a silly set of givens this is. The government is expected to commit to ideas that haven't been thought through yet, so that even Chris Berg could go them.
No doubt the proposals from 2020 will be as pedestrian as those produced by the half-dozen "future-oriented" conferences around the country each year. That is, we should do more on climate change, spend more on education, infrastructure and innovation, engage more with Asia, the republic is the most important issue facing Australia today, children are our future, and on and on and on.

Not much credit due for foresight there - where is the straw man who seriously believes that the republic is that important? I suppose that any progress on these issues will be step-by-step, incremental changes to the forward positions of individuals under their own locomotion - i.e., pedestrian. Berg's use of the word seems to be pejorative. Strange.
So if the only big idea behind Rudd's education revolution was to set up an education committee at a gigantic conference, it's hard to avoid wondering why we bother having revolutions at all.

Assuming that was the 'only big idea', Chris.

We've just had 11 years where any idea that departed even slightly from an already-decided official line was attacked, not on any intellectual level and not in terms of competition, but in petty, sub-Keatingesque ad hominem attacks on individuals who dared question that the policy of the incumbent government was in any way sub-optimal. Nobody expects this hundred-flowers thing to go ion indefinitely, but getting people's ideas engaged with the machinery of government will be a nice change from what had gone before. If you're going to have an education revolution, for example, you need the whole unruly bunch of educators involved. That's revolutionary, and that's the point, Chris.
After all, what great idea ever came from a committee?

Well, I won't count those wackers on Mont Pelerin if you won't. Do the Wright Brothers count as a committee? Does the IPA? Led Zepplin? The Diet of Worms? The AIF? Geelong Cats?
The dirty secret of Australian politics is that conflict makes good government.

Not really. The Howard government ramped up the conflict, and government got worse rather than better. "The blame game" is only a game until it becomes tiresome, which it has.
The idea behind Federation was that the states would compete to develop the best public policy and that the Commonwealth would do the things that the states didn't. If they start working closely together, as Rudd has assured us will now happen, it will only further erode our critically weakened federal system.

I'd love to see an example where this competition yielded positive results: a better way of teaching maths, or running hospitals, anything would do. You have 106 years of examples from 1901 to 2007, go to it Chris. Give us something to be sorry for that which has disappeared, other than a vague dream.
Similarly, trying to get business and government working together is fraught with difficulty. Usually, the only things business want from government are money or protection from competitors. The only thing governments want from business is help achieving political goals.

And when the government works with the "community", it inevitably ends up consulting special-interest groups who harbour ideological views not shared by the community as a whole. It is us, as citizens and consumers, who get the raw deal.

Yep, that governing is difficult Chris - not sure what solution you're offering there, if any. It's difficult, therefore not worth doing?

I liked this self-defeating argument best, the intellectual boomerang that smacked Chris Berg on the back the head thus:
It would be easy to run a country on consensus if everybody shared the same views. But not only do people disagree on means, they also disagree on ends ... special-interest groups who harbour ideological views not shared by the community as a whole.

Having established universal agreement as a fantasy, he then criticises government for not even attempting to struggle toward a fantasy, which would, one assumes, make it easier for someone like Chris Berg to complain.
The 2020 summit is more than just a happy-clappy approach to governing.

Is it? I thought you started your article saying it was exactly that, that and nothing else.
Rudd has to be careful that his eagerness to build "consensus" doesn't leave the Government open to interest groups and poor policy.

But could you expect anything else from a government, Chris? If so, what would it be?

- Andrew Elder is a Senior Mountebanke and Pifflemeister-General at the Politically Homeless Institute, similar to the IPA but less well funded and much more poorly edited.

Et tu, Jase?

Nobody was a bigger booster of the idea that Peter Costello should become Prime Minister than Jason Koutsoukis. Now he's suddenly realised that his career's work - no, its very aim - has turned to dust.

If ever there was someone who had a lot to be modest about, it's Jase. At the time he was putting Peter Costello's pocket lint into words, stuff like this was eminently foreseeable:
Unfortunately for future generations, not many jobs and industries will be generated by money tied up in houses.

He must seriously think people will believe guff like this:
The principal architects of this mess are John Howard and Peter Costello

He's tried to counter this by borrowing someone else's credibility:
According to University of Western Sydney economics professor Steve Keen, one way to do that would be to link the amount of money banks can lend to a certain multiple of the property's estimated rental income ... Introduce a policy like that overnight and it would cause an instant crash in the property market, so, Keen says, it would have to be introduced over a long period of time.

Oh well, at least you tried Jase. Shame about the lack of analysis of the very sort of idea that every experienced journalist knows will be doomed in Canberra.

Then, Jase tries the generational warrior angle:
If cashed-up baby boomers had been less crazed in their pursuit of property over the past decade, we might have avoided the housing affordability crisis ... In the meantime, today's generation of wage slaves can get on with the task of paying off the mountain of debt bequeathed to them by the baby boomers.

This column is about five years too late, in contrast with last week's exercise in premature ejaculation. Jason Koutsoukis has no credibility, yet The Age gives him a run: I dissect his articles like this for the same reasons that medical students practice on cadavers: you can develop a sound opinion by refracting it off something - like Jason Koutsoukis' credibility - whose viability has long passed.

09 February 2008

Dust to dust

Brendan Nelson would have been a stronger leader if he had stood up to support the apology to the Stolen Generations.

Yes, it is time to talk of Brendan Nelson in the past tense.

There are two groups within the Liberal Party who oppose the very idea that we should apologise to Aborigines who were removed from Aboriginal families as children. The first is the National Right, and the second are a bunch of shellbacks from WA. Neither have much to offer the future of the Liberal Party, and none will play an role in maintaining, let alone boosting the Coalition vote in 2010. If Brendan Nelson stood up to them over this issue, he would demonstrate a moral courage he had lacked since he joined the Howard Cabinet. On a pragmatic level, he would strengthen his leadership: these jokers might get their noses out of joint, but where would they go? Turnbull? Abbott? Either Bishop? Staring down that lot would have given Brendan Nelson a reputation for strength and conviction that could make Rudd's equivocation a weakness rather than a strength.

Oh well. Too late for that now.

It's hard to deal with unexpected events, to react in such a way that works to your longterm benefit. It's easier if you have some forewarning, so that you can react effectively: the ALP have been saying for a decade that they would apologise to the Stolen Generations. It's stupid to be 'wedged' by such an eminently foreseeable issue. It's poor leadership, and it makes it hard impossible to sustain claims that the Coalition will bounce back easily into government at the next election.

The whole idea of the apology is to set Aboriginal policy on a new footing. The whole idea of the Nelson leadership is to recast the Liberal Party ready to govern Australia again. In theory, both could work: but if one is pitted against the other then it is Nelson that will go down.

The government is not obliged to release the text of the apology ahead of time. First, Howard used to insist that Labor support its policies without releasing the details. Second, it would rob the occasion of any impact. Third, people who are not clearly and fully committed to the principle of that being discussed could not be expected to negotiate in good faith.

Brendan Nelson could've had a role in reshaping a troubled relationship that has always stunted this country: his flaws in the Education and Defence ministries could have been rendered trivial in the face of such leadership. With that sort of leadership you could blow off the crusties that stand between the Liberals and the government of this country, and hammer any slips that Rudd may will make.

But, let us have no more of that. There is no way his response to Rudd's apology will be impressive, or even adequate. The task of younger Liberals who would reshape popular opinion of the Liberal Party to make it suitable for government, already difficult, has been rendered next to impossible.

To invoke an image of reconciliation for an earlier generation, imagine that picture of Gough Whitlam pouring red dust into the hand of Vincent Lingiari. Now imagine Brendan Nelson doing the pouring, with prevailing winds blowing the dust into his silly face. Imagine the empty black hand extended toward someone who can't deliver. That is the image of the Coalition today.

06 February 2008

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

The "tough guys" of the Liberal Party's right wing have operated in the shadows before the rise of the Howard Government and during it. Now that they are in the public eye their power is bound to diminish.

The so-called National Right is built upon three individuals: Nick Minchin from Adelaide, Eric Abetz from Tasmania and David Clarke from Sydney. Before he imploded you'd include Santo Santoro in that, but these days nobody wants to include Santoro in that or anything else. All of them built their powerbases within the Liberal Party by shunning contact with the media, and dissolving the standing of well-meaning but insecure Liberals with abuse, branch-stacking and nonco-operation with people whom party loyalty would normally oblige them to co-operate. All have a record of replacing diverse and interesting individuals within the Liberal Party who are capable, but who are disdainful or neutral toward them, with people who are totally loyal to them but who are capable of little beyond such blind loyalty.

The Liberal Party is weaker for the influence of the National Right. The process of replacing diverse but capable people with drones has buggered that Party in WA and Queensland - the nation's two fastest-growing states - and Victoria is on the same track. They will smooth the dying pillow across the faces of the Liberal Party in their states too, if they have their way.

Minchin was State Director of the South Australian Division of the Liberal Party for a decade, a period largely coinciding with a longterm Labor government. Labor gradually sent SA to the dogs throughout the 1980s but the Liberals Minchin put up were so unimpressive that Croweaters kept voting Labor, and so Labor kept stuffing the state. Having the Liberals put SA onto a secure footing would have required the cultivation of diverse and sensible Liberal candidates for state parliament, more responsibility than Minchin was prepared to bear.

South Australians only voted Liberal when the credibility of Labor had completely collapsed. Dean Brown stood up to Minchin to win in 1992, much as NSW's two Liberal Premiers realised the party officials were more hindrance than help in winning state government. Minchin got his revenge by rolling Brown and replacing him with a mannequin from the window of John Martin's, a proven loser whose only talent was loyalty to Minchin and whose only achievement was to turn an enormous Liberal majority in the state of Playford into a deficit.

Minchin was a prime mover behind WorkChoices. Howard and Costello bear some blame, but it was Minchin who pushed it with the Coalition Senate majority from 2005. Whatever your feelings about that legislation, it would have brought together ideological purity and smart politics if business had trumpeted this legislation and rushed to support the Liberal Party. Instead, business shunned it and donations dried up: Howard was reduced to begging publicly for the business community to put its money where his mouth was. This was appalling political strategy, and should have destroyed Minchin's reputation.

Today the Liberal Party in SA is a shambles, exactly as Nick Minchin wants it. The state parliamentary party has no capable people to choose from and no people capable of recognising such a person should they slip past Minchin. It has no capacity to appeal to marginal seats in order to win state government from the PR dolly currently running that state, however much this frustrates committed Liberals, or South Australians wanting an improvement in public policy that doesn't happen in a political monopoly. Federally, as long as Minchin is at the top of the ticket he doesn't care who else gets elected: the known limits off Downer, the textbook-case hack Southcott, and the minor irritant of Chris Pyne (you can't win 'em all, and a useful foil against accusations of Stalinist control).

Now that he's the guy who threw Brendan Nelson in the deep end, Minchin should receive more scrutiny from journalists, beyond just an anonymous source for bitchy quotes about his colleagues. His tin ear for politics has even seen Abbott and Heffernan support the Stolen Generation apology, but Minchin remains convinced it's bad for business and no actual evidence will convince him otherwise. Evidence is for those who can't bluff, and Minchin's self-image is of a master bluffer. Nelson should call Minchin, and would be a stronger leader for doing so, but instead he's dancing with who brung him and looks like going home early.

Eric Abetz helped undermine the last most recent Liberal government in Tasmania. Like a Tassie Devil he screeches and scratches in the dark, but is timid and vulnerable whenever the spotlight is turned on him. His Santamaria/Reverend Lovejoy intonationnnns are ridiculous and he's slow on his feet in interviews and in Senate repartee. It is hard to believe that he's effective as a backroom operator, and repeated public exposure will only make him less so.

Abetz's performance over the closure of the perpetually unprofitable vehicle factory at Tonsley Park was indescribably silly. He wanted to imply that the Liberals would not have allowed it to close and that their hearts bled for soon-to-be-displaced workers. This is the sort of policy that the Fraser government practised as core business, the sort of policy that rightwingers have decried bitterly for a generation: and now here's one of their own doing his best impersonation of Ian Macphee or Tony Street.

Industry Minister Senator Kim Carr is a weak link in the Rudd Government. John Button he ain't: Carr is a shrill leftwinger whose antipathy for capitalism often slips out, the sort of person rarely found more than three blocks from Lygon Street. With Abetz shadowing him, however, Carr is safe. So much for the idea that rightwingers are more formidable opponents to Labor than moderates.

It suits Labor to have such dolts running the Liberal Party, puppetmasters who are themselves muppets. This is particularly important in the Senate, where the changed composition after 1 July will require the building of cross-party agreements in order to get legislation through. Minchin and Abetz sneered at the sort of compromises Robert Hill had to make to get legislation through, but in a similar position themselves they will have less success.

The evils of David Clarke have been covered in this blog and elsewhere, and while Clarke remains in the shadows his influence is no less malign in both state and federal politics. Barry O'Farrell has to take on an ineffective state administration and a membership stuffed with too many Clarke placemen for it to rally to the appeal of victory that Askin fostered in the '60s and Greiner in the '80s. When the Coalition lost NSW state government in 1995, the apathy at the meeting of State Council immediately afterwards was palpable.

Federally, we are more likely to see voter-repellent candidates like Alex Hawke and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells than the sorts of people who might craft an appealing post-Howard Liberal Party as a vehicle for governing state and nation. Clarke runs the Sydney branch office of National Right, vital to little-staters like Minchin and Abetz in order to magnify their importance, and hence all the more important for the Liberal Party to eradicate as a prophylactic to future success.

The responsibility for stuffing the state divisions ultimately comes down to John Howard. Howard saw that powerful Premiers with secure powerbases in the states, like Bolte, Askin, Bjelke-Petersen and Brand, could stand up to a weak Prime Minister and bully the occupant out of the power of his office. It is a weakness of both biographies of John Howard (that dull fiasco by Barnett/Goward and the somewhat better Errington/van Onselen effort) that they don't explore this.

When the Liberal Party gets tired of losing, it will get tired of these jokers. Their power, and hopefully their commitment, will fade once their silly utterances receive both close and wide scrutiny. For a generation they have worked toward the sort of model of rightwing government that has already failed under George W. Bush. The idea that they are working toward the realisation of such a government in Australia - like Howard, but more so - is ridiculous. It'll never happen, but it keeps them going. It may have helped Brendan Nelson become leader of the Liberal Party, but it's an even greater hindrance (insurmountable in Nelson's case) to him becoming Prime Minister. Several Liberal MPs are going to lose their seats as a result of the muppet show that is the National Right.

Given that the National Right is doomed, the question is: what terrible beauty will follow? Those who were protégés of the hapless moderates that gave us Howard will be the beneficiaries of any collapse of the National Right in terms of controlling and driving the Liberal Party vehicle where they will, but like so many dogs chasing a car you have to despair for what would happen if they caught it.

Update 8 Feb: Minchin loses it. As a former Finance Minister, the best Minchin could have hoped for was the sort of job Turnbull had 15 years ago. In Adelaide. Now, if there was only one such job going it would go to Alexander Downer before him. A dinosaur waiting for extinction.