31 May 2008

Old enough to know better

This piece by Alan Ramsey was absolute rubbish. It doesn't matter how many days or weeks a political leader/party wins (how many days/weeks did Howard "win"over the last term of government, and why should anyone care?).
We've been missing the point. Brendan Nelson has been a lot smarter politically than ever we thought him capable of ... Nelson has surprised us.

If you thought of Nelson as a moron, perhaps he has surprised you. He hasn't gone from moron to genius overnight, and to contend otherwise is an indictment of your judgment rather than anything that might be said about Nelson.
... "Cabinet splinters over fuel".

It has done no such thing, but the issue continues to dominate, no matter how absurd. People understand soaring petrol prices. They care little about why. They want the Government to "do something". Rudd in a corner can buckle. Two censure debates in two days, three urgency motions, a raft of parliamentary questions daily.

Plus interviews ad nauseam on radio and TV all week.

The Parliament is Australia's best-subsidised and lamest theatre. Malcolm Fraser used to dominate Bob Hawke in Parliament, but the 1983 election rendered that "dominance" irrelevant. Paul Keating took on all comers in Parliament, including John Howard, but by the mid-'90s Keating couldn't be bothered with Parliament and Howard applied the passive rope-a-dope strategy to any attacks Keating made toward the end. Kevin Rudd outflanked Howard through the media, treating Parliament as almost an afterthought.

So what if he faced a censure motion from a dispirited and directionless opposition - come off it Ramsey, call thing paper-tiger savaging for what it is.

Brendan Nelson won't lead the Liberal Party to the next election, but even if he did he has no credibility, nobody believes he'll cut petrol excise. Nelson won't come close to winning for that very reason - that, and the fact that no signs exist of any longterm thinking to avoid an energy crisis, which is implicit in Rudd's signing the Kyoto treaty.

The whole point of retaining Alan Ramsey is to tap into his experience with politics and politicians over four decades. The idea of him going all giddy over one week, one stumble by a new Prime Minister who has taken to office more smoothly than any in recent history (discuss), and retreating into breathless inanity Annabel Crabb-style.

Then, there's Ruth Ritchie's embarrassing gushing over The Gruen Transfer.
As someone who used to work in advertising, I'm not sure my opinion should be canvassed on The Gruen Transfer, a new show about advertising.

Definitely not. The show was celebratory and not too probing, just what an advertising tosser could have hoped for. What was missing there was the justification of the means (an ad) by the end (making more money).
The advertising practitioners are for the most part entertaining and knowledgeable.

Typical advertising person: gushy, with a twist of bitchy.
The intricate filthy inner workings of the advertising industry are fascinating.

Not really. Those ad people on that show were no more interesting - indeed, mostly much less so - than the panel of taxi drivers or nurses assmbled for Andrew Denton's Enough Rope.
It may come as a shock to punters but Melrose Place's D&D Advertising bore as much resemblance to a real agency as Bob The Builder does to Multiplex. From the early days of Bewitched and the beating we took from personal association with that idiot Darrin Stephens, advertising people have always felt misunderstood and misrepresented.

And if it doesn't come as a shock, and if "punters" is a term used only by patronising wankers, what then? Far better to explore the irony of people whose job involves communication feeling misunderstood. This is like dentists having poor teeth - at some point it ceases to be funny and becomes an indication - an advertisement, if you will - of professional failure.
Some of the smartest people alive can be found in the creative department of an advertising agency

Very, very few. Some charmers, perhaps, but I'd be more encouraged by the out-of-the-box thinking of self-consciously krazy kreatives if there was any evidence of thinking going on inside said box, or by those who produce the box in the first place.
Of course, when they learn how much their guests earn to flog us stuff we don't need, they may kill half the industry.

Assuming they do "earn" what they get, Ruth, and that the link between ad and revenue is strong enough to sustain such rewards.
I'm sure all the plumbers at home feel equally misunderstood and in need of a show about S-bends.

I'm not sure they all need patronising though, good luck trying to sell them stuff.

Here were two examples of reviewers who failed to understand what it was they were reviewing, and its impact on the community which those under review would serve - and the fact that those people are the same ones who read their columns. This reading may be seen to encourage this circle-jerk of myopic reviewing, cementing the silly assumptions of otherwise perceptive writers, which would be unfortunate.

30 May 2008

No guts or glory at the coffee club

This article shows that reforming the Liberal Party requires strength, determination and vision that is currently lacking in that organisation. The NSW Libs now have no chance of holding their ground in the 2009/10 Federal election, let alone advancing their position. They will not win the 2011 State election either. I would have liked to see not only Iemma Labor out but also Barry O'Farrell as Premier - no chance of either now.

Selig, Vanzella and Webster should have held their ground and fought tooth and nail on the floor of State Council. A narrow win would have seen them covered in glory - a narrow loss would still have been creditable, even noble. Resigning the week before the ballot, leaving your supporters having stuck their necks out for nothing and abandoning them to the inevitable pogrom, is despicable.

Rhondda Vanzella is pretty much responsible for bringing Brendan Nelson into the Liberal Party. It was she who decided that Nelson should take on a sitting Liberal MP in her electorate on Sydney's north shore. It was she who did Nelson's numbers when he decided to run for Bradfield in earnest. She worked on Nelson's staff and smoothed over the ructions within the party from those who regarded Nelson as an interloper. She kept him going and kept him sweet with Howard during his time on the back bench. When (If?) Nelson looks at internal Liberal Party matters, he does so through the prism Vanzella has built for him. What little clout she has is now gone - so next time Nelson is called upon to step into some internal party ruckus, know that the little bastard is on his own. This is like Ainslie Gotto abandoning Gorton, it's politically fatal.

Say what you like about the "Pineapple Party" - at least the Queenslanders are having a go.
One senior Right source said they would have turned the branches into no more than "coffee clubs".

Coming from the sort of person who stacks out branches and then suspends all further meetings in order to exercise voting rights that the activity of the branch does not warrant, this is rich. Branches have always been coffee clubs, social units by which the party sustains itself between elections. A stacked branch is like a cancerous cell that endangers the host organism.

The Liberal Party is a machine for winning federal, state and local government elections. It should have a centralised membership database comprised of individuals who pay their own memberships, and be organised around federal and state electorates as well as local government areas. A reorganisation along those lines focuses party activity on winning seats, and because it lacks that focus the Liberal Party is a waste of time, effort and money.
Mr Selig will be replaced in the interim by either Scot Macdonald or Nick Campbell, both of whom are from the hard Right ... Senior factional sources said Mr Selig's style was the main reason the reforms were going to fail.

They said he failed to consult or listen but instead adopted a "my way or the highway approach" which alienated and angered people.

Yeah, like Campbell and Macdonald will be all cuddly and inclusive. Access to "sources" is all very well, but you've got to think about what you're writing.

The NSW Libs will vote against the pain of oncology and seek to turn a major party into a minor one, like Fred Nile's outfit or Fielding First. Selig and Webster have joined the ranks of empty vessels not worthy of the praise and promise that justified supporting them and their (admittedly imperfect) ideas. Not only will any future attempts at reforming the NSW Liberals be that much more difficult, but it will fairly be assumed that anyone proposing reforms will go to water and abandon those prepared to swap comfort in loserville for a realistic shot at government.

20 May 2008

In the short term

When (If?) wondering what the Liberals are up to, never mind Brendan Nelson. He is the symptom of a wider malaise, not the cause and definitely not the cure.

The Budget handed down last week was the sort of muddle you'd expect from the middle of a third term from an exhausted government. It was the opposite of a bold declaration of intent, and no momentum can be created from it to carry all the trooby levers through the dull, cold Canberra nights to come, year in, year out. People wanted lamb, and were served mutton - its only redeeming feature was that it was dressed as mutton.

Both the Opposition Leader and the Shadow Treasurer come from Sydney. Rudd and Swan made an enormous error in claiming that a household income of $150k is a national benchmark of wealth, one that both Nelson and Turnbull should have hammered home in the following electorates:

  • Lindsay (NSW)

  • Robertson (NSW)

  • Dobell (NSW)

  • Bennelong (NSW)

  • Bonner (Q)

  • Brisbane (Q)

  • Longman (Q)

  • Petrie (Q)

  • Hasluck (WA)

  • Adelaide (SA)

  • Kingston (SA)

  • Melbourne Ports (V)

All of those electorates are, or should be, on the Liberals' list of seats to win back next time. All of them regard $150k as a bare minimum for entry to those communities, let alone sustainability. Building a Liberal message in those areas required a clear and consistent message, on something more substantial than whether their bundy and coke costs too much. Too late now.

5c a litre saving on a 60-litre tank = $3. No sandwich, no milkshake, no thanks to Nelson and the federal Libs. It didn't even work for Fielding First - if Nelson starts being photographed with his shirt off then never mind Peter Hartcher, it will be time for him to go straight away.

It would be interesting to see which ex-Coalition staffers have popped up as lobbyists for the alcopop makers. The good news for them is that a major party will go into bat for them, the bad news is that nobody will vote against $3b worth of revenue - essentially voluntary taxation - and the alcopop makers have no chance whatsoever of getting this impost lifted. Well done at picking the low-hanging fruit and finding the grubs have gotten to it first.

The trouble is that the geniuses who come up with this stuff are the same ones who wanted to bask in the fading glow of Howard rather than build a new day for themselves, the ones who don't know whether Alexander Downer is coming or going. The reason why Malcolm Colless' latest is such crap is because it fails to answer the question: hold to what, exactly? You can't just cling to policies that have not only been rejected but are being erased and/or surpassed before your very eyes. For the Liberals, some Howard government legacies just aren't viable while others are - pretending 2007 never happened won't help individual Liberal politicians nor that party as a whole in regaining office.

Pieces like this imply that debate is open-ended and may lead to outcomes that are not yet clear (in this case, it also reinforces a natural but unrealised affinity between social and economic libertarians, but that's by-the-by). When someone like Minchin or Julie Bishop says they're "happy to have a debate", what they mean is a Howard-style debate, where a decision is presented as a fait accompli and you can talk about it as much as you like but it's going ahead whether you like it or not. People like Malcolm Colless go weak at the knees about this kind of "decisiveness", but it suffers from the problem identified by Popper that the lack of corrective feedback leads ultimately to system failure. Disunity is not always death and there are surer, faster routes to political death than the luxury of re-examination from the freedom of opposition.

All policy ideas from clowns like Abbott, Minchin et al are going to be piecemeal and short-term, that's all they've ever been. The exhaustion of American conservatism augurs poorly for their capacity to take the Liberal Party forward.
The strangest section of Nelson's speech was his tour d'horizon of the nation's economy going back to the Keating years, which framed the period under John Howard as a flawless golden era. Defending the legacy is a necessity for every vanquished government, but Nelson took it too far. In the end, he veered close to scolding the public for kicking out the Coalition.

Hardly strange, Carney: here the Liberals are saying in clear English that they can't and won't differentiate between baby and bathwater in the ejection of a Liberal government, and thus can offer no reason why voters should reverse their verdict.

Yes, I said a Liberal government - when have the Country/National Party contributed so little to the Coalition as they have since Sinclair's day?

The best indications of Liberal challenges to the government are pieces like this, which dare to take on Rudd in an area where he's perceived to be strong. To take on Rudd you'd have to do your homework, and clearly Trood has: a few failings by foreign missions could wear down Stephen Smith and go to the heart of Rudd's agenda, do that enough times and you've got him rattled. The people close to Nelson, Turnbull and Minchin don't even think stuff like this is important, when it actually both undermines the foundations of the status quo and charts out what might replace it: too hard for the "hard". Sure, foreign policy wins no votes but this sort of quality analysis across other areas of government do make for a coherent platform not only for opposition - but for government. If you can't do it, get out of the way.

18 May 2008

Counterfactual: If Whitlam had lost the 1972 election

The Liberals learned a lot from Richard Nixon's demolition of George McGovern in the US elections of that year. Young Sydney lawyer John Howard was dispatched to Washington to work closely with the Republicans, where he forged lifelong friendships with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.

Howard returned and, with the help of his mentor John Carrick, worked with advertisers and speechwriters to go in hard against Whitlam's "dangerous socialism". The celebration of Australian actions at Long Tan and Firebase Coral made the Liberals appear to be champions of the national interest in war, and linked intemperate protestors to Whitlam.

When Whitlam admitted to visiting China and meeting Mao Zedong, Prime Minister Gorton shot back: "and did you at least ask him to please stop killing Australian soldiers in South Vietnam?". While Whitlam had a riposte for that in Parliament, and while history would show China did not have the impact on Vietnam that Domino Theory implied, Gorton inspired counter-protests on Vietnam which discouraged students from participating in protests. Vietnam had been positive for the Coalition in 1966, but by 1972 it was a muddied neutral.

Gorton had cleaned up his act since his near-death political experience in March 1971. He dispatched McMahon and his followers to the backbench and began addressing the areas that had lost support for the Liberals. He built bridges with the suspicious NSW division. He targeted electorates on the outskirts of the major cities, championing small-scale farmers while criticising state governments for providing too few services to new suburbs in these areas. Premiers Askin, Bolte and Bjelke-Petersen were livid but Gorton was only repaying them for their lack of support.

The 1972 election was a replay of 1961: a one-seat victory by the Coalition. Labor had turned a 39-seat deficit in 1966 to a 7-seat deficit in 1969, but the close-but-no-cigar effort made Whitlam and Labor despair of one another.

Labor experienced a generational change in 1973. Frank Crean, Lance Barnard, Frank Stewart, Charlie Jones, Jim Cope, Rex Connor, all of whom would have been ministers in the Whitlam government gave it away or were tapped on the shoulder. The Coalition did not clean out its dead wood to the same extent. Whitlam stayed as leader in 1973 due to a solid performance in the byelections. ACTU President Bob Hawke stood on the steps of Trades Hall in Melbourne and cried "do I have to come down there and do every bloody thing myself?", before announcing that he would run for Parliament.

1973: oil shock creates economic “perfect storm” that wrecks Liberal reputation for prudent economic management. Though the Gorton government completed its withdrawal from Vietnam, it failed to distance itself from US failure in the war.

Bob Hawke becomes Labor leader in 1974 and admonishes those who ostracised returning servicemen, recognising them as working-class heroes on par with returnees from other wars, deserving sympathy and support. This attracts conservative voters to Labor without alienating their base. Leftists reconcile to this by viewing Vietnam vets as victims of Yankee imperialism.

Gorton hands over to Fraser in 1974, who has an economic basket case on his hands and little room to manoeuvre politically. He tries bringing in new ministers but after 26 years in government he can only minimise losses.

Hawke leads Labor to government as a Wilson-style social democrat, doesn’t challenge tariffs or fixed exchange rates (let alone, God forbid, centralised arbitration) and spends like a drunken sailor. 1979 oil shock buggers the economy again. Hawke embarrasses self, party and nation with booze/sex scandals.

The adherence to US/UK political cycles continues when the Liberals come back to government implementing Thatcher-Reagan-style policies, deregulating and privatising. No Medicare, no car industry either. Early 1990s: Labor comes back to office with a Blair/Clinton “third way” agenda, possibly including Medicare. We would now be governed by a Bush-style conservative government.

12 May 2008

One for the price of two

The Liberal Party and the Nationals in Queensland are set to merge, apparently. Clearly, they're at the stage of:"if not this, what? If not now, when?".

I thought initially that such a merger would produce three parties (not just the united LNPQ but separate Liberals and Nationals who'd never wear the merger) rather than one, but despite the belligerent opening of this article, clearly this isn't so. George Brandis has sold his Liberal birthright for the potage of his own preselection, and Barnaby Joyce has toned down the rustic jihad against the big smoke.

The two state presidents have thrown all their political capital behind the merger and so have all the MPs and party heavies - so too, for what it's worth, has Brendan Nelson. All the conservative eggs are in the merger basket. Opponents have been bought off or silenced. Hopefully professional political failure Simone Holzapfel will be kept well away from this: there's too much at stake for her defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory talents. The fix is in, and it would appear the alternative government of Queensland has actually succeeded in solving a political problem - the first step in convincing Queenslanders it could handle their state government.

Not everyone agrees: Mark Bahnisch claims the merger is more fragile than Borg's happy-talk would have it, and Andrew Bartlett agrees that there's less to it than meets the eye, despite the misgivings of Graham Young.
While the Nationals have been promoting "The Borg" as the answer to everything in Queensland state politics, the one person who really does have the potential to change things is Mal Brough, and the effect of these manoueverings is to tend to marginalise Brough and give power to the people who have failed at every election for the last 10 years.

Brough has marginalised himself, particularly after his above-standard-swing example of electoral failure in Longman.

Still, you have to start somewhere. If people are going to talk about proposed corporate mergers like they're done deals, then why not this? The LNPQ seems more soundly based than, say, Westpac-St George, let alone the "mental" Allco-Qantas thing last year.

NSW may well follow if the Coalition loses the 2011 election, as it seems intent on doing. With NSW, the Nationals' game would be over. The Vics may also reconsider their position then as well, particularly if Peter Ryan fails.

The merger puts Warren Truss in an interesting position. One would assume that Federal LNP MPs would sit with whichever Coalition Party they felt most comfortable, as happens with the NT CLP. Fancy having a political party (the Nationals) where neither the leader nor the deputy are actual members of the party they lead!

11 May 2008

Leninist Liberals

The Liberal Right operates in intra-party disputes on a Leninist basis: where moderates are in control of part of the party they make it ungovernable, they leak and stack and conduct whisper campaigns until the place becomes a rabble. Then, they step up as the champions of Laura Norder, shut down discussion, shut down the camaraderie built in campaigns and branch activities and agreeing-to-disagree. Once that's complete, uh, they're stuck. They're like dogs chasing cars: the thrill of the chase and ferocity of pursuit is all, but they've not much to offer in the driver's seat. Labor becomes the default government as the Leninist Liberals have neither the appeal, the policies nor the charm to attract voters.

Examples include this goober, who fancies himself as the Liberal Landeryou but who just looks like a clown. He rubbishes Ted Baillieu's hard work in opposition and seriously believes that all that can be replaced by slogans:
He professes to be a small ‘l’ liberal but wouldn’t know the meaning of the word. When asked what the Liberal Party stands for under his leadership, he stumbles. All he says is that he wants the Party to be “inclusive, broad-based, young at heart and aspirational”. But what does that mean and why would it make ordinary voters want to change government? Why would they want Ted Baillieu to be Premier?

I reckon being “inclusive, broad-based, young at heart and aspirational” would be a nice change from the darkening ecliptic of control-freakery from Brumby, Rudd and modern Labor generally.
The State Parliamentary Liberal Party should stand for:

1. Safer streets and homes: being tough on crime and protecting Victorians.

2. Better education standards: getting the basics of reading, writing and mathematics right.

3. Securing our water: building a real dam for the future.

4. Cutting state taxes and stamp duty: reducing the burden of government and tackling housing affordability.

It's always stood for those things, it's just not convinced Victorians that it can deliver them. The first three points depend upon a deft interpretation of "reducing the burden of government": this is the difficult part of governing (and convincing the public you're fit for government). While Baillieu still deserves the benefit of the doubt pinheads like The Fat Controller, Julian Sheezel, and his acolyte Morgan don't.

The only way these clowns would be useful is in the ironic sense, were Baillieu to rise in popularity by knocking over
But unfortunately we need a new leader to make that happen.

Case not proven. You need a new job Morgan, dealing with the "ordinary voters" whose interests you would champion: something east of Burke Rd perhaps.

Then there was this pathetic admission:
"The thing about Brendan was that he's never had a plan. Beyond getting the leadership, he has had no blueprint at all about where he was going to take us," a prominent Liberal frontbencher and Nelson "supporter" told me. " You need somebody brave ... with a plan, without fear, somebody who doesn't sit around wondering if the time is right." With supporters like that ...

This teeth-pulling admission was what Nelson opponents would regard as simply a clear-eyed recognition of reality. This aspect of Nelson was clear before the election, however clowns like Minchin and Abetz didn't think it was important (you don't have to be as immature as Simon Morgan to be a lousy strategist).

Nelson was their "useful idiot". The Liberals should have turned on those who led them to defeat, and would have if they'd backed Abbott. By backing Nelson they hoped to put a human face on the Liberal Party: but it's a silly face, a nice face at times but not one to set against unfavourable winds.

Liberals built their early success against Leninists. However, once the right started letting in ex-Stalinists who'd claimed to "see the light", while smuggling all their silly assumptions and tactical obfuscations from the Push across to the Right and fooling silly people like Simon Morgan, Peter Phelps and others in the Right's Rank & Vile, the structural weaknesses of the Liberals became exposed.

The moderates have been intellectually and morally lazy. Yet, the fact remains that they and they alone can distance the Liberal Party from Labor and build an organisation that can actually win government, hold government and achieve good results with the tools available to government. They need to chip away at the Leninists, though not (as fools like Ron Phillips or falinski would have it) by using the same tactics and wondering why diffident, facile amateurs come off second-best (or worse) against committed, fired-up amateurs.

06 May 2008

Henderson's intellectual poverty

Gerard Henderson is blaming a range of organisations for intellectual failure within the Liberal Party, without examining the anti-intellectual culture within the party itself. So long as this happens, the problem he identifies cannot be solved.

The problems with Buswell or Nelson are not in the individuals themselves, but in the collective decisions that these individuals really are the best available leaders and that Liberal energies are best devoted to propping them up.
Historically, conservatives in Australia win more elections than they lose - it's just that they are not so successful in the intellectual debate.

They don't want to be, they don't think it's important. Intellectual consistency limits political flexibility and makes politicians look powerless to influence outcomes for those they regard as their clients. Nobody is more despised than the "pointy-headed intellectual" in Liberal circles.
John Howard's recently defeated Coalition government tells the story.

Indeed it does. The compromises over waterfront reform and the cumbersome, unwanted WorkChoices; the nanny-state authoritarianism of Abbott as noted below (he has been "demoted" to a position consistent with his rhetoric yet still out of his depth); the inadequate responses to defence issues; the lax approach to skills training and inflation; all these stand as indictments of the Howard government both politically and intellectually. You can't complain about intellectual failure if this is the standard to which you aspire.
An Opposition leader's lot is seldom a happy one unless election success seems evident, as was the case with Howard in 1995 and early 1996, and with Rudd throughout last year. Yet the task seems easier if there is evident, albeit minority, support in the ongoing political debate.

What a fatuous statement this is. On neither of the occasions cited did intellectuals rally to the opposition. Part of the "discipline" that both ultimately successful oppositions showed at those times involved shutting down competing ideas, equating dissent with disloyalty or at the very least rendering it unhelpful. Howard in particular attributed much of his political success to his disdain for intellectual "elites". You can't complain about lack of support from those you despise, scorn and de-fund.
During Howard's time there was considerable hype among the left about what were termed the culture wars. If such a cultural battle was ever engaged, Howard did not win it. His appointments to the ABC board did not change the national broadcaster's prevailing leftist culture.

I'm sure the view from Kirribilli compensated for the witterings of, say, Ramona Koval. Liberals and Nationals were never encouraged to apply for jobs in that organisation; indeed, such was the vituperation heaped upon it that any such ambitions would be considered career suicide.
Howard decided to fund his own think thanks, hence the generous taxpayer subsidies to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra and, more recently, the United States Study Centre at Sydney University. Neither organisation, however, has been of much help to the Liberal Party in the battle of ideas.

Taxpayer funds should not be regarded as the partisan gift of the Prime Minister, which is the clear implication of the above paragraph. The success of the ASPI and the yet-to-commence US Studies Centre depends upon a bipartisan character, and cannot be held responsible - nor compensate - for the intellectual failures within the Liberal Party. Same with the Henderson Institute, really. I have already commented about the failure of Liberal Students to storm academia the way that leftists have done since World War II. Henderson should be doing some Herbie Marcuse work to implement the only real solution to this predicament.
Now the Rudd Government is proposing to match a Victorian Labor Government contribution of $15 million to fund a think tank at Melbourne University based on the Brookings Institution in Washington ... Maybe Howard would have funded this as well. The likelihood of such a body being headed by a considered conservative is as likely as a flying pig.

See, this is just being churlish. The Menzies Research Centre should be leaving this proposed centre in its wake, or even acting as a model. It is doing neither, a hollow log for fundraising that does not translate into helping Liberals win elected office.
While the Liberals struggle to defend the Howard/Costello legacy, many former Coalition members have agreed to be interviewed for a documentary titled The Howard Years to be presented by the ABC's Fran Kelly this year. It speaks volumes for the lack of intellectual confidence among senior Liberals that they would agree to sign on to having the history of the Howard government presented by the left-of-centre Kelly, who failed to disguise her opposition to Howardism on a range of social, economic, environmental and foreign policy issues when presenting the Radio National program Breakfast in recent years.

If Kelly didn't do it, nobody would. That's the real indication of intellectual confidence. Your own performances on Fran Kelly's Breakfast, Gerard, were dull both in intellectual and entertainment terms. Acting as an apologist for policies you have played no part in shaping and are not fully informed about will do that to you.

The Liberals and Nationals do not take the intellectual debate seriously, which is why it is left to pinheads like Miranda Devine, Tony Abbott, Janet Albrechtsen or Gerard Henderson to carry the (empty) can of rightwing intellectualism. If you really want people to take on the challenge of right-of-centre intellectual development, create an environment conducive to it.

03 May 2008

The failure of Tony Abbott

This brain-fart from Tony Abbott shows that he is going to be no use whatsoever in getting the Liberals back into government. He still wears the crusty mantle of arrogance that comes from too long in power, he has no sympathy for hard-working families and is fundamentally politically unbalanced.

Abbott thinks he can counter the nanny-state government-knows-best mentality of Labor with the same mentality among Liberals. This is a mistake. In the 1980s, Liberal moderates tried staying close to Labor but failed to create product differentiation; they were replaced in the early '90s on the path back to office. While it is understandable that a long-serving government minister finds it hard to snap out of a government-centred mentality, it is important for his party that he snaps out of it. Kim Beazley failed to leave a government mentality behind and therefore could not beat the incumbent government: Abbott is going the same way.

The first two paragraphs are an exercise in nostalgia. Malcolm Fraser never indulged himself in nostalgia to the extent that Abbott does. He certainly never moaned about being demoted by the popular will or his personal finances. Abbott fans think he's a tough guy and an intellectual, but he's neither of these and much less of anything else.
... the carrots and sticks the government built into the welfare system may have been almost as significant as economic growth.

Or, may not. This is pissweak reasoning and does not help Liberals make a case for regaining government. If you lack respect for your own achievements, you can't rally others to build on them. The "sticks and carrots" is a reference to the motivation of donkeys, and ignores the fact that other incentives and assistance is required for humans. Pity there's no exploration, no interest in what these might involve.
The Howard government was "radical" because it departed from a generation's conventional wisdom but "conservative" because its changes reflected the traditional thinking that the world owes no one a living.

If you're liberal you can balance out the excesses and fatuities of both radicals and conservatives. If you're like most rightwing opinion-formers - an old Leninist, unable to escape the mental frameworks of a lifetime yet with a bent for punishing-and-straightening, you're more concerned with blowing hot and cold rather than making government work for people.
[The Howard government] was convinced that welfare systems had to provide incentives and meet needs.

Other systems have to provide incentives too. You can't just build these into the welfare systems, and not do those systems exist in isolation from other systems operating throughout the community. Find out what they are and map welfare systems to them, rather than lashing extinct Whitlamites.
Last year's Northern Territory intervention legislation quarantined not only welfare payments in designated townships but also payments wherever recipients' children were not at school or were subject to child protection concerns.

People do not need external incentives to be good parents and those who are do not deserve further limitations on their capacity to provide for their children. Someone who spends so little time with his own family should baulk at the implications of being "subject to child protection concerns", a passive state from which nobody can fully escape.
A government that is serious about ensuring that welfare payments are used for the benefit of families is likely to stick with the present territory system.

This raises the further question: if the automatic quarantining of welfare payments is just and fair in remote Aboriginal townships, why not implement something like it elsewhere? Just as the Community Development Employment Project was a form of Aboriginal work-for the dole which eventually became generally applicable, why not set aside - for the essentials of life - half the government payments of all welfare dependent people with young children?

Welfare-dependent families don't have much disposable income. Quarantining 50 per of their benefits could help to ensure a roof over their head and food on the table.

He really does believe that government knows best. He really thinks all individuals in all communities should be further limited in the options open to them. He really does believe that he cares more for other people's families than they do themselves. Even where he cannot prove that a welfare recipient won't provide for dependents, Abbott would treat them no better than the irresponsible and self-destructive, decreasing incentives for self-reliance and independence.

Rather than consider policy from a government-centric perspective, he needs to get amongst people on welfare, find out what it actually takes (rather than "may" take) to get people off welfare. It's labour-intensive but it is the only way to beat Rudd: to make government work for people rather than the reverse.

02 May 2008

Wrong again, Roskam

The Friday night funnies strike again, counting the ways that John Roskam is kidding himself and the otherwise sensible readers of The Australian Financial Review that he has any sort of insight into public policy in this country.
... it's no surprise that a "tax review" was one of the ideas to emerge from the 2020 Summit. In the absence of any specifics about such a review it was easy for summit participants to agree to it ... Only a brave person would have opposed the review. And only an especially brave person would have said: "Wait a minute - should we trust a brand new federal Labor government with a review of the country's taxation system?".

As opposed to whom, John - should this be the preserve of the unelected cranks of the Eye Pee Yay? Who else but the duly elected government is better placed to review, and amend where necessary? Bravery is not the quality required for a silly idea to prevail. Australian voters knew the consequences of having one party govern and federal and state/territory level, and they voted for it anyway. The proposal that came out of the 2020 summit seemed pretty clear, more so than you give it credit for; the fact that it did not have the kind of carefully-worded terms of reference you might expect of a royal commission doesn't invalidate the idea altogether.
Co-operation between a Labor prime minister and Labor premiers extends only so far. Opening up questions about revenue-sharing between Canberra and the states would provoke a brawl of Joh Bjelke-Petersen versus Bob Hawke proportions.

You've missed the point that Bjelke-Petersen and Hawke were from opposing parties, John. You've also missed the point that no Premier/Chief Minister has anything like the popularity of Kevin Rudd: Rudd holds the upper hand politically and constitutionally. He might not get his own way all the time, but who does?
Based on the experience of both Labor and coalition [sic] governments, realistically the best to be hoped for is that anything that emerges from a review is revenue neutral.

Fair assumption. Over time you'd hope for revenue savings in reduction of federal-state/territory functions, but there are too many variables to forecast that accurately.
If the government had wanted its review of tariffs to be dispassionate and analytically rigorous it would have got the Productivity Commission to conduct it. But instead the commission [sic] was sidelined.

The Productivity Commission can't do everything, and it would be amazing if it were excluded from such a review to the extent you describe.
Business organisations have convinced themselves that the Labor government will listen to them when it comes to tax. The problem with this theory is that those same business organisations did not have too much success getting Labor to listen to their views on WorkChoices.

Business organisations understand that industrial issues have a certain resonance inside the Labor Party that non-industrial issues don't have. Howard lost the WorkChoices debate not because of too much negotiation with business organisations, but too little. It remains to be seen what extent the government has or hasn't listened to business as the legislation amending WorkChoices hasn't yet come to light.
Business should not delude itself [sic] into thinking that the trade union movement will not be intensely interested in a tax debate.

Who said it [sic] did, John? This is a straw man if ever there was one. Nobody is going to be ambushed by a feature of the Australian political landscape standing for over three decades.

And wasn't the ending a load of patronising cobblers. You can't really help anyone who's stuck in 1983, and unlike John Stone he has no excuse for this.

01 May 2008

Walk like a man

Troy Buswell is not good enough to become Premier of Western Australia and he should stand down.

This article is your standard pissant political reporting piece: who's up, who's down, who's challenging and who's staying put. It's also morally empty, not just in terms of the chair-sniffing and bra-snapping (and failing to mention his role as Crichton-Browne's messenger boy) but in terms of foreshadowing how inadequate a Premier this man would be. Nobody cares what he may or may not say to CEDA - his credibility is so shot that nobody would believe he'd have the capacity to pull off his proposals.

This support is meaningless. If any member of Nelson's frontbench was as silly as Buswell, Nelson would have to sack them. The idea that he'd have confidence in someone he wouldn't be able to tolerate on his own frontbench is meaningless, and devalues the very idea of a Brendan Nelson's endorsement.

Piss off Buswell, the state and the opposition are bigger and more important than you. Barry Court should've asked Buswell to fall on his sword, and pushed for preselections to get people other than gutless NCB lickspittles into politics. Ian "orange-bellied" Campbell and Chris Ellison could have Carpenter and Labor on toast if they wanted to. Be the man you wish you were and take your toxic presence away from politics, you have no vision for government and couldn't get it up anyway.