23 February 2009

Milney's emissions

Glenn Milne has lost the ability to communicate with people about politics because he has missed the point about what politics is. Maybe he's got Oscars fever and wishes he was in LA rather than Manuka, as you can see from drivel like this:
the Government was actually undergoing a real crisis over whether the global financial meltdown would give it the cover it needs to dump its Emissions Trading Scheme in its present form. Which would have been important had voters actually noticed.

I blame the lousy, self-indulgent press gallery, Milney. Your employer, your whole profession is going down the tubes - and there's you, with your long and distinguished record of bringing environmental issues to the attention of the wider public and their elected representatives, you're whinging about attention deficit disorder (the fact that others aren't paying you the attention you'd like). Your confusion is obvious:
And who could blame the public for being transfixed? The Liberal script was compelling. Curtain Up: Helpless blonde heroine tied to Ghan railway track by erstwhile friends and supporters. Climax: Train approaches relentlessly en route to Perth.

Milney, little milney, the Ghan runs north-south between Adelaide and Darwin. A train going west to Perth would miss anyone tied to that track. Junior journos get chipped for howlers like that. Senior Press Gallery Doyens should know better.

What makes you think "the public" is "transfixed" by a hoary old cliche that didn't even survive the era of talking pictures, which was obsolete by the time Federal Parliament first met in Canberra? Just because you're a hoary old cliche doesn't mean we all are.
The truth is the opportunity cost of having missed the chance to nail the Government over its ETS dilemma is only one of many going by as the Liberals fail spectacularly to resolve their doubts about Malcolm Turnbull and their yearnings for Peter Costello.

The fun ain't done, as you know: the Liberal-Green committee investigation in the Senate is the most interesting political story since the election - and of course you've missed it. The very idea that the Rudd government might be playing the hare against the Liberals' tortoise is a prospect that haunts all progressives.

Whose yearnings, by the way? Have you noticed that those who once, um, pined for Costello no longer do, and vice versa? Isn't that interesting? Would you call them yearnings, or is Costello becoming more like William Hughes Mearns' man upon the stair? What are our chances of getting a (frightfully well-connected) press gallery doyen to write about that?

Rather than draw on that experience, though, you've been sucked into flattery:
... in the middle of last week a senior member of Labor's NSW Right emailed me with their analysis of what's really going on with Kevin Rudd. What was truly surprising though was their request that I publish it. I can only guess on the assumption that a crippled Opposition lacks the wit to shine lights where they need to be shone.

What follows is a fascinating account of how Rudd has gone about shoring up his power base inside the Government.

How easy it is to draw this little man away from any issues of the day: load on the flattery and dangle un harengs rouge, and he's anyone's.
So eloquent is my emailer I'll let them take up the tale: "When Rudd came to power in late 2006 it was on the back of a strange grouping," they write. "Essentially it was recognised by Rudd and his supporters that the only way that he could get the numbers to execute Beazley was through a deal with Julia Gillard, that she got Deputy Leader and on that basis would deliver her supporters and a majority of the Victorian Left through (Victorian powerbroker) Kim Carr.

"This was an unholy alliance.

That's it? Hot news from three years ago, all publicly available at the time? Pretty sad idea of eloquence, Milney - though I guess if you hungered for eloquence Canberra isn't where you'd go.
... upon coming to power Rudd has moved quickly to consolidate what every leader before him has had at some time: the firm following of the NSW Right.

"The former NSW premier Bob Carr is a close confidant of Rudd and has been instrumental in persuading him of the necessity to form this base.

"Carr (was) horrified to see the control that Gillard (had) in deciding the ministry (witness Joel Fitzgibbon, Simon Crean, Kim Carr, Warren Snowdon, Brendan O'Connor: all Gillard supporters). A key player in the Rudd leadership battle and also the restoration of the NSW Right has been Mark Arbib, first as secretary of the NSW Party and now as a senator.

In other words, the NSW Right has made as much of a hash of Canberra as they have of Macquarie Street. If Arbib weaves his special magic then Gillard might be stepping up sooner than she might think.
"Rudd ordered support for Arbib's efforts and has encouraged the rise in profile of his lieutenants. As everybody knows Rudd's media office ruthlessly centralises and controls the media appearances of ministers. With this control they have been able to ensure that Arbib, Chris Bowen (a trusted Arbib and Rudd loyalist) and Jason Clare (seen as a future talent) have been awarded regular media appearances to aid their profile.

Bowen comes across like a hack in his column in the Herald, a poor choice on their part and ultimately not doing Bowen many favours. Jason Clare could, if he works hard and keeps his nose clean, become the next Alan Cadman or Gary Nairn. Something to look forward to, eh Milney?
(Arbib has his own column in The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney).

Yeah, but so do you and nobody reads that either. Arbib is the next Stephen Looseley, but without the charisma or the FDR Fun Facts.
"Second, Steve Hutchins has been told he is to go as he has been a vocal critic within the party over Rudd's leadership and largely is seen as an unreliable waste of space.

Apart from his criticisms of Rudd, though, you'd hardly call Hutchins a waste of space because, um, because, oh I can't fight it - Milney, your interlocutor is just as much a political doyen as you. Now that Alan Ramsey has retired, nobody else can wield the extensive blockquote quite so well as your own self. This paragraph is proof that this is not a hatchet job, enjoy it while it lasts.
Graeme Wedderburn['s] ... job is to control Rees and ensure that (the) NSW Government does not hurt Rudd at (the) next election.

Great, another reason not to vote Labor. The Euthanasia Man can best represent New South Wales in dealing with the crucial issues of our time? Let's hope he gets nowhere near any infrastructure spending (I mean real infrastructure, not fixing the toilets at Marginal Heights Primary), every toll road in Sydney can be blamed in part on this clown. C'mon Milney, do I have to do your job for you?
"Arbib's targets are: Joel Fitzgibbon, seen as closer to the Victorian Hard Left (especially Kim Carr and Gillard) due to his support of (former Labor Leader Mark) Latham and Gillard.

"Robert McClelland, seen as a real gentleman but plays no active role in the Right.

What a political matador this Arbib is: first he targets a minister who is more than holding his own, at a particularly crucial time for the nation. Then he targets a nuf-nuf who's tired and ready to go anyway. The idea that McClelland is both "a real gentleman" and "plays no active role in the Right" is, of course, a tautology: the conjunctive "but" is misplaced.

At a time when our legal system must confront:

  • the adequacy of corporate and prudential regulations;

  • federal-state relations;

  • privacy and the accessibility of toxic content on the internet;

  • our changed and changing relationship with Aborigines;

  • the reach of foreign treaties; and even

  • basic human rights (remember them?)

Why have such a weak link in the key position of Attorney General? Is this not an indictment of Rudd? I couldn't have imagined an Attorney General who'd make Ruddock look good. Never mind scoops from three years ago Milney, that is the story to be written. You could even force Rudd's hand - goodness knows George Brandis won't do it.
... there are those who ... stress that Fitzgibbon is a favourite of Rudd's who's performed extremely well in Defence, and who Arbib supports.

So does our Defence Minister, in a time of war, have the Prime Minister's full support - or merely his "full support"? That's another story - with all its implications - that a grown-up political correspondent like Paul Kelly would have written.

Apart from a spot in Cabinet, and the scalps of big game like Mr Stroganoff and Tired Bob on his belt, what does Arbib want and why?

Milney's latest would have been an appalling article had it not been so typical of this stunted, ridiculous little man. So many important issues left begging, a career utterly wasted and what should be a fatal inability to tell eloquence from flatulence. Don't anyone dare ask for public support for newspapers so long as ink is wasted upon this twerp.

19 February 2009

The right whinge

Malcolm Turnbull has apparently realised two things this week. First, whether or not he becomes Prime Minister is largely out of his control, in terms of what economic policy may or may not work in the face of the "unknown unknowns" of the Global Financial Crisis. Second, he now understands that he must, like all successful leaders, put his stamp upon the Liberal Party: because left to its own devices the party organisation will help no-one.

I've said before that I think Turnbull has blown it with his niggardly neither-one-thing-nor-t'other response to the GFC. However, Andrew Norton points out that the Liberals stood firm against the opposite policy merely twelve months ago, and as things are so uncertain who knows? Turnbull's efforts depend entirely upon the success or otherwise of the Federal Treasury (there is no evidence that Wayne Swan is doing anything other than following the Treasury line; his statements do not come from any sort of Labor tradition, nor do the draw upon The Thoughts Of Chairman Kevin in any real way. When Keating or Costello departed from the line the absence of Treasury gruntlement was immediately obvious). The actions of the US and EU regulators, not to mention the so-far silent creditor nations, are yet to be felt.

The one thing Turnbull can do is clear out the Augean stables that is the Liberal Party apparatus:

  • Recent stories that Turnbull is determined to get rid of Federal Director Brian Loughnane, who defers to nobody in the ALP for his determination to lose elections for the Liberal Party.

  • Sir Alan Stockdale, Federal President, has done nothing to get the Liberal Party positioned for victory: no identification of promising candidates, no money raised, no structural reform, not even any policy ideas. A burnt-out shell of a man, utterly redundant.

  • Job-snob Tony Abbott, the inert object over which Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and now Jenny Macklin have climbed and who wanted back the job he was working toward as Manager of Government Business - namely, Manager of Opposition Business.

Actually, doing over Abbott was a masterstroke. It confirms the result of the vote on RU486: you can, for all that strut and bluster, screw Tony Abbott with total impunity. Once more people start to realise that his career will truly be over. It would be another indictment of the NSW Liberals if there were no other candidates than him for their preselection for Warringah.

So too, the Victorian Liberals should no longer be treated with kid gloves. Whatever advantages may accrue from making the Liberal Party in that state a Costello monoculture is dwarfed by the prospect of Brumby getting re-elected (with the real prospect of a Liberal government in NSW!) and having that state become a Conroy-Carr redoubt federally. Costello should be challenged in Higgins by someone with something definite to offer the future of that party in that community. In Kooyong, Costello is only supporting Frydenberg because he would have targetted Higgins as the next softest option - not that Frydenberg promises the Liberal Party anything more than his own mediocrity as a new standard to limbo under, but the only good he might do is to encourage others who may otherwise be daunted. Michelle Grattan is wrong to truckle to the readership of The Age with crap like this:
Coonan, like Turnbull and Hockey, comes from Sydney. The reshuffled team continues to marginalise Victoria, which doesn't have any representation in either the Liberal leadership group or the key economic trio.

So? It's to the credit of Andrew Robb that he's more of a national figure who could just as easily have found himself a seat pretty much anywhere, but Robb's quiet and reasonable persona wouldn't have cut it and Grattan knows it. Like Ralph Willis, Robb would make a better Treasurer than a shadow, and at least we can be spared the crocodile tears from people like Michelle Grattan saying things like "personally I like Andrew Robb, but he doesn't come across well on telly, does he?". Get some talent in there Victorian Liberals, not just Costello mini-mes like Smith and Fifield.

Cory Bernardi was a self-indulgent prat who did nothing for those in his shadow portfolio - disabled people and their carers, people who could sorely use some effective representation and championing within government - let us hope this is the last we hear of him. Insofar as he'll do anything at all, Fifield will patronise and smirk at these people who work harder and are better than him.

While it's true that Pyne can be a bit of a ponce, he hasn't yet blown his chance (mind you, in his role as assistant dramaturg of Australia's best subsidised and most boring theatre, he is unlikely to make for smart tactics on the floor of parliament), and much can be said for a man whose enemies are all fools, clowns and shits. The rightwingers had it all their own way under Howard, and they should be big enough to cop the (ever so slight) readjustment taking place now rather than just bleating. Buck up, people! Anyone who whinges more than Christopher Pyne or Marise Payne did under Howard ought to be regarded as too weak to be a conservative.

Hockey showed the right amount of steel in taking on Ian Burgess at AMP when he was company regulation minister, compared to the truckling to mendicant industries you get from Nick Minchin, Tom Switzer and other rightw(h)ingers. Hockey is smart and works hard, and will almost certainly grow into the role of shadow Treasurer.

If Rudd really is going to mire Australia in a swamp of debt for no net gain, and if Australians really do pay too much tax, then perhaps the tax system needs an overhaul - yes, tax, the very issue that Malcolm Turnbull used to draw attention to himself as more than just another backbencher, and which so irritated Peter Costello. Turnbull can outmanoever Swan on tax, because Swan is only doing what Treasury tell him to - if Treasury get it wrong Swan will be exposed, and if there's a semblance of a sense of direction among the Libs then people will turn to them. As John Quiggin points out, Costello is a nostalgia act only rather than someone capable of forward thinking and reform, so he's hardly the threat to Turnbull that some of the sillier commentators would have you believe. Tax should be the battleground for 2010, something that should rally moderates and tories alike - on any other area of policy the Liberals (under any leader) have no chance.

15 February 2009

Playing the long wrong game

Julie Bishop has had a fair go, but Julia Gillard is wrong to make her out to be some sort of fall girl. Bishop knew what she was getting into, she had her chances, and she simply isn't what the Liberal Party needs right now in a deputy leader.

Julie Bishop has had a fair go at being Shadow Treasurer. She was a good minister outside Cabinet but now she's out of her depth. For all his failings, Wayne Swan has the Federal Treasury advising him, and Bishop does not - Bishop's job is made harder, not easier, by Coalition Senators demonstrating their pissantry to Ken Henry. She has failed to master the brief of shadow treasury, and shows no leadership on economic matters within the opposition, let alone beyond it. She should not go into another role because any Cabinet role would be too hard for her, and the deputy leadership is not a consolation prize.

The shadow treasury should not go to Hockey or Robb, because neither are true believers. Neither of them are baffled by the public rejection of John Howard, neither of them think that wondering What Would John Howard Do? is the way forward for the Liberal Party.

Tony Abbott should become Shadow Treasurer. His shortcomings are well defined and he is a "job snob", in that he refuses to do the shadow FAHCSIA job to which he has been assigned. However, he truly believes that tax revenues go up in a recession as rates go down, he truly believes that nothing is worse than debt, and he is truly undermining Malcolm Turnbull in his rodent-like way. When Abbott said anything particularly stupid, Turnbull could simply contradict him in a back-me-or-sack-me standoff. You'd bet that Nick Minchin wouldn't waddle off to the loo while a Senate division was taking place over one of Tony's powerplays.

Stand up and fight, ye conservatives! Do you think Churchill would have hid behind some banker, bleating about "clear air" and distinct difference from the socialists? What about John Howard shirtfronting Hewson in the final week of the 1993 campaign, that's political courage for you! Let's have a red-in-tooth-and-claw conservative take on all this Labor debt head-on! Anyone else is just not going to have the conviction necessary to crash through. Put your best man up and if he succeeds, then bully for you.

Malcolm Turnbull's deputy needs to be someone who can smooth his rough edges, a sounding board both for Turnbull himself and a backbench feeling left out. The deputy needs to be someone who can keep everyone focused on the job at hand, someone not quite so polished or thrusting as the leader. Someone who is a conservative, but not to the point where (like Abbott) they're linked closely to this deadshit. No, I can't think of anyone like that either, but that's what they need.

Conservatives, like the communists many of them were, fancy themselves as playing the "long game". Their trouble is that the game changes: neo-conservatism is behind us not ahead, the current economic predicament alters the once-immutable rules about regulation, and neither Aborigines nor carbon have turned out to be the "passing fads" that they need to be for conservatism to maintain its conceits. You can only lie doggo for so long until people start ignoring you. Stand up and fight the rearguard action for Howardism! If you really believe far-right-isn't-far-enough, then now's the time to save the 2010 election. It's not the lefties who are in the marginals any more, a swing against the Liberals could produce a party room that doesn't give Nick Minchin the respect he is due (you can stop that cackling right now).

Start by vacating the deputy's role. If you've got the numbers to roll Helen Coonan and Marise Payne, you can roll Julie Bishop. Put in a true believer and accept the verdict. If the people reject John Howard again in 2010, have the good grace to accept the verdict and leave the Liberal Party to those looking for a new direction through these different circumstances, someone who can beat Rudd by the only effective measure - the dreaded "me-tooism".

Update: Larvatus Prodeo gave me a going-over, see my feeble efforts at 60, 61 and 64. Alex Hawke for Shadow Treasurer!

12 February 2009

Stimulating the Murray-Darling

Senator Nick Xenophon was right to reject the government's stimulus package because it did too little for the Murray-Darling. Accuse him of stuntmongering-as-usual if you will, but he is there to represent the people of South Australia and they need a less polluted river more than they need a new road or school assembly hall.

The Rudd Government was wrong to refuse the extra $3b on an already extravagant bloated large package. Signing Kyoto was easy - the failure of Penny Wong and Peter Garrett to address the impending failure of this river system would be the fatal flaw of the Rudd Government, but for the fact that the Opposition are so inept they cannot exploit this issue effectively. What is the point of having the Nationals if they can't nail Labor - particularly a Labor government led by Queenslanders, who've stolen so much water they don't know what to do with it - on this issue?

What more important piece of infrastructure is there than a healthy river system? It's more important than the Hume Highway, more important than the Dalrymple Bay coal loader, even more important than the entire motor dealership industry. Pony up you people and be quick about it.

The Greens have failed profoundly in not joining Xenophon on this. They've been mollified with vague promises about renewable power, but I'll bet a lot of that is "clean coal" and the like. Look what happened to Meg Lees when she was bought off with a hill of beans over the GST and know that it can happen to anyone.

The government will reintroduce the bill to the Senate, apparently, but they have missed the point. Sure, the government might get a double-dissolution trigger, and an election it would almost certainly win; equally sure is that South Australians would re-elect Xenophon so that crow-eaters might also drink. After the hurlyburly's done, the Murray-Darling basin would still be dying, a clear example of political failure, an indictment on this generation of Australians and one that could well undermine the ability of the political system to solve this country's problems.

The Rudd Government could stick to their guns and risk the same result again (and have the satisfaction of a double-dissolution trigger: good luck raising campaign funds while the economy is tanking, particularly in NSW!). Or it could bend to Xenophon and spend the money on the Murray-Darling. Never mind Xenophon - it would be the ultimate wedge to the Coalition to have Labor looking after Australia's rural communities and industries while its city-slicker leader groused about money.

Turnbull has strong grounds to stand on as a champion of the Murray-Darling if (only) he so chose, as steward of John Howard's $10b initiative in 2007. If he has softened his opposition to fiscal stimulus, he should insist that the expenditure have lasting and substantial benefit. This is one of Turnbull's few escape routes from the predicament that he and his find themselves in: eat Xenophon's lunch.

Yeah, every interest group is getting in for their chop while there's billions in the offing - but again, good luck with making the case that your hobby-horse is more important than the Murray-Darling Basin. Everyone has a vested interest in the viability of that river system, nobody has an interest in the catastrophe that would follow its failure.

04 February 2009

Do something

Kevin Rudd has correctly identified the two main threats to Australia: the climate and the economy. He's doing more on the latter than the former at the moment, but any measure that addresses both will be seen correctly as either a winning move, or well-intentioned and ultimately harmless.

Malcolm Turnbull has done as much as he can on climate, given the dead weight he carries behind him, but it isn't enough to demonstrate that he gets the problem and has the answers. As far as the economy goes - he's practically abandoned the field. The monster that is the GFC just won't be appeased by ritual sacrifices such as tax cuts; the grab bag of tricks that saw off Kim Beazley or Mark Latham just won't do.

I'm no economist, and it may well be that Rudd's latest stimulus package falls into the classic fallacy of political logic, doing something for the sake of appearing to act:

  1. We must do something.

  2. This is something.

  3. Let's do this.

However, Rudd is at least Doing Something in the face of crisis, which is more than Turnbull is really doing. If you show that you at least understand the problem, you can be forgiven for not having all the answers; if you don't demonstrate that, people will stop listening. You can be cynical and talk about getting between voters and buckets of money - but doling out the cash didn't save Howard, and if Rudd had made a coherent case for belt-tightening people would have gone along with it.

Frankly, I expected better from Turnbull. He should have taken on Minchin by now and made him a national laughing-stock. Minchin is a backroom operator who hates scrutiny, he would have shrivelled having to defend all things Howard in the face of overwhelming public rejection. With Minchin incapacitated, Turnbull would have a freer hand on environmental issues and been a bit more nimble economically. He could have dazzled us all with some out-of-the-box way of spending $15-20b, but nope - same old same old.

The reason why Rees is in such a hopeless position is because he seriously thought the AAA rating from the very clowns who gave similar ratings to subprime mortgages was worth having in the face of impending disaster. He didn't get it, and still doesn't. He might try and turn it around with a massive capital works budget, but all the political credit will go to Rudd and state government will go to the Liberals.

Similarly, Malcolm Turnbull really is dead now. It's 2009, the election is next year. Liberal MPs are positioning themselves for preselections, and the fact that Minchin and Abbott have any clout at all means that brainless hacks are short-priced favourites for the plum seats. He's a clever man and he works hard, but Malcolm Turnbull is a man trapped in fast-setting cement. Turnbull should have been more savvy about the party he leads, which involves more than the Federal Parliamentary Party.

By now, either Rudd or Turnbull needs to get the measure of the other. Bernard Keane makes the case that it is Rudd who has it over Turnbull, and his argument is persuasive; the reverse argument relies on Turnbull getting credit for foreseeing any failure of the stimulus to fend off economic disaster, but it is Rudd who will get credit for Doing Something.

The first thing that Turnbull, that slickest of city-slickers, needed to have done was to get out into the bush and prevent troglodytes like Katter and Joyce from defining him to rural voters. Here are eight rural seats Turnbull should have been all over by now, glad-handing and scone-munching his way to victory:

  • Flynn (Q)

  • Corangamite (V)

  • Braddon (T)

  • Page (NSW)

  • Dawson (Q)

  • Eden-Monaro (NSW)

  • Blair (Q)

  • Franklin (T)

None of those seats is particularly safe for Labor, and all should be expected to snap back to the Coalition as part of the swing back to the centre. Bob Hawke's first government was much more savvy than Rudd's is, yet moderate Andrew Peacock gets a lot of credit for taking Hawke to the wire in 1984. Similarly, Turnbull could have done the same in 2010, with a bit of zip and a bit of drive, making Rudd look shopworn and out of his depth. Rudd is doing what he can while Turnbull is still idling, like a Ferrari stuck in traffic on Sydney's William Street.

Nobody will give a damn what Turnbull says hereafter on, say, Defence or Education or whatever: he's missed the main game, and all he has to look forward to is that of every moderate Liberal: a human shield for those who deserve the ignominy for the position the Liberals find themselves in, Minchin, Abbott and the other Howardites.

02 February 2009

Subsidise silence

The next target for a bailout should surely be our old friends at the Eye Pee Yay. Their product is rubbish, their managers are fools, their title-encrusted minions are too many and yet inadequate - poorly monitored for quality or relevance of output.

First we had Stephen Kirchner warn us in the AFR last week that all this bailing out would transfer risk from the private sector to the public. Yep, that was the whole idea Stephen. Now we have Chris Berg, who starts with pop psychology and then veers into voodoo economics:
Presented with the biggest economic crisis in 50 years, the Federal Government first tried to ignore it and then angrily blamed it on greedy capitalists.

As opposed to whom, Chris? Ben Lee? Brett Lee? Bruce Lee? I blame Tom Switzer. Come on, we must be told.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard appears to have spent the past few months moonlighting as the liquidator for a chain of child-care centres.

I thought she was trying to ensure that parents were able to participate in the workforce by having their kids looked after, Chris. I'd rather Eddy Groves not receive another cent myself, but if the Eye Pee Yay has any ideas of achieving the same result without ... stop that laughter at once! With so many Research Fellows, surely the Eye Pee Yay would actually have a clue? A set of policy alternatives that ... what do you mean, no?
Collectively, the NSW Government is far worse than the most reckless, hard-partying, due-diligence-ignoring Wall Street CEO. When NSW inevitably goes into receivership, its citizen-shareholders will wish they could sue.

The NSW government has achieved the gold-standard of all economic rationalists, Chris - the AAA rating, which is more than anyone on Wall Street could expect. Everyone thinks they're a disaster except the economic rationalists, so you should be the last person using them as a punchline.
None of the traditional policy justifications for propping up failing companies ... seem to apply to our great bail-out bonanza.

For example, child-care organisations ... Car dealers ... the decision about which companies deserve a bail-out — and which companies should join whale oil merchants and abacus makers in the cemetery of dead businesses — is entirely arbitrary, dependent only on the political winds in Canberra.

Whale oil merchants were rendered redundant by technological change. Abacuses are still being made and sold, but as toys rather than commercial tools - again, technology. You haven't made the case that technology has rendered child care redundant. A bit of silliness in rating high-risk products as low risk is not the same as the march of economic history.

There is a critique to be made about propping up doomed industries like coal-powered electricity, if you can get it past your stablemate Tom Switzer. That's the point you should be making here, not confusing hysterical irrationality of risk assessors, spreadsheet jockeys and other mendicants with the March of Progress.
Shareholder capitalism should be pretty simple. People bet their money in the market on businesses that they think might be a good thing. They profit when they are correct and lose when they aren't. The companies that make bad decisions, or make products that no one wants to buy, fail. And the good ones survive.

And there's plenty of money to be made in the gap between "should be" and "is". Plenty of excellence goes down the toilet just because some doofus from the Club for Growth can't distinguish between a mortgage in Cincinatti and one in Carlingford, not because Progress is Marching On. ABC Learning didn't fail because children weren't adequately cared for. The Peter Ruehl routine is all very well, but if you've missed the point then your column is a waste of space. Look at all that luverly advertising clustered around your piece, Chris, and know that the advertiser's money was wasted (which may make them eligible for a bail-out!).
Bail-outs mean that people aren't financially punished for their bad financial decisions.

Financial decisions are not the only decisions to be made, Chris. Those who make financial decisions aren't competent to make them. That's the point, and you've missed it.
They keep companies afloat that probably should sink — if your business model isn't working, do something else with your time.

"Probably"? What pissweak analysis that is. It either does or it doesn't.
Bail-outs are paid for by everybody, but they're not available to everybody.

Considering the limitations that come with public funds - all that soul-destroying red tape, Chris, all those taxeater fetters - thank God we free men are spared.
Does anybody doubt that if the Government was presented with the imminent collapse of Ansett that it would have quickly ponied up the cash? At the time, the Howard government resisted the howls of Ansett executives and the unions and let Ansett die the death it deserved.

Ansett was one of the few dud companies of that time which did not feature John Howard's brother Stan on the board. Remember all those bail-outs Stan was able to pull, Chris? Do some research, fellow.
If anything deserves that title, it was the asset bubble that was burst in the crash last year.

All the downsizing and unemployment that we face over the next year is not the crisis, it is the correction.

You can't know if it is a "correction" until after the event, and it is not "correct" that productive businesses should fail and that non-shareholders should be punished financially merely because financiers have taken leave of their senses.
Things fail ... Baz Luhrmann's Australia failed to be the next Titanic.

Luhrmann aside, Australia is still afloat and the Titanic is not. The sense of enjoying oneself in the face of impending doom is a little exciting, actually, but is only so if we can be sure that economic stabilisers have kicked in and not left us to the mercy of hysterical clowns who can't tell a good risk from a bad one. Those automatic stabilisers are worth paying for, worth a change of government, and the fact that the government is ignoring geese like Chris Berg is a matter of no small satisfaction, if not pride.

Andrew Elder is researcher, editor, fundraiser and ambassador for mendicant industries at the Politically Homeless Institute.

Update: here's someone who knows more about economics than Chris Berg, if you can imagine that.

01 February 2009

The centre ground

The centre ground is where you win elections in this country. Always has been, always will be.
  • In 2007, John Howard and his supporters sneered at Kevin Rudd's "me-tooism" in the lead-up to the election. Even now, some of the sillier conservatives take comfort from this (see Tom Switzer below) - it's like grieving over a recently-ended of a relationship, but at least you're ex's new flame resembles you in some way.

  • In 1995-96, Paul Keating sneered at Howard for his me-tooism on Keating government economic policies. Howard explicitly offered olive-branches to moderate liberals. Keating's main beef with Howard was that he was being insincere, and he's since been proven right; however, Howard was very sincere in wanting to be Prime Minister, and knew that he had to track to the centre in order to get there. Howard criticised Fraser's performance in one or two areas but not the general thrust of government per se. Labor people who claimed Howard was not some middle-of-the-road politician but a dangerous radical just looked silly.

  • In 1983, Bob Hawke was busy playing down his differences with the Fraser government - he certainly wasn't promising to privatise and deregulate, much less to send union membership down the gurgler or to take Australia from one recession to another - Hawke was very sincere in wanting to become Prime Minister, and as such he was very sincere in capturing the centre ground, criticising Fraser's performance in one or two areas but not the general thrust of government per se. Coalition people who claimed Hawke was not some middle-of-the-road politician but a dangerous radical just looked silly.

  • Even in 1972, Gough Whitlam was promising to be a middle-of-the-road politician, and Coalition claims that he wasn't one sounded shrill and querulous. Three years later, Whitlam would have stolen a march on the Coalition had he pointed out that Fraser would retain non-fault divorce, land rights legislation, and even the 1975-76 Budget - Fraser's main complaint against Whitlam was that he wasn't the MOTR politician he'd made out three years earlier, and it seemed to work.

The next Liberal Prime Minister will cleave to the middle of the road, picking a few points of difference with the Rudd(/Gillard?/Shorten?) government but otherwise playing down any differences, while the incumbents go apoplectic about "me-tooism". That's how you can tell the difference between a genuine threat to the incumbent as opposed to Federal Highway roadkill.

This is why Norman Abjorensen is kidding himself. The Liberal Party might develop a secure position for insecure people by staying conservative, but it will never win government until it cleaves to the centre.
A century after Deakin’s social liberals meekly succumbed to Reid’s conservatives to combat a rising Labor Party, the social liberal dream continues to flicker sporadically among modern day Liberal supporters.

Abjorensen then goes onto define Deakinite liberalism as being concerned with tariffs and high taxation. Talk about a straw man - I knew a good many people accused of being small-l liberal Liberals personally, and none of them were calling for Gladstonian economic policies like that.
Turnbull might well try to soften the party’s more hardline policies (in the face of staunch opposition from staunch conservatives such as Abbott and Minchin), but any hopes that this heralds the start of a Deakinite revival are entirely misplaced.

If Abbott and Minchin were as staunchly staunch as Abjorensen would have them, Turnbull would never have become leader at all. Liberals can choose between vote-winning MOTR policies or they can choose the sort of nonsense that keep them out of office and demonstrate to voters that they just don't get it. Freedom of choice is big in the Liberal Party, and I'll not claim that they'll choose wisely. However, when they do get sick of opposition they will cleave to the middle of the road, regardless of whether Turnbull, Abbott or Minchin hang around.

Abbott and Minchin got their power from being Prime Ministerial henchmen. With Howard gone, and the threats and inducements of office with him, Nick'n'Tony can only be judged on their performance. Minchin is unimpressive against the one-dimensional Conroy and Abbott is a flake.
Sure, there are the disgruntled social liberals still in or close to the Liberal Party, the former Democrats without a home and fragments of an uncommitted middle class. But this is a small and probably shrinking constituency, as the Australian Democrats discovered to their peril.

I'd suggest that the Democrats abandoned small-l liberalism, in favour of the hill of beans Meg Lees got for the GST and the sudden lurch to the plastic-shoes-and-mungbeans left that followed - and that this explains the Democrats' peril. As to the remainder, it is examined more thoroughly by Possum:
I often bang on incessantly about the dubious sustainability of the twin support bases of the Coalition – the social conservative, big government demographic on the one hand and the socially progressive, smallish government demographic on the other. While neither of these two groups are particularly large in the broader electoral scheme of things, they not only make up the financial and membership base of the Coalition, but the two groups have more to disagree about on politics than they have in common.

Only when they go into opposition, Possum. In government these demographics work together to cover a fair swathe of the community. In opposition they are estranged and, in latter years, bent on mutual destruction through the creation of a landscape so unappealling (if not barren) that it is populated only by belligerent freaks.
Over the last few elections, whenever Howard ramped up the culture war rhetoric for his regional and outer suburban constituency – a bit of race and refo baiting here, a bit of poofter bashing there - his inner city base often went a bit feral. But any attempt to then appease those small L liberals and get them back on side, simply had the effect of making the social conservatives all shirty.

The trouble for the Coalition was and remains trying to balance these opposing bases when it’s really a bit of a no win game.

I'd suggest the Howard government was a four-win game for the Liberal Party as a whole. The trick was that the moderates gave the conservatives pretty much everything and got pretty much nothing in return, yet regarded themselves as winners provided you defined the term very, very narrowly.
[The safe Liberal seats selected by Possum] essentially contain a very educated, very modern industrial and employment profile hooked in to a very globalised world.

It’s hardly surprising then, that they haven’t taken kindly to culture war nonsense that not only requires nuance and complexity to be left at the door, but generally revolves around the peddling of stereotypes that aren’t compatible with the observable reality of the world they experience on a daily basis.

Couldn't agree more. It's the mark of a hack who distrusts direct experience in favour of the refracted image of pollsters. People voted against Howard because he seemed to be running a different country to the one in which the rest of us live and work (which can be said of any government that loses office, really). It will happen to Rudd Labor by and by, but this will require a Liberal Party that cleaves to the centre.

Interesting that Possum didn't include Warringah, a demographically-similar seat that continues to elect as its representative an old culture-warrior who is not particularly representative of that community; tertiary educated perhaps, but a bit more Manichean than the republic-voting burghers of Sydney's lower north shore.
The Liberals are slowly losing their inner city base - where those wealthy, socially progressive, modern, globalised citizens that for so long have been the financial and leadership foundation of the Liberal Party itself, are slowly deserting them.

Apart from "globalised", this phenomenon has been happening in Victoria for some time. The home of Menzies, Bolte and Hamer is now less inclined to vote Liberal than ever, and that party is now basically a personality cult for a leader who can't and won't lead - Peter Costello, more Bonnie Prince Charlie than Robert the Bruce.
But if the Coalition continues to play to conservative ‘values voters’ and miscellaneous bigots, as they’ve done since 1998, they will put in danger this bag of blue ribbon seats that has historically provided more financial power and leadership development for the Liberal Party than has nearly all of their outer suburban seats combined.

What do you mean, "if"? Joe Hockey is the only reason the Liberal Party holds North Sydney. The hard right are quite content withholding Mitchell and possibly Greenway and Berowra, thank you very much, and the rest of the state can vote as it pleases. The hard right are, like the neo-cons of Washington seven or so years ago, in it for the long haul. Only a good reality-based mugging can save them from electoral suicide, and nobody in the NSW Liberals today has the wit or the numbers to give it to them.
But while this inner metro demographic needs its socially progressive view of the world accommodated, the consequences of doing that are equally dire for the Coalition in the regions – not only in terms of vote trend to Labor, but also to Independents.

This is only true so long as you regard politics as a zero-sum game, forgivable in a psephologist but still a mistake. When a party, like a ship, makes its way across the stormy seas of opposition and can smell the prospects of government berths, the game changes to one of all-things-to-everyone.

Labor and Independents get votes when they have momentum and credibility. When the Liberals have these qualities, which they build through smart policy and assiduous cultivation of key interest groups, they can develop and accommodate both progressives and reactionaries. It's a difficult skill to master and you end up pissing off one or the other, but this balance - ephemeral as it is - is the very essence of electoral victory.
... what is currently happening with this demographic at the national level has already happened on a much broader scale with the Coalition in Qld at the State level - but to the point where even the outer suburbs got fed up with the political and social backwardness of the Coalition playing to their ultra conservative base.

We'll see soon enough how big that base is, and whether it is completely immune from the blandishments of Rudd, Bligh and others. We'll see if it is not suffering the intellectual exhaustion that seemingly afflicts conservatives the world over.

Until then, the best way for Liberals to govern again is to track back to the centre ground, and give the liberals something to work with other than a few tidbits from the Gorton era or Steele bloody Hall. Leave behind those who'd stick with "certainties" that are, in 2009, either uncertain or certainly invalid.