31 January 2011

Denial is not a river in Egypt

In July 1789, as everybody knows, there was no Twitter, no al Jazeera, no David Burchill, although there was a lot of half-baked historical determinism that ignored contemporary reality. It is creepy that Burchill insists that "We are hypnotised", we are this and we are that (except for opinions held only by lefties with pot-plants), and then he disowns those opinions due to factors that are no longer particularly relevant.

There have been only two popular ideologies of consequence in the Middle East since colonialism's squalid death in the 1950s: Soviet-style authoritarianism, with its specious liturgy of anti-colonialism, and the grand, exultant nihilism of the Muslim Brotherhood and its fellow extremists.

Neither of whom, David, featured in Tunisia or Egypt to any real extent. The MB are scrambling to take credit for the Egyptian uprising but people want things that they can't deliver: real jobs in a real economy that provides those lacking political connections with a greater range of possibilities than starving, or just getting by.

Even today informed observers are hard-pressed to name consistent Egyptian voices for liberal democracy and the rule of law ...

Because they're in prison, David, or floating face-down in the Nile.

... and to find them you have to scour the Egyptian media for lonely coracles of sanity in a vast ocean of paranoia, where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion masquerade as established fact, and the historic failures of a rich region are forever passed off as somebody else's fault.

Yep, and what did you expect from media controlled by a dictatorship - lifestyle supplements? Spinster politicians yearning for love? When you scoured the media of East Germany there was bugger-all reference, flattering or otherwise, to Angela Merkel or Yulia Timoshenko or Vaclav Havel.

The fact that there is no leader of the Egyptian uprising is encouraging. Mohammed El Baradei is presented as a figurehead acceptable to the West. It is to his credit he is smart enough not to throw his weight around; it is to the credit of Egyptians that they aren't fawning over him as any sort of saviour. They seem to want a government that will allow them more opportunities - economic, civic and otherwise - than they have had (or can get) from Mubarak-Sleiman. They want more than the MuBros or even Burchill's communists (if there are any) could possibly imagine.

When you see images of burqa-clad women throwing themselves at armed police (and not in a sexual way), it's mildly interesting from a cultural studies perspective to ask how passive can these oppressed beings really be, and to watch Western journalists fail to wedge them into any sort of cliched narrative. The narrative, however, is not their problem; if they can throw off a beef-witted dictatorship they can make us think differently about who they are and what they want. A people wanting to be recognised for their efforts and talents can't focus too hard on keeping women in the kitchen. This isn't to say that this uprising promises all things to everyone (except David Burchill), but it is fair to give people a break.

In Western societies demonstrations have to be organised, usually by pissants with no ability to translate massed narcissism into meaningful social, political and economic reform. People like Danny Cohn-Bendit, Tariq Ali or Richard Neville are neutered politically by their celebrity, but celebrity was all guys like that ever wanted anyway. Western observers viewing demos are right to be suspicious, but only if they fail to imagine a society so radically different to their own that to be conservative is to be in thrall to an unsustainable fad. When the stakes are both higher (in terms of an economy that must grow to sustain its population) and more personal (there must be food on the table and meaningful work for people to do), the sort of pissantry that so often fuels demos is so overwhelmed that it can't even bob to the surface let alone waddle toward the avant-garde.

The openness brought about by contemporary media (and the fact that media space is no longer so limited that it can be hogged by wankers or commandeered by despots) is like oxygen to the fires that threaten the despotic regimes of northern Africa and the Middle East. Mind you, news from Tunisia these days has been hard to come by. Gaddafi and the Algerian regime have been very, very quiet - too quiet. Not a lot of news out of Southern Sudan, either. Because they're not putting out press releases, yer modern journalist is pretty much ignoring them.

From an Australian point of view, it's heartening that the media have started to focus on Australians with friends and relatives in Egypt. It's great that the journosphere is trusting academics to explain what is going on, recognising the limitations of their profession (and denying the arrogant notion of @tzarimas and others that "a well trained and exp[erience]d journo can do anything!" - anything but save their own 'profession'). It's interesting that the Foreign Minister should contradict the Prime Minister without a press gallery meltdown - could they be getting some perspective on an issue that's bigger than Gillard's earlobes? How willy did altPM look when he "hoped" the situation could be resolved "without violence" when twenty souls lay beastly dead? We should be grateful that Julie Bishop has apparently kept her trap shut.

Time to bring forward the release of any Wikileaks relating to Mubarak, or they'll lose currency. It will be interesting to see how the boofhead government of Israel reacts to them, and how the US will go about building bridges with people they've apparently observed so closely yet do not understand.

It will be fascinating to see what sort of societies come from these uprisings. Fascinating to see what sort of leaders, too: can I just say, in the fullness of time, they are unlikely to be the kind of stage-managed dullards we get here. They are also unlikely to be the sort of knuckleheads indulged purely for their "commitment to the revolution", like Castro or Mbeki. A few basic measures to keep the peace and secure the positions of investors will see foreign capital pour into those places. For those of us far away from these tumultuous places, all we can ask the media is to keep bringing the piccies and the analysis from those who'd know - and for the cliche-mongers, the desperate I'm-really-smart-I-am tools like Burchill or Greg Sheridan, just shut up and piss off.

27 January 2011

Dry but not high

I think the flood levy is poor policy, but it could be worse. What's worse is going in too hard against the levy and offering nothing in return.

There is a huge reservoir of goodwill toward the flood-afflicted, and the sheer stridency of the campaign by Abbott, Robb and Hockey that these people aren't worth five bucks a week is disappointing. If you'd spent the last two weeks sluicing mud and dreams out of people's lives, making do and whacking up temporary measures, you'd appreciate Gillard's worthy if dull contribution.

Those rebuilding their lives and livelihoods see Gillard's shoulder to the wheel; stonewalling drives people crazy when there's a crisis on. Abbott's position of no to this, not to that, and you can't have the other thing either, is dumb politics.

Gibbering on about fat in the budget undermines the Liberal campaign toward a surplus. Any cuts will see Liberal crocodile tears over those affected by them, without any corresponding rise in support from Queensland or anywhere else. I told you, Peak Abbott is behind us rather than ahead.

Queenslanders voted for Abbott in spades, but it's Labor who is coming through for them at a crucial time. Yes, it's two and a half years until election day but some things stay with you. Abbott is four seats from power, but frankly I'd write off the three most marginal federal LNP seats in Brisbane and just hand them to Labor right now. Colin Barnett was smart to distance himself from Abbott and if John-Paul Langbroek has any brains he'll do the same.

This is where Gillard is smart to play the tortoise to Abbott's hare. Kevin Rudd would have announced a panoply of new measures for Queensland right now, and backtracked on most of them. Yes, Gillard should investigate the idea of a natural disasters fund and be a bit more clever about tax structures - but this is all part of demonstrating how inadequate Swan is at the longterm stuff. She'd be stuffed in the face of a smart and determined Opposition, but a scatty smart-alec is much less of an obstacle than Liberals might imagine.

For the moment, Abbott is being dumb and uncaring in the face of public goodwill, while Gillard is just dumb and practical - and as John Howard would tell you, the latter will do. These floods will stay with people, as will resistance to the idea that Tony Abbott has much to contribute once the chips are down (the fitness-freak imagery counts for nothing if you're going to shirk getting up to your eyebrows in mud and sweat when people need you).

26 January 2011

Don't be shy

We at the Politically Homeless Institute warned against inserting Josh Frydenberg into key national debates. Quarantining him at The Australian was a smart move but insufficient. In this piece he's going on about nuclear power.

our Prime Minister ... needs to take the lead and initiate a comprehensive discussion about nuclear power, which happens to be the only carbon-neutral baseload energy source.

The debate on nuclear energy doesn't have to be initiated by a Prime Minister. For proponents of nuclear energy it would be best if such a debate weren't so PM-dependent, given their record of not opposing nuclear power but quietly letting it die. For example, John Howard commissioned the Switkowski Report and was happy to let the issue die; Josh Frydenberg, then a senior adviser to that government, didn't exactly die in a ditch for the Switkowski Report and is failing in an attempt to look like an Ideas Man in pursuit of one of the most stale ideas in Australian politics.

The proponents of nuclear power have not been muzzled or ignored, but they have been unconvincing:

  • Nuclear power would require a greater government subsidy than those paid to all other renewable energy sources put together.

  • It would deny investment in other clean energy sources, effectively having government pick a winner in a fascinating race.

  • Nuclear power would be much more expensive than the NBN: would it be snarky to point out that no cost-benefit analysis has been done for nuclear power?

None of these questions are addressed in Frydenberg's piece, let alone answered. He starts off weakly:

So, why is it time for Australia to have the nuclear debate? And why is it, in the words of former prime minister Bob Hawke, "intellectually unsustainable to rule it out as a possibility"?

Hawke says the same thing about the republic, changing the flag and reconciliation with Aborigines, Josh: are you going to go all the way with RJLH on those issues, too? Did you note that Hawke was Prime Minister for over seven years, and that no more nuclear reactors were built during his time than under Howard?

As a leading source of uranium, Australia has a competitive advantage;

Australia is a leading source of coal, yet power generators still play global prices for it.

as a clean form of energy, nuclear power is better for the environment;

By the time Australia's first nuclear power station generates its first power, decades will have passed (Switkowski's 2020 prediction is optimistic and vague), and will have drawn resources away from less expensive and practical solutions that can better help the environment.

and as the only advanced economy not embracing it as the answer, it is time we caught up.

No economy regards nuclear power as "the answer". Other advanced economies regard nuclear power as one element of their power needs.

The facts are compelling.

Such a pity that you use so few of them, Josh.

Australia is in a curious moral, economic and environmental position where we are prepared to export uranium, but not use it.

Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of camels and goat meat. I bought some goat meat once - more often than most Australians - and have never bought even one camel. This does not make for any sort of "curious position", it's basic economics that we trade away some things in order to gain others.

Today, 31 countries host 440 nuclear reactors, providing two-thirds of the world's people with electricity.

It's a dead-set lie that two-thirds of the world's people consume electricity generated by nuclear power. It's like claiming that Josh Frydenberg was a Director of Deutsche Bank, it is a falsehood and any cause championed by a falsehood is discredited.

The European Union generates more than 30 per cent of its energy from nuclear power. The US figure is 20 per cent and rising.

Neither of their economies are what they were, Josh. Paying too much for electricity could be part of it.

Only in Australia does entrenched ideological opposition prevail.

There are Australians who have entrenched ideological positions for and against nuclear power. Most of us, however, are unmoved by either side. If a small number of proponents think their main problem is a small number of opponents, they can think again: their major problem is apathy and suspicion brought about by a lack of candour from proponents who can't and won't talk about costs and risks. Frydenberg's piece displays all these tricks, as I'm in the process of pointing out, and thus fails to advance the debate.
It is a message the International Energy Agency's executive director Nobuo Tanaka recently carried to Canberra: "If you don't use nuclear, totally renewable energy is very, very expensive, and also it is fragile in terms of its productivity."

Fine, you can build us a nuclear power station then, we don't have the money.

Seriously, let's get down to brass tacks: would there be a nuclear power station in what is now Australia's third-biggest city? Where exactly within SEQ would you put it? What would happen if there was a "rain event" like 2011 or 1974? What would happen to a nuclear reactor in a "fire event" like Victoria 2009? Can you promise that a nuclear future won't feature fire and rain on that scale?

The pre-eminent voice in the Australian debate, Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, believes Australia can have its first reactor operating by 2020 and 50 in place by 2050, providing 90 per cent of the nation's energy needs.

Such a move would propel us a long way towards meeting our emissions targets by 2050.

Developments in reactor technology are also occurring so fast that the construction phase is likely to shrink from 60 to 30 months in coming years.

New generation reactors will also be considerably smaller, built underground, and with the potential to be gas cooled, so they would not need to be located close to large sources of water.

None of those projections have any credibility at all. The next ten years is the crucial period for carbon emissions, and the rest is sheer fantasy. Australians are a practical people and will not build underground reactors on spec - leave that to Bond villains, Josh.

Incidentally, Australian companies like Worley Parsons are involved in the construction of new reactors as in Egypt, where they are gaining an international reputation for their project management expertise.

Well, three cheers for Worley Parsons. It will take more than that to build a nuclear energy industry here: with almost full employment and a dearth of training facilities, where are the skilled workers and managers necessary to operate such an industry to come from? How much will it cost?

Today's reactors are also significantly safer than their predecessors. The explosions at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were decades ago and since then there have been thousands of reactor hours without incident.

Blithe nonsense like that gives no confidence that the lessons from those terrible accidents have been learned. European economists have attempted to quantify the economic damage arising from Chernobyl - hunt down this work Josh and crunch it into your cost-benefit analysis.

A comprehensive and informed debate about a nuclear power industry for Australia is long overdue.

It sure is, but it's a shame that Josh won't contribute to it with piffle like this.

Old lines, long discredited, can't be made new by rehashing them or doing the pot-kettle routine on ideological blinkers. Be honest about costs and risks. Be specific: I've suggested that a nuclear power station be built in SA (specifically Woomera or Whyalla) to showcase the uranium resources of that state and to provide employment for workers in that state's fading industries.

Josh can't advance a debate by pretending his opponents are any more shy or blinkered than those of his political forebears - Menzies, Howard amongst them. It would be a real pity for Josh to be regarded as a thinker and a potential minister on the basis of this.

22 January 2011

The Famous Five go to Canberra

Here is the latest PvO where Canberra hype is utterly disconnected from any grounding in actual votes cast or other manifestations of political reality.

The NSW Labor Right was formed to assert the idea that the ALP need not be beholden to communists. It also formed a nexus of anti-Lang activity, so long as that was a problem, and provided a more consensual back-room relationship with the Catholic Church than was apparently possible in other states. The structural basis for the Labor Right has pretty much gone today.

What has taken its place? Nothing. There was a bit of a sugar-rush of money and bullshit over the past decade under Eric Roozendaal, but that's pretty much gone now. None of the guys (and the fact that they're all guys is worth investigating) PvO is following around like some besotted puppy can raise any serious money, or do much else for Labor in 2013:

  • Tony Burke lives or dies on the success or failure of a comprehensive plan for the Murray-Darling basin. It might be too soon to write him off but it is definitely too soon to wreath him with garlands for doing a mighty job.

  • Chris Bowen has two options as Immigration Minister: micro (improve facilities at detention centres and generally make the system work more efficiently) or macro (change the debate so that Labor doesn't get caned, no matter what it does, for being "too soft"). He's done neither.

  • Mark Arbib advised Rudd to do nothing on the big issues, then dumped Rudd because he was a do-nothing on the big issues. No other individual is more responsible for the predicament in NSW than he (with the possible exception of Roozendaal). As Sports Minister, he's made Kate Ellis look good - Ellis started as a ditz (didn't understand the difference between rugby league and rugby union!) and ended up holding her own, while Arbib was employment minister who didn't know the unemployment rate. Everything Arbib has touched - FIFA World Cup for one - has turned to dross. That guy is going to raise no money, and can call in no favours. Stick a fork in him, he's done.

  • Jason Clare has to get some wins in Defence procurement, especially with a Budget under pressure from Brisbane and a commitment to a 2012-13 surplus. Again, too soon to write him off, too soon for the hype.

  • Karl Bitar: dead man walking.

After the inevitable happens in March these guys are going to have to show their faces in Sydney and ask, with a straight face, for money to donate to Labor. Raising money and deploying it is how you get and maintain power. Right now, and after March, the people with power are the people who will tell these guys where to go and suffer what consequences as these guys can conjure up.

It just won't happen. Any money from Sydney for federal Labor in 2013 will have to be sought by someone from outside Sydney.

PvO invokes the Carr-Keating-Richardson-McLeay-Brereton thing, a phenomenon which began to fall apart as soon as it was identified (Carr's rise saw the other four out of office. Richardson and Keating fell out, McLeay was a modest talent at best, and Brereton made a career of biting off more than he could chew). Mind you, it may be a parallel, but not one that flatters the younger generation.

While the professionalism of the Labor machine in NSW successfully sandbagged seats at the federal election, residual anger at state maladministration was everywhere.

Any successes can be attributed entirely to Liberal screw-ups, like Banks and Robertson, rather than any genius on the part of Labor generally or these jokers in particular. Arbib and Bitar made the NSW state government what it is, and are threatening to do the same to the federal government unless Gillard gets up on her hind legs and gets rid of them. After March, she will be able to do this without penalty, provided she promotes Labor Right figures from states other than NSW.

The question now is: are they assets or liabilities?

The stench of NSW Labor is potent, and the opposition will use this year to remind voters that it continues to waft through the federal party.

This is weak analysis. NSW Labor Right government has been shown to be poor government, and so the PvO Five are obliged to show how they are completely different from those who have proven failures. For Arbib and Bitar, they are the same Arbib and Bitar who contributed so much to the debacle, and they will have to prove that they are now born-again in terms of political effectiveness.

Then, there's this rather bizarre sequence:
But during that time voters increasingly began to question whether the NSW government was better at spin in order to stay in power, rather than policy achievements that earn a right to re-election.

And that is the question being asked about Gillard's government now (although frankly it needs to work on the quality of its spin as well as the quality of its policy development).

Aside from the perception difficulties Gillard will need to overcome in the short term because of having such senior former members of NSW Labor in her ranks, at a personal level the capacity for each of them individually to achieve their own ambitions in the years ahead with the state histories they are saddled with is also an issue.

Having raised the issue of policy substance parenthetically, he then returns to "perception difficulties", like a dog to his vomit. All of those guys except Bitar have huge policy responsibilities that will make or break them (Bitar and Arbib, I'd argue, are broken already). PvO owed us in-depth examinations of their tribulations and whether each really has it in them to overcome the policy challenges they face today. Gillard is under no obligation to give these suckers an even break.

They will be going up against the likes of Bill Shorten from Victoria when the time for a leadership transition happens.

But Shorten doesn't have anywhere near the baggage of the other three because of their state political backgrounds.

While Shorten did suffer in the perception stakes for his role in ousting Rudd last year, he emerged much less damaged than someone such as Arbib did. Rather than having a CV that includes a track record in a state government loathed by the public, Shorten was a senior union official urging Labor not to support Mark Latham into the leadership because he didn't believe the now disgraced former leader was up to the job.

People in Sydney will line up to give money - and with it, power - to Shorten ahead of the five clowns to whom PvO has set his cap. Shorten took an obscure portfolio (Disability Services) and reinvented it. He took Bowen's old portfolio and explained complex issues in superannuation in a simple way, achieving in months what Mr Fuel Watch failed to do over the entire last term of parliament.

Shorten's successor at the AWU also publicly participated in the downfall of a Labor leader, but hasn't learned that it is sometimes better to keep your head down and learn some lessons rather than strut about like some slow-moving target and acting all hurt when people don't clamour for you to lead them.

Labor can claw back ten seats before it even touches NSW, and in doing so it need not feel beholden to the PvO Five in any way. The Left are the key to winning seats like Bennelong and retaining Sydney, Grayndler and Banks. Any other successes for Labor will depend on Tony Abbott tripping over himself, which he will.

If federal Labor is to be successful it needs strong players out of the NSW Right to take a lead role.

Rubbish. None of the PvO Five can be regarded as indispensable, and as explained earlier the Cold War - and with it, the central role for the NSW Labor Right - is over.

It is nonsense to talk about "ideological muscle" - what ideology will fix the Murray-Darling basin, the gap between sport at the community level and the elite, or take the heat out of immigration? Richardson and McLeay didn't get where they got on ideology; sheer simple spite sufficed. There nearest thing any of the PvO Five have shown to ideological commitment is Burke's campaign against euthanasia before entering parliament.

PvO assumes that "political realities" start within Canberra and are then projected onto the country, when it is the other way around. The NSW Labor Right is facing annihilation and cannot survive anywhere - Macquarie Street, Canberra, wherever - once its ideological, voter and financial support collapses. The Democrats collapsed in the community, then their votes collapsed and all that activity by Lyn Allison and whoever else came to nothing; so it is with the NSW Labor Right. I don't care whose feet these clowns have sat at, the question is who can reinvent the principles of a bygone era to the challenges of today and tomorrow? None of them have or can, and because this includes PvO then may we soon see his "analysis" fail so completely that he is simply never heard from again.

21 January 2011

What's in it for us?

The UK Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary have visited Australia and spoken with their counterparts, which is nice. They even wrote a piece for the paper on how important this is for Britain.

Nobody in Australia's mainstream media, apart from the grossly inadequate Greg Sheridan (of whom see more below) has bothered to consider what this might mean for Australia. Are the UK going to help us in trade with their Eurobuddies (well, those that have the readies to spend on our products and services)? What Australian foreign policy aims are helped by a close and productive relationship with the UK? Which of those aims are harmed or in any way limited by an Australia-UK relationship that is less than fully engaged?

Are they going to help us in any way at all? Most of their article is generalities and fluff (we're all concerned about cybercrime and terrorism). Hague and Fox mention North Korea, and while UK forces played an important role there in 1950-53 their presence since then has been scant. Having the UK weigh in to the Korean conflict today is about the same as having them not do so. The last time the Brits showed any real foreign policy interest in this part of the world was during the 1960s, fighting for Malaysia in Konfrontasi with Indonesia while retreating from colonial interests.

A hundred years ago Australia adopted many governmental institutions from the UK, but in recent years the reverse is true and looks set to continue. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have state parliaments just like those of Western Australia or Victoria, and England is clamouring for one just like it. Even London has a dinky municipal government not dissimilar to that of the ACT. The London Olympics is being run along the same lines as the Sydney Games of renown. The Bank of England, formed almost a century before the first settlement at Sydney, has been restructured in the same way as the Reserve Bank of Australia. In the wake of the GFC this country's prudential regulatory system will be grafted onto the City; there won't be any of that Montagu Norman nonsense as in the 1930s.

So, the UK wants to increase their trade with Asian countries - ah, so they're a competitor. This is significant for Australian foreign and trade policy, and should have an astringent effect on all that treacle about shared ties. For the first time in two centuries, the UK is no longer among our top ten trading partners. UK retailers are flocking to open stores in Australia's solvent cities while the same is not happening in reverse (another reason to despise Gerry Harvey et al in their bellyaching about online sales from foreign websites). Am I right in suspecting that there is a great deal for the UK in an improved UK-Australia relationship, while there is a real possibility that (warning: inevitable sporting analogy coming up), as on the Test cricket pitch and Fortress Twickenham, we Australians are being played for mugs.

It is significant that the News Ltd papers haven't made more of the Hague-Fox visit for the sake of cross-promotion in the company's UK brands. Tony Blair would have given News Ltd as much facetime as they could handle, if not more so. Greg Sheridan's blimpish effort is an an attempt to assert his employer's importance and to address the idea that there is a lot for Australia in such a relationship. Could News Ltd be declining in power in UK public life?

To describe the UK-Australia relationship with "intimacy", as Sheridan does repeatedly, is nonsense. It implies a reciprocity that was never forthcoming from London, however much I-did-but-see-her-passing-by loyalty went the other way.
Some Poms, especially journalists, can still be condescending and cliche-driven when they consider Australia.

I didn't know Greg Sheridan was a Pom.
Blair frequently referred to Australia as Britain's "closest ally in the Asia Pacific". But apart from the Five Power Defence Arrangements, which link Britain and Australia in the defence of Singapore and Malaysia, there is no formal military alliance between us.

In other words: Blair was just blowing smoke, Greg, wasn't he.
Blair and Howard ... were polite but noncommittal [at the idea of a closer Australia-UK relationship]. Blair joked to me that perhaps Britain and Australia together could invade China.

Did Blair make a joke to you, Greg, or of you?
Downer responded thoughtfully and you could see the idea taking up residence in his head.

No wonder Downer retired - when journalists can see your neural pathways at work it's time to get out.
Blair responded with immediate enthusiasm and relish. So did Howard. Thus AUKMIN was born.

And bugger-all came of it, just another part of the ISAF discussions over Afghanistan and Iraq, with a bit of camouflage about Our Long-Standing Shared Interests over the more difficult aspects of these negotiations.
No British foreign secretary has visited Australia since 1994 ... the main UK-Australia talking points were Paul Keating's attacks on British policy in World War II and his couching of his pro-Asia policies with an anti-Europe tinge ... [there was] a certain reluctance on his [Hurd's] part to repeat the experience.

Not to the point of dereliction of his official duties.

The elipses in the above quoted paragraph represent Sheridan big-noting himself and his opinions. Compare it to the original and you see that nothing is lost in the editing.

Never mind the outsized role for Greg Sheridan, it is amazing that John Howard or Alexander Downer should have spent a decade in office before they even considered the idea of closer ties with Britain, or that it would be worth doing. One of the first things Howard did as PM was get himself and Jeanette to London, hole up at the Dorchester and picfac themselves silly in front of the door at Number 10. You'd think he'd be able to whack up a bit of policy infrastructure to support Our Long-Standing Shared Interests. You'd think that experienced politicians such as he and Blair would take less than eight or nine years to stumble upon such commonalities.

Sheridan's final paragraph, about burrowing through Mother England's apronstrings to have an influence upon the world, is sheer utter guff of the type always promised but never realised throughout this country's history. From Lloyd George attempting to sideline Billy Hughes at Versailles, the pattern has been set: Australia exerts is influence most strongly when it resists the jowl-wobbling outrage from Westminster that we have a national interest at all, let alone the temerity to express it and work with others to make it real.

If Britain is willing to help us in some material way, or if there is the prospect of that (some clearly identified Australian objective which may be enhanced by UK co-operation), I and many other Australians would be keen to find out what that might be. Foreign policy is one aspect of public policy, and as such it should come under public scrutiny and involvement - indeed, all this guff about Our Long-Standing Shared Interests tends to imply this. What we need is another UK tradition - a fearlessly independent and investigative media which reports decisions of government to the citizenry. Oh, wouldn't it be luvverly?

20 January 2011

Something's gotta give

The country's third-biggest city is pretty much out of action and will need substantial Federal government help to get back on its feet. One of our major food-producing areas is a disaster zone, food prices must and will go up. On top of all this, the Federal Budget will still go into surplus in 2012-13, come hell or (more) high water.

Where expenditure has to go up, it follows that taxes must be increased if the budget deficit is to be wiped out - well, no. Firstly, jacking up taxes has a deleterious effect on economic growth*, and secondly it is never politically popular. These are the two reasons why Wayne Swan will never just jack up taxes.

Where expenditure on one thing has to go up, it follows that expenditure in other areas will be cut - well, no. Penny Wong has no list of programs to be cut, and if she did she couldn't push them through Cabinet. Defence? BER? There might be a bit of mousy nibbling around the edges, but the whole change-the-way-you-think-about-government hacking we're seeing in the UK now (and saw under Thatcher a generation ago).

This year's Budget looks from a distance like a dog's breakfast, or more particularly Winston Churchill's themeless pudding. The government held office despite, not because of, the masterful tiller-work during the GFC because of the lousy job of convincing people they'd done the right thing. The government will not be advantaged at the next election by flashing around a budget surplus - otherwise Greiner and Kennett would still be in office.

For a start, they have to draw a line under the MRRT. Footage of Don Argus staggering from the Treasurer's office clutching his eye, followed by Swan emerging with clenched fist and yelling "You'll take the MRRT, and you'll like it!". A whole lot of other pissant revenue measures, such as those that make bad tollroads possible and disgrace the very name of infrastructure, they can go too.

It's time to revisit the Henry Review. Oh yes. All those revenue measures that actually support the economy through a growth phase, which reward productive activity and soak the ticket-clippers. Let's have some of them in this year's budget. Tony Abbott will sit there agog, Joe Hockey won't know what to do and Sarah Hanson-Young would probably support it out of sheer bloody-mindedness against a leader who can't cope with life well inside the margins.

None of the foregoing two paragraphs will come to pass, though. Both the Treasurer and the Finance Minister are risk-averse, without realising they are in a position where muddling through will be the riskiest path of all. The idea of a flood levy is pathetic, absurdly inadequate.

A dog's breakfast Budget will erase everything Gillard has tried to do since the election, in terms of getting the government focused on a few, important issues and nailing them, showing the benefit and showing it again and again and again, until it reverberates off every media platform going. A dog's breakfast Budget will, however, only be bad for Gillard if Gillard lets it.

Swan has hardly grown into the role of Treasurer. He was still spooked every time Costello glowered at him, and he has lifted slightly since he left. GFC response aside, Swan is no better than John Howard was as Treasurer a generation ago - except Howard could at least sell the measures in his budgets, whether or not he may have believed in them at the time or renounced them later.

He hasn't grown into some fearsome Machiavellian figure since disposing of Rudd and becoming Deputy PM, in the way that Keating and Fraser wore their bloodied tunics with aplomb. He isn't some dull-but-competent figure like Ralph Willis. He isn't going to grow.

True, he's the leading figure for the Labor Right - but so what? The NSW State election, as well as indifferent performances in their portfolios by one-time wonderboys Burke and Bowen, is weakening the appeal of the NSW Labor Right (and they won't be able to raise a brass razoo after the State election). The Queenslanders will want to clear the mud out of the parish pump and won't tolerate any fiscal quibbling to the contrary. The Victorian Labor Right and the SDA owe Swan absolutely nothing.

It will take fiscal imagination to improve the Budget while rebuilding Queensland and keeping the economy generally on a growth path. Wayne Swan doesn't have that and won't get it, he's had his go. Gillard can't do rabbit-out-of-the-hat economic policy either, but she has to get someone who can and will. If she can do over Rudd, she can do over Swan - particularly if her job depended on it.

* It just does, okay? What do you want, a graph or something? Do you think I am Grog's Gamut or Nicholas bloody Gruen?

14 January 2011

Beautiful one day

The Queensland floods have produced a wonderful period in reporting that looks like drawing to a close: the story too big and too real for hype. There is no other issue for "the 24 hour news cycle" to latch onto: the pretense that modern media is under real pressure to flit between topics, no matter how real or important, has been proven false. There is plenty of news in this story, from the balance of hard-nosed and warm-hearted leadership shown by Anna Bligh as Premier to the ordinary people who are cleaning up, helping out and just getting on with it, all while their hearts are breaking.

The surprisingly mature media response to Bligh's tears could be signs of a new understanding of what it means to be led by women - as recently as the early '90s this event would have been met by sniggering and commentators would have bagged Bligh for weakness where resolve is required. Praise for Anna Bligh's leadership during the crisis can genuinely be regarded as universal if Piers Akerman and Grog's Gamut agree.

There is, however, plenty of leadership required yet. Those who are now missing will be found, and it will almost always be horrible for the relatives and friends, even if the missing turn out to merely be misplaced and out of contact. Given that Wivenhoe Dam was vital but not sufficient in mitigating the disaster, there will be a need for longterm infrastructure among the answers - and this need will dissipate without longterm leadership.

The long-term structural damage wrought by flooding upon dwellings (including high-rise flats, rare in 1974 Brisbane) is well documented. So is the impact on the attitudes of people who live through such an event: longterm unemployment, addictions and divorce rates will skyrocket, which will require state government policy responses. Tax receipts and assumptions underpinning Queensland's inflated property valuations will be downgraded, and educational performances of schoolchildren will plummet even at 'good schools'. The anguish that results from both a high demand for goods and services and a diminished capacity to pay for them can and does crush people. The ability to ignore the all-pervading stink will be essential for Queenslanders to go forward, but if you can ignore something so powerful and all-pervasive what other stark and obvious truths will be brushed aside?

It seems cruel to point out that just because the ground has had more than enough, it doesn't mean there will be any let-up in the rains to come in coming weeks.

Let's see if we still talk glowingly about Anna Bligh's leadership six or twelve months from now. A magnificent response to a crisis didn't help John Brumby, who snapped back into never-apologise-never-explain mode once the embers of 2009 went cold. George W Bush merely looked puzzled in the face of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and after 2001 Rudi Giuliani was a bad drag act. Malcolm Fraser's stony response to the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires was the end of him. Back to annus mirabilis 1974, Jim Cairns was the hero of Darwin but within a year he was an economic clown, rooting a staffer. Crises don't test politicians - it's the aftermath that gets them.

The idea that transactional politicians have some latent alchemic ability to rise to a major challenge is rubbish. What happens is that the reality of politicians is revealed so starkly, and the assumptions underpinning political commentary are so violated that it ceases. Politicians exist to identify community priorities for the services of trained professionals, which form the best reason for the existence of government.

In a disaster, you have to let the professionals do their jobs and must make quick and decisive choices on how best they do them. This is what Bligh is doing: she is not claiming credit for helicopter pilots and tugboat operators, paramedics and police, and those who build and maintain refuges. She is putting those resources to best use given the information available to her. In normal times, you can go on about an important and complex topic like, say, education with drivel about marxist teachers or whatever, but when a hundred schools must be rebuilt there must be a debate on how we equip children for the century ahead (a century which will apparently include increased likelihood of catastrophic weather events). There will be a time for reviews, and there will be plenty of emotion involved that might crowd out assiduously prepared data.

You'd hope for politicians who simply view their jobs as resource providers to dedicated professionals (and for journalists who regard them in that way), rather than as deities whose every utterances cause public services to rise and fall. The impact of a leader has to be assessed on their impact upon the led, and what has happened so far can be put down to people themselves (both the great generosity and the petty acts of mendacity we've seen in recent days). While Bligh has been superb in corralling emergency management professionals, the degree to which the goodwill and skill of the wider Queensland community has been put to optimal use is an open question for now.

Let us invoke the ultimate example of the transactional politician tested and proven in a crisis: Churchill was entitled to be regarded as the man to deal with the debacle at Narvik. Five years and numerous timeless speeches and media events later, nobody was going on about Narvik.

Whatever is done will be too little, too late for many. These are the ungrateful bastards who must be led, and leading them successfully is the trick here.

A Royal Commission on these floods will be required, and not just focusing on Brisbane. This is the preoccupation of the journosphere today. Let's hope it hears from everyone and reports fairly, and fairly soon. The very process of such an inquiry, however well managed, can have the effect of professionalising issues and removing them from the public debate matters which very properly involve everyone, and which can dissipate a real but unfocused collective determination for action. The process of dissipation breeds a cynicism which no government - or any other government - is able to rebuild once focus is subsequently discovered. In reporting on issues arising from this disaster, journalists lose the skill of seeking information from many different sources and simply wait to be fed press releases as usual.

Both Gillard and Abbott have been fine in meeting ordinary Queenslanders affected by the floods, but this is a minimum requirement for their jobs rather than valid news "content":

  • Abbott's quotation about rain falling on the just and the unjust did not have the ring of its Biblical context - a plea for tolerance for strangers and love for one's enemies - but was a slightly more elegant way of expressing the sentiment behind the helpless phrase "shit happens".

  • Gillard is trying to be reassuring when she looks wooden, showing that emotion doesn't get to her when it comes to the big decisions - just like Malcolm Fraser in 1983.

  • As with the people of Queensland, this experience won't kill Gillard but it won't necessarily make her stronger either.

It's possible for everything to be done by the book while the leadership evaporates, or curdles; but for Queensland let us hope for more and better.

10 January 2011

Ferocious limitations

After losing the negotiations that followed the elections last year, Tony Abbott promised to hold the government "ferociously to account". The limitations of that are clear to see, and don't promise much for those depending on the ferocity to put themselves back into government.

Of all issues, the Liberals are weighing into immigration. The government is complying with the High Court judgment that appeals on asylum status should be handled by the courts. Rather than holding them "ferociously to account" for their effectiveness in doing so (including cost-effectiveness), they are questioning that it should be done at all without really indicating what should be done in the circumstances.

First, there's this. The old dissembler can say what he likes but to criticise you've got to operate from a position of superiority.
Mr Ruddock said the court's decision meant Christmas Island no longer served its "intended purpose" as a refugee-processing hub that existed outside the jurisdiction of the courts.

No aspect of Australian government policy deserves to be "outside the jurisdiction of the courts", and the Australian media was lazy in not pushing Ruddock on this when he was putting this policy in place. Given that the High Court has ruled against the practice, he doesn't defend the extrajudicial policy and nor does he offer any alternative that might work within that judgment. As a former Attorney General, it isn't good enough for him to just moan about compliance with a High Court judgment; it's lazy journalism on Maley's part to merely transcribe Ruddock's words and not press him on what he'd do in the face of this reality.

Why is the "National security correspondent" even bothering with such a pedestrian matter as immigration? He may as well cover armed hold-ups in the state court system, there being more "national security" issues there than in immigration, judicial appeals and what have you.

"It's quite clear that we have the worst system in the world in terms of good public policy," Mr Ruddock said. "In public policy terms, it is a disaster."

The worst system in the world. Quite the statement, that. Turning around unseaworthy boats or machine-gunning people at sea would all apparently be better than letting people have their day in court, to question Immigration Department assumptions like 'Afghanistan is no longer a warzone thanks to the Karzai government' and to maintain that failing to treat traumatised children (and referring to one such as 'it') while detaining them is a breach of basic rights.

Ruddock's policies were unsustainable even before last year's judgment on the justiciability of Christmas Island, and his lament for a bygone era offers his party nothing. The old questions about cutting government policy off from judicial review, the idea of a "queue" to be jumped, and the idea that emigration of desperate people slowed because of Howard government policies just hang in the air unspoken, like farts.

Then there was an attempt at reframing the issue here, because a lack of imagination and courage means Laming can't transfer his experience to a change of policy.

The story of Gul Rasul is heart-rending all right, but the reader - the writer - has no idea where to put him in the "queue" that would represent an orderly immigration policy.

It's understandable that Laming fails to criticise Ruddock for closing the Immigration Department post at Islamabad, forcing Afghans to cross fourteen national borders before they can deal with an Australian immigration official. It's still sneaky, though.

The Australian-funded AliceGhan residential complex in Kabul is an ideal resettlement base. It can accommodate 6000 people but is mostly empty. Only when non-refugees are respectfully returned home can they warn others of smuggling's futility.

Australian soldiers can't defend one another, let alone a potential honeypot for every fanatic wanting to take cheap shots at minorities. The only reason the Liberals like AliceGhan is because it's definitely outside the Australian judicial system.

The further from source we determine asylum, the harder and more costly it is to perform.

True enough, but try getting Immigration Department officials to work in Kabul or Baghdad. It would serve them right (can we also send talkback radio presenters there as well?) but it still wouldn't be easy. I bet you can't get this into Liberal immigration policy. Since when did Tony Abbott do policy innovation?

But the federal government can't even finalise an Indonesian prisoner-exchange agreement.

Neither could the previous one, Andrew, and there are no grounds to hope for better from the Liberals (are there?).

Regional instability, and the people it displaces, is a fact of life

So much for Gul Rasul - how does it feel to be a plot device?

When I say "the Liberals" are leading on this issue, I do not mean in the lazy journalistic way of referring to that party interchangeably with "the Coalition". It's telling that the Nationals seem content to leave immigration to the Liberals. These are the people who complain about the depopulation of regional areas and the lack of willing workers for regional employers. Despite successes such as the settlement of European migrants who worked on the Snowy Mountains Scheme in NSW's Eden-Monaro district, or the successful Iraqi community in Shepparton, you'd hope the Nationals would be clamouring for migration to their constituencies. There are obviously more votes in sending wombat-headed whingers to Canberra rather than electing proactive representatives keen to work in the national interest.

This sort of tactic means that the government will get sympathy for plugging away in its dull-witted way, doing the best that it can without being in any way challenged by the Opposition.

Part of the reason why the Hawke-Keating government was so motivated in economic reform was because the Howard-led Opposition had much the same policy, and any slippage in policy execution would advantage the Coalition. Today, Labor can do what it likes and faces little challenge in representing itself as better than the Coalition.

The idea of Opposition policy is a showcase of the intellectual capacity of the potential government, the degree to which it has listened to stakeholders and its ability to attract and utilise quality analysis. As I said in a previous thread, the Abbott-led Coalition has beeen awful in this regard. Immigration Spokesman Scott Morrison is in a difficult position, but the approach he's taken - simply restoring everything pre-2007 - is still wrong, a non-starter recognised even by the most callow Liberal opportunists. The Liberals will stay in Opposition until they learn the status quo ante is not an option, that the only people who find a restoration appealing are Liberal voters already (and if there was an election tomorrow, there wouldn't be the four seats that the Coalition needs).

It's garbage that an Opposition has to be as different as possible to the incumbents and criticise them no matter what: successful Opposition Leaders have their points of difference but they choose them wisely. Nothing enrages an incumbent government more than a smiling Opposition Leader who basically agrees with the general thrust of policy but has a few quibbles here and there, and who is trouncing the government across the polls. Look at how enraged the Coalition was at Rudd in 2007, how ineffective they were in dealing with him: same with Labor and Howard in 1995-96. Tony Abbott is closer numerically but so much further away than the last two successful Opposition Leaders.

He has chosen not to be a successful Opposition Leader, not to press the advantage he gained at the last election, but to entrench the Coalition in a position where uncommitted voters have no reason to expect a Coalition government would be better than the plodding incumbents. Be it on your own silly heads, Liberals - and Nationals.

09 January 2011

The proud man's contumely

Background: Alan Stokes from The Australian Financial Review wrote a column printed on page 31 of the 8-9 January edition about how Julian Assange doesn't get the media. What follows refers to this article, and forms the content of an email sent to Stokes (thus the second-person voice).

In your piece you assumed two things. First, that Assange's relationship with the media is important and that damaging that relationship is to Assange's detriment. Second, that a damaged relationship with the media means that it will be harder to change government policies. I think you're wrong on both counts, and that by being wrong you're showing the limits of the groupthink that dooms conventional journalism.

It's interesting that you only noticed Wikileaks last November: four months earlier, the site published video from a US attack helicopter in Afghanistan. This was rightly reported by the mainstream media as a breach of security but wrongly they ignored Wikileaks' warnings at the time that there was more to come.

What's genuinely sad is the start of your seventh paragraph:
"Here's a sample of the recent news issues flying around cyberspace but yet to splash down in anything like a major way across the global mainstream media ..."

All of them, and more besides, are substantive issues. If ADHD-afflicted scoophounds can't focus on one for more than 600 words, that's their problem. It doesn't mean the rest of us are similarly afflicted. All of those cables alert us to further developments and provide grounds for further research, by journalists and specialists in the various fields they cover, and this is the real value of these leaks.
"Are you sick of it yet?"

No. Am I hankering for a return to a situation where newshounds churn out trivia and bulldust until they are good and ready to do some investigative journalism? No, definitely not.

It reminds me of the period in 2001 after September 11: yeah, it was the same event in article after article, but what else are you going to write about?
"Most of these stories, if unearthed by solid investigative journalism at any other time by any other outlet than Wikileaks, and released one at a time, would hit the front page.

Truth is, though, we're probably sick to death of Wikileaks ... Assange is partly to blame"

This reflects badly on those who decide what goes onto the front pages of newspapers. It doesn't necessarily reflect badly on those of us who have to read more broadly than the mainstream media because said organisations have so little clue about what really matters. We need to know about this stuff. If you're sick of it, what else are you going to talk about: Julia Gillard's earlobes? Nick Riewoldt's penis?

I disagree that there is marginal utility about major issues. Cricket and ice cream is not like, say, the possibility of destabilisation and armed conflict in Korea, where more Australians have died than in Afghanistan and where further unrest would have a real impact on this country. There's more to these issues than "a global conspiracy", and it's the job of journalists to show us what that is. True, information on the 'net is not always kosher, but Wikileaks has built a presence that is more significant than others.

Wikileaks did its partner organisations a favour when it agreed to supply them with information. Without Wikileaks, all they would have been left with were the sort of trivia that is the bread-and-butter of journalism: splicing together press releases to form a "story" that doesn't offer either background nor assistance with there it might go.

It is patronising to assume that your fellow humans can't laugh one minute and think seriously the next. By that logic, try telling your editor that the Alex cartoon or Peter Ruehl imperils the credibility of everything in the AFR.

You also don't justify your strange leap that a problem for media is a problem for government: a media that is overwhelmed or jaded by Wikileaks is discredited as a news source. Every time the media get hold of a domestic news story in a way that government doesn't like, government can claim that it has been misrepresented by a jaded and overwhelmed media; you for one won't be able to refute such a claim.

There are few issues for the Australian government to deal with from what has so far been Wikileaked. The idea that they can fob off popular objections to those policies because the media has worked itself into a stupor is to misunderstand the role of the media in modern society. Julia Gillard doesn't owe her position to the media; she came to office despite the media. She held it in a campaign where she was constantly teased: "Do you find it hard to get your message out?", and beat a man who can best be described as a media darling. She needn't worry that the Australian media will focus on her government in any substantive way. There is obviously some sort of rift between your image of the media - a prophylactic between a government and its people - and the reality that people ignore the mainstream media and politicians search for ways to connect with people (and vice versa) that don't involved the jaded, overwhelmed media. Someone’s going to have to heal that rift, Alan, and it isn’t my job to prop up your journosphere fantasies.

Wikileaks doesn't need those media outlets any more: their days of enterprises of great pith and moment has passed and will not return despite Mr Assange's arrangement of convenience. Given that investigative journalism is more talked about than done, those outlets sure as hell need Wikileaks. A small fraction of cables have been released from the Manning supply, and if there are more leaks to come then everyone knows you go straight to Wikileaks: never mind journalists, and the politicians can smirk all they like. A politician who only reads the mainstream media has a far darker future than Julian Assange does. A journalist who believes that major policy issues are like food or entertainment doesn't have much of a future in his own 'profession', and can't help us make sense of major issues (thus reinforcing the lack of future).
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

- from Alan Stokes' favourite soliloquy

Update: Here's the text of Alan Stokes' reply to me on Tuesday:
Thanks Andrew.
Appreciate the feedback.
Let me attempt to address some of your thoughts.
- If you'd read my other columns you'd probably know my view is almost 100% counter to conventional and, certainly, afr widsom.
- in this case i am all for assange and very sad about how he's probably going to end up less important than he should be . that's the shaekspearean tragedy, with his personal fault either overkill and/or the interent.

- I noticed wikileaks way before november, the mainstream media didn;t until november and went mad about it then.
- i think it's sad that having a bad relationship with the media will hurt assange, and i stand by my view that it will.
- my point in the seventh par was meant to be that, sadly, it seems issues only matter when they appear in mainstream media.
- assange has contributed to editors not putting him on ther front page, and I believe this is a bad thing. surely the whole idea of my column is to say how tragic it is that he's been hoist with his own petard.
- i maintain that, sadly, there is diminishing marginal utility about major issues because the news cycle demands either bigger or better or newer, not more of the same, thus you have some media outlets reporting triva just to look new. again, assange is a tragic victim of this.
- i believe the internet's and TV's mix of quick news dressed as infotainment makes it hard for people to get a clerar signal when things are IMPORTANT. sadly, they are left thinking anything as overwhelmingly worrying as the wikileaks cables must be some nutcase copnspiracy.
- you misunderstand my government idea . i think the govt is happy at the prospect of wikileaks succumbing to citizen cynicism or apathy, when in fact, as i write, he is one of the most important pro-democracy forces we have.
- i hope you are right that mainstream media doesnt dictate how people react any more - but i fear you are incorrect.
- and as for this par:

A journalist who believes that major policy issues are like food or entertainment doesn't have much of a future in his own 'profession', and can't help us make sense of major issues (thus reinforcing the lack of future).

You can choose to play the man not the issue if you wish, but at least don't misrepresent my views.

i strongly believe, as the column clearly shows, that it is tragic that people have come to treat important issues as they woudl food or entertainment.
the true test of course will be whether assange's contribution forces policy or behavioural change among those who treat their voters with contempt.
i hope we get change and you are right.
may i suggest you have a look at some of my other columns/essays as proof of where im coming from.
alan stokes

And here's my response:

I've read your pieces for some time now. You haven't made the link that journalistic apathy = citizen apathy, in any piece I've read nor in your email. You need to make that link to sustain your idea about the government being pleased about journo apathy, otherwise you haven't made sense. You maintain "it seems issues only matter when they appear in mainstream media", but the opposite is in fact the case unless you're in the politico-media vortex. Constantly the media are surprised by slow-burning issues, issues that journalists don't understand or regard as passé until it's too late.

Stand by your opinion about Assange and the media if you will, but consider what proof you'd accept that your idea hasn't worked, and then assess reality against the proof. Assange doesn't need the media any more, they need him. Now that you've bucked AFR management you may wish to examine the grip of journalistic groupthink on how you see things, a much harder task and one that may lose you friends (and make it easier for AFR management to pick you off). You may have a leather jacket but it doesn't make you a rebel.

02 January 2011

Seven begged questions

In The Australian yesterday, Peter van Onselen wrote another article where he tries to sound portentous but is pretensious instead. You'll have to take my word for it as I won't link to any Oz articles: in its current Goetterdaemmerung phase there's no telling what that paper might do. What follows reflects badly, not only on PvO's lack of perspective but also the sheer delusion necessary to sustain the myth of an Abbott Liberal Government.

1. You can't just flick the switch to policy, especially not when you're Tony Abbott. Abbott has no vision for Australia other than himself in the Lodge. His whole modus operandi is to charge here, feint there, and double back again before dashing off on his bike. As an Editor, PvO has a duty to portray Abbott as he is rather than as some action figjre who can bolt on extra accessories as required. Abbott isn't a dinosaur, he just wants to restore the status quo of four years ago and doesn't care how that happens. After the so-close-but-yet-so-far election last August he can't be told that we've all moved on since then, and that you need to address what's ahead.

2. PvO has a firm grip on campaigning issues that don't matter. The Liberals didn't choose a candidate for Lindsay until tbe writs were issued, long after the ALP incumbent had been doggedly entrenching himself. In Robertson, the Liberal candidate assumed that Labor would a) re-endorse the appalling incumbent or b) split when another candidate was chosen; when neither occurred he went to water. Banks has been in the Liberal Party's sights for twenty years, yet they parachuted in some guy from the northern beaches and ran a shoestring campaign. Conclusion: local campaigns still matter.

Nutt has been State Director in four states. It's telling that Abbott can't get rid of loser Loughnane.

3. It isn't self-evident that the NBN must go. The campaign against the NBN is eerily similar to another major piece of infrastructure: a second airport for Sydney. An idea is floated, it bounces around for a while and then dies, only to be replaced by another idea that goes nowhere, etc. PvO's assertion that wireless will support medical operations goes against the experience of those of us who work on such projects.

The problem that the Coalition had last August was that their policy was rubbish - you couldn't give it away, let alone sell it. The idea that you can quibble away the NBN and replace it with some cheap-jack rubbish plays to anti-Liberal notions of arrogance and inability to handle the future.

The Liberals are often accused of doing the bidding of corporate Australia, but when it comes to broadband they have no idea. Lenin said that capitalists would sell socialists the rope with which they'd hang them; Gerry Harvey will sell you the ICT equipment with which you can access the internet and bypass retailers like Gerry Harvey. And his solution to the new paradigm is a GST holiday? Pathetic.

4. Name the duds, Peter. Kelly O'Dwyer would run rings around Sophie Mirabella. Paul Fletcher is a stuffed shirt who would have to go into a role requiring little contact with the great unwashed. Josh Frydenberg is an accident waiting to happen, as shown by his relationship with Bolt over the Wilkie papers in '03 and overstating his role at Deutsche Bank.

In terms of giving shadow ministers their heads, this is only possible with an overarching set of principles within which shadows can work. Abbott lacks this and is not a detail man either, so when a shadow runs their own race he just looks irrelevant, whether for good (e.g. Hockey on financial system regulation) or bad (e.g. David Johnson on Defence, Tony Smith on telco).

5. Hard to beat a female PM, really, especially with a leader so repellent to female voters. When PvO refers to Abbott using political capital, what does he mean (see points 2 & 6)?

6. Abbott is four seats away from government but it may as well be 40. The fact that Rudd suffered a 9% swing against him puts the lie to Queenslanders being parochial about their man. The election campaign showed Abbott is best when deployed sparingly: when he's overexposed he starts telling porkies or being sexist.

The more time he spends campaigning, the less time he has to develop policy.

7. Abbott has no clout and can't get rid of duffers. Bishop and Macfarlane should both go - Abbott tried to get rid of Wyatt Roy before the last election and failed. If Abbott tried to knock Hockey's and Robb's heads together, both would tell him to get lost - it may even destabilise his leadership. Abbott has no organisational clout and PvO is wrong to assume otherwise.

And there we have it: seven tombstones to the credibility of PvO and Abbott PM. Abbott is at the end of his tether and you need to overlook far too much in order to believe otherwise. PvO thinks he has a role as stenographer fot Liberal strategists, but you ultimately do them a favour if you question their assumptions.