07 June 2011

It could go either way

We are at a point with Federal politics where, if the carbon tax and the Malaysia deal both end up working, then the Gillard government will deserve and get the benefit of the doubt and probably be re-elected in 2013. If both of these fail, there won't be much point to the Gillard government and it will be pretty much shot.

As you can imagine, Niki Savva is seething. She concedes:
Political parties should argue over policy. It is acceptable, excusable and often necessary, so long as it's really about issues, not ego or ambition.

Then, she seems to indicate that only the ALP are capable of sensible policy debate: members can have impassioned positions on asylum seekers, live cattle exports or whatever, so long as they give the government a boot on the way through; but any Liberal who disagrees with their leader is a stirrer, a splitter an egotist.

I'm glad that Niki Savva approves of democratic debate, however grudgingly. What she may not realise is that the debates and issues are pretty much given, as is the idea that different people have different opinions about those issues. If political parties can't handle policy debate, or if their only way of debating is nasty and destructive, then that only limits the party's ability to participate in democratic government rather than limiting the debate itself.
Also stupid is the failure to produce alternative strategies.

As you know Niki, anyone other than the leader of the Liberal Party who comes up with a coherent strategy is just an egomaniac. Because the current leader is strategically disabled, it is better to cruise toward defeat than propose a alternative which might get screeched at by the sort of people who leak to Niki Savva.
Continuing to pledge to repeal the tax is sustainable, but more problematic is the question of compensation.

Oh come now: surely a scare campaign at the prospect of a new tax, won't be completely deflated by the equally illusory prospect of compensation?

When has any opposition anywhere ever repealed a tax on coming to government? Tinkered with it perhaps, called it a new name with slightly different provisions, but complete root-and-branch removal? Nah, can't happen, and anyone who promises it is a bullshitter - particularly if said promiser a) proposed such a tax as recently as 2009 and b) is one of the few politicians in Australia who is less popular than Julia Gillard.
Nothing during the past two weeks implies the government has steadied, nor that its policies and approach are working, only that there is the potential for it to be saved from itself by the opposition ...

Only journalists think in terms of two weeks. The budget was a month ago, and so was the incompetent self-indulgent response of Tony Abbott (it was a written response, so you know he wasn't making it up as he went along, and the Shadow Minister for Communications wasn't heckling or otherwise rattling him).
The conclusion from watching the government struggle with two issues alone, border protection and the carbon tax, is that its [sic] presentation, formulation and intent are flawed and-or incapable of clear explanation by people fundamentally ill-equipped to deal with them.

Put into context, it illustrates the limits of transactional politics: it's all very well to cut a deal on the fly like lawyer-politicians do; but it's hard to really claim that you believe in that hasty and ill-considered deal with all your heart, and that it really is the solution for every member of every community from Byron to Exmouth.

Savva is still appalled at the idea that those she advised were beaten by lesser people, and even more appalled that there's nothing she can do about it. There's not a lot to be done about, or for, that attitude. From it you can see her inherent nastiness:
... a broken promise at its core, which has infected the debate from the beginning and will carry through to the end ... the PM at her absolute worst, mulish, cruel and bungling.

Just five years ago, the Murdoch press were busy labelling people as HowardHaters™. Pretty much everyone who had ever disagreed with the then Prime Minister, however gently and however careful to focus on facts and principle rather than personality, was labelled a HowardHater™. Could there be such a thing as a GillardHater™, perhaps? I know it's not alliterative, but such creatures may well walk among us and it would be foolish to discount the possibility that they might exist.
For the sake of those 800 people, or 801 if you include Chris Bowen, one of the more talented frontbenchers who is being slowly destroyed in that portfolio, it is long past time for Gillard to abandon her pride, reopen Nauru and reintroduce temporary protection visas, and if she doesn't then her party should tell her to do it.

If they can rise up over the fate of cattle, they can do it for men, women and children who also cannot speak for themselves.

The pain of any backdown will pass if the boats stop, otherwise, the stain on her prime ministership will stay forever.

Niki Savva was born on a war-ravaged island with fewer opportunities than those available here, and came to Australia by boat. Niki Savva is a boat person - yes she is, c'mon Niki phone your lawyer and get a writ, because I'll say it again: Niki Savva is a boat person. This is the first time she has ever evinced any sympathy for her fellow human beings who have done the same as she and her parents did, only more recently, and even then she's qualified it pretty heavily.

This rare act of humanity is immediately eclipsed when she seriously equates difficulties faced by a politician she claims to admire (again, first bout of sympathy for Bowen) with the tribulations faced by people deported to a country unsympathetic to asylum-seekers. She equates people with voiceless cattle - those men, women and children do have voices Niki, however many can't speak English and even where they do, government-funded goons keep them from being heard.

From a policy point of view, however, the Malaysian deal appears to be an attempt to build a regional solution to deal with those forced to travel not just outside their own country's borders to seek asylum, but to travel far beyond it. Such a deal will, almost inevitably, involve a higher scrutiny of human rights than is present now. This policy differs from Nauru detention not because of location, but because of the intent to obviate the clear need to take a risky journey to this country by boat. Abbott's call to "pick up the phone" shows how idle his proposals truly are: there's a lot more to policy like this than picking up a phone, and we need to vote for people who appreciate that.
People who spend their lives pretending to be other people do not change votes unless they are serious political players.

Michael Caton appeared in the same series of ads that Cate Blanchett did. Caton has chosen his roles so well that any politician stupid enough to bag him would suffer more derision than today's delicate poppets could bear - or worse, they'd be ignored.

As to "serious political players", every living ex-PM bar one supports a carbon price - and the exception went to his last election promising one.
For months now the government's case has been both poor and poorly put. It has not answered satisfactorily the fundamental questions of why we need a carbon tax ...

It's easy to say that you can only have missed this if you've been asleep, or listening only to gruntback radio. This is something that modern governments are better at, repeating the same old lines on the same old thing over and over until people cry out for the thing to be passed so that we don't have t listen to it any more.
... why now, especially as we were told less than a year ago it would not happen ...

See, that's just a dig.

When you've been in and around politics as long as I have, Niki, you understand that politicians sometimes say one thing before an election and do another afterwards. Oppositions and journalists that whinge for too long about that look like they don't really understand what's going on.
... why no comparable economy has introduced one, why our main trading partners refuse to have one, or how it will affect climate or behaviour.

See, those are just lies. When you lie, you pollute the pool of information on which public debate depends. When you do that you can't complain that others aren't giving you information or are selling it badly. To use an old American expression, don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.
Compare that with the previous government's mantra when it argued the case for a GST: if you broaden the base of taxation, you can lower the rates, abolish inefficient taxes, cut personal taxes and secure the revenue base to fund schools, hospitals, roads, police.

Yes, let's compare: every word in that paragraph after "taxation" subsequently proved false.

On the other hand, Glenn Milne is blithely ignoring the possibility that the narrative of decline might be derailed by facts.
There is no campaign on foot here, nor any organisation, not even a candidate ...

And yet, there are hundreds of words that follow like a shower of drivel. Milney assumes the carbon tax will fail and that Abbott will stand firm despite having nothing on which to stand, nothing of substance to apply as pressure, and no firm grasp of anything with which he can offer as an alternative. That's a key point missing from the debate here: Gillard doesn't have to beat Pericles or Robert Menzies or even John Howard; as in a sporting contest, she only needs to beat the opposition in front of her.
Focus group research conducted by John Scales of emerging research powerhouse, JWS, reinforces the perception that Gillard is suicidally trying to sell a carbon tax into the headwind of a national obsession about rising costs of living. Scales, who previously worked with Liberal pollster Mark Textor, suggests the headwinds are likely to prevail.

He's a cheap date, isn't he? Ply him with his own weight in shiraz, tell him he's a doyen of the press gallery and tickle his tummy, and you get national media coverage before breakfast.

So, a government that apparently pays too much attention to focus groups is going to be done over by the sort of eighth-rate outfit that would stoop so low as to walk Milney through their confections. Let me guess: they were conducted in the electorate of Lindsay. And, let me guess further: the Liberals are close to preselecting a candidate for that electorate who, as with all elections over the past decade and a half, is a rolled-gold pissant.

I can understand why the ABC let Milney go but I never understood why they picked him up in the first place, or why News Ltd have him back. After the Costello Prime Ministership ran its course, surely his credibility has got to the point where anyone who leaks to Milney has no idea. Milney is genuinely funny when he does that smoke-and-mirrors stuff ("but more on that in a moment ... one senior member confided to me ...", etc), but anyone quoted by name in a Glenn Milne article is a fool shrugging off their credibility: a powerhouse with unsustainable emissions.

It is interesting to see the reaction from the anti-Gillard media, and how appalled they are that recent polls mean so very little. The reality of a hung parliament, with a long-term strategy where media are fed and present issues in a way that actively disengages people, means that sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don't. Recent polls and a consistent strategy from the Opposition have not resulted in the sort of historic inevitability that we saw in 2007 (well, all of us except Dennis Shanahan). It's anyone's game at the moment.

What if the carbon tax, with its associated compensation, is accepted as blithely as the GST was (and which showed all that hue and cry surrounding it to be so much hollow nonsense)? What if the countries of southeast Asia stopped treating asylum-seekers as aberrations and criminals, and work together to build a constructive, longterm method of dealing with such people? The wheels of government grind slowly, too slowly for adrenaline junkies - and on cold Canberra mornings you can wonder what you're doing there, whether something that looks dormant really is, and whether you are really missing much if you decamp from there to the sorts of climes that will support your permanent tan.


  1. Thanks Andrew. Good start to my day.

  2. Howard-haters have been left in the shade.

  3. Dead right Andrew, the whole country is scratching its head at the moment- you think politics cant fall lower aget any more loony, and it manages it again. Savva and Milne, the Poison Dwarfs of neo-Goebellsian black propaganda; scum that they are.
    Paul Walter

  4. Two words, Mag Nificent.

  5. Another great post Mr Elder.
    If Savva was ever stupid enough to sue you I'd gladly contribute to your costs!

  6. Thank you Anon3, obviously difficult to staple the cheque to your comment ;)

  7. "gruntback radio"

    Never heard that before. Hilarious.

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