29 July 2012

JG and the Premiers: the more things change

In 1968 the Prime Minister was John Gorton. He denied conservative Premiers in Queensland, NSW and Victoria access to "growth taxes" and thwarted the Queensland government's attempts to mine the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2012 the Prime Minister is Julia Gillard, the issue the NDIS. She didn't have to pick a fight with conservative Premiers, but if they were silly enough to play Abbott's "never give Labor an even break" game, they were bound to be played just as Abbott is being played.

The Productivity Commission said that the NDIS should be funded 100% by the Commonwealth, mainly because they have access to all those growth taxes (thanks to the Gorton government). The states do a lot of the service delivery work in disability services, and such services as disabled people and their carers do get from government tends to come from states/territories.

O'Farrell and Baillieu have grown-up, serious governing work to do, unlike Abbott. No Liberal State MP would go out meeting-and-greeting with Abbott. They realise Abbott is doing them no favours, so why should they go out of their way for him?

They were both quick and right to realise that the NDIS was one of the few issues in Australian public life where (even though it's still a theory and hasn't yet been tested) the very idea is so valuable that anyone who mucks about with it is politically dead. This sort of issue flies in the face of conventional political wisdom, where Australians are so materialistic that they'll keen for something that is taken from them but won't miss something that is promised but not delivered.

Rudd was finished after measures to deal with "the greatest moral challenge of our time" were promised but not delivered. Keating was finished after his "L-A-W" tax cuts were promised but not delivered. Political commentators get in such a flap when this happens, because they tend to be idiots. This sort of thing is not mentioned by polls.

In the late 1980s/early '90s both Nick Greiner and Jeff Kennett worked with Hawke and Keating on national reforms. Neither went too far out of their way for John Howard (though Kennett worked with Howard on his biggest reform, gun laws). This was as it should be.

I have no idea why the Hunter (NSW) or the Geelong-Barwon area (Vic) are those states' chosen venues for the NDIS. Do those areas have high numbers of disabled people and carers? I know that those areas tend to have lower incomes than those in the capital, but this again is a failure of political journalism. It's possible the press gallery was given that information at a press conference or in a briefing document, but they are too lazy to review their notes and it's just easier to talk about polls or whatever.

The Premier of Queensland offhandedly nominated Gympie as his preferred location for the NDIS trial. Has the Queensland government done a cost-benefit analysis on Gympie vs other places in Queensland? Again, he demonstrated no real reason why it should be preferred over anywhere else. Gympie and surrounding areas is one of the lowest-income areas in the country, but as to its disability stats ... then it struck me. After its penny-ante culture-war targeting of Aborigines, litterateurs and gays/lesbians for budget cuts, after e-mail gaffes about feminism, it's entirely possible that the Queensland Government nominated that town because it is a homophone for an insult often applied to disable people: gimpy. A Gimpy Scheme for Gimpy Town. Yes, it's awful; but make the case that the Queensland Government is above that.

Abbott and Newman said that they are supporters of the NDIS but given that neither man has committed to funding it, what does this "support" mean? Naturally, Michelle Grattan takes Abbott at his word but she should be questioning what he means. Neither she nor the ABC's Marius Benson questioned the Federal Opposition what they meant when their spokesperson said stuff like this:
The National Disability Insurance Scheme, I think, is far too important to be mired in day to day partisan politics, which is why Tony Abbott wrote to Julia Gillard offering to establish a joint parliamentary committee to oversight the implementation of an NDIS to be chaired by the front benchers in the disability portfolio of both sides of politics.
Hmm, oversight by a parliamentary committee where one side can checkmate the other. That's the way to get things done.
MITCH FIFIELD: Joe Hockey is a big supporter of the NDIS, as is Tony Abbott, as am I. But Joe Hockey has been making the pretty self-evident point that the Government has only allocated $1 billion towards an NDIS over the forward estimates. The Productivity Commission over that timeframe said that there should be $4 billion. So the Government haven’t fully committed to an NDIS and they haven’t indicated where the bulk of the funds will come from. And they need to.
Any my goodness, can't you just take those guys at their word. Michelle Grattan does. Joe Hockey will demonstrate his commitment to the NDIS when he puts that $4b figure in his own forward estimates - and not before. That goes for Mitch (who worked under Barry O'Farrell in Bruce Baird's office).
The difficulty that we have at the moment is that the Commonwealth, the current Labor Government, haven’t sat down with the states and territories to talk about funding sources and funding shares.
Well Mitch, they did; and the states proposed $0, and apparently the Prime Minister wasn't being "bipartisan enough" by just accepting that's how it has to be.
No government can know what their funding share will be unless they actually sit down with the state jurisdictions and have those discussions.
What they need to do, Mitch, is have a trial and see how it all works, not just engage in your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine bluff and counter-bluff. Things are working out as they should.

That, Marius and Michelle, is how you do journalism - not just stick a microphone in front of someone and transcribe what they say.

Both of these supposedly experienced journalists relied heavily upon their shared fantasy that the Coalition will inevitably win the next election, which it won't and can't. The government has done a lot of work on the NDIS, consulting with interest groups to get the set-up right; the Coalition at state and federal level appear to have done no work at all. The NDIS is based on rights and responsibilities rather than charity and gratitude.

The Coalition would give us a cut-down, half-arsed version of an NDIS, as an act of charity rather than a manifestation of rights to those Australians who need more help than most. In this sense it would be like their not-the-NBN proposal or kind-of Medicare; a half-baked shambles deemed "good enough for the likes of you" by a bunch of Canberra shinybums. Only a federal election loss will knock this mentality out of them.

Maybe even that won't do it. In 1939 Robert Menzies claimed that he wanted to introduce a national insurance scheme, and resigned from the Lyons government because it rejected the proposal. 27 years later Menzies retired as the country's longest-serving Prime Minister and the insurance scheme proposal was no closer to realisation. Imagine if we'd had something like an NDIS in place for decades.

The idea of a levy to fund the NDIS comes from this mindset that throwing a few bucks to the disabled is an act of charity that you can turn off and on as pleases you. It was also a political trick; whether it's school reform or transport infrastructure the states don't care where Canberra get the money from, so long as they pay up.

The government should have sweetened an NDIS deal by offering to fund state/territory disability services without any loss in revenue transfers to the states, for early adopters. Barry O'Farrell is as concerned about vertical fiscal imbalance in 2012 as his predecessor Bob Askin was in 1968; ditto Baillieu for Bolte, Giddings for Reece, etc. They could have demonstrated the multiplier effect in delivering more services for less that the NDIS is supposed to provide. But, if the states are just going to say no then bugger 'em.

I'm glad that we'll have an NDIS. I'm glad that the Premiers of NSW and Victoria have come to recognise disabled people and their carers as a political force; unseen but substantial, like the icebergs that sunk the Titanic. I wish the Prime Minister would start mentioning it when asked what her government is doing to ease pressure on families.


  1. From Grattan's effort today on NDIS, Gillard "...already staggering towards oblivion under the weight of a couple of big new taxes." No quotation marks for the Tonyism, just total acceptance that they're big. The only wonder is that she didn't use "toxic new taxes".

  2. I wonder why our media are so terrible?

    But talk to anyone in Australia and they have a relative or friend with a serious disability and across the country they are outraged by the liberal states.

  3. An even more cynical take is that the Coalition wanted a feel good first-term reform, and Gillard pressing ahead with the NDIS looks like it might deny them this one.

  4. "Both of these supposedly experienced journalists relied heavily upon their shared fantasy that the Coalition will inevitably win the next election, which it won't and can't."
    Hi Andrew,
    Thank you for such an excellent and rational blog. I have only been following it for a month, so please forgive me if the following question has already been answered: do you really think the Coalition won't and can't win the next election?
    Again, I mean no offense to either you or any of your regular readership, but is that comment one of either raucous optimism or wrought irony?
    Very few people seriously predicted that JW Howard would become not only the PM of Australia, but one of the most successful politicians of his generation (if not the past 50yrs) - but he did. As Tim Soutphommasane said on July 30 "For the past 2½ years, Tony Abbott has made it look relatively easy. Few would deny that he has been devastatingly effective during that period." It is easy to imagine Howard, as Abbott's mentor, guiding him along, every step of the way, trying his best to keep his ignorance in check whilst at the same time goading his stubborn bigotry to the fore.
    I am loathe to accept the very real possibility that Abbott will be the next (bumbling) PM of Australia, but sadly, at this point in time, I see no clear evidence to the contrary...

    1. George Bush II never claimed that he'd be guided by his father as President though this fantasy was often projected onto him. There was no evidence of sober guidance of this knucklehead at all. However easy it might be for you to imagine, there is no basis for Abbott as Howard II, none at all. Howard wasn't Fraser II, it's just silly.

      If you do a bit of digging on this blog, you'll see that the whole idea of Abbott is the idea that not only is it possible to resurrect the world before the GFC, it's desirable and achievable. This is why Abbott can't win: his house is not built on the rock, nor the sand, but well and truly in the air.

      As for Soutphommasane, he writes occasional pieces for the newspaper. To do that you need to make them feel important. The media give Abbott a better run than any Opposition Leader since Whitlam and even so, he is the only politician in Australia less popular than Gillard. At what is Abbott "devastatingly effective", other than at geting the attention of journalists?

    2. "At what is Abbott "devastatingly effective", other than at geting the attention of journalists?"

      The problem is that he is effective in not just getting their attention. He is also effective in getting journalists to repeat his lies without any challenge whatsoever. His house doesn't have solid foundations for one good reason - it doesn't need to.

      Abbott ends every press conference with some gibberish about 'bad government', 'toxic tax', 'failed economy' etc, his minder yells 'last question', and then he runs away. That gibberish then ends up on the news, night after night after night, and I'm left believing I've gone insane and am the only person in the country wondering why he's continually allowed to be so clearly inept in front of professional journalists.

      Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of this is that a large percentage of Australians believe we are in a worse economic position than Greece, that Mal Brough has been totally upfront about the Ashby affair and that the carbon price is going to steal their backyards (you know, the ones they lost after Mabo). You and I know about Abbott's vacuous political mind, his inability to think for himself, his hypocrisy and power lust that allows him to destroy any person or public institution he feels lies in his way. People with little interest in politics don't, they just hear his glib phrases every night on the news as he guts another fish or drives another big truck without the correct licence.

      A badly informed electorate will make bad decisions and at the moment we are undoubtedly very, very badly informed. Without that changing, without a journalist - is there one left in Australia? - deciding they've had enough of writing crap and publicly holding Abbott to account for his garbage, the Tea Party tactics the IPA is using with the Libs look like winning.

      Like RugbyFan, I sure hope I'm wrong.

    3. Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for your reply. I take your points, but I think I might have been taken slightly out of context - perhaps I got carried away with my own hyperbole?

      I never claimed that Abbott was Howard II. The examples you provided feel more like references to successionism (Bush to Bush, Fraser to Howard) to me, and that's not what I was trying to infer at all. Abbott is on the public record as saying that Howard is his political mentor [''I hope to be John Howard's political heir, not his clone.']. Of course, how closely he mentors him will probably never truly be known. However, judging by Abbott's dog-whistle politics, it is easy to see which aspects of Howard's success he looks up to.

      Abbott's "We'll stop the boats", is, to this mind, a relative of Howard's infamous call to xenophobia "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come".

      I don't know very much about Soutphommasane, but I have been somewhat impressed with his rational and measured performances on News24's The Drum. The quote of his that I was alluding to came from an article published in the SMH, so that hardly qualifies him as a fawning fan of the News Ltd agenda - which is a good thing. The rest of his article wasn't quite as flattering of Abbott.

      I agree, wholeheartedly, that Abbott's house is built on air. This, however, still does not answer the question of why the coalition won't and can't win the next election.

      As the Anon user wrote above me, it would seem that Abbott has been devastatingly effective at making the Australian populace switch off to all of the good work that the Gillard government has done, to focus solely on what they have stuffed up. How many times has he accused the parliament of being dysfunctional, yet he has been the one who (as well as Christoper Pyne) has called for voluminous suspensions of standing orders, and even one day fled the lower chamber like a frightened animal. His hypocrisy is breathtaking, yet it is never called to account.

      Yes, he has been given help from the media including his good friend Allan Jones.

    4. He is on the record as saying that a Carbon Tax is the best method of tackling climate change, then he back-flips and says that such a tax would destroy our economy. He is on the record as saying on one day that "the science is not settled" and that carbon dioxide is not quite the "environmental villain" some people make it out to be. Literally a day later he said action needed to be taken on carbon emissions and that "the Coalition's position is that climate change is real. Humanity is making a contribution". Just in the past week he has rightly been accused of sending mixed messages to the Chinese on the issue of foreign investment in Australia. And who can forget his stare-down of Mark Riley... an event which could have spelled the end of other frontbench political careers.

      For these things, and more, he is never held to account. Is it because the media cannot hold his cowboy swagger to account, or because they will not hold him to account? Is the Australian business class so against us having a female PM that they are willing to afford Abbott a free ride? Is the born to rule superiority complex so strong that they will openly talk down the economy and business confidence, just to wrestle power from the illegitimates? In a market economy, that seems like a price which is too high to pay.

      Yes he is a veritable "Johnny On The Spot" as it seems the public doesn't care who gets into office at the next election - as long as it isn't the so-called "liar" Gillard. Yet the weight of public favour still falls squarely on his side of the party political ledger. As Anon said above me, I hope I'm wrong too!

      As Ian Robinson said on July 7, 2012: "No one is claiming Abbott is a Nazi but one has to ask why he, and the party he leads, are so doggedly using discredited Nazi propaganda techniques?"

    5. Rugby Fan,

      There are many reasons for Abbott's free ride from the media.

      Murdoch-induced bias, tick. Misogyny, tick (but I would say that, wouldn't I?). The demands of the mining (and other) oligarchs, tick.

      And there are others. However, one that doesn't get highlighted enough IMO is Abbott's former "career" as a journalist. Journalists don't tend to eat one of their own.

    6. Very well put Fiona, and as a male I would very much agree with the misogyny point! There is also evidence of this in state politics as well.

      If I may add, another dimension to his free ride is the support he receives from the very influential Australian Christian Lobby.

    7. RugbyFan,

      Regarding misogyny, if you are referring to the (somewhat) rough treatment of such people as Keneally, Bligh, Lawrence, and Kirner - this may have something to do with having been given the hospital pass at the end of long and possibly on the nose administrations.

      So far as the Right Hon. Julia Gillard PM is concerned, I think that the misogyny is self-evident: there's no way that some parts of the Australian polity are prepared to accept a sheila being in charge - especially when she's effin' good at the job. Shows up the blokes, y'know.

      I think that your suspicious about the ACL are spot on - and won't they get a shock if he reverts to his particular roots (so to say) if (and I say - with Mr Elder - IF) he ever ascends to the PMship.

      None of this proddy rot for Our Tones.

  5. Thanks for this. I came across your blog searching for written confirmation that the NDIS is part of Liberal party policy - but I haven't unearthed anything.

    As the parent of a profoundly disabled teenager, I am tired of other people simply not getting it. I am intelligent, well-educated, and hardworking and I pay way more in taxes than the piddly $50 a week I receive as a carer. I work during the time my child is at school, but this will have to end in the next few years. Many people I come across in the community seem to think that I have assistance but I don't. I am not remotely rich but my work means I am not eligible for any assistance that others receive, and a veneer of independence on my part results in the assumption that I'm coping - but I am so brittle and ready to break. I want a politician to spend a day in my life.

    As an aside, I think I visited here before. I'll join your email list so I remember to visit more often.

    1. Anonymous,

      You have my absolute sympathy - I have a couple of friends who are, or have been, in your position.

      Roll on the NDIS.

  6. Andrew, love your work.

    Pilots are undertaken to test that the system works properly. Generally pilot in a discrete area close to head office so its easy to get there. Geelong and the Hunter are seperate geographic regions close to HQ with good health services. As the pilot proceeds, the people on the ground may have to modify their procedures or expectations or the back office system may need tweaking.
    [Geelong piloted the MYKI system that all Melburnians distrust and loathe]

    Paying for NDIS. I can't see that it will be a major difficulty. Victoria runs a no-fault Transort Accident Commission scheme from compulsory car insurance that recently had its reserves transferred into general revenue by the Baillieu government. As I take my cheap holidays outside of school vacation periods I often run into TAC clients and their carers on their holidays. These usually brain damaged people live in modest comfort and can afford a fortnight holiday a year. I feel very sorry for the families of severely disabled children who live lives of quiet desperation unable to access TAC or similar schemes

  7. You may well scoff at Abbott, but with genius like this you can well understand why the media are in thrall to the great man:

    "Yes, we've got to get rid of the carbon tax, yes we've got to stop the boats, but by god let's see some cranes over Sydney again." Tony Abbott, 3 August 2012.

    Mark the day in your diary. Your grandkids will be asking you where you were when ten-term PM Sir Anthony Abbott delivered perhaps the greatest piece or oration in our history before single handedly using every crane in Sydney to stop the boats.