17 December 2013

On a journey

I can't disguise the pounding of my heart
It beats so strong
It's in your eyes, what can I say
They turn me on

I don't care where we go
I don't care what we do
I don't care pretty baby
Just take me with U

- Prince Take me with U
At today's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, there was the usual smoke-and-light-show with figures based on changed frames and assumptions, about which you can read on other blogs. It was no different to any other economic statement really: the Need For Fiscal Prudence, Taxed Enough Already, etc. The bit about taking the entire country along was jarring. Joe Hockey said in passing that he wanted the Australian people to come with him and the government on a "journey" toward a weakening economy, less government expenditure, and possibly even a budget surplus. That's the moment when I knew this government has no hope whatsoever.

Hockey started off with a short personal anecdote. Liberal preselection speeches in the 1990s used to all start with this device, to invite you into the candidate's world, which was then followed by a tenuous attempt to link that to a wider theme. There you'd be, smiling away at some innocuous image from a 1950s/60s Aussie childhood, only for it segue into a diatribe on tax reform or crime/immigration like some jerry-built freeway on-ramp. So Joe Hockey went up Mount Kilimanjaro - without assistance or acknowledgment, it would seem - but why he did so was not clear. What would have been the consequences had Hockey not climbed Kilimanjaro? What stopped him ending up like Hemingway's dead leopard? This lack of clarity and urgency swept through his speech like one of his clunky and obviously scripted arm movements.

For years now, Tony Abbott has been trying to do two different but complementary things: rally people to popular causes, and to create an air of seriousness around those that are Unpopular But Necessary In The Long Term. He has failed at both. People voted against the particular model for a republic in 1999, not because the nation loves the Queen and unelected authority as much as Tony Abbott does. In 2007 people voted against a government that had been very popular, and a Prime Minister whom Tony Abbott quite admired; an election that actually resulted in that government, that Prime Minister, and his own good self, being flung into the political loserdom of opposition. He thought he could pick off The Nerd and That Woman, but could only do so once both had weakened one another.

His stunts, the personality patch-ups with Margie-and-the-girls and other props, have all failed to rally people behind anything positive. It's all stop this, and cut that - and even if it does all come off, what? It has no ability to rally the wider public, no ability apart from polling to sniff the political wind - governments that lose touch get marooned long before they are defeated. This government faces the real prospect of being marooned before it delivers its first budget.

No government ever gets to set the lights by which it is judged. Every one of the 26 Prime Ministers before Abbott had issues with the Senate, and as for an opposition voting against what they supported in government - nobody is listening because all governments have to cop that, and insert temperature-related vacation of the kitchen here. For once the press gallery was impatient with Hockey, and his complaining about situation normal in Canberra; Hockey had the discipline not to blurt out "but I thought we were buddies!", but only just.

Hockey spent three years claiming debt was a huge problem for Australia. Then in office he hosed this down, and political and economic commentators united in praising Hockey for ditching his central message. Today, he tried to hose debt back up (a clumsy image I know, but the politics is clumsier). That ploy cannot succeed, and I don't care if Peta says it will.

The idea that people will go along with cuts to areas they consider important in the name of the abstract and easily fudged budget surplus is sheer bullshit. Any old pol who's won and lost a few elections in the community where they live knows this.

Two years ago in London, Hockey made a speech in which he declared an end to the idea that government could buy people's loyalty through welfare transfers. That was a bigger call than Hockey realised, not least because nobody really called him on it. Even those who could see Hockey would be Treasurer after this year's election didn't seize on it for hints and signals as to what an Abbott government economic policy might look like. There are a number of reasons for this. First, political journalists are stupid and flock-oriented, and economic journalists are better at predicting what has happened rather than the less certain future. Second, if you did a serious critique of Hockey's economic policy then you'd have to evaluate it against that of the Labor government's policy; see the first point, but also if you compared the Coalition to Labor you run the risk of a 2004 repeat, where a flawed government found itself returned against an inferior opponent.

None of the commentators have referred to Hockey's End of Entitlements speech as the prequel for today's effort. This is because press gallery experience means diddly-squat. Can you imagine how insufferable Rudd would have been had he won the election in September? Nah, give Tony the green light.

If the MYEFO with all its bluster and hype is to mean anything, Parliament will be recalled next week and will bloody well sit until the cuts are made, or until the government has a quiver of double-dissolution triggers. That won't happen, so the bluster and hype emanating from MYEFO means nothing.

If Hockey's throwaway comment about the nation coming with the government on the journey through The Valley Of The Shadow meant anything, there would be six months of painstaking explanations between now and the budget. There would have to be a lot of preparation with key stakeholders. Do you reckon that preparation has taken place? Do you reckon they even know who their stakeholders are? Is there going to be a lot of knee-jerk bullshit and self-defeating statements from The Situation?

Paul Keating would never have ceded the limelight to Peter Walsh. Peter Costello did joint appearances with Finance Ministers under sufferance, and always outshone them. When Wayne Swan did joint appearances with Penny Wong, there was a perception of warmth and unity to the government of which they were part. When Hockey shared the stage today with Matthias Cormann, however, he made Cormann look like the brains of the outfit. Cormann will soon be distracted by the coming implosion of the WA state government.

What's going to happen is that vague but menacing proposals for budget cuts are going to sit in the Aussie sun for the better part of a month. Christmas-/ Festivus-/ other-table arguments ring to the sounds of people arguing how awful a job Abbott is doing. After Graincorp and school-funding and other debacles, we know already that if an interest groups screams loudly enough, in chorus, for a few days then this government will cave. Even if it doesn't, it will stand firm on the wrong things:
  • It will claim education is important, but bellyaches about the schoolkids bonus and isn't measuring teacher performance in any real way;
  • It will commit to infrastructure, without realising that big projects suffer cost and time blowouts, that any project given to Tony Shepherd's company might be misconstrued (yet if his company is denied opportunities, there'll be hell to pay from business), and that nothing big will be ribbon-ready by 2016;
  • As soon as Abbott started talking about the lost cause of Olympic Dam to replace jobs lost at Holden, and then cut training programs, it was clear he had no clue and would have tens of thousands spiral into long-term unemployment. Talking points are meant to indicate vision, not disguise its absence; and
  • Nobody wants to trash the Barrier Reef. Nothing this government does on environmental matters can or will make up for that.
All of that will create inconsistencies to the point of weirdness, such that nobody will know what this government stands for. Hockey is the only one who could really have made a coherent case - not any more. He's going to cut just as people turn to government for services in a softening economy. Nanny-state lectures about how Austerity Is Good For You don't wash; they breed only resentment, and ours will be a sullen nation by mid-2014. Only Hockey had anything like a coherent narrative, given that his Cabinet colleagues can't even manage their own portfolios, and now he hasn't even got that. Hockey cannot sell austerity.

The whole idea of the welfare state was to get and maintain people's buy-in to the idea of the state for sustainable reasons. Previously the idea of the state was a collection of People Like Us - people who look like us, talk like us, pray like us. Enemies, real or imagined, were fought abroad and purged from within. Nation-states operated for hundreds of years on that basis, but a focus on Volk leads nation-states to a bad place. If you're going to wind back the welfare state at a time when the market and other institutions are failing to provide for general prosperity, surely talk about people expecting less from government is idle. Why would people even retain a government that thought and acted like that? Never mind ideas about recasting the form and purpose of government altogether.

The very idea that people will take to government service cuts with good grace, and will reward achievement of abstract targets, should have died with the Greiner government in NSW and the Kennett government in Victoria. They should have learned from Howard - 16 ex-ministers, and none of them worth a cracker. This government has forgotten nothing from those examples because they had learned nothing.

The IPA lost all credibility when it put out its Northern Australia thing, wondering how to both cut Mrs Reinhart's tax bill while also increasing the flow of government largesse directly and indirectly to her. The fact that Tim Wilson has taken up a government sinecure and Chris Berg a taxpayer-funded study of the public sector has diminished it still further. Its founder, CD Kemp, offered the IPA to Menzies as the Liberal Party's brains trust, but Menzies cultivated his own counsel (the UAP had failed because of shadowy links to opaque business-funded entities) and he kept Kemp at arm's length.

Kemp's sons became ministers in Howard's government and the IPA became the de facto brains trust for a hollowed-out Liberal Party in recent years. Today, it stands depleted at the very point where its prospects for victory are closest to hand. The political carrion-eaters who picked over the Democrats in recent years have their beady eyes on the IPA just as those who know it best are fleeing. It, and libertarianism more broadly, had been a useful intellectual scratching post - but now it's not even that.

When you realise that Hockey has thought more deeply about his portfolio than all other members of the government put together - including the Oxford-educated Prime Minister - and that his thinking is shallow and counterproductive, you can see what a joke this government is. It cannot succeed, and its sheer force of will (less than you might imagine, really) won't count. This government will drift, it will overvalue the unimportant and undervalue what's vital, and leave us all 20 years behind where a modern productive nation should be.

A press gallery that could not evaluate policy if it wanted to should have compared and contrasted Labor and the Coalition, but could not risk Labor re-elected. Yes, insofar as it even matters now, Gay Alcorn was completely and utterly wrong to see a better side of the occupation to which she devoted her life, and hasn't been big enough to admit it. The press gallery is pretending the government's ineptitude is a surprise, but in saying that they only draw attention to their own ineptitudes. The failures of their 'profession' arise not from technology, but from their abrogations of fourth-estate responsibilities.

This government cannot and will not stay the course to austerity and fiscal rectitude, and as a result you can expect a blizzard of culture-war crap like Peppa Pig hoping to distract from this essential failure. It will distract the press gallery, because they're stupid, and if the government turns off the drip-tap almost all of them have nowhere else to go.


On that note, this will be my last post for 2013 as family holidays demand a respite from this and other toils. I offer more goodwill to all than you might imagine, so ding dong merrily on high and see you back next year (especially you). This blog will see off the Abbott government, and probably the IP bloody A at the rate it's going. There shall be much more interference in traditional media from this platform in 2014, just you mark my words: the ambivalence some detected earlier this year in these pages has well and truly gone.


  1. Bravo, and have a very merry xmas

  2. It is amusing to see the commentary on the internet, memes, the co-opting of miley Cyrus' wrecking ball to cite a recent example doing the rounds at the moment. Interestingly enough, that media and the trad media seem so utterly amazed at the truly hideous performance of this government. Anyone with half an eye on the game dating back to when Abbot was routinely bested by Gillard in the health portfolio would have known this was inevitable. And for the press gallery to now be surprused is gobsmackingly disingenuous. If they'd done there jobs properly maybe the eelectorate would have to. But then, it's ingratitude all round really. The adage is true, you get the government you deserve. Lets hope next time the trade media don't get caught with their collective pants down. Lei.gh Sales tried to take hockey task tonight but she's got no cred courtesy of her simpering past performances.
    Love your work. Let's see what 2014 brings.

  3. Tim Wilson appointed as Australia's Human Rights Commissioner...

    Surprises eh Andrew??

    Now it's getting really scary.

    It's not funny anymore.

    Best of luck to Tim...I think

    1. I think he'll take on issues that interest him and leave those that bore him. He'll do a little good and slightly less bad, but leave so much undone (e.g. for asylum seekers).

    2. Haters going to hate...Tim Wilson

      Guilt by association there sadly with this comment.

      He's the Uncle Tom of his community and looking at his comments , the gays display a lot of animosity towards him!!

      Tim sadly has extreme views on certain groups/individuals himself.

      Let's say that if you're not a white wealthy middle class male/female he doesn't really care.

      A very selfish and shallow young man.

      Not a good appointment at all.

      He wont take this role seriously but as a free marketeer the overly paid position will suit his greedy needs.

      He should take out his capitalist pig t-shirt now and wear it with pride.

    3. Tim's role is to control the Human Rights Commission, especially to make them shut up about asylum seekers and indigenous people. Other than giving him a huge salary, there can be no other reason.

    4. Or maybe give him a plum seat in parliament next Federal election??

      For a group of young people never having left University and had a real job in their lives the pay is obscene.

      Court judges get paid less with a greater skill set!!

      Lucky guy at his age.

      B.t.w..heard that Tim is a really nice young man if he really likes you!!

      Homocon has a gay following that could lead to some other interesting appointments.

      Hilarious to watch him analyse himself as news on a.b.c breakfast!!


      Gold t.v.

  4. Thanks for your prodigious output throughout 2013 - always an enjoyable (if depressing at times) read. Merry Christmas to you and yours and looking forward to your continued evisceration of the government throughout 2014

  5. Seasons greetings Andrew, thanks and see you next year

  6. Yuletide greetings to you and your loved ones..

    Thank you kindly for this interesting blog.

    Very refreshing and enlightening.

  7. Thank you Andrew for your well constructed, insightful comments about Australian politics. It's a crying shame that your voice is not heeded more. I fear, unfortunately, that you will be a "I told you so" rather than "thank God they listened" person. Your conscience will be clear but damn the press!

  8. Thanks for your work Andrew. Always an interesting and thought provoking read. I hope you have a Happy Christmas and are looking forward to an interesting new year.

  9. Thank you Andrew for an incisive year and have Merry Christmas and I look forward to 2014 for great work.

  10. Andrew, any day which begins with a post from you is a good one and you have finished the year with a cracker. Thank you for stimulating, informing and entertaining your readers and fighting the good fight. Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year and I look forward to continuing to relish your work.

  11. Merry Christmas Andrew, have thoroughly enjoyed reading the blog during 2013 - even if I haven't particularly enjoyed many of the events that you have had cause to write about!

    Look forward to seeing you back next year!

  12. And Katharine Murphy is still surprised that this Government has no clue. Who knew?

    1. Katharine Murphy is easily surprised, it's part of her charm

    2. A charm which is conspicuously absent from her twitter responses, in my experience

  13. Thanks for what you do; enjoy the break.

  14. Love your work Andrew.

    I suppose it's hard to end the age of entitlements when they are so busy handy out comfy jobs to friends. We should run a book on who else is to leave the Institute of Paid Advice.

    Have a great festivus and come back next year refreshed for the madness that awaits.

  15. Thank you Andrew for your insight and wisdom throughout 2013. I look forward to each and every post from you. You, along with a select few others, have seen through all the bullshit and can put your arguments clearly. We definitely need more like you.

    Best for you and yours for the festive season.


  16. Andrew: thanks so much for your righteously wicked insights this year dude. When I want it straight, I head to Politically Homeless. Always delivers. This final piece on Hockey's big MYEFO downer is a ripper. (Way to bum out the kids Joe!). Anyway, freaking brilliant as always. Have a tops holidays. Looking forward to further truth-bombs in 2014.

  17. Thank you Andrew for a rather cheery round off on 2013!

    I find your words and articles perceptive and insightful...maybe the addled journos may find some lessons here.

    Thank you again, Great Christmas and New Year!


  18. Very well written Andrew. Good point abt the rationale for the welfare state. However the record of Labor was as bad on this as the Coalition's. They pushed the line that having a liveable level of Newstart would discourage people from finding work. Yeh like being able to pay your rent and bills off the dole is like some nirvana dream for millions. They dont want anything to do or direction in life or a decent income. They are inherently lazy. In other words Labor took up the banner of the Murdoch press and demonised the unemployed. Senator Kim Carr criticised the Gillard Government decision to put single mothers on Newstart. Not because it was a mean decision but more that it would shine a light on the low level of Newstart making it necessary if re elected for Labor to spend more money on boosting the Newstart allowance. Overall Labor adapted the Murdoch policy of demonising those on welfare because it acted scared of the Murdoch press and had a weird idea that the Murdoch press could actually be courted. So while Liberals will take the axe to welfare, Labor's record is not much better.

    1. Barry, I think UK Labour have it right: Murdoch will never support them so caving in to him is a waste of time. The ALP should take a similar position.

  19. The WA Government is claiming an operating surplus while increasing net debt. How does that work - I want to tell my bank manager?

    I agree that the WA Liberal Government is looking shaky. There is no obvious candidate to succeed Colin Barnett (perhaps he likes it that way) and they are breaking their election commitments almost as fast as the Federal Liberals are. Just today the light rail project has gone (and the election was only in March this year).


    1. I suggest Senator Cormann will be distracted from duties in Canberra by events in Perth. Will be interesting to see what happens.

  20. VoterBentleigh18/12/13 7:31 pm

    Today, the Prime Minister said that governments were “not here to build a field of dreams”. It's not surprising that he's changed his script, but some in the media will be left having to explain what happened to “aspirations”!

    Listening to the Treasurer made me think that the same could be said of the Government's electioneering slogan: “Hope, opportunity and reward”. It's not a surprise to me that it's turned out that the Coalition have “jilted” the electors on that promise. What surprised me was that Abbott nearly won in 2010 and I was surprised that on closer examination of him as Opposition Leader, many voted for him in 2013. I'm still trying to work out how the electorate could have been duped by the media and Abbott's Coalition.

    Many thanks to you for excellent insights and bringing a penetrating analysis of “The Situation”.

    Unfortunately, as soon as Abbott won the election and before the spot fires lit by Pyne, Bishop, etc., appeared, I foresaw the wildfire coming, so I have already begun back-burning. Next year should be time to build the bunker. I would wish you a Happy New Year, but for operational reasons, I cannot be certain that next year will be happy.

    1. PPL is nothing if not a "field of dreams". The whole idea of shovelling money at private schools is a "field of dreams". They can build them when they want to.

  21. Great post Andrew. Thanks for your entertaining and insightful commentary througout the year.

  22. Andrew

    I am glad that you didn't stop blogging after the election. A change of theme and thankfully you kept me informed. Have a wonderful break and I'll keep reading you next year.

  23. Have a wonderful Christmas and break with fambely Andrew.

    I look forward to your return with renewed vigor.

    The Hockey piece is a great read. You never let us down and I am immensely appreciative.

  24. Andrew
    I have really appreciated your insightful commentary during the year. As you keep pointing out, the press gallery and others have really let the nation down with their lack of analysis and inattention to accountability. It was obvious from the start that Abbott and the coalition generally were policy lazy and their misrepresentation of the truth around climate change, asylum seekers, etc. was scandalous. That the press colluded with them is to their shame, and it continues.
    Enjoy your well earned break. I look forward to your return.


  25. Nice work, Merry Christmas

  26. Great post to cap off the year, depressing yes but no bad government lasts forever. I can only imagine how much material you'll have to riff on by the time you come back after the holidays!

  27. Wonderful piece Andrew and a happy festive season. When I was a small boy there used to be a cartoon strip which featured a character called Percy Pig - blustering, often self righteous and sanctimonious. His adventures were later compiled into a book called "Percy Pig's Big Day Out". When I saw Hockey pontificating on TV the other night the resemblance to the cartoon character was so startling I wondered whether our Treasurer (God help us all!) had once moonlighted. Keep writing Andrew; in these truly dark times we need you!

  28. Thanks Andrew; I look forward to returning to your blog next year. All the best for the festive season.

  29. Love the blog & despair at what passes for mainstream political analysis. Ho times three to you & yours.

  30. Hockey and Cormann side by side looked like a very nervous Treasurer with Cormann enacting a public audition for his gig.

    They were uncomfortable side by side as people, and as officers of a gumnint, came across as uncertain and blustery in one vacillating package, while just perceptible vibrating between them something like a farty miasma both were being forced to breathe simply because of the presence of the other.

    That sort of tension spoke a thousand words more than the vacuous and self-serving utterances of either.

  31. Thanks for your well informed comments both before and since the election Andrew. Looking forward to more after the break. Have a refreshing holiday.

  32. A great little interview with Waleed Aly on R.N drive with Tim Wilson.

    Thank goodness for that mans intelligence.


    All isn't lost at the a..b.c

    1. Mr Wilson and Co should apologize to Waleed Aly and his beautiful wife for instigating the hate crimes
      against with a nasty media campaign towards Muslims..

      Corrupt hypocrite in George Brandis for the shonky pig that he is allowing rabid right wing apparatchiks to do his dirty work.

      Game on and bring it on...

      These guys are easily undone

      I'd love to do Tim slowly...

      He's kinda cute

  33. Mr Wilson is a well educated nasty little d....head of the highest calibre.

    Excuse the derogatory and hateful response but he gives a lot of people the shits with his immaturity and f...ed up sense of superiority.

    Snot of the highest calibre here with a cute little personality to match.

    A Happy New Year to all the haters and bully boys in the Liberal party.

    Hes just given them a free kick to embarrass themselves and our country.

    Merry Xmas to all the haters here

  34. Thanks kindly Andrew...

    When you have a party based on selfishness. ..you attract some pretty nasty peope...

    Your analysis explains the what, when, how, why and where aspect.

    You're a real gem Andrew.

    Best Wishes to you and your loved ones.

  35. No-one called him on it. I did and have tried to tell people ever since that April speech. It convinced me to put "entitlement" into Google Alerts. No surprise for me at all.

  36. Great post, Andrew - thank you as always.

    Best wishes to you and yours for the festive season; excelsior to us progressives in the 5th estate, and Bah Humbug to PMBO and his band of merry men.

  37. Waleed Aly would have done a better job as our human rights commissioner.

    At least he has a law degree and is a true intellectual.

    He has a pleasant bedside manner and lives in the real world. He shas a child a smart wife and isn't an ignorant anglophile.

  38. Love this blog....

    A liberal that appreciates PRINCE!

    I could write a whole thesis about that man and his contribution to Music.

    Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to all the followers of this quirky blog

    Andrew..Princes new song is a great holiday tune.

    Check it out!!

    We need a little funk to prepare us from the misgivings of this governments agenda next year.

    I have a prediction that marriage equality will feature heavily next year and a major move foward will be made for equality.

    Mr Abbott's decision is surely going to make the progressives squeal with outrage again.

    The Prince song is very appropriate Andrew.

    Wait and see!!

  39. Thanks, Mr Elder.
    You are part of a pretty small handful of political analysts worth reading.
    Hope you get your quota of 'socks, jocks & chocolates' and enjoy 'drinking white wine in the sun' :-)