Without Change, The Karma Bus Will Come For Abbott

AFTER YET ANOTHER self-inflicted political strike that will do the government far more damage than a mere sick joke, the aggregation of own goals, mistakes, snafus and staggering displays of bad judgement raise an inevitable question: when does this reach critical mass, the tipping point at which political survival becomes a greater imperative than the presentation of unity? Without change, the #69 bus will call on Tony Abbott soon enough.

First there was the election, won in a landslide.

Won in the wake of senseless promises that should not have been made.

Then came the staff: hand-picked to obey, not to perform; not to contribute, but to enact.

And the Prime Minister’s Office, the supposed flagship of the government fleet, in oversight of them.

Next came Gonski, in a preview of trouble, and a test of the senseless promises.

For the first time, not the last time, the government was forced to back down.

The cuts it promised, foolishly, it would not make had been scuppered.

Just a month after winning, its numbers collapsed; its fortunes early in the slide.

But worse was to come.

The budget — the great opportunity for reform — was squandered.

Spending cuts botched, taxes hiked, its initiatives senseless, this budget targeted the government’s own supporters.

For almost a year, the government persisted, wasting political capital and breeding public resentment.

And a Prime Minister’s Office wielding a deliberative veto over it all.

And all the while, uproar: travel entitlements, botched policies, abandoned promises, ministers justifying bigotry.

A total lack of tangible acumen around political smarts, tactics, strategy or communication.

An inability to bring a hostile Senate to heel, and a refusal to frame dealings with it in advantageous terms.

The political strength and authority of a mugging featuring a wet sock.

And the Prime Minister’s Office giving sanction to it all.

All the sacred cows have been attacked — Medicare first and foremost — along with those promised to be left alone.

The Abbott government is a disappointment to its supporters and a red rag to its opponents.

Yet still the unbelievable fuck-ups come fast and thick.

A “reset” to divest the government of “barnacles” that seems instead to have left it wallowing in excrement.

A ministerial reshuffle that squibbed most of the hardest — and most crucial — changes.

Abuse of critics of the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, who must be sexist or misogynistic.

A refusal to heed constructive feedback, listen to the public, or show it recognises mistakes.

Rumblings of serious disquiet from government ranks over the head of the Prime Minister’s office.

And the Prime Minister’s Office, true to form, retaining control over the government with an iron fist.

A new year and a new approach, with Tony Abbott pledging consultation and inclusion.

A stated persistence with the budget that may well prove the harbinger of the government’s electoral doom.

A “fix” to its Medicare policy, conceived by the Prime Minister’s Office, hastily dumped in the glare of public hostility.

Calls to backbenchers framed publicly as an exercise in shoring up the Abbott leadership.

Pledges to sail into treacherous waters — IR and the GST — without the requisite political navigational skills.

The ridiculous charade of the investiture of Prince Sir Philip of Australia, on Australia Day.

And the Prime Minister’s Office remaining smugly in the thick of the action.

The mutterers are muttering, and the whispering has commenced.

Among the contenders — and the pretenders — is a ready-made potential replacement.

Someone acceptable to both the liberal and conservative wings of the Liberal Party.

Someone public opinion has revealed to be acceptable to the Australian public as Prime Minister.

Someone — almost (but not quite) alone of her ministerial peers — who has been an unqualified and standout.

Someone known to have little time for the methods of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Someone who could be expected to fashion a competent outfit that might salvage the Liberals in office.

Across the country, people know that if Abbott falls under the bus, Julie Bishop is the best option to replace him.

Today Australia returns to work, and Abbott — and the Prime Minister’s Office — resume the task of governing.

We hope the new week turns a page; but for every fresh start to date, a fresh disaster has ensued.

And the capacity of the Prime Minister’s Office to fashion and approve political ineptitude seems endless.

The snafus may continue and the damage to the Coalition may compound, but it will not drag on to an election.

At some point (it may have been yesterday) a call will be made by key Liberal Party figures: enough is enough.

At that point, the numbers will be worked and the calls will be made.

At that point, the proverbial karma bus will pay the Prime Minister a visit.

Tony Abbott is almost out of opportunities to fix his government.

A good candidate as Prime Minister risks squandering it on misplaced loyalty and an aversion to hard calls.

Another good candidate awaits.

And this column, if push should regrettably come to shove, will back Julie Bishop to the hilt.

 

 

Arise, Prince Sir Philip Of Australia: Even Monarchists Have Limits

THE BIZARRE DECISION to confer a knighthood upon Prince Philip is one of the most ridiculous acts of indulgence by any government in many years where official honours are concerned; this column believes fervently in constitutional monarchy, and welcomed the restoration of so-called “knights and dames” under the Order of Australia. There is a place for elite honours in Australia. The award to their newest recipient, however, is a farce.

It’s hard to know what’s worse: a Prime Minister making a mockery of what had hitherto been a creditable and worthy attempt to restore knighthoods at the apex of Australia’s honours system in the face of spirited republican opposition, or the ageing idiot on whom he has chosen to squander the credibility of the entire enterprise.

Make no mistake, the decision to bestow an Australian knighthood upon Prince Philip is a ridiculous and truly bizarre act of sycophancy that lends credence to Tony Abbott’s detractors where the honours system is concerned and threatens to render the entire category of honours untenable.

I have always been staunchly and resolutely a constitutional monarchist — not through any particular affection for the royal family per se, mind — and whilst I do not intend to open the debate over the monarchy or a move to a republican model of state today, I reiterate (to underline the point) that I believe a system of parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy is far and away the very best system of governance available to this country.

Even monarchists, however, have limits.

When so-called “knights and dames” were reintroduced last year, Abbott got the tone exactly right simply on account of who was included in the first batch of recipients: new Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, his predecessor Quentin Bryce, and former NSW Governor Marie Bashir.

The award made to Air Chief Marshall and former Defence chief Angus Houston today (now Sir Angus) also constitutes an appropriate acknowledgement of fine service to Australia given over a period of decades.

But a knighthood for Prince Philip?

The appointment is understandable only when considered against the backdrop of a tradition of heads of state being appointed to all the top classes of honours that apply within their realm.

But Prince Philip, whilst consort to the Queen, is not a head of state: he is an embarrassment, to the UK and to Australia, to the royal family and now, it seems, to Abbott.

Were he not married to Queen Elizabeth it is debatable as to whether Philip would find himself in demand at all; and to underline the point, British newspaper The Independent has helpfully published a chronicle of the errant Prince’s gaffes over a period of decades.

Obviously, there is little to recommend the award on a personal basis.

Maybe this honour was rationalised on the basis that at 93 years of age, the Prince wouldn’t be around long enough for the hullaballoo to linger; or perhaps Abbott — renowned as a devout monarchist, which in many respects I have no quarrel with — has simply taken too licentious and indulgent an approach to this particular conviction, and made an appointment that offers nothing to merit it.

Once again, questions need to be asked about the role of the Prime Minister’s Office and how this appointment was allowed to stand; at best, Abbott has made a “captain’s pick” that will generate more controversy around his Prime Ministership at a time he can ill afford it, and at worst it shines the spotlight on his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, whose oversight of the operation of the Abbott government has won her no plaudits with a huge chunk of the Liberal Party, and on whose behalf Abbott has gone to extraordinary lengths to shield from the fallout from what can only be described as spectacular mismanagement on a spectacular scale.

After all, the government has proven incapable of communicating a message, incapable of selling its initiatives, and those initiatives (more usually than not) sit completely at odds with the best interests of the country, what might reasonably be regarded as tough but politically saleable, or both.

In that sense, the knighthood given to Prince Philip is entirely understandable. And that, of course, is an indictment.

I don’t think today’s announcement will do much to breathe life into the republican movement — it’s more likely to go down at Australia Day barbecues around the country as a sad joke, no more — but it comes as little surprise to note that Labor “leader” Bill Shorten has leapt on the republican bandwagon very publicly in the past 24 hours, and he no doubt sees Prince Philip as the revolting new spearhead of the Left’s renewed assault on the monarchy and on Australia’s very institutions of governance.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating first championed a transition to a republic in the early 1990s at a time the ALP had absolutely nothing of substance whatsoever to offer the Australian public — and in this regard Shorten is merely emulating Keating’s lead: the difference, of course, it that Keating was a substantial and formidable figure in his own right. Shorten is nothing of the sort. But that’s a story for another day.

Be all of that as it may, however, the real problem with giving Philip a knighthood is that it’s a symptom of what is wrong with the Abbott government and, specifically, how decisions are made and “sold.”

Once again, Credlin comes into the frame; the micromanagement and control she is known to exercise over government decisions, communications, media activity and personnel issues is universally known, and so too is the resentment and anger it is generating inside and outside the parliamentary ranks of the government.

It is neither acceptable nor tenable to wield the degree of power and control over the government that she does on the one hand, and refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences that flow from it on the other; at the very, very least, Credlin — if worth a pinch of the proverbial as an adviser — should have prevailed upon her boss not to make such a ridiculous, bizarre, and downright embarrassing appointment as the knighthood handed out to Prince Philip this morning.

It underlines the uneasy but developing reality that Abbott — loyal to Credlin to the point of accusing those who criticise her of sexism and misogyny, doing himself no favours in the process — is far less secure in his leadership of the Liberal Party than he might think and than some might like, and that the dysfunctional PMO has yet again served him very poorly: this time by failing to act as a brake on one of his more wildly buccaneering but ultimately counter-intuitive flights of fancy.

I think we’re nearing the point where either Credlin goes and her rubbish — the malfunctioning administrative and political structures she has overseen — is thrown out with her, or Abbott has to go to enable her removal; there is a Newspoll due out soon, and if its message for the government is poor, then the pressure on Abbott and his chief of staff will ratchet up that little bit further.

Still, it is Australia Day, and Abbott has the newly-minted knight of his choice to present within his realm.

Arise, Prince Sir Philip of Australia!

It would be hilarious if it weren’t so damned cringeworthy.

What a farce.

 

Bali Nine Condemned Deserve No Sympathy Or Leniency

THE FAILURE of condemned Bali Nine drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to receive clemency from new Indonesian President Joko Widodo may outrage some, particularly in Australia; but “rehabilitated” as their supporters might claim, the risks of recidivism and the countless lives wrecked or terminated by the evil they peddled cannot be ameliorated. The capital penalty set down under Indonesian law should stand.

There is a certain irony that 50 years after the death of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill — who, as Home Secretary in the early 1900s and motivated by a desire to accord humane treatment to prisoners, is credited with initiating a prison reform process that has ultimately seen many Western countries eschew the death penalty — a debate is raging over the plight of two Australians condemned to death in Indonesia and whether, or how, their lives can or indeed should be spared by Indonesian authorities.

Readers know that I am in favour of the death penalty, for certain crimes and particularly in circumstances where recidivism is a factor (the case of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher, who was raped and murdered by an evil creature with a long history of sexual violence against women, is a case in point). But in many respects, one’s support or otherwise for capital punishment in this case is a moot point.

I don’t intend to rehash the whole story of the Bali Nine and its highly evolved plot to smuggle some 8kg of heroin from Bali to Australia in 2005; I think most Australians will be familiar enough with the broad history of the case by virtue of its prominent coverage in mainstream media, although a quick refresher — courtesy of Wikipedia — can be found here.

Rather, I want to talk about the campaign to “save” the lives of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from the perspective that it is an indecent misuse of Australian government resources; is in itself an outrage of sorts, reflecting as it does the increasing propensity in this country to mitigate and overlook heinous acts of criminal misconduct; and walks the dangerously illegitimate path or trying to tell other countries how to operate their legal systems when our own, arguably, fails to uphold the values and expectations of the community it purports to serve.

It is well and good that those who are opposed to the use of the death penalty (which includes, incidentally, the Australian government and various entities on all side of politics) take whatever steps they are able to in petitioning Indonesia to commute the capital punishments awaiting Chan and Sukumaran to life prison sentences, and those so inclined are as free to do so as others who believe the sentences handed out should stand.

But in this vein, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was right to note that in doing so Australia would in no way jeopardise its broader relationship with Indonesia, and nor should it.

This matter has been on foot now for a decade, and it would seem that with the rejection of pleas for clemency by Indonesian President Joko Widoko the avenues to overturn the death sentences of Chan and Sukumaran have now been exhausted: in the absence of presidential intervention, no higher jurisdiction exists in Indonesia for those associated with the condemned to appeal, and I cannot accept that wasting Australian government resources on any further attempts to influence their fates is anything other than a pointless enterprise.

It is true — as some advocates of the condemned pair have noted — that a discretionary power exists under Indonesian law, where convicted criminals can be shown to have been rehabilitated, for capital sentences to be commuted to imprisonment.

But the provision in question is precisely that — discretionary — and in any case, represents an artifice that is not within the remit of Australia, its government or its judiciary, or the families and friends of the condemned to exercise.

Nonetheless (and I say this in the broadest sense, and not necessarily in relation to Chan and Sukumaran) there have been countless “rehabilitated” criminals over the years who, once liberated, have gone on to reoffend.

During the week I had a discussion with an associate of mine that intersected with the issues of judicial leniency, rehabilitation and recidivism; as I said at that time, and of Australia at least, it increasingly seems that a good act and a convincing fairy story are all that is required to get bail and/or parole in the shadow of some of the most despicable offences imaginable; Meagher, again, is merely one recent high-profile example of this among too many: to my mind her killer should never have been on the streets in the first place.

Part of the problem is a correlating tendency to allow other people and/or other factors to be identified and held responsible as the “real” culprit for the criminal behaviour in the first place. How many evil specimens have arrived in Court, armed with testimony from psychologists, social workers and other “experts,” detailing colourful but horrific stories that blame poor parenting, school bullying, meagre economic circumstances and God alone knows what else as their villains?

Hoddle Street Massacre gunman Julian Knight (himself an individual I think ought to have been executed for the brutal slaughter he took upon himself to mete out in 1987) is, unbelievably, the latest vicious thug to attract the gaze of the perpetrators of this kind of mentality, with an article appearing in Melbourne’s Herald Sun just today oxygenating a story that, distilled to its root, essentially blames the Australian Army for what he did.

It seems the judicial culture in Australia is one that diminishes the responsibility offenders must take for their actions, with jail officially ascribed the status of a last resort and virtually endless avenues through which penalties can be reduced, bargained away, and terms of imprisonment shortened; it is no real surprise that penalties and sentences generate great outrage in the wider Australian community, inadequate as they are often perceived and as regular as re-offending — despite, no doubt, the “incontrovertible” nature of rehabilitation that is used to either release offenders without imprisonment or to shorten the tenures of their incarceration — has become.

The criminal justice system in Australia, arguably, doesn’t even satisfy they expectations of the community it purports to serve, safeguard and represent: and I say that with no reference to whether the death penalty is ever reintroduced in this country or not.

But when Australian citizens who fall foul of the law in other countries are given punishments that differ from what would apply in Australia — often more harshly, up to and including capital penalties — they and their contemporaries have no right or justification to do any more than has already been done, without success, for the likes of Chan and Sukumaran.

The risks for Australians who commit certain crimes on foreign soil are well known, and have been for decades; specifically, the dangers of trafficking illicit drugs in south-east Asia have been at the forefront of public awareness since Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers were executed for trafficking heroin in Malaysia in 1986. Many countries in the region maintain a zero-tolerance approach to drug trafficking that incorporates regimes of capital punishment. The instances of Westerners — including Australians — falling foul of these, historically, is too numerous to recount.

Members of the Bali Nine can hardly plead ignorance to the potential consequences of their actions.

And in full view of the present outpouring of compassion and advocacy and defence that Chan and Sukumaran enjoy is a total lack of consideration for the countless lives wrecked or snuffed out by the insidious contraband in which they sought to trade, and the exponential additional misery, suffering, injury and expense borne by the families, friends and other associates of heroin addicts: nobody seems to be talking about that. And in my view, it’s a consideration that carries far more weight than the fate of two drug pedlars facing death in an Asian country because they believed themselves above the law.

Have Chan and Sukumaran been “rehabilitated?” Perhaps. But plenty of Academy award-winning performances have been given in the pursuit of release from prison or other judicial favours all over the world, and the hardline legal codes in Asian countries are contrived, in part, to safeguard against them.

Were Indonesian officials tipped off by Australian authorities prior to their departure, as reports since their arrest have stated, condemning them to almost certain death by so doing? Perhaps. But if the pair were innocent tourists rather than drug traffickers, there would be no international law enforcement effort under way to apprehend them in the first place.

Much has been made of the relative youth of the duo at the time of their arrest — at 21 and 23 — and apologies offered for two young miscreants who, as the story goes, are now being punished in a fashion disproportionate to the crime they have committed.

Yet the Indonesian legal system does not care for such niceties — and nor should it — and I would add that anyone of that age should know that trafficking nearly 20lb of heroin is the wrong thing to do (and amid all the do-gooder energy expended on their behalf, the idea the pair is mentally defective in any way has never been raised).

And to those who argue that executing them would constitute the waste of two “rehabilitated” lives, I would observe that such a price pales into insignificance when weighed against the human carnage, destruction and utter misery the duo sought to foster, for profit, by the obscenity of their actions.

Chan and Sukumaran were also the ringleaders of the smuggling plot, and cannot claim to be inadvertent bystanders: a point that greatly increases their culpability.

Finally, to those who have sarcastically asked me whether I would expect the Australian government to come to my aid if I got into “trouble” whilst overseas, I simply say that I am totally disinclined to go peddling narcotics in Asia: the Australian government does sterling work on behalf of Australians abroad who find themselves in difficulty through no fault of their own. It should not be forced to make cap-in-hand representations to foreign powers on behalf of drug traffickers and other noxious varieties of insidious criminal filth.

It is a final indictment on the likes of Chan and Sukumaran that by their deeds they have obliged our government to lecture to Indonesia on their behalf when its resources could be better served building relationships with that country around trade, security co-operation, and so forth.

I’m not heartless, but in view of all of the factors that now confront Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, I don’t believe they are entitled to be shown sympathy nor leniency.

Winston Churchill was a good man, but I don’t think his praiseworthy reforms in the treatment of prisoners were ever intended to be abused in they way they increasingly have been, whether as a pretext to smack thugs on the wrist and let them go, to the potential detriment of the wider community, or — as in this case — as the basis for one country to poke its nose into the affairs and practices of another.

Whether you agree with or oppose the death penalty, the Commonwealth has made ample representations on behalf of Chan and Sukumaran. Those endeavours have now failed. It is time for the Abbott government to move on to other issues more deserving of the expenditure of taxpayer resources.

Enough is enough.

 

 

IR Review: WorkChoices Does Not Justify Doing Nothing

THE MERE HINT of a review of Australia’s labour market laws — never mind actual reform proposals — is enough to send the ALP into paroxysms of outrage, with the Howard Government’s WorkChoices laws again being dusted off for battle; armed with a rigidly pro-union workplace regime and readying to fight a fourth consecutive election on WorkChoices, Labor has no reason to countenance change and will refuse to permit others to do so.

I intend a short post — even by my loquacious standards — yet I fear this will end up being anything but “short;” it has been an extremely busy and eventful week, as readers will know from the dearth of comment appearing in this column, and to be honest I’m very, very tired. But I wanted to say a few things before I head off for a few hours’ sleep a bit after midnight in Melbourne on a sultry and unpleasantly humid Thursday night.

The long-awaited review by the Productivity Commission into Australia’s workplace relations system is set to commence shortly — extra reading, depending on preference, can be found from the Fairfax and Murdoch stables — and thanks to the reposting by Labor MPs on Twitter of incorrectly published material from the Commission, we already know what it will examine: and that the minimum wage, penalty rates, enterprise bargaining, individual contracts, unfair dismissal and anti-bullying laws comprise the agenda for the review ought to surprise no-one.

No-one, that is, except the conflicted ALP and its vested interests wherever the snouts of its union mates in protected troughs are concerned.

I was listening to Tom Elliott’s Drive programme on 3AW in the car on the way home this afternoon (go to the 62:00 mark of the 22 January podcast of his show); his guest today was ACTU president Ged Kearney, and the scary thing about listening to her latest enunciation of hatred toward the conservative government and Australian business is that people take notice of her for no other reason than all she preaches is fear: the government wants to cut living standards, make people pay for Medicare (irrelevant in the context of a discussion of workplace laws), drive down wages, slash conditions, blah blah blah…it’s enough to make you want to slit your wrists.

Yet people like Kearney can afford to be smug; the legacy of the Gillard government (held squarely by the balls by its masters in Kearney’s own union movement) is a regime of industrial relations laws, underpinned by the so-called Fair Work Act, that enshrines rigid and expensive conditions whilst conferring a raft of benefits around access, organisation and mobilisation on unions.

Aside from using these issues as battering rams against the detested Liberals, the end consequence of the Gillard government is that unions in this country have never had it so good — and that’s a problem.

Whether you like it or not, Australian labour is expensive by world standards; and the minimum wage — also very high by international standards — is, far from being the guarantor of “fair” pay and comfortable subsistence the likes of Kearney bleat about, is actually a disincentive (or outright bar, for some businesses) to hiring anyone at all.

I wonder how many readers understand that as a result of the Fair Work Act, unions can enter any “workplace” they like; I especially wonder how many readers understand its application insofar as enshrining the right to organise and recruit members during working hours: for just as some of the big, heavily unionised workforces in Australia have collapsed over the past couple of years, the unions have to secure their future somewhere — and they aren’t going to be allowed to do it if the ridiculous favours showered upon them on Gillard’s watch are removed.

It is instructive, therefore, to see WorkChoices — the long-defunct Howard era workplace relations laws — now apparently being readied for re-use as a political sledgehammer at a fourth consecutive election by the ALP and its thuggy associates in the union movement.

The Howard reforms were a modest and sensible suite of measures that encouraged direct bargaining between employers and employees, and which — subject to a no-disadvantage test omitted from the initial version of the laws, but hastily restored after a backlash — enabled flexibility and tradeability around hours, allowances, leave provisions and so forth.

Its greatest flaw was that it was never taken to an election, a misjudgement for which the Howard government paid with its electoral life in 2007.

But to see the idiocy of jumping savagely up and down over a purported “resurrection” of WorkChoices, it is not necessary to look even as far backwards as the Howard government, but to a more recent outrage largely of the unions’ own making.

Back in December 2013 I published a commentary entitled “Moving Forward: Marginalising Unions Without WorkChoices;” that article came as GMH was readying to announce the closure of its Australian manufacturing operations, and also contains several links to excellent articles by other journalists and to other resources, and I encourage those who missed it to take the time to review the material included.

Yet the GMH case and the exodus of the car manufacturers more broadly paints the picture of the logical (and actual) end destination of the preferred operating conditions of the union movement, their eventual deleterious effects on employment, and the obscene bounties carted away by its unquestioningly loyal footsoldiers when the whole edifice collapses under the absurdity of its own weight.

Unions point to “base rates of pay” in enterprise bargaining agreements as evidence of just how poorly remunerated their decrepit members are, but fail to mention the plethora of allowances, loadings, bonuses, penalties and other goodies that in some cases can see workers employed under them earn three, four, five times that rate.

Some of the GMH workers made redundant — the poor, maligned bastards — will walk away with redundancy payouts of between quarter and half a million dollars, and when it is considered that the liability for these payments was a consideration in General Motors’ decision to close its Australian operations it’s hardly a stretch to suggest the unions, in striking enterprise deals that enshrined them in the face of the threat to strike, are largely to blame for the “misfortune” of their members’ unemployment.

But if that is too difficult for some to accept, I cite the example at the polar opposite end of the industrial spectrum of restaurants operated in Melbourne by high-profile chef George Calombaris — and scores more like them — that do not open on Sundays for the rather obvious reason that paying kitchen staff and waiters up to $60 per hour to serve customers, cook food and wash dishes is, on any objective criteria, ridiculous.

Yet the unions have an answer for that too: of course businesses can afford to pay! Their attempts to avoid doing so merely show how greedy they are and how much they hate their staff by depriving them of high-paying hours. It’s just another conspiracy, you see, between the nasty bastards in the Liberal Party who want to wreck the standards of living of millions of Australians, and the business community that gets fat off the profits and gratefully bankrolls the Liberals in return.

That’s a simplistic — but accurately distilled — version of the basic premise of union resistance to workplace reform, and it’s absolute bullshit.

WorkChoices had nothing to do with the demise of car manufacturing in Australia, but the Fair Work Act has a great deal to do with pricing workers at the lower end of the market out of jobs (or at least, reducing the amount of available work to be obtained — which the analogy of the Melbourne restaurants neatly illustrates).

Now, a review by the Productivity Commission — to develop recommendations for the Abbott government to consider, with a view to taking a package of them to the electorate next year — is about to commence, and the unions and an irresponsible ALP are set to raise merry hell over it.

Of course all aspects of workplace laws should be reviewed if there is to be a review; that’s the whole point. Of course things like penalty rates and the laws surrounding terminations and disciplinary action should be included, even if doing so enrages the vested interests who stand to profit most from them being left untouched. But then again, Labor is the party that held a taxation review and prevented it from considering the GST, so it is unsurprising it should object to the framework of the Productivity Commission’s investigations now.

This morning’s article is really meant only as a curtain raiser to what I am sure will occupy a great deal of our time in the medium term, and some thoughts — again, from an addled mind devoid of the six hours’ sleep it needs to function — as a starting point. We will be revisiting this subject rather frequently this year, methinks.

But at the end of the day, a review that encompasses all the things that provoke fury in the ALP/ACTU axis for even daring to mention is not incompatible with a regulatory regime that prevents, for example, the less scrupulous shysters and cowboys in business from firing their staff and rehiring others at half their salaries — a point nobody seems to be making much noise about thus far.

And this is relevant because a sensible and balanced debate over workplace relations reform (which did not accompany the introduction of WorkChoices, was dispensed with when the Rudd-Gillard governments introduced the Fair Work Act, and which Labor and the unions now seek to shut down before it even begins) would talk about the labour market from the perspective of liberalising it and the benefits of doing so: again, an exercise given short shrift in Australia over the past ten years or so, although Coalition figures like Andrew Robb tried to fashion the case with the 2007 election bearing down on the Howard government, but by then it was too late.

After all, there is nothing as effective in politics as fear; these days, of course, Labor peddles little else.

Very simply, when there is plenty of work around and not many people in the market to take it on, employers should have the freedom to pay those who fit their requirements more for their services and, by contrast, when jobs are scarce and many people are competing for them, the impetus to pay them more is, quite clearly, nowhere near as compelling.

The corollary of this is that when businesses cannot afford to hire as many people as they like, forcing them to pay more for the people they do hire is just as likely to drive them out of business — destroying jobs anyway — whereas refusing to remunerate candidates from a smaller pool well to fill an abundance of jobs will damage the business too: no workers, no work, and no work, no profits.

And with observable minimum standards and a system of regulatory safeguards for those already in employment, the horror scenarios being cooked up and bandied around need only remain the stuff of nightmares — not reality.

As we head into this review and the debate that should accompany it, both the ALP and the union movement should stop trying to scare the hell out of people, abandon the story of the nasty, greedy nexus between the Liberals and business, and recognise that business stands to win (and lose) as much from intelligent reforms as their workers do, and that simply ripping people off is in nobody’s interests.

But to do so would require them to concede that their own agendas and their own handiwork, protected by legislation specifically designed in the unions’ favour, actually destroy jobs, and hundreds of thousands of them at that: and in the certain knowledge that Labor and its union cronies will never concede such a thing, the loud and vicious campaign to shut the entire debate down (or to at least render it politically impossible to proceed with anything arising from it) will now begin in earnest.

If you vote and you live in Australia, you’re about to hear an awful lot more about WorkChoices. Again. The 2016 election will be the fourth consecutive election Labor and the unions have fought on WorkChoices.

And rather than being frightened witless by the awful scenarios their rhetoric conjures up for workers and their families, perhaps — after a decade of this tactic — a better question might in fact be what the ALP and the unions are actually afraid of, and why they are so determined to fight tooth and nail to resist any change that compromises the cosy little sinecures they enjoy as the “masters” of Australia’s workforce.

After all, if you don’t belong to a union, neither the ALP or any union in the country could care less about you — however mistreated or exploited you are. If you don’t belong to a union, you may as well — to them — be dog shit.

And if simple, decent folk think about that, they might realise that the fight over workplace laws and employment conditions has less to do with actual workers than they ever believed, or thought was possible.

 

Victorian Liberals: We Back Michael Kroger As State President

THE NEWS that the former President of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Michael Kroger, will contest the role when it falls vacant in March is to be welcomed, applauded, and heartily endorsed; at a time the Liberals’ stocks have rarely been lower in the state once hailed as the “jewel” in its crown, we believe Mr Kroger is the likeliest candidate to enact reforms that will refocus the party on its primary purpose: to win elections.

50 days ago, the Liberal Party in Victoria lost government — after a single term — and with it, notched up its seventh defeat from the ten state elections held from 1982 until now.

That dubious achievement was recorded barely a year after the Victorian Liberal candidates — for the ninth time in 12 federal elections over the same period — failed to carry a majority of seats in Victoria despite the Liberal Party forming government nationally after five of those elections; one of the three majorities it scored in Victoria (in 1990) occurred largely as a result of state factors: one of the few genuine instances of an election result at one level of government being unquestionably influenced by goings-on at another.

Regular readers will have seen the blistering critique I published in this column one day after the embarrassing state election defeat last year, and with the benefit of the hindsight provided by even the seven weeks that have since elapsed, there is nothing in that assessment that I believe to be at all in error.

If anything — and with Liberal-led administrations in other jurisdictions and federally experiencing almost identical problems to varying degrees — the urgency to tackle those issues in the Party’s home state have grown even more pressing during that time.

With these observations in mind, I read with interest yesterday that the current President of the party’s Victorian division, Tony Snell, will not recontest the post at the meeting of State Council on 28 March; the declared candidates for the position are recently-retired upper house MP Andrea Coote (backed by state leader Matthew Guy) and former President Michael Kroger.

This column enthusiastically endorses Michael Kroger to return as state President.

Speaking as a rank-and-file branch member of the Liberal Party in Melbourne (and where factional considerations are concerned, completely unaligned) I have unswervingly, over a 25-year period, been prepared to work with anyone with the best interests of the Liberal Party at heart: and on this occasion, there appears to be two very good candidates who fully satisfy that brief.

Coote — a sporadic attendee at branch meetings in my area as an MP, whom I know (albeit not well) and who I hold in high regard — is an impressive and highly capable individual, and with many years’ recent first-hand experience in state politics would in ordinary circumstances seem an excellent choice to become the party’s state President.

But at a time when the Liberal Party’s standing in its own birthplace — the state Liberals boasted for decades was the “jewel” in their party’s crown — is nothing short of abysmal, its Victorian division needs a restructure, not a representative: and having performed in this role once before, delivering reforms that arguably led to the party’s only time in the sun in this state for more than 30 years, it is Kroger who stands out as the obvious, and only, candidate for the job.

I have no doubt Coote is more than able to discharge the role of state President of the party.

But so urgent is the remedial work to be effected upon it that it is critical the job is done properly the first time; and however cruelly, unfairly or otherwise in respect to Ms Coote, it is Mr Kroger’s past record that offers the best guarantee that this malfunctioning branch of a great political institution is whacked back into shape.

Kroger — President in the late 1980s and early 1990s — remains a controversial and polarising figure, and it is a monument to him of sorts that even now, the Liberal Party in Victoria is still often characterised as being split between Kennett and Kroger/Costello camps, although these demarcations have understandably blurred and broken down with time.

But the changes he was instrumental in seeing made in his earlier iteration in the post — tearing down antiquated organisational structures, overhauling and modernising preselection processes, orchestrating the removal of a great deal of deadwood from the ranks of the party’s elected representatives, and providing the party with mechanisms to better manage is political and organisational affairs — arguably underwrote what might have been a second golden era for the Victorian Liberals that has been progressively squandered in his absence.

Some have argued that the gain of nine Labor-held seats at the federal election of 1990 was merely attributable to the rancid, decaying government of John Cain that then held office in Spring Street; the fact remains that the organisational structures introduced by Kroger enabled the Liberal Party to fully capitalise and maximise their political advantage, and the Liberals’ haul of 24 of the (then) 38 federal seats in Victoria has not been bettered, or even equalled, since then: even at elections the party won in landslides in 1996, 2004, and 2013.

Similarly, the election of a Liberal government in 1992 was always likely to be a given, so decrepit and incompetent was the ALP incumbent the party faced, led by Joan Kirner after Cain’s departure from office.

Yet again, it is uncertain (or even unlikely) that the stellar win recorded by Jeff Kennett at the 1992 election could have been achieved with equivalent magnitude had Kroger’s reformation of the Liberals as a political fighting unit and professional electoral outfit not first taken place.

As a Brisbane boy still living in Queensland at the time, many of my contemporaries in the Liberal Party there were wont to regard what Kroger had achieved with great admiration and, indeed, awe: our own division of the party had never really fired a bullet — at the state level, at least — and to say we were impressed would be to understate the matter.

Many of us were regular visitors in Melbourne and some of us moved here permanently; some of those earlier contemporaries were and are in business with Kroger; others have worked with or for him, either in the companies he runs, inside the Liberal Party, or both.

For my part, I have only ever met him once, and then only as a fleeting pleasantry at the state funeral for former Premier Lindsay Thompson; unlike Coote I am unable to provide opinion on Kroger personally and I do not seek to do so.

But the bottom line is that political parties exist to win elections; stripped of fanfare and exposed as what they are in brutally blunt terms, they serve no other purpose whatsoever. The fellowships and friendships and coteries and committees that spring from them can be a great thing, but in the absence of the primary driving mission they would not exist at all.

And from elections wins — irrespective of your political stripe or ideological disposition — the delivery and implementation of policy and its consequent impacts are made possible.

It is on this basis alone that this column welcomes, applauds and heartily endorses Michael Kroger to resume the Presidency of Victoria’s Liberals.

Should he succeed, he will have his work cut out.

A moribund secretariat at 104 Exhibition Street needs and deserves to be gutted and rebuilt from scratch; as in his first stint in the post, a swathe must be cut through the deadwood among the ranks of the party’s elected MPs; and an end — in this state at least — must come to the insidious practice of recycling individuals through executive organisational roles within the Liberal Party (or the augmentation of their ranks with similarly odious persons) who add little or no benefit to the party’s electoral interests, and whose chief activities centre on butt-covering and the prosecution of personal and factional vendettas instead of focusing on the main task: fighting and defeating the ALP at the polls.

There is much more I could say, but in the interests of concision I will try to be circumspect.

I wish to place on record, publicly, an offer to provide whatever assistance may be required and/or sought by Mr Kroger in prosecuting his campaign to resume as President of the Victorian Liberal Party, and note in doing so that I do not have any parliamentary ambitions to pursue.

I do, however, remain in contemplation of whether to continue my membership of the party when fees fall due in March, and should Kroger win the role as President, any inclination to leave it will be immediately abandoned: the kind of fundamental change I believe the party requires is precisely what Kroger as President would deliver.

I would urge all readers with membership of the Liberal Party (or networks that intersect with its membership) to actively help to facilitate Kroger’s election as President; after all, the Liberal Party remains a party for its members, and it is only through mobilisation that this opportunity for basic, structural and desperately needed change can be grasped.

It is the position of this column that in the face of the indisputable problems the Liberal Party faces in Victoria that Michael Kroger represents the very best option on offer to address them, and to begin the hard and at times unpalatable work of internal reform that will yield the electoral success we seek as Liberals in the longer run.

Now Kroger has declared — and especially if he wins — the cacophony of public outrage from all corners of the Left will become deafening: evidence, however perverse, that his resumption of the role at the apex of the Liberal Party in this state is a development they fear.

This alone, in isolation from any other consideration, is reason enough for a Kroger victory to be engineered as decisively and as resoundingly as possible.

 

Thinking The Unthinkable: Could Abbott Be Dumped In 2015?

WHATEVER THE RESULT of the state election in Queensland on 31 January, its residual impact on conservative forces across Australia is likely to be very heavily negative; and fresh from imposing the “solution” on Medicare funding, devised by the increasingly notorious Prime Minister’s Office and stunningly abandoned this week, the latent muttering over Tony Abbott’s position seems set to explode. Could the Liberals dump him this year?

I will no doubt be pilloried in some quarters for canvassing this subject, and if this is the case then so be it: this column — despite accusations to the contrary, particularly when Julia Gillard remained Prime Minister — has never been blithely sycophantic in its advocacy for the Coalition despite my longstanding membership of the Liberal Party.

But the simple fact is that the Abbott government, despite a few noteworthy exceptions, has mostly been a disappointment to date, and certainly where its conservative-inclined voting base is concerned. I think we reached the point during the week where some serious (and, to be sure, unpalatable) questions are going to start to be canvassed.

And far more widely than in our discussion forum here.

Regular readers are well aware that I have long been a staunch supporter of Tony Abbott, and whilst it predated the commencement of this column, I was delighted when he won the Liberal leadership in December 2009.

But that support has always been for Abbott personally, and in the time since his election win in 2013 I have been at first dismayed and then increasingly angered by the way his government has been operated, with the Prime Minister’s Office acting as a kind of central micromanagement unit arrogating control to itself of every aspect of the business of governance.

From acting as a proxy for the Prime Minister in dealings with Cabinet and business figures to the iron-fisted control of staff recruitment right down to the ranks of coffee-making shitkickers; from a completely bungled approach to political tactics and strategy to a total inability to communicate and sell government initiatives; and from an approach to the hostile Senate the government confronts that defies sanity — even “deals” to pass budget measures that are presented as “wins” are contrived by the likes of Clive Palmer to blow multi-billion dollar holes in the government’s budget agenda — to a media “strategy” that casts the government in an exceedingly poor light publicly as often as not, it is reasonable to suggest the PMO, far from advancing the Coalition cause, is actively fomenting its political destruction.

Now — with the unedifying mess made of the government’s Medicare reforms this week — one has to wonder whether a red line has been crossed.

The Murdoch press (which, even the Coalition’s detractors would concede, should know) is reporting in its major mastheads across the country today that the cack-brained plan to cut Medicare rebates on short GP consultations by $20 was devised by the PMO and insisted upon as government policy by Abbott, and the leak — which includes the revelation that a “heated exchange” took place over the issue between Abbott, who imposed the change, and relevant ministers Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton, who opposed it — is merely the latest telling pointer of the political dysfunction of the PMO and its disconnect from the electoral political interests of the government more broadly.

The Liberal Party’s political interests elsewhere across the country are not being enhanced by the PMO either.

After all, it was the PMO which helpfully saw to it that the recommencement of fuel indexation — before the bottom fell out of global oil prices — occurred at the beginning of the state election campaign in Victoria last year, and whilst I maintain the defeat of a first-term Liberal government was mostly attributable to more local factors, this particular own goal hardly helped.

A similar snafu has occurred this month; in a “gift” for the re-election prospects of Queensland’s LNP, the Medicare rebate changes were due to commence twelve days out from polling day, and the inevitable uproar had they not been scuppered would probably been enough to seal the LNP’s fall from office after one term: and abandoned as they may have been, human nature dictates that a lot of floating voters in marginal seats will nonetheless remember what the Abbott government fully intended to do when they vote on Saturday week.

Comments by former Defence minister David Johnston — that he wouldn’t trust South Australia’s defence shipbuilding industry to build “a canoe” — ahead of a crucial state by-election in a usually-safe Liberal seat vacated by the death of an Independent, which the Liberals lost to Labor by nine votes, might not at face value be something to point the finger at the PMO for.

But Johnston survived as Defence minister only because of Abbott’s initial refusal to significantly reshuffle his ministry — a position known to have emanated from the PMO — and whilst his belated removal was warranted, it should have been done far sooner.

That reshuffle (described in this column as “paranoid”) — whilst mildly positive — did not go far enough; my view that it was an exercise in narcissistic game-playing and manipulating various rivals has since been echoed in the mainstream commentariat, which was quick to note the surfeit of junior ministers and parliamentary secretaries being dispatched to “keep an eye” on various figures who pose leadership threats to Abbott in the medium term.

There are plenty of examples — hundreds even — that illustrate the counter-productive effects of the activities of the PMO; we have discussed them, regrettably, with increasing frequency as the Abbott government has progressed in office. There is no need to take up too much space today with further examples of the damage it is doing to government. But I do think this week’s Medicare debacle might prove to be a turning point in terms of what many Coalition MPs are prepared to stomach.

One of the big themes hammered relentlessly by Abbott in the lead-up to his election win was that, if successful at the polls, he would lead a “grown-up government;” the “adults would be back in charge,” and one would have to say that if the way his government is being operated is evidence of a grown-up or adult outfit, the efforts of preschoolers might in fact be preferable.

Coalition MPs — by choice, inclination or instruction — have been conditioned, with the destructive precedent of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership fiasco as a salutary reminder, to avoid any consideration of a change in the leadership of the Liberal Party at almost any cost: such an event, the theory goes, would amount to political seppuku and lead to certain defeat whenever the next election is held.

But if the next election is slipping away anyway — and make no mistake, if things continue as they are, the Coalition will lose — the adherence to slogans about adults and grown-ups to shun a leadership change is in itself a childish delusion, and a politically reprehensible one to boot.

The Coalition’s poll numbers have been in the toilet now for the past year — and protest vote it might be — but the movement away from the government, whilst initially parking with the Palmer United Party and “Others” has gradually but distinctly moved onto the Labor pile, with Labor’s election-winning lead in reputable surveys no longer based on harvesting almost 20% of the overall vote through preferences.

Some in the Coalition bunker might argue that this ALP vote is “soft” and that in conducive circumstances would evaporate.

Yet the same observations were made by Labor strategists when Abbott remained opposition leader, with the poll resurgence experienced by Julia Gillard in the wake of her disgraceful “misogyny” speech held aloft as proof. Labor not only went on to lose anyway, but despite its own leadership change to “save the furniture” having accepted its inevitable defeat, lost in a landslide.

I don’t think there’s a need to accept the Coalition will be defeated at the next election, much less to embark on strategies to mitigate the scope of such a defeat.

But despite all the empty rhetoric about “barnacle removal” and similarly noble but poorly prosecuted objectives, it’s arguable that after the Medicare rebate fracas this week the government’s political stocks are lower than they have ever been.

And with an election due in little more than 18 months, the time to do something is fast running out.

Tony Abbott has a reputation for loyalty that is as admirable as it is increasingly rare in political circles, and it is difficult to criticise it.

But loyalty, as even those of the most unimpeachable integrity know, can often become blind.

In this regard, his loyalty to chief of staff Peta Credlin is fast becoming a political liability, if not already so; it hardly takes a genius to see that most — if not all — of the government’s problems emanate to varying degrees directly from the PMO.

This is not, as has become fashionable in some quarters, merely an attack on Credlin, an enunciation of any sour grapes, or (perversely) a sexist or misogynistic crusade, and Abbott deserves censure for ever suggesting criticism of Credlin should be thus described.

But Peta Credlin, as chief of staff to the Prime Minister, is also the bureaucrat nominally responsible for the Prime Minister’s Office: as the official in charge of it, what is done by the PMO is also done in her name.

Yet it is also done in Abbott’s name as well, and despite much fanfare about minor personnel changes at the PMO — particularly the recruitment of journalist Mark Simkin from the ABC — the truth is that in terms of outcomes very little (if anything) has changed.

Some additional interesting perspectives on the PMO can be accessed here and here.

At the end of the day, those who accuse me of blind sycophancy ought to read these articles more closely, to be blunt: I am disgusted that the opportunity to govern for many years seems to be in the process of being comprehensively squandered, and whilst the Coalition and its present parliamentary line-up has much to offer under its present leader, it is undeniable that the government is misfiring, very badly, and that the reasons for that derive almost exclusively from the Gestapo-like tactics of the PMO and its insistence that it knows better than anyone else when it clearly and patently does not.

And to those hardheads at the apex of the Liberal Party organisation, whose apoplectic reactions to someone like me (whom they believed had been cast away from any influence in the party forever) calling these things as they are, I simply say that my only agenda is the advancement of the Liberal Party and the fulfilment of its objectives and that, clearly, an election loss after three years of achieving little to nothing is not consistent with those aims: but unlike me, some of them are in a position to do something about it.

The story carried by the Daily Telegraph and its sister publications today — the substance of which was leaked from federal Cabinet’s Expenditure Review Committee and verified by the journalist who wrote it — provides evidence, were any more required, of just how poorly the PMO in its current configuration and the throng of hand-picked staff who survived the recruitment veto to constitute it, has served this government.

If Abbott continues to resist root and branch restructuring of this most critical function of parliamentary government out of some obsessive sense of loyalty to Credlin personally, then others, at some point, are going to have to see to it instead, and that can only mean one thing: a new leader, with key figures in the PMO quickly dispensed with as his or her first order of business.

For now, Abbott is probably fortified by the fact that of a list of potential leadership contenders — Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey — there is no clear favourite, although Hockey is probably damaged beyond salvation in the leadership sense by the 2014 budget. Turnbull would merely deliver a sequel to the disaster that was his leadership the first time.

And it is noteworthy that none of these leading contenders are from the Liberal Right, although Bishop and Morrison have made themselves acceptable to the Right by virtue of their stellar performances in a government that has been noticeably lacking in standouts to date.

But whatever the result of the imminent Queensland election, it seems certain to administer another kick in the head to the Coalition nationally; even if the LNP somehow retains office, the swing against it will be too large to simply be blamed on state factors coming off the 63-37 result the LNP achieved three years ago.

And remember — as I said at the outset — the PMO’s own Medicare policy will undoubtedly feed into the anger set to be vented against the Queensland government in less than a fortnight.

If all of this crystallises support behind one of the potential candidates to succeed Abbott — probably Bishop — then all bets must be off.

It is telling that having actively campaigned for the Napthine government in Victoria last November despite the likelihood the Liberals would lose, Bishop is nowhere to be seen in Brisbane this week: an indication, perhaps, that association with a heavily anti-Liberal mood is being deliberately avoided in a pointed tactical move.

Even so, none of the attempted circuit breakers deployed by Abbott to date have worked; they have either been buggered up comprehensively (like the ministerial reshuffle), shorted out by friendly fire and own goals (the latest Medicare imbroglio), or have simply failed to have any impact at all.

To date, the one sacred cow that remains virtually intact is the Prime Minister’s own office.

At some point, Abbott’s colleagues are going to have to take a deep breath, steel themselves, and confront reality: if the PMO can’t be moved, then Abbott will have to go.

I think we’re very close to that point. The Liberal Party is looking like ending up as a one-term administration. It shouldn’t be. And it doesn’t have to be.

 

Comments, as ever, are welcome today, including from those opposed politically to the Coalition, but fair warning: this is a discussion in the context of the problems that bedevil the Abbott government as a whole, not an opportunity to rip into Abbott personally in line with ALP/Greens/Clive Palmer policy.

Comments that simply seek to dehumanise and vilify Abbott — off-subject, as I have just spelt out — will simply be deleted if submitted in response to this article. Save the anti-Abbott abuse for somewhere else today please.

 

Medicare Mess: Own Goals Keep Hurting Abbott Government

JUST HOURS after this column took aim at Bill Shorten over his vapid, vacuous putsch to become Prime Minister, the Abbott government — again — booted a spectacular own goal that raises the likelihood he will do exactly that. Abandoning a policy, however prudent, that would create many losers hands Shorten a big win. Despite talk of a “reset,” it also shows the government remains woefully defective on strategy, tactics, and political judgement.

They say life is rich with irony, and political life especially so; just as it appeared the Abbott government was about to get serious in making the case for one of its hard, unpopular budget measures — funding changes to Medicare — one of its promising, newly appointed ministers emerged from literally nowhere to scuttle it.

First things first: I stand by every word of the article I published yesterday, insofar as its comments on Bill Shorten and the fatuously irresponsible approach to winning office is concerned.

I could as easily have tied the case to welfare policy, or family benefits, or cash handouts to protect endangered three-eyed blue-headed owls; provided Shorten ends up being Prime Minister he really doesn’t give two hoots about these things, aside from ensuring existing recipients continue to get everything they are currently receiving (and sometimes more), and he certainly couldn’t care less about anything or anyone other than himself and the realisation of his own ambitions.

By his words and his actions, his cavalier disregard for Australia’s long-term national interests is flagrant, and obvious.

Even so, the abandonment of the Abbott government’s latest attempt to extract efficiencies from the Medicare funding pot — cutting rebates for short consultations by $20 per visit — in the face of its certain disallowance by the Senate shows that for all the macho talk late last year of a “reset” and “barnacle removal,” it remains abysmally and pathetically lacking where questions of strategy, tactics and basic political nous are concerned.

As a staunch conservative with a profound, lifelong and near-total contempt for the ALP and the politics of social democracy and democratic socialism more generally, I have nonetheless been extremely critical of the Abbott government for most of the time since its election, and of the appallingly misconceived, potentially election-losing budget it remains determined to persist with the dregs from even after nine months of disastrous opinion poll numbers and senselessly self-inflicted political damage.

What readers might not know is that whilst I (personally) supported the plan for a co-payment on bulk-billed GP visits — in its original form of a simple $5 charge on GP consultations, not the complex, compounding $7 it mutated into and which would have applied to everything from a trip to the GP to X-rays, blood tests, CAT scans, and to God knows what else — I was horrified when the latest plan, centred on reductions in rebates paid under Medicare, was unveiled.

And the worst aspect of it, in my view, was the measure unceremoniously dumped by Health minister Sussan Ley, appearing suddenly and unexpectedly in an early return from her holidays yesterday: the $20 cut to rebates for GP consultations of less than 20 minutes’ duration. Any idiot could foresee this measure would see the cost of going to a doctor skyrocket.

The Abbott government won an explicit mandate at the 2013 election to fix the twin problems of Australia’s budget deficit — currently stuck at about $50bn per annum, give or take a bit — and the consequent, ballooning pile of commonwealth debt, which stands at some $350bn and is rising fast.

As part of that mandate, Coalition voters who provided it expected and accepted that government expenditure would be cut, and that these cuts would by necessity transcend adjustments made through the realisation of efficiencies and the elimination of waste: the problem, simply stated, is so entrenched (and so big) that a few fiddles worth five or ten billion dollars each year were never going to get the job done.

Ranged against this mandate has been the Senate, whose obstruction of the government’s manoeuvres has been led (despite an obvious Coalition strategy to sideline and marginalise it) by Labor, which has cynically refused to pass any bill that cuts outlays whilst voting for anything that increases them.

Even if Treasurer Joe Hockey had crafted a budget that astutely delivered a root-and-branch demolition of the debt/deficit problem the Coalition inherited from Labor — as Peter Costello did in 1996 — it is probable his efforts would have met the same destructive end at the hands of a hostile Senate.

And even if the measures his actual budget contained merited their implementation (and many of them did not and do not) it would have counted for little: Shorten, on his vacuous quest to slither into the Prime Minister’s office by refusing to allow the incumbent to govern, would nonetheless have engineered the rejection of those initiatives as well.

Much mileage has been extracted, by forces opposed to the government, from a series of unbelievably stupid and crassly specific pledges made by Tony Abbott on the eve of the 2013 election: no cuts to Education, Health, changes to pensions or the GST, and no cuts to the ABC and SBS; yet this is to some degree offset by a catch-all he had made just a few days prior to that, declaring that if the Coalition was elected and it found the state of the books more disparate than it believed they were (which it did) then his government would have to revisit its promises, and “do some things that people won’t like very much.”

Either way, it’s a semantic argument that both sides can claim legitimacy on: and the only reason those pre-election utterances confer any legitimacy at all upon those who created Australia’s money problems in the first place is because Abbott, whether appallingly advised or in commission of an unforgivable last-minute error, handed it to them on a plate.

It has proven to be a portentous mistake. Many more have followed.

The point is that revenue cuts have to come from somewhere: and it is reasonable to expect that the biggest government expenditure areas of welfare, health and education would offer the greatest scope to yield significant savings — and the solution, in large part, to the problem the Coalition was elected to fix.

But the “solutions,” too often, have taken aim at the wrong targets; bold as they might be for their audacity or their sheer capacity to piss people off — often the marginal seat Coalition voters apparently lined up to be hit hardest overall in an indecent display of political ineptitude — they have ignored some of the most obvious places to look for savings.

Like the NDIS, with its $24bn annual running costs once it’s fully operational.

Like a proper overhaul of Australia’s welfare regime from top to bottom, as Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith has done in the UK with stunning results — not just in achieving savings but in getting people back to work — instead of the piecemeal fiddles we have seen.

Like abolishing handouts to hundreds of organisations addicted to discretionary government largesse (like the one we looked at in 2013) that remain stuck on the taxpayer teat to cement their allegiance to, and influence on behalf, of the ALP.

And whilst it’s unlikely the Senate in its present configuration would pass the kind of savings required for the Abbott government to rectify the gaping structural hole in Australia’s finances — or that Labor, “led” by Shorten, would agree to vote for any meaningful cuts at all — the government has, by and large, been its own worst enemy.

Against this backdrop comes the shocking about-face yesterday just as the indications were there that the government was finally getting serious about at least trying to sell its unpopular initiatives — even if those measures were, themselves, poorly conceived.

It hands Shorten Labor a massive political and psychological victory, at a time the ALP already commands an election-winning position in all reputable polling and has done so for the past year.

Having already convinced itself it is surfing a wave of momentum toward a return to office, the Coalition’s handling of this latest snafu over Health policy welds a swathe of voters who stood to lose out from the Medicare changes to the Labor cause, along with many more who were fearful or uncertain about them and an unquantifiable further number who will look at the way the government is operating and simply shake their heads.

It’s not happening because of any particular affection for the ALP or (Christ alive!) for Shorten personally. But all of these “mishaps” are driving voters into the willing arms of the ALP. Labor doesn’t lift a finger to win them over because, brutally, it doesn’t have to. The fact it has nothing of its own to offer is unimportant.

I don’t think there’s a government spending cut possible that wouldn’t (or won’t) create losers: this is the nature of the beast.

And in Australia today — largely, but not exclusively, as a result of the handout mentality and/or irresponsible rhetoric fostered by Shorten, his party, and the government it formed between 2007 and 2013 — these “losers” are louder, more potent, and eagerly harnessed as political chattels by a ruthless ALP machine that will stop at nothing to seize power at literally any cost.

Everyone with a reasonable appreciation of the debt/deficit conundrum and an appreciation of the need to remedy it is in favour of government spending cuts but not, as has become disturbingly evident, if it extends to themselves personally.

Is the Abbott government, therefore, fighting a battle that is impossible to win? I doubt it.

There is no over-arching narrative; no multi-faceted, strategic plan that is evident; no apparent forethought to seeking recourse at an election underpinned by (what’s left of) three years of carefully communicated tactical positioning; and no tilling the ground to engineer a double dissolution — which, properly executed, offers the Coalition a lethal political weapon — to cleanse the Senate of much of its current crossbench. Indeed, as one (unnamed) government MP told the Murdoch press after the budget in May, there is no “plan B:” all the government had (and has) is a defective budget to work with.

In fact, there isn’t much evidence of any sound political judgement being exercised at all in government ranks.

It all came together yesterday with the intervention of one competent minister to junk a bad policy that was nonetheless being subjected to what appeared to be a competent attempt to sell it.

The government was spared the outrage it would have sparked next week as people visiting their doctors were slugged an extra $20.

Instead, it brought upon itself ridicule and contempt in equal measure — depending on who you talk to — and gave off yet more of the appearance of chaos, a lack of direction, and an inability to effectively govern that has marked its efforts for most of the past year.

Either way, the only winner is Shorten; this country cannot afford a return to Labor government — literally — and it needs Bill Shorten as its Prime Minister like it needs the proverbial hole in the head. The prospects of both were greatly enhanced by the government’s activities yesterday.

For all the talk of a “reset,” and of drawing a line under a woeful year last year, 2015 now bears an ominous similarity for the Abbott government to its annus horribilis of 2014.

And all the while, the time for it to finally get its shit together is fast running out.