Political Panic And Taxes: Gillard Loses The Plot

AUSTRALIA got a glimpse of Labor entering its death throes today, as a panicked government began to admit the true consequences of its mismanagement: a $12 billion revenue shortfall, in addition to $7.5 billion announced at Christmas. It makes the likely horror May budget a certainty.

Today’s events almost certainly seal the fate of the ALP; already staggering toward an almighty election belting, the odds on a total bloodbath now seem very short indeed.

Panic. Desperation. Fear. Hypocrisy. Malice. Conceit. Desperation (again).

It’s a lethal political cocktail whose ingredient list has finally been laid bare, and it’s finally clear that this noxious elixir is what drives federal Labor in its deceitful quest for votes.

Julia Gillard marked out the plot for her own government’s grave during the 2010 election campaign with her promise that “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.”

The grave was dug by Wayne Swan, with his promise — the first of over 500 such promises by the duo — that the ALP would deliver a surplus budget in 2012-13.

(That’s now, by the way).

The pair lined the Labor coffin with a velvet trimming of commitments of up to $18 billion to fund education funding reforms (Gonksi) and a National Disability Insurance Scheme; a velvet trimming that hid the cold iron casing of a barren money vault.

Bags of nails were supplied by the mining industry and the European carbon markets, where botched taxes (designed specifically to raise revenue, far less any noble ideals of superannuation bonuses and environmental nirvana) delivered two-tenths of diddlysquat.

(Seriously, how the “tax and spend” party learned how to botch taxes is a new feat even for the Labor Party, but this government has, against all odds, managed to do it).

And now the hammers are out: first with the dumping of the surplus pledge (literally) on Christmas Eve by Swan — along with an admission of a $7.5 billion revenue shortfall — and again with this morning’s concession by Gillard that the budget is a further $12 billion short on its forecasts.

The final nail in the Labor Party’s coffin is likely to be driven home on budget night, but my point is that there is now so much damage to Labor’s reputation for economic management that it literally doesn’t matter what Swan announces on May 14.

So unreliable — and so untrustworthy — are Swan’s numbers on GDP growth, revenue, expenditure, and projections of the size of the deficit that frankly, nobody should believe anything he has to say.

Indeed, I would be unsurprised — albeit alarmed — if the actual budget deficit was as high as $50 billion, or even more.

What prompted today’s sudden outbreak of “honesty” over the size of the hole in Labor’s budget? I don’t profess to know, but I’m certain there’s more to it than meets the eye.

For one thing, Gillard and Swan have literally spent three years denying the problem even exists; Swan, in particular, has been at pains to trumpet his economic management “credentials” at every available opportunity.

For another, the pair — having botched two taxes designed to rake in billions of dollars — have studiously avoided any suggestion of tax slugs being imposed upon middle Australia.

And finally, they have spent the duration of their term in office attempting to demonise the Coalition, in advance, for the repairs they know an Abbott government will need to make to the nation’s finances as a direct result of their own government’s incompetence.

Gillard lost the plot altogether today in revisiting this theme, declaring “our opponents and their friends crudely flaunt the bitter language of the cut throat and the brandished axe.”

This was followed by the tired but delusional claim that “we govern for all Australians – we govern to strengthen the economy and to spread the benefits to all.”

Yet the problem is likely to be far worse than either Gillard or Swan have acknowledged; the pair have played fast and loose over the true state of the country’s financial position for so long it seems inconceivable that a full and frank admission has been made.

Especially given today’s “revelations” are really Part II of Swan’s Christmas Eve statement. What are they holding back from the public this time?

And to continue to try to frighten people about cuts a conservative government might make, it follows that there is more for such a government to need to repair than we have been told. Call me cynical, but this government, collectively, has form as a liar.

Gillard made the claim today that “economic simpletons” would simply argue that total government revenues had increased (as we did here last night — accurately — that revenues are up nearly 50% since 2008).

These alleged clowns fail, according to Gillard, to account for factors such as a larger population and rising health and aged pension costs.

I’d say that’s an awful, awful lot of extra people and pension payment increases.

But it begs the question: if things are so dire, what on Earth motivated this government to make promises worth $18 billion on education and disability funding?

Gillard claims that there was no evidence or suggestion that a problem of such magnitude existed, even three months ago, that her government could act upon.

And my response to that is simple.

Bullshit.

For her defence to be plausible, it either amounts to proof of the contention that she and her government are the most economically inept stewards in Australia’s history, or that her beloved “professionals at Treasury” are even more incompetent as analysts and forecasters than her government is as a manager.

Which is it?

It brings me to the imminent budget — and believe it, this will be a shocker.

I have been talking in this column of late about savage cuts to spending allocations that will hit the great majority in middle Australia hard: Family Tax Benefit, the private health care rebate, possibly the first home owners’ grant, and so forth.

There are also likely to be tax hikes.

Wayne Swan ruled out hiking income tax some months ago, but given Gillard’s stout declarations that all options “including those previously off the table” would be considered, Swan’s promise can be taken with a grain of salt.

There is a rumour circulating that the Medicare levy is to be raised — possibly as high as 2.5% — to pay for Gillard’s reforms in disability funding.

And to be sure, smokers and drinkers are likely to be hit as usual.

Another group likely to be hit is motorists; I wouldn’t mind a tenner on the reintroduction of the indexing of fuel excise, and probably with an initial jolt of an immediate few cents per litre to get the ball rolling as from budget night.

There are even credible rumours suggesting the reintroduction of estate taxes and an end to negative gearing are on the table, as well as hikes on taxes levied on certain types of speculative gains.

Somewhat ludicrously — given the background — Gillard has been doing press conferences today masquerading as a solemn lady of State; I won’t insult the memory of Sir Winston by describing her attempts as Churchillian, but you get the drift.

“As a Labor Prime Minister, I find these decisions both urgent and grave,” Ms Gillard said.

Powerful stuff from half the duumvirate that has spent years denying the problem exists.

Gillard went on to say that all Australians must share the burden to help fix the problem.

And that’s where the final nails will be hammered into her government’s coffin.

One, that remark signals tax hikes and budget cuts affecting everyone in Australia that will cause real pain, and adversely affect people’s lives in a way that could have been avoided if her government had an iota of economic nous, or had been honest about what it was doing.

And two, should that scenario materialise on budget night, it will confirm the annihilation set to be inflicted on the Labor Party on 14 September, and make the spectacle far worse than it already promises to be.

Gillard can’t possibly expect voters to be swayed by some charade of openness and honesty; her track record (and that of Swan) stinks in this regard.

In any case, it’s too late now.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey got it about right in saying ”there is no limit to what they (the ALP) will do or consider doing to the Australian economy, to families across Australia.”

The bottom line from today’s developments is that the only things held to be sacrosanct are Gillard’s Gonski reforms, and her National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Both worthy, neither affordable, and both measures that will worsen an already massive budget deficit black hole.

“Legacies” and grand statements might be well and good, but I think voters are more concerned about the growing impost of federal government in their daily lives and the increased financial cost that impost is about to inflict on them, and in the end a change of government will trump Gillard imperative for a “legacy” — in spades.

Simpering Appeal For Electoral Clemency From Wayne Swan Should Be Ignored

SOME PEOPLE in politics are beneath the contempt of this column; one such individual is Wayne Swan, whose tenure as Treasurer has seen Australia’s economic position deteriorate drastically, and who has overseen the decline with a cavalier, smug, self-important chip on his shoulder.

This column — as readers know — does not habitually engage in “play the man” type commentary; indeed, we call things as we see them, and to the extent that involves discussing individual people and personalities, our comments are always backed by the substance of the events of the day.

Even so, a handful of political players come in for special treatment for time to time; and Wayne Swan — who it’s fun (and accurate) to describe as a pious, self-important bubble — is certainly one of those.

And even then, we wouldn’t make the call if we weren’t given sound reason to do so.

It was with some surprise (and considerable mirth) therefore to read an article in the Herald Sun yesterday — “Treasurer Wayne Swan Confesses To Past Mistakes” — in which Swan does in fact offer an apology, of sorts, for the ALP’s ills in office, and for his own misjudgements as Treasurer.

Of sorts.

And I put that qualifier on it because the “apology” is laced with barbs aimed at the Liberal Party, misinformation, half-truths and scare tactics in a clearly desperate, rattled attempt to salvage a few lost votes in the face of oncoming electoral slaughter.

Readers can access the Herald Sun article here. It makes for an interesting read.

Before I get stuck into what Swan has had to say this time, I remind people that we’ve been pretty generous with space in this column where he is concerned: we’ve dedicated a song to him, after he told the world Bruce Springsteen did the same; we’ve been there for him when he won the award as the World’s Best Treasurer; and we were there at times when it’s all gone embarrassingly tits-up for the Treasurer, like this and this and this.

Needless to say, there isn’t a lot of sympathy for the Treasurer here now that he is attempting — a few short months before an election that will terminate Labor’s tenure in government, for perhaps a generation — to curry favour with voters.

The Red And The Blue recommends all readers simply ignore this latest diatribe from Swan.

“I know the Labor Party isn’t exactly the flavour of the month at the moment and we haven’t always pulled the right rein every single time over the last few years,” the Treasurer says, in the understatement of the year.

Nonetheless…”but whatever people think about this Labor Government, they know it gets the big economic calls right – even when that comes at a political cost.”

And it is at that point that anyone with half a brain ought read the rest of Swan’s remarks more as a comedy piece, and less as a serious communication about economic management.

The problem — and this is an old story — is that the Rudd-Gillard government has literally spent hundreds of billions of dollars, with absolutely nothing of consequence to show for it.

Swan and his cohorts like to point to the fact Australia came through the so-called Global Financial Crisis without entering a technical recession; the contention defies the fact that

  • The Australian economy weathered the GFC because it was already in robust health before the onset of the crisis, with tens of billions of dollars in the bank, thanks to the Howard government;
  • The “stimulus” activity Labor has rattled on about ever since amounted to $43 billion, which begs the question of where the other $250 billion it has pissed up against a post has gone; and
  • Even if one accepts Labor is responsible (as it claims) for avoiding recession in 2008-09, and even if it is accepted (which it most certainly isn’t by this column) that the avoidance was the result of brilliant economic stewardship by Swan, the reality is that these events were five years ago, and that it is time to get a new story.

When it comes to the sad state of the economy, there’s always a reason, or an excuse, or a justification, or simply an “explanation” why the fault lies anywhere but squarely at the feet of Swan as Treasurer and his colleagues as the government of the day.

Their favourite has proven to be “sharp declines in government receipts,” which is odd given Swan’s own budget papers show revenues having grown by nearly 50% since the final year of the Howard-Costello government.

It points in turn to government debt, which has risen from -5% of GDP in 2007-08 to 25% of GDP now; put another way, the federal ALP has racked up $300 billion in foreign debt since 2008, and that figure is set to blow out further as its irresponsible spending practices and incompetent budgets continue to record deficits of $25 billion and higher.

Anyone who questions this alarming rise in debt is simply told that compared to European basket cases, Australian debt is low and remains low (note the current tense) by world standards.

Indeed, as at today’s date, that may be true.

But as I have been saying for a long time now, it doesn’t matter what is going on in Europe as far as our own government is concerned; what matters is what happens here.

Specifically — in answer to the claim of “low” debt — I make the same observation I always have, which is that to get to debt levels of 80% of GDP (the average of the European economies), one starts at zero and must pass through 10%, then 20%, then 30%…

As it is, the interest bill on servicing all of this debt is $7 billion per year — roughly a third of the amount projected as this year’s budget deficit — and rising.

The historically low interest rates Swan likes to trumpet aren’t there because of any shrewd economic strategy; they are there because the non-mining economy is moribund, and without the stimulus of low rates would almost certainly be in deep recession.

So much for that theory.

And given Swan and Labor are asking for three additional years in office, I would point out that in five years, government debt to GDP has increased by 30 percentage points; after an additional three years of the same practices continuing unabated, that figure is likely to be at least 50% — and nudging the ranks of the aptly described “basket cases” of Europe.

So it comes as no surprise that the only answer Swan seems able to provide is to hit out at Liberal Party “austerity.”

In his own words, he charges that “conservatives argue for billions of dollars to be ripped out of the economy, risking recession and jobless queues kilometres long…(Labor) will never apologise for putting jobs and growth first,” he wrote.

Which is fine, insofar as putting things on Bankcard can only go on so long; Australia’s debt levels are increasing at their fastest rate on record, and if left unchecked would see this country in no better position than some of the very basket cases Swan so smugly claims his purported “skills” will deliver Australia from.

It wouldn’t be quite so despicable if $300 billion had been spent on new roads, new rail lines, new airports, new dams — yes, dams — and new (gas-fired, hydro-electric or nuclear) power stations: there would be something seriously meaningful to show for it.

Instead, it has been largely spent featherbedding the ranks of the Commonwealth Public Service, doling out pay rises to sectional groups deemed compliant or useful, or pissed up against a post on wasteful schemes like — you guessed it — Cash for Clunkers, Pink Batts, Green Loans, and the euphemistically-named “Building the Education Revolution” scheme.

That’s before we get to the stuff that nobody has a clue what it was spent on: even, I suspect, some Labor types and bureaucrats nominally charged with its expenditure.

I could go on, but I think readers are more than capable of reading the article from the Herald Sun and drawing their own conclusions.

But it has to be said that an incoming Liberal government will be elected with a mandate to live within its means and, like it or not, this means cleaning up the absolute mess the Labor Party is ready to bequeath to the conservatives on its departure from office.

I should be writing a column about how disgusting it is that each time the ALP does this, the Liberal Party not only has to fix the damage, but has to put up with accusations of being evil and heartless from Labor Party hypocrites for simply finding ways to save money that should never have been (borrowed and) spent in the first place.

But I won’t.

And it has to be said that if Swan truly believes himself when he says he isn’t “cultivating class warfare,” then I’d like to know how many people on incomes modestly higher than average incomes believe they are any better off for five years of Labor government.

The people earning $80,000 (or households on $150,000) Swan and Co call “rich.”

I’d wager the number is miniscule. And on that note, if Swan thinks he and his cronies are going to be voted back into office in September, they had better start whistling Dixie.

(And if anyone remains unconvinced, here it is from a better source again…)

Another Bush As President Of The United States In 2016?

GEORGE W. BUSH resurfaced this week, in the time-honoured tradition of former US Presidents opening presidential libraries; he has advocated younger brother Jeb running for the US presidency in 2016. Could this most successful of political dynasties produce another American President?

Controversy is never far away these days when it comes to discussing the Bush family; like the Kennedys and the Rockefellers and the Roosevelts, it has been among the most prominent clans in American political life for generations, having produced Senators, state Governors, and two Presidents, and whose members have also filled a myriad of other roles in circles of American governance.

Much of this controversy stems from the Presidency of George W. Bush, which divides and polarises opinion both at home and around the world. Was this the Presidency that saw America reclaim its position in the world, and begin the painful process of migrating the US to the realities of the 21st century?

Or was it the defective and misspent opportunity presided over by a village idiot and manipulated by “evil” Dick Cheney, which heightened the risk of worldwide war and sent the USA down the path of economic ruin?

I suspect final judgements on these issues will take many years to crystallise — history often does. But Bush has reignited a discussion that has simmered since his second term began in 2005: should younger brother (and former Governor of Florida) Jeb Bush run for the Presidency in 2016?

Three years out, my sense is that he should; the Republican Party will need a nationally recognised candidate with a proven record in public office if it is to stand any chance of reclaiming the White House when Barack Obama leaves office in early 2017.

This is an area in which Republicans have fared poorly since the departure of Ronald Reagan from the Presidency in 1989; his successor, former President George H. W. Bush, could well be viewed as lucky.

In 1988, he followed the most popular President in recent times into the White House four years after the most spectacular presidential election win in US history, and at a time in which the boom of the 1980s had yet to fully burst and when the USA was riding high on confidence.

His defeat in 1992 by Bill Clinton was a salutary lesson in the mechanics of modern election techniques — and in the importance of honesty, having promised that Americans could “read my lips: no new taxes” and then proceeded to introduce precisely those.

Bob Dole in 1996 was hamstrung by the fact he was too old (at 73) and on account of being widely regarded in America as too divisive; John McCain in 2008 was also seen as too old (72), swimming against the tide of the economic disaster now known as the Global Financial Crisis, attributed rightly or wrongly to the policies of the outgoing Bush administration.

And Mitt Romney last year was simply the wrong candidate: decent and articulate, he looked like a President, but was too similar to many Republican-inclined voters to the Democratic Party to offer any real alternative to the incumbent Obama.

Ironically, and on paper, George W. was an impressively-credentialled candidate; twice elected as Governor of Texas, he was telegenic and popular, although his folksy style (and capacity to mangle words) made him a figure of fun and derision in many quarters.

I think that had Newt Gingrich — former Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1990s — won the nomination to stand against Obama last year, he probably would have won; but hypotheticals are just that, and it brings us back to the question of whether Jeb Bush should run in 2016.

Whoever does stand for the Republican Party is likely to face off against former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the merits of another Clinton as President are as dubious to me as those of another Bush are to those on the political Left.

But the fact of the matter is that Republicans are going to need to select a candidate capable of beating the high-profile, well-resourced Clinton, who boasts a formidable campaign weapon in the form of her husband, teflon-coated ex-President Bill “Slick Willy” Clinton, whose popularity remains vast despite his various failures and foibles in office.

Viewed this way, the GOP has surprisingly few options, despite the score of names that make up the likely field of starters — even this far out from the election.

Romney has already said he will not run again, and in any case would face the same question of his age (69 in 2016) as did Dole and McCain; Gingrich, 72 in a few years’ time, has probably missed on his first and best opportunity in failing to clinch the Republican nomination last time.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum — nominally having put in a strong showing in the GOP primaries against Gingrich and Romney — will likely run again, and at 58 when the contest occurs is certainly the right age.

Yet his brand of conservatism is too doctrinaire and rigid to appeal to the majority of swinging voters in America’s political centre, and what might play well with the Republican Right is probably a recipe for disaster at a general election.

And the raft of past and present Republican state Governors that is habitually trotted out — most notably at present, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — comprises a group of individuals with, mostly, little profile beyond the boundaries of their own states, and little public support in the context of the US Presidency.

Christie is different, in that he has willingly grabbed the opportunity as Governor for media exposure on a national basis whenever it has arisen, most notably during the Hurricane Sandy disaster in the dying days of the 2012 campaign.

But Christie — a veritable mountain of a man — faces ongoing concerns that his weight poses a grave danger of him dying in office as it is, let alone within four years of any presidential win in 2016.

And he isn’t likely to make it that far in any case, with a large contingent of Republicans residually livid with him for fulsomely endorsing Obama’s handling of the Sandy disaster, and to many minds (including my own) effectively terminating Romney’s campaign for the Presidency from within, one week from polling day, by doing so.

It is inconceivable the same Republicans would tolerate his candidacy.

This brings us back to Jeb Bush, and to my mind he’s the GOP’s best bet by a mile.

He declined to enter the fray for the Republican nomination in 2012; possibly a wise decision, given the circus the primary contests degenerated into and given Obama was always likely to be re-elected once Christie effectively intervened in his favour.

His background in politics is exemplary; after several years in that state’s Congress, he became Florida’s Governor in 1999 in a state that had not elected a Republican between 1877 and 1967, and over which Republican Governors had presided for just 17 of the 145 years to that point.

Jeb Bush ticks a lot of the boxes that many of his Republican contemporaries don’t, or can’t; an orthodox conservative politician, he nonetheless boasts relationships with, and support from, Hispanic and Asian Americans that would be critical in any Presidential bid.

(Romney, for example, won 81% of the Presidential votes cast by white Americans, and still lost to Obama).

And Spanish-speaking Bush, married to a Mexican and espousing innovative and practical ideas about how to solve the USA’s illegal immigration crisis, offers his party the means with which to reach out to and embrace minority communities in America that the likes of Romney and Santorum could only dream of.

Critics will point to the facts of the Florida controversy in the 2000 election that saw his older brother become President and, cruelly, even the fact he is a member of the Bush family at all.

I think the idea of Jeb Bush as President of the United States is not only interesting, it’s probably the best option for his country after Obama leaves office, and especially in light of some of the openly socialist and ideologically driven left-wing measures introduced by the present administration that will need to be wound back.

Of his intentions regarding 2016, Bush simply says that he will make a decision in at least a year from now, in time for the endless drudgery of fundraising and planning that is part of a Presidential run in the US to commence, should he opt to throw his hat in the ring.

In the view of this column, that’s a year for his contemporaries in the GOP to get to work on him, and to convince him to run.

AWU Investigation: Just One Little Mistake…

ONE LITTLE SLIP is all it can take, sometimes, to land in a giant receptacle of excrement; so it would appear in this case. Pursuant to Ben Fordham’s recent statements on 2GB regarding the Police investigation of the Prime Minister, a little substance has been forthcoming from other quarters today.

It is crucial — and I emphasise this — that opinions of who did what, or right or wrong, be kept quiet on this issue at present, given it remains the subject of an active Victoria Police investigation that may or may not lead to criminal charges against a person or persons.

Even so, more material relating to this issue has appeared today, and knowing the matter is of tremendous interest to my readers I wanted to share it.

Many people have pondered the reasons Ben Fordham has made not one but two statements in as many days this week, essentially stating that Julia Gillard is under Police investigation, by Fraud and Extortion officers from Victoria Police, and that this “is fact.”

In and of itself, I agree it would seem a little odd as a stand-alone contention.

And I should note before publishing the link I intend to share that many commentators — in the mainstream media and from independent comment sources like this column — are being extremely circumspect in what they say and write regarding the AWU scandal.

The reason of course, as I have explained, is that a very trigger-happy Prime Minister has proven adept at slapping down a lot of material that has appeared in the public domain as a result of such discussion; there is ample evidence of journalists losing their jobs, and websites being shut down, and apologies and “corrections” being extracted and published, as a consequence of those endeavours to keep the minutiae of the matter under the carpet.

Today, it (publicly) becomes a little clearer why.

Noted journalist Hedley Thomas from The Australian has published a piece that deals directly with the Fordham statements, and provides the link (for those who didn’t already unofficially know) explaining why Police were so eager to obtain a statement from Fordham in the wake of the Gillard’s appearance on his program some six weeks ago.

And it is noteworthy — as I mentioned yesterday — that after a brief initial flurry of activity to emphatically deny that any investigation involving Gillard is in progress, the denials of the fact by both Gillard and her office have ceased.

Read this article very carefully. It’s probably a good idea to peruse all of it, if for nothing else than to reacquaint yourselves with the sequence of events thus far, who has said what and about which events in the whole sordid saga, and why Police were so interested in what was said on Fordham’s program in March in the first place.

If you’ve paid attention, when you reach the end of it you will see the point.

One little mistake.

One little slip.

It’s all it takes to land in the shit.

This issue, it would seem, is about to grow legs and run.

Delusional: Now It’s Prime Minister Clive

THE STORY gets ever more bizarre with mining magnate Clive Palmer’s grand plans to enter federal politics; now he says he is “running to be Prime Minister,” but there is little indication he has any concept of what is involved in such an enterprise — and no indication of any support for it at all.

Since I first posted on this charade, a couple of days ago — just as Palmer’s initial announcements were becoming public, but before some key details emerged — some of the murky detail in the “plan” has come to light.

It seems Palmer is intending to stand in the federal seat of Fairfax, based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast; the seat is a usually-safe LNP electorate currently held by Alex Somlyay on a 7% margin.

Somlyay is retiring at this election, but there would seem to be little indication this will make Palmer’s path to winning any easier.

And — with comparisons to the aborted “Joh for PM” campaign of 1987 impossible to avoid — Palmer has also announced that he wants to be Prime Minister of Australia.

This ambition, to be clear, is a joke.

Photo

(We acknowledge reproduction of this excellent picture from the Courier-Mail).

One clue that this objective should not be taken seriously lies in Palmer’s stated intention to contest “all Senate seats;” Senate seats aren’t contested, but rather candidates are proportionally elected on a statewide vote, after gaining enough votes — sometimes after preferences — to achieve a quota (at a half-Senate election, roughly 14.5%).

Another lies in the fact Palmer says he will run candidates in 127 lower house seats only, and not all 150.

I am sure Prof Palmer is a very good businessman, and based on published estimates of his net worth it’s clear he has been nothing if not successful.

But if Palmer were serious about the Prime Ministership, the last thing he would be attempting to do is to enter politics through a start-up party, with his campaign commencing less than five months from polling day.

And the further elaboration of his plans yesterday heightens my suspicion that the real objective of Palmer’s proposed political activities is to be a spoiler, not to win.

Readers will know I pointed out a scenario on Friday in which Katter and Palmer could conceivably siphon enough LNP votes away in Queensland for Labor to retain its seats there, or even make gains to offset losses in NSW; such a prospect would make it ever so easier for the ALP to focus on holding its ground elsewhere and raises the possibility of Palmer enabling the present government to stumble to re-election by default.

Katter’s motives are one thing; he genuinely seems committed to his 1970s-style, McEwenesque, protectionist and anti-competition policies — coloured as they are with a healthy sprinkling of populist appeal to those perhaps less tolerant than others.

But Palmer’s apparent bid for high office displays no such clarity in its objectives; indeed, as I said on Thursday, there is nothing tangible by way of a policy or platform to even allow potential UAP voters to assess its merits.

The icing on the cake for me is the endorsement Palmer received yesterday from serial loser and right-wing wacko, Pauline Hanson, for his political activities.

Enough said.

This entire enterprise stinks of delusion, with not a small hint of revenge toward the LNP at the back of the stench.

And I reiterate my point that if Palmer wishes to risk a continuation of Labor government — something he has forcefully and consistently opposed in the past — he could have chosen no better way to enable such an outcome than the present path on which he has embarked.

Unabashed Arrogance Pantomime (UAP) A Self-Indulgent Red Herring

ECCENTRIC Queensland billionaire Clive Palmer is apparently proceeding with plans to establish his own political party in time to contest the looming federal election; this column believes Palmer’s plans are self-indulgent grandstanding at best, and an exercise in unabashed arrogance at worst.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly what Palmer seeks to achieve in embarking on this latest adventure — not least considering not one policy has been articulated in the name of his political party — but it is equally difficult to see him garnering much public support.

News Limited papers broke the story earlier tonight that Palmer is proceeding with his threat to start a new party, apparently intending to revive the name of the United Australia Party: a non-Labor entity that existed between 1931 and 1946, in government for ten years and opposition for five, and which collapsed under the strain of competing egos, a strong Labor government, and weak organisational and policy structures.

There is some doubt over whether the exact name can be used, or whether “United” will instead become “Unite” or “Uniting.” For the purposes of this article, however, this consideration is irrelevant — we will simply refer to it as the “UAP.”

UAP might as well stand for “Unabashed Arrogance Pantomime.”

The history here is short, basic, and unsurprising; after a lifetime of membership of Queensland’s conservative parties (and direct service to the National Party in particular) Palmer ended up as the single biggest donor to the merged LNP that governs Queensland.

It is well-known and documented that after the LNP’s triumph at the state election in Queensland a little over a year ago, Palmer became embroiled in several high-profile arguments with the parliamentary and political wings of the LNP — even facing potential expulsion — and ultimately chose to resign from the party.

At the time, I said in this column that Palmer stomped out of the LNP because he couldn’t get what he wanted from it — an assessment not at all unique but, on balance, still valid.

(See here and here for past articles covering these events).

I also intimated that were he to follow through on his threat to establish a new party, it would draw little popular support and cost an inordinate amount of money for little result.

So far, the signs are not promising — although they do support the earlier analysis.

Palmer says that candidates from his party will stand in 127 of the 150 House of Representatives electorates, as well as in “all Senate seats” which, presumably, means a ticket of Senate candidates in each of the states and territories.

There is no mention of which seats are to be targeted; and aside from himself, no mention of who the candidates are or what their claims to elected office might be.

As I said earlier, there is not a single policy publicly attached to this new party: nobody knows what it purports to stand for, or what its objectives, however noble, may be.

On the subject of Palmer’s candidacy in particular, he seems determined to revisit the guessing game he indulged in last year, after declining to make good a threat to stand against Wayne Swan but refusing to specify which electorate he might contest — at the time, for the LNP.

Prospective Palmer voters are entitled to question him on this and to do so with deep and justifiable suspicion: will he commit to really representing their interests in Parliament, or are their electorates simply a vehicle to be used to transport him to Canberra?

There’s a big difference.

To date, there are three disgruntled Queensland state MPs — Ray Hopper, Carl Judge and Alex Douglas — who all resigned from the LNP last year and have loosely been associated with Palmer’s putative party; these MPs represent the total publicly tangible support proffered to Palmer in his UAP endeavour.

And that endeavour, if followed through, is likely to be delivered at a cost — a cost to the federal Coalition and its prospects and, ironically, providing a boost to those of the ALP.

It would be ironic because Palmer has made no bones about his contempt for the present government; indeed, it was he who described Treasurer Wayne Swan as an “intellectual pygmy” when he threatened to stand against Swan in his seat of Lilley, held by 3.2%, and always susceptible to the Liberals at elections producing large Coalition majorities.

The simple fact is that to the extent Palmer’s party draws any support, it is likely to come at the expense of the Liberals and Nationals; whether he likes it or not, the hard reality is that parties of the type Palmer seems to be creating are protest vehicles that cause trouble — and little else.

Queensland has already spawned one of these — Bob Katter’s Katter Australia Party, with its protectionist, ultra-nationalist and distinctly redneck populist policy themes.

That party draws most of its support from what would otherwise go to the Coalition; indeed, the LNP won 77 of 89 seats in Queensland last year with a primary vote of just 49%, with Katter’s crowd winning 18% — not all of which returned to the LNP in preferences under Queensland’s Optional Preferential Voting system.

A second party of this ilk would similarly drain votes from the mainstream conservative forces and — whilst taking votes — jeopardise the prospects of legitimate Coalition candidates in some marginal Labor electorates.

Where Palmer’s 127 seats lie is something we’ll have to wait and see.

But even if, for the sake of the argument, his candidates contest only in Queensland, the stakes are huge; 30 federal electorates (or 20% of the total federally) lie in Queensland, and the Coalition stands a good chance of winning most or all of them this year.

With Katter and Palmer drawing off Coalition support, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the door that potentially opens for Labor in the Sunshine State.

If Labor were to make net gains in Queensland, and win Melbourne and Denison back from the Greens and an independent respectively, to offset losses in NSW — and then hold its ground elsewhere — there is a real risk the Gillard government could be re-elected.

That means “intellectual pygmy” Wayne Swan remaining Treasurer.

It also means three more years of the worst and most spectacularly incompetent government Australia has ever seen.

And whilst the Katter party’s policies actually stand for something — even if the rest of the world moved on from what it stands for 30 or 40 years ago — Palmer has to date offered no vision, no over-arching theme, no compelling rally call to people to support him.

Palmer’s UAP would certainly not be wanting for cash. Even so, no policies, no platform, and (to date) no candidates a bit over four months from an election would suggest its prospects would be bleak.

It all sounds like a pantomime: an unabashed, arrogant pantomime designed to attract attention and the spotlight, but in reality almost certain to deliver nothing constructive or of any consequence whatsoever.

Except, perhaps, to offer the ALP a sliver of an opportunity to remain in office, and if Palmer is as committed to thwarting that outcome as his historical utterances suggest, he might do well to rethink his strategy.

AWU Scandal (Update): Unprecedented Criminal Investigation Of A Prime Minister

FURTHER to my Wednesday post — noting that Julia Gillard may be under investigation over the AWU scandal — 2GB host Ben Fordham has revisited the issue, stating explicitly that Gillard is being investigated by Fraud and Extortion Police. It is an unprecedented inquiry of a sitting Prime Minister.

I would like to preface my remarks by simply saying that if no such investigation is being undertaken, then the mother of all lawsuits for defamation of character will lob into the offices of 2GB, publicly, and probably well before the end of the month.

That said, I wouldn’t anticipate it happening.

This will be a short post, and — again — aimed more at keeping readers abreast of these developments rather than making much comment on them.

After all, the substance of any Police investigation is best left alone until concluded.

Even so, Fordham makes an excellent point: that Gillard may not even be (officially) aware that she is under investigation. It is certainly — certainly — possible, however unlikely it may sound to readers at first blush.

Fordham made an additional statement on this issue on his radio program yesterday, and it can be accessed here for those wishing to listen to it.

I am going to keep this post brief today; as I indicated on Wednesday, it seems unlikely that we’ll have to wait too long for these matters to run their course, and there will be ample scope to discuss them at that time, which is appropriate.

But I make the point that having an incumbent Prime Minister facing investigation over fraud and extortion matters is without precedent and — on balance — not a very good look.

And the flurry of denials (and outright abuse of Fordham, and of others who even recorded the event of his statement, such as this column) that appeared online shortly afterwards have suddenly, and abruptly, ceased — a pointer, perhaps, to verification of the substance of the Fordham statement by the PM’s office itself.

However, I need to remind readers in the strongest possible terms that no conclusions should be drawn on allegations or suggestions of wrongdoing by Gillard: it is entirely plausible that any criminal actions being investigated do not directly involve Gillard at all, and that her involvement in the investigation is purely at the periphery and on account of the fact she was actively known to others involved in the alleged misdeeds at the time.

We simply don’t know; and that is why I would ask readers wishing to comment here (or anywhere else) on these matters to exercise a degree of circumspection.

Be assured that as these matters develop, we will discuss them; but for now it is enough to assume — given Fordham’s reputation as a meticulous journalist when it comes to the verification of his sources — that the investigation of Gillard is, indeed, under way.