Talking Through The “Ten Steps” To A Turnbull Turnaround

THIS COLUMN has — over the past five years — made little reference to conservative Murdoch press columnist Andrew Bolt; partly because other opinions are often preferred and partly because Bolt is too right-wing at times for us to stomach, little comment has been passed here on the issues he champions. Today, however, he has published the “ten steps” for Malcolm Turnbull to turn his fortunes around, and some perspective is warranted.

Novel, isn’t it: and despite the crazed taunts of some detractors, I can only think of having based a piece on an Andrew Bolt column a few times, and would have to actually go looking for the resulting articles to ascertain exactly what they covered.

But Bolt — an even more strident critic of Malcolm Turnbull than I am, although his perspective on the Prime Minister is fairly close to the mark — has made some comment this morning, in a piece being carried by all of the state-based Murdoch news portals, ostensibly canvassing the differences between Turnbull and opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, and the “ten steps” Turnbull can take to save himself from “humiliating defeat.”

Being on the run and in Brisbane for the day today, Bolt’s article offers an opportunity to publish a relatively concise piece of my own; he asks the question of whether “someone so left wing” should lead the Liberal Party at all — on account of the lack of advocacy it saddles conservatives with — and whether there’s any real distinction between a government led by Turnbull and one formed by Shorten if the Liberals lose this year’s election.

One difference between myself and a lot of conservative Liberals — whether in the Liberal Party, elsewhere in the commentariat, or in the community at large — is that I don’t think any useful purpose is served by losing this year’s election (although it could happen, for Turnbull seems to be making an excellent fist of turning people off).

These would be what Miranda Devine calls the “Del-Cons” — delusional conservatives, pissed that Tony Abbott was overthrown, and by Malcolm in particular — who think three years of ALP mismanagement and economic pillaging is preferable to giving Turnbull three more years to strut the national stage as a reward for his act of bastardry.

Needless to say, I am not one of those. But the possibility Turnbull could lose an election is a different matter.

The “one term in opposition” some seem to think is an acceptable price to pay to kill Turnbull off is nothing of the sort: one term could easily become two, three, or God knows how many — it is not for nothing that no first-term government has lost office in 85 years, although Julia Gillard gave it a shake — and with a look around the Liberal Party’s prospective leadership stocks, the kindest thing one could say is that the best candidates (with Josh Frydenberg’s name near the top of any hypothetical list) need at least another term or two on training wheels before they are even credible propositions.

And even if more vocal conservative opponents of Turnbull were persuaded to back off, there is no guarantee he won’t lose anyway; left-wing or just a misjudged moderate version of the rest of us on the Right, policy isn’t even the problem right now: the turgid, clay-footed political touch of the Abbott government seems alive and well when it comes to the Turnbull regime, and as we have discussed at length — as recently as Tuesday — there is ample evidence voters increasingly do not like what they see.

Even so, the “ten steps” Bolt outlines are actually sound, and today I’m simply going to make a couple of additional points and observations on each. If you didn’t read it at the outset, here’s the Bolt article once again. Here we go.

1. Attack Labor

This is a no-brainer that seems to have been lost in the general confusion that goes with a lack of obvious direction.

The fact is that Labor’s record in office has never been fully exploited by the Coalition — the debt, the waste, the domination by unions, the budget boobytraps still waiting to explode — and another Labor government now could well bankrupt country.

There is, to put it indelicately, a rich seam of shit to mine here. Turnbull should be leading, e’er gently, from the front.

2. Stop Talking About Raising Taxes

I agree to a point: the GST represented a missed opportunity to advocate for genuine structural tax reform that if properly designed would have made no overall difference to the vast majority of people. In fact, many would have been better off.

So much for reform.

But in the main, Labor is the party of new and increased taxes — in fact, Bill Shorten is promising little else — and the blowtorch should be directed there rather than letting him off the hook with half-arsed schemes for state income taxes and other nonsense.

3. Attack Labor’s Carbon Tax

Just like Groundhog Day, another federal election (the fourth in a row) stands to feature a fight over carbon pricing.

Unlike Julia Gillard in 2010, Shorten is quite open about his intention to reintroduce carbon pricing if he wins; unlike Gillard, he promises not one carbon tax but two, in a pathetic attempt to pander to the Greens, with one pricing regime for the electricity industry and one for the rest of the economy.

Power prices for ordinary folk and small businesses will rocket, irrespective of anything Shorten and his mates insist.

This is a big chance for Turnbull to show a little fidelity with the Liberals’ conservative flank, and is well justified by science accepted on all sides that shows no warming has occurred in nearly 20 years.

4. Be Focused

As Bolt intimates, the message of the government has changed with monotonous frequency: from various tax reforms (all quickly abandoned) to a hit-the-unions narrative (that I don’t disagree with at all) to “historic” reforms lasting two days, the Coalition under Turnbull is all over the shop.

Multiple messages and themes are fine to enable the election to be fought on multiple fronts, but it would be a smart thing to do to work out what those themes are — and hammer them.

5. Cuddle Up To Conservatives

It’s a no-brainer, this one, when nearly two-thirds of the Liberal rank and file are conservatives, and when so many conservative commentators are prepared to try to help Turnbull to succeed.

Instead, he has seemingly been happy to send “head office” delegates into preselections in conservative areas to overturn local votes in favour of moderate candidates — a clear “fuck you” to the Liberal Right if ever there was — and has mostly steered clear of the conservative commentariat altogether.

It isn’t rocket science, but Malcolm is going to need all the friends he can get; his penchant for acting as a one-man band went a long way to costing him the Liberal leadership in 2009, and its consequences are currently being writ large in the Coalition’s falling poll numbers.

And a thought that should be sobering is that if people want a government that pursues trendy, pinko, finger-in-the-wind socialism, they will vote for the Greens and Labor. Any doubt about this should be dispelled with a glance at recent opinion polls.

6. Stop The Waffle,  Develop Slogans With Content

Endless blather to overfill a soundbite achieves nothing, and nor does running through the arcane lodes of your vocabulary to demonstrate to the masses how clever you are.

Everyone knows Malcolm is clever. The pains he goes to in making sure nobody forgets from one minute to another is a big part of his problem.

Muzzling his similarly inclined cohort and mouthpiece, George Brandis, wouldn’t hurt either: the Attorney-General might be a smart bloke but he is a public relations disaster. Waxing lyrical before the masses on the finer points of nothing they give a shit about isn’t the way for him to win friends.

Tony Abbott took the three word slogan template to a silly extreme but nobody denies it worked. Perhaps Messrs Turnbull, Brandis and Co need a little help in punchy dialogues without verbal sludge. My door is open.

7. Be Authentic. Get Serious

Vacuous stunts are Labor’s forte, so gimmicks like having Turnbull walk to a car with Scott Morrison to show “solidarity” are cretinous.

And as Bolt says, going to meet the punters at the pub doesn’t work unless you are prepared to get on their level and at least appear as if you genuinely care what they tell you.

Either Malcolm and his mates want another term in office or they don’t. If they don’t, they can bugger off now but if they do, it’s past time to begin to look as if they want to win.

8. Play For The Team

Whoever had the brilliant idea to marginalise Treasurer Scott Morrison doesn’t deserve to remain employed: after the disaster of Joe Hockey and in light of the Prime Minister/Treasurer axis being the most important relationship in any government, attempting to hang Morrison out in the wind ahead of a critical federal budget was reprehensible.

Just get over yourself, Malcolm, for like it or not, you actually need your colleagues more than they need you.

9. Get Over Abbott

This includes humiliating known conservatives; trying to knock off Abbott supporters at preselections using “Prime Ministerial imprimatur” vested in head office goons sent to rig votes; and denying the bleeding obvious when a conservative policy response (Brussels, for example) is warranted. Doing so only invites Abbott to interject.

Just ignore him. His contribution will either yield ideas that can be poached and used, or be publicly seen as defective. Either way, engaging in comment and games will end in tears. Malcolm is supposed to be Prime Minister now — and should behave accordingly.

10. Don’t Panic

Possibly the best advice of all — the flurry of activity invariably ending in backdowns, U-turns and abandoned plans not only makes the government look silly, but it reeks of panic.

There is an argument that says that after seven months as Prime Minister Turnbull should have a comprehensive slate of election policies ready to go.

If he doesn’t, speed is now of the essence. But showing your hand when it remains half empty is not the way to go.

As for ignoring Twitter’s “steaming mound,” I have long thought that the Coalition’s social media strategy is, in a word, SHITHOUSE, if it even exists at all.

To properly play in the 21st century, something has to be done about this, but merely playing on the terms and turf staked out by the Left simply won’t cut it.

Again, my door is open…

And that’s it: just a few brief thoughts on each of the 10 Bolt points.

I will be back with something a little more orthodox tomorrow.

Bill Shorten’s Mission, Should He Choose To Accept It

AMID ELECTION-WINNING poll leads, a hostile Senate shredding the government’s legislative agenda and a “smart” strategy to play the Prime Minister’s own game — ceaseless negativity and obstruction in opposition — a change in political dynamics in the past week signals danger for Bill Shorten. Self-congratulatory backslapping, surfing complacently toward the next election, is well and good. Arriving in one piece requires something more.

I’m not going to spend too long on this, but we do like to keep our finger on the pulse; I have been thinking for a few days about some of the ramifications of Clive Palmer’s decision to rescind the mining tax — providing greater budget savings than his original position offered, albeit still some billions of dollars less than the government had hoped to book — and Andrew Bolt, in today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne, has put it quite succinctly in one of his columns. You can read this article here.

The reason I am commenting on one of Bolt’s pieces today, very simply, is because it fits one of the themes we have been developing in this column since Shorten became the “leader” of the ALP: namely, that he is a political calamity in the making for Labor, and a one-way ticket to nowhere should that party persevere with him at its helm.

In this context, Bolt makes an excellent central point, which condensed to its core is this: Palmer — whilst by no means providing the Abbott government with a rubber stamp, blank cheque, carte blanche, or any other platitude that appeals to you — has nonetheless apparently decided that providing some degree of functionality to the government is better than none at all.

Bolt uses the same word to describe Palmer that I have — a wrecker — and notes that Palmer has begun to facilitate passage of certain Abbott government measures that he categorically and publicly refused to allow to pass to begin with. Bolt fails to note that even this degree of acquiescence to the government is costing money the government doesn’t have, but the point is nonetheless salient.

The motivation for Palmer to change his tune could stem from any of a number of things: the abusive and explosive tirade he launched against the Chinese and the consequent need to retrieve his standing could do it; research showing the Palmer vote beginning to fall as people tire of his endless antics and stunts could do it too.

Whatever the reason — or reasons — it seems clear there has been a subtle but unmistakable paradigm shift in the fat billionaire’s modus operandi.

I found myself in discussion yesterday with a reader who wanted to talk about the merits of a “just say no” strategy, and whether it would work as well for the ALP as it purportedly did for the Coalition when it was in opposition. My initial comment was that in Abbott, any “oppositionist” strategy that was pursued was executed by a Rhodes scholar, whereas Shorten is no intellectual colossus. But there’s a bit more to it than that.

For one thing, Abbott’s strategy wasn’t to refuse everything; rather, quite a lot of Labor legislation either passed with Coalition support or was permitted to do so after amendments that were mutually agreeable. By contrast, Labor under Shorten opposes everything.

Everything, that is (for another thing) except those bills that increase government spending; everything else — especially bills that make cuts to expenditure — is voted against. This even extends to Labor’s own election pledges that formed its final, half-arsed attempt to convince people it was serious about fixing the federal budget that had been comprehensively trashed on its watch.

Which leads to the third point I would make: not merely content to vote against their own party’s election promises, Shorten and Labor refuse to acknowledge the government’s mandate to deliver promises of its own that were taken to last year’s election. The attempts made by Labor to stymie the abolition of the mining and carbon taxes are the most obvious cases in point.

What all of this means — and this forms the other half of Bolt’s thesis — is that with Palmer now playing at least a hybrid ball code with the government, the legs have been kicked out from beneath the Labor Party table upon which the strategy of voting down everything in sight (barring spending increases) rests.

Labor has shown, by its voting record in opposition, that it cannot be trusted to deliver on its own promises, and dangerously cavalier about allowing the elected government to deliver upon its own. After all, some day Labor may again form government. Its behaviour during this latest phase in the wilderness will go a long way toward dictating how long that period lasts, and even how much good will (if any) a potential future Labor government is able to carry with it into office.

Specifically, Shorten has pledged to reintroduce all of the Gillard-era initiatives the Liberal Party was explicitly elected to rescind; how a carbon tax and a mining tax, for example, might help engineer electoral victory — when the weight of anecdotal evidence is that voters regard these policies as anathema is overwhelming — is unclear.

Yet Shorten has committed Labor to them. Any U-turn closer to the election, when Labor’s poll numbers aren’t looking so rosy and nerves begin to fray, will hand the Liberals a potent weapon with which to bludgeon the ALP’s credibility.

And that leaves Labor in the “hole” Bolt alludes to: what will it promise when it next faces the electorate?

To date, the only “new” policy offered by Shorten is the abolition of the Private Health Insurance Rebate; we have covered this populist but unbelievably destructive idea in the past. But for those readers who missed such discussions, without increasing the Medicare levy from 2% to perhaps 5%, the practical effect of this ridiculous idea will be to rip so much money out of the health system, as the co-funding that holders of private health policies effectively invest is withdrawn, that the public health system will collapse.

So much for Shorten’s populist health policy. Few people (beyond the chatterati and the chardonnay drunks with too much money to care) will tolerate a 3% income tax rise to make up the difference. Nobody will tolerate the government-sanctioned collapse of the health system. If this is “new” Labor thinking, then Labor must think again.

But the implicit message Bolt conveys is precisely this; with the ability to block everything now unable to be relied upon given Palmer’s change of tack, the problems many of us foresaw Shorten intersecting with now become current.

Labor won’t pass savings measures it promised, and now voting to allow those of the government to pass would put a big dint in Labor’s credibility.

The Labor vote — still sitting around 35% — is far too low for the narrow two-party leads it is recording to be viewed as reliable or durable in any way.

And Shorten’s foolish idea of playing copycat to a strategy that even Tony Abbott did not take to the extremes Shorten has been prepared to has seen Clive Palmer cut the ground out from beneath his feet.

Shorten’s challenge — if he really is serious about becoming Prime Minister — is to begin the arduous, torturous process of developing fresh Labor policies from scratch: a process that takes time, will cause no end of ructions within the Labor Party on the way through and therefore no end of poor press, and which, by its nature, could make Labor’s political position much worse before the desired dividend is eventually delivered.

(The Liberals’ Economic Action Plan — which evolved into John Hewson’s Fightback! manifesto — is a good example of this; it cost Hewson the 1993 election. Yet Fightback! was more or less implemented in full, without the label, by the Howard government after 1996).

Shorten is cornered.

Having exhibited precisely zero appetite for the hard grind of policy work for the duration of his parliamentary career to date, he has a choice; to continue to coast effortlessly — literally — toward the next election in the hope what he is doing continues to keep Labor a nose in front of the polls; or to knuckle under and begin telling people what they can expect by electing him.

The first option is a recipe for disaster; the portents of the second — with the proffered mix to date of rejected Gillard policies and obliterating the health system — are not good.

Should Shorten accept it, his mission is to rule a line under the past 12 months, and to get on with developing the suite of new policies Labor will next adopt in government.

I wouldn’t bet my house on anything changing. After all, Shorten isn’t a leader’s bootlace. The easy option and a photo opportunity are always preferable to him, when someone else can be co-opted to do the hard work.

It is much easier to develop an excessive estimation of oneself and to play silly games. Yet as Bolt writes today, the game is over for Bill Shorten.


Bolt Is Right: Nothing Conservative About The Abbott Government

AN ARTICLE by the Herald Sun‘s Andrew Bolt, appearing in Murdoch newspapers across Australia today, makes the case there is nothing “Liberal” about the government of Tony Abbott; whether you typically characterise the Coalition as liberal, conservative or a bit of both, the unpalatable truth is that Bolt is right. His warning of a “lurch to the Left” — already visible, to be sure — will benefit neither the Coalition’s prospects nor the national interest.

About 30 years ago, a stereotypical “older and wiser head” once told me (unaware that he was preaching to the converted) that one thing I should remember in life is that on the question of politics and governance, the worst Tory government is always — always — better than the best Labour* one, and whilst I don’t suggest for a moment that the Abbott government constitutes “the worst Tory government,” it is clear for all to see that compared to the shining example set by the Howard government, it’s not in the same league.

Of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government that preceded it, I would simply observe that it wasn’t just the worst Labor government, but possibly the worst government in Australia’s history. Enough said.

Yet those observations about the relative merits of the Liberal Party and the ALP serve to highlight a problem that is becoming uneasily and painfully apparent to those of us in the conservative fold who care about such things: that whilst the Abbott government might be an improvement on what it replaced, the inherent problems it faces have meant that it has been less than effective to date.

What philosophical bedrock underpins the Liberal Party in office? Is it liberalism, conservatism or libertarianism, or (as the party reflects many of its members) a combination of the three? I identify as a conservative, but certainly hold views that tend to liberalism and libertarianism depending on the issue; others I know, by contrast, argue that the Liberal Party is not a conservative party at all, but a “small l” liberal party, and that Bob Menzies would spin in his grave at the idea his creation had evolved into a conservative party.

It is timely therefore to consider an article published this morning by Andrew Bolt: we don’t cover off on much of his stuff in this column; partially because I don’t share all of his crusades quite so vehemently as he does, and partly because there are other columnists in the Murdoch stable (Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine, Simon Benson) whose material better reflects, on the whole, the broad thrust of both my own views and the style of the conversation I seek to drive at The Red And The Blue.

Today, however, Bolt is right on the money.

It is true that some of the things he airs as grievances are quintessentially “pet Bolt issues” — like the abandonment of changes to S18c of the Racial Discrimination Act that peculiarly have impacted on him, or his placement of global warming immediately below it atop the list of issues he feels the Abbott government has failed on — but overwhelmingly, nobody who voted (and explicitly sought) a genuine Right-of-centre government can disagree with any of the points he has raised.

In fact, it isn’t even complete. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

Bolt correctly argues that a sizeable portion of the government’s trouble is a Senate that can only be regarded as exceedingly hostile; even with the outright ALP/Communist Greens majority removed since 1 July, the government now faces a rag-tag assortment of protest parties, single-issue Senators and committed troublemakers in the Palmer United Party, the latter more or less sworn to destroy the Abbott government by making it impossible to govern.

Even on issues where the government’s initiatives are able to attract some crossbench support, so disparate is the balance of power in the Senate that it is almost invariably inadequate; and whenever the opportunity to score cheap populist points — at the expense of both the budget and the national interest — without exception, Labor, the Greens and the Palmer mob team up to do exactly that.

It is why, as Bolt notes and as we have discussed before, almost every bill seeking to cut budget expenditure has been blocked by the Senate; it is why everything that involves increasing expenditure invariably passes.

In the process, the nation’s finances — laced with landmines by the former government in the form of massive new recurrent expenditure items — are being further sabotaged on Abbott’s watch by virtue of the irresponsibility of the Senate.

Certainly, some of the decisions the government has been forced into have been more or less imposed on it by the Senate, with the result — as Bolt notes — that repealing restrictions on free speech have been abandoned: a major victory for the Left as it continues to control from opposition the legalities of which views are permissible to be aired in Australia and which are not.

The current vilification in much of the media of Israel over civilian deaths in Gaza (with not so much as a syllable expressed on behalf of the civilian dead in Israel, despite the morally repugnant tactics of Hamas) gives form to exactly the kind of thought control this approach is designed to engineer.

But many of the government’s other woes are self-inflicted.

What conservative government in its right mind, as Bolt correctly notes, maintains immigration at record high levels at a time of rising unemployment and uncertain economic conditions?

What conservative party, approaching an election Blind Fred could foretell would be a lay-down misere, rules out taking an axe to the ABC (bloated and committed to propagating the agenda of the Left) or rules out any changes to inflexible and ideologically driven industrial relations laws cooked up as a sop to trade unions?

What conservative party, elevated to office, goes out and raises income taxes by 2%, slashes family benefits, decreases the real value of age pensions over the medium term, and maintains a ridiculous and punitive increase in tobacco tax that it made derisive noises about from opposition?

I did say Bolt’s list was incomplete, and in turn, I haven’t picked up everything he mentions in his piece.

But what government formed by the Liberal Party would dare to shatter the compact, struck by Liberal Prime Minister John Howard with the Liberal-voting base, to end the freeze on the indexation on petrol? What conservative government in its right mind commits to a disability insurance program costing $22 billion per annum that is unfunded, uncosted, unaffordable, and aimed not only at people who will never vote for it, but runs distinctly counter to the (noble) objective of trying to wind back the welfare mentality in Australia that continues to grow more deeply entrenched?

And what conservative government is stupid enough to agree to honour $9 billion in additional annual “Education” funding — a la Gonski — that is tied to so few accountabilities (none of which are related to educational outcomes) that the money will in all likelihood simply fund the next round of teacher unions’ extortionate wage claims?

Even the one item early indications suggested would fly — the Medicare co-payment — was botched: leaked as a $5 impost levied on GP visits at the time of the Griffith by-election, the “scare” didn’t impact adversely on the Coalition’s poll numbers at all. By the time the budget rolled around it was $7, not $5, and applicable to GP visits, hospital emergency wards, X-rays, pathology tests, CT scans…

Like Bolt’s, my list is not exhaustive. But between the two, the point is clear: the impediment of the Senate aside, what the government is delivering — by design or default — is the program of a party of social democrats, not a liberal/conservative/libertarian party.

While all of this is going on, the small government, low tax regime millions of Australians voted for appears to be two changes of government away: one when the Liberals lose, and the other when the next Labor government does what Labor governments invariably do, and pushes Australia further down the path to bankruptcy.

It is certainly true that remedial action needs to be taken to rein the ballooning budget deficit in, and quickly. But with the benefit of the three months’ hindsight since the budget was introduced, it is clear the strategy Treasurer Joe Hockey selected to give form to this endeavour was — and I won’t mince my words — the wrong way to go about it.

It is true that Tony Abbott has made an admirable fist of the job of Prime Minister to date, a reality that must surely boil the blood of the Left’s most hardcore adherents; it is true that some individual ministers — Foreign minister Julie Bishop being the absolute standout — have performed brilliantly in their roles in often difficult circumstances.

But for the most part this government has been found wanting.

It is something of an irony that at the bottom line, much of what is wrong with the government has been dictated to it by a hostile Senate, and that includes some policy prescriptions that give off a distasteful left-wing odour.

But as much as the policies are sometimes wanting, the greatest shortfall of all is the inability or refusal to actually sell its program; the embarrassing defeats in the Senate are one symptom of this. The government’s mediocre polling numbers, as they stand, are another.

Yet far from regrouping on its own terms and standing for what its supporters expect of it, Bolt is reporting that the next move from the Liberal Party may be a lurch to the Left?

Even without his contention (based on sources within the parliamentary party) that support for Malcolm Turnbull is growing, it doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to deduce that it is Turnbull in whose direction all of this is meant to lead, and whilst that’s a whole other can of worms I’m not prepared to rehash now (although this, 12 weeks ago, was my most recent article on the subject), it is very difficult to ascertain how a man apparently committed to the entire social agenda of the Left, whilst proving incapable as leader of achieving any cut-through on the economically liberal issues his leadership “credentials” are supposedly based on, might do better.

The truth is that a savage lurch to the Left — with or without Turnbull leading the charge — will prove an unmitigated disaster for the Liberal Party politically. There was ample polling evidence during Turnbull’s ill-fated stint at the helm that Coalition supporters will not blindly adhere to the Coalition when its leader is politically defective. And make no mistake, as a leader of the Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull was fatally flawed.

So where does this leave us?

It would be the simplest thing in the world for the Abbott government to announce that barring necessary appropriations, it is withdrawing the federal budget entirely; faced with the Senate in its present form and armed with a budget so poorly crafted and abysmally sold, continuing to agitate for its passage would seem self-defeating.

I would give serious consideration to a three-part strategy: one, the replacement of Joe Hockey as Treasurer with WA backbencher (and former WA state Treasurer) Christian Porter: it is, after all, what he was brought to Canberra for. Someone needs to take the fall; we all know this is how it works. With the keenest reluctance given my very high personal estimation of him, that “someone” is Hockey. It’s his budget that has failed. It is he who must shoulder responsibility for it.

Two — despite the risk of being tarred with the brush of petty politicking it has used to paint the opposition parties as an irresponsible fraud — to immediately go into campaign mode against both the opposition and the Senate; to ensure the machinery of government continues to grind along on a daily basis, yes, but confronted by the brutal reality that nothing responsible is going to pass the Senate before another election, the Coalition might as well concentrate on utterly destroying its opponents rather than engaging in destroying itself with counter-productive budget legislation that will only haemorrhage votes.

And three, spend the time building a public narrative about exactly what will be done if re-elected: be specific, forget about small target strategies (which in any case have backfired on the government), and develop a simple, logical, but responsible package of policies to be legislated after any subsequent election win.

The first task the government faces — politically — is to destroy the hold its opponents have on the Senate; should it fail to do so, there won’t be a third term in office for the Coalition even if it manages to win a second. The Senate, controlled by the ALP, Greens and Palmer, will rip the government to pieces.

But the greater imperative is to do what it says on the packet: provide either conservative government, or the honest endeavour to do so. The Senate might be a brake on anything and everything, but a program built on high taxes and the maintenance of high (and increasing) government spending isn’t the preserve of a Liberal government at all.

If all the Coalition can deliver is that, then Labor might as well have been re-elected last year. At least someone else could be blamed for the consequences.


*The wise old head in question was from Britain, where socialists at least exhibit the f*cking intelligence to be able to spell the name of their party properly.

Labor Pain: Bolt Only Half-Right On ALP Affliction

THE ASSERTION by Herald Sun writer Andrew Bolt — that policy, not the unions, lies the root of the Labor Party’s precarious standing as a viable political entity — is only half-right; only a fool would suggest (and Bolt, of course, doesn’t) that ALP policy is anything other than the stuff served up by an outfit totally divorced from community expectation and reality, but the fingerprints of the union movement lie all over the problem at its genesis.

Back in 2005 — fresh from a thumping fourth election win, and armed with a majority in the Senate — the Howard government introduced what was presented at the time as “the final objective of John Howard’s 30-year career in politics” in the form of a suite of laws designed to increase flexibility in the labour market and place curbs on the degree of intrusion unions were able to make into workplaces. That package of legislation, of course, was WorkChoices.

Labor, then in opposition and led by the avuncular Kim Beazley, was flummoxed; it was an outrage, Labor said, an attack on the party’s core constituency, and introduced without a mandate. Yet despite the noise and outrage emanating from the ALP the best it could mostly do was to draw close to Howard in reputable opinion polling: Howard, it seemed, would probably get away with it.

Watching in the wings was the leadership of the union movement, which collectively took a deep breath, steeled itself, and flung itself into battle; a $13 million advertising and media campaign — “Your Rights At Work” — was prosecuted with deadly precision (if not, perhaps, particularly honestly) and Labor zoomed ahead of the Coalition in the polls.

To ensure its advantage was pressed home, Beazley was dumped: the unions desperately wanted Julia Gillard to take on the leadership, and the contest that saw Beazley replaced certainly set her up for “next time,” emerging as she did with the deputy leadership and a bloc of votes without which Beazley would probably have survived. But the next best thing was the driven, distastefully ambitious Kevin Rudd, who had set himself up carefully as an electable face the party could turn to. Rudd, as we all know, went on to become the giant slayer who beat John Howard.

I begin thus because I have read Andrew Bolt’s column in the Daily Telegraph today and I think he is only half-right in the case he presents; certainly, Labor’s policies — and they have cost that party very dearly in the past couple of years — belong somewhere between cuckoo-land and some God-forsaken socialist utopia. But I contend they are very much consequential to the main problem, rather than the cause of it.

The episode over WorkChoices, to me, represented the point at which the unions finally completed their takeover of the political operation of the ALP; we’ve spoken about this at great length during the lifespan of this column, and whilst the ALP and the unions have always been entwined — after all, the ALP is the political wing of the union movement, and one grew from the other — the past ten years have seen Labor “evolve” into a “union party” rather than the Left-of-Centre party affiliated to and significantly influenced by the unions that it mostly had been.

To complete the WorkChoices analogy, the Fair Work Act — and all its legislative and organisational instruments — might as well have been written over at Trades Hall in Carlton; this regime, along with the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, were tantamount to handing the union movement a blank cheque.

Don’t get me wrong: there is very, very little in Bolt’s column today that I disagree with. He is right to describe Labor policy as it stands today as “lunatic,” and his roll call of the party’s recent (and deserved) electoral humiliations, the carbon tax and its lethal politics, the culpable and almost criminal dereliction of its asylum seeker policy and the like are potent symbols of a once-mighty political party that has not only lost its way, but strayed into the realm of a prescriptive nanny-state that few Australians have either the engagement with nor the inclination to support.

But there are two large disagreements I take with Bolt’s arguments.

The first, of course, is their central premise: that Labor policy, rather than the unions, is the source of the party’s woes.

It can’t be any clearer that union control of the ALP is so endemic that such an assertion simply fails to withstand scrutiny: led by a former unionist, who replaced another leader with roots deep in the union movement, Labor’s MPs are disproportionately skewed toward a demographic that left school, went to university, and worked either for another MP or for a union before entering Parliament.

Those who didn’t work for a union directly are nonetheless beholden to the movement indirectly by virtue of ALP preselection processes, which remain largely the preserve of union warlords despite present fashionable rhetoric about “democratising” the ALP, and which are carved up and allocated among factions controlled by union interests well before names are allocated to individual seats or electorates.

Labor’s industrial policies (again, courtesy of the union effort on WorkChoices) are a virtual no-go zone for anyone in the party who might seek to alter their pro-union intent: such is the debt Labor owes the unions for its anti-WorkChoices campaign a decade ago.

And Shorten’s reticence to fall into line with the Royal Commission into the union movement isn’t simply a manifestation of his directionless methods in seeking to offer all things to all people; he simply can’t do otherwise. He is too beholden to the unions himself, and I can’t even say he’s beholden to “union masters” because as the former head of the AWU and a deeply connected union figure himself, he is one of those masters.

Certainly, one may follow the other — Labor’s policies may well be the partial result of stacking out the deck with union hacks and ceding control of the party to others in the union realm. But the policies are very much consequential, not causative.

The other “disagreement” I have with Bolt isn’t so much a disagreement per se as an addendum: Bolt is right that Labor seeks scapegoats; it looks everywhere except where it should, of course, with any meaningful assessment of the control the unions wield over it sacrosanct despite some “smart” formulations otherwise expressed (such as “opening” the ALP to non-union members, despite the unions continuing to control 50% of the vote at party conferences — a reality nobody in the ALP seems to have the stomach to confront).

The additional scapegoat Bolt merely alludes to in the most peripheral sense is the one it should be taking full aim at alongside the unions: the Communist Party of Australia Greens, whose jaundiced and cynical socialist view of the world — wrapped in the innocuous cloak of tree-hugging environmentalism — finishes for the Labor disease what the union movement starts.

Labor’s carbon tax, its asylum seeker policy, its class warfare and its anti-business, anti-family, anti-wealth inclinations all pander to varying degrees to the insidious scourge that is the Greens, to which a substantial portion of the Labor Left has decamped and on which the ALP is increasingly dependent on preferences simply to survive as a viable political entity.

In other words, rather than Labor developing a platform of its own in the best interests of the community at large as it sees it, the ALP pays its thirty pieces of silver in exchange for whatever favour or service or benefit it thinks it can extract on its historic mission to get Labor bums into green ministerial leather, as unencumbered as possible by any responsibility to deliver anything that most people actually want, or support, or — God forbid — might have voted for.

The same can be said of its callous disregard for anything people might have voted against, which is perhaps peculiar given the role WorkChoices played in its return to government in the first place in 2007.

This is the behaviour of political prostitution, not political principle, and in one sense the description at all of its bastard fruits as “policy” is an affront to the otherwise meaningful, considered process of developing sensible public policy crafted in the aim of advancing the public interest.

Even if that policy is called WorkChoices.



Andrew Bolt vs Kevin Rudd: A Total Refusal To Answer Anything

PRIME MINISTER Kevin Rudd appeared today on Andrew Bolt’s Sunday talk programme, The Bolt Report; it may be surprising that Bolt was fairly easy on Rudd, but what will surprise nobody is the fact the Prime Minister steadfastly refused to meaningfully answer any question of substance Bolt put to him.

I have to say I was disappointed by this effort; the Bolt/Rudd interview has been given a lot of hype on News Limited websites in the past few days, even to the point of being described as “confrontational at times.”

Based on the version broadcast, it was nothing of the sort.

It goes without saying that this pre-taped interview needed to be edited to fit the available airtime allocated to it on Bolt’s show, and I accept that.

But even so, there are things to be taken from Rudd’s performance.

The unruly mess (and significant loss of life) emanating from Labor’s various regimes on asylum seekers since 2008 was the result of Labor honouring a 2007 election commitment to abolish the Howard government’s Pacific Solution.

This is the facile defence Rudd used to deflect any responsibility on the ALP’s part.

He is sticking, obliquely, to his contention that Coalition policy on asylum seekers and “turning back the boats” could start a war with Indonesia.

On climate change, Rudd refuses to give any specific answer to any question mandating a response to scientific propositions Bolt put to him, or — significantly — to explain his own position on climate change when he disagreed outright with the material Bolt presented.

The Global Financial Crisis is repeatedly trotted out to hide behind whenever Bolt attempts to pin Rudd down on the ALP’s shocking record on debts.

Readers can access the full 19-minute interview here.

I really didn’t think I would find myself saying this, but Rudd clearly bested Bolt today.

Perhaps Bolt was trying too hard to keep the tone of the discussion light, or perhaps it was simply the case that there was too much ground to be covered in a relatively short time.

Either way, I expected Bolt to rip Rudd to shreds, and I suspect so too did most viewers.

He didn’t.

But it provides a very stark illustration of the type of election campaign we seem destined to endure from the ALP; lots of open and empty statements and generalisations, no detail, no admissions of error, and absolutely no accountability whatsoever.

And that’s the point.

Rudd, however much he seeks to run from it, is not only responsible for the entire six-year record of Labor in government, but must be held accountable for it.

Many of the problems caused by this government, that are now clear, originated on Rudd’s watch as Prime Minister the first time.

And rolled by Gillard he may have been, the simple truth is that Rudd voted for every decision taken and every measure implemented by Gillard — good, bad or shocking — during her Prime Ministership.

The fact the ALP is still in office at all, given the finely balanced parliamentary numbers, is sufficient to puncture any denials on Rudd’s part, direct or implied, of his explicit support for Gillard, her government, and the decisions it undertook.

Even if stories of subterranean white-anting activities, undertaken concurrently, are right.

I wasn’t looking for Bolt to tear Rudd to shreds just for the look of it; such a notion is grotesque, and doesn’t serve any purpose in terms of meaningful journalistic scrutiny.

That said, however, I expected better.

Labor generally and Rudd specifically have an awful lot to answer for, and if this is the best effort a ferociously anti-ALP identity can mount, then the coming election campaign may very well be the updated version of “Kevin ’07” most of us on the conservative side expect.