Reality Seeping From Labor Opens Door For Turnbull

AMID THE ENNUI of a timid, misdirected Coalition campaign, a ray of light has shone on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; his opponents’ efforts — hitherto a tightly disciplined exercise in the seamless delivery of unmitigated bullshit — have begun to unravel and with them, some hypocritical realities of Shorten Labor have oozed out. A week ago, Turnbull was gone. It remains to be seen whether he can capitalise on the chinks in Labor’s armour.

First things first: I didn’t watch the so-called leaders’ “debate” last night, and from what I have since heard, I didn’t miss much; these events — whilst allegedly integral to our democratic processes — have never, as far as I can recall over the past 30 years, made one jot of difference to the eventual outcome of an election: and nor would they, rendered sterile by rules of “engagement” that make spontaneity and authenticity impossible, filled with platitudes and the regurgitation of slogans served up for weeks and months and years beforehand, and “judged” by an aptly named worm that is neither representative of the voting public nor statistically valid or reliable in any way.

The fact those who didn’t mark the debate as a saccharine draw scored a paper-thin win to Bill Shorten doesn’t and shouldn’t come as a surprise, either: these “debates,” by virtue of the ridiculous format they follow, typically favour Labor leaders and opposition leaders in that order. Shorten is both.

Let’s pray there are no further “debates” between now and 2 July. Politics in its current incarnation is debased enough as it is without wilfully adding such rubbish into the mix and insulting the intelligence of the Australian public even further than is ordinarily the case.

I had intended to publish over the weekend a precis of where I think the campaign stands, with three weeks down and five to go (and I’m sorry, but after a day at the markets on Saturday, I instead went to and celebrated yesterday’s stellar win over Geelong by the Carlton Football Club) but it’s no real secret that after months of dithering, directionless government this year followed by the opening rounds of a misfiring and frankly pathetic campaign, had the election taken place a week ago, I think the insidious Shorten would have narrowly scraped home to form a government.

What the summary I had planned to publish would have said is that after a dreadful week in which Labor’s tight controls on the semantic diarrhoea it has been passing off as an agenda for office began to unravel, Turnbull — and the Coalition — have been dealt back into the game; at this stage it remains to be seen whether this process continues, and whether or not the government can finally begin to land some killer blows upon its opponent. But at the very least, the effronterous march of Shorten and the ALP toward the Treasury benches appears to have been stayed.

The revelation of gaffe-prone frontbencher David Feeney’s “forgetfulness” about investment properties he has negatively geared doesn’t just undermine Labor’s “hit the rich” rationale for abolishing negative gearing concessions, but merely represents the tip of a very large iceberg; with 1.8 million Australians directly involved in this practice, it defies belief that the ranks of organisations queuing up behind Shorten to rail against “the rich being subsidised by the taxpayer” in writing investment losses off against income — the ALP, the unions, and particularly those catering to teachers, nurses and emergency services personnel — are not awash with individuals with negatively geared property, and this includes the senior national leaders of these entities.

I suspect we will never know, of course. But where there is one David Feeney to be found, there are no doubt others: and whilst Feeney has made millions out of the taxpayer in the form of parliamentary salaries, the fact is that 77% of those who negatively gear properties earn less than $100,000 per annum, and 90% of them have just one or two investment properties.

This will — or it should — be an issue on which Turnbull and his acolytes run hard over the next month.

But Feeney is nothing if not generous, for he also forced during the week an admission that for all its hot air and blather about the Gillard-era Schoolkids’ Bonus — abolished by the Abbott government, with indications over the ensuing two years that a Shorten government would restore it — this blatant Labor Party election bribe would not be reinstated if it won office, which is more of a revelation than first impressions might suggest.

The ALP needs to win over hundreds of thousands of additional voters if it is to defy electoral history and return to office after a single term; the Schoolkids’ Bonus — which this column flatly opposed when it was cooked up by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, despite the fact I have school-aged children — should now be made a talismanic symbol by the Coalition parties of just what else Labor has suggested it would dish out if it won that is also in line to be scrapped.

For a self-confessed liar with the dubious record of professional trustworthiness that Shorten now asks voters to endorse for the Prime Ministership, this should be the thin edge of the wedge; the Schoolkids’ Bonus was set to cost $4.5bn over four years, and despite trumpeting a plan to slug Australians with $102bn in extra taxes over a decade and insisting that figure was both accurate and achievable, Feeney’s admission ultimately forced Shorten to concede that it wasn’t affordable.

Apparently, according to Feeney, there are other “savings” and boosts to the budget bottom line to come as part of Labor’s program.

What else in the bag of goodies Shorten is waving around the country isn’t affordable either? The seeds of doubt are there to be planted.

To be fair, the wild swings taken at Labor last week by Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance minister Matthias Cormann — arguing there was a “black hole” of some $67bn in Labor’s election costings — went some way to planting them, and we spoke about this on Thursday; the accusations were met by righteous and indignant protestations from the ALP that the “black hole” was a figment of the government’s imagination. But even the best rationale that could be offered up in its support found Labor $32bn short: and pressing this advantage home over the next five weeks will be paramount.

Today, The Australian chips in with a piece featuring former Queensland Treasurer Keith de Lacy — a Labor stalwart who mightn’t have had much corporate credibility during the term of the Goss government, but who has since become a rather distinguished voice within the business community — who takes the opportunity to rip into the federal ALP, dismissing Shorten’s claim that Labor has “excellent relations” with corporate Australia, and branding the opposition’s taxation policies the “most anti-business policy (he’s) ever seen federal Labor put to an election.”

This, from one of the few genuinely respected ALP figures to have been responsible for Treasury books anywhere for a protracted period in recent decades, is a damning indictment. As far as I’m aware, de Lacy isn’t nursing grievances or pursuing a vendetta against Labor, and so it’s probably safe to take his judgement at face value. And that judgement, of course, validates everything the ALP’s economic critics have been saying about it for almost a decade.

Labor’s ghastly social policies have taken big hits as well, with “Safe” Schools now permanently discredited by the departure of co-founder Roz Ward, whose outbursts included the declaration that Australia’s “racist” flag should be replaced with a hammer and sickle, and anecdotes of suggestions by her that people who believed “Safe” Schools was about stopping bullying when it was really aimed at destroying traditional values must be very stupid indeed.

Another of the Daily Telegraph‘s regular writers today highlights Shorten’s overreach — in seeking to pander to another minority community, this time Aborigines, in his efforts to win votes by demonising the mainstream majority — by insisting Australians are fundamentally racist and that only he, Bill Shorten, could terminate this outrage at a stroke.

Never mind the fact that millions of those racists must first vote for him if he is ever to do so: yet in any case, the idea of Shorten stamping out what pockets of racism exist in Australia is akin to the expectation he will walk to Parliament House in Canberra every day across Lake Burleigh Griffin. It’s just bullshit.

There are other things I could point to over the past week that have conspired, slowly, gradually, but definitively to expose the part of Labor’s neck that houses its collective jugular vein, but the point is that in increments and across a broad framework whose constituent areas are being filled in one at a time, the tightly controlled cacophony of bullshit that has been Shorten’s stock in trade for two and a half years is now being found out as rather loose.

So what is “fair?”

Is it fair to be a party to the virtual bankrupting of Australia — as a government minister and later as the leader of a conspiracy to prevent anyone else fixing the damage — in order to claim the Coalition is an assortment of economic vandals? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Is it fair to mortgage the future living standards of not one but several generations for political gain spanning a single electoral cycle?

Is it fair to set Australians against each other, actively fomenting class envy and hatred, for the grimy anticipated return of a handful of votes?

Is it fair to aspire to govern Australia, preaching one set of standards for the wider population, whilst some in Shorten’s midst (and perhaps Shorten himself: we don’t know) operate on a different set of principles altogether?

Is it fair to fling borrowed money at voters to bribe them? Is it fair to promise people what the country simply can’t afford to spend? Is it fair, when caught out, to take the bribes off the table, saying there’s not the money to pay for them — in the same breath as announcing a $102bn tax slug on everyone in the country?

And the decidedly iffy, questionable past of Bill Shorten — the dodgy election donations, the dodgy workplace agreements, the selling out of workers whose fortunes he was entrusted with, and the dubious personal dealings he has had inside and outside his party — are a legitimate, and critical, part of any properly calibrated Coalition onslaught.

There are storylines and avenues of attack that Turnbull and his colleagues can establish, develop and shoot home with lethal force if the opportunities that have now begun to appear are seized and properly exploited over the remainder of this campaign.

Some of the weak points in the Labor edifice have sprung sharply into focus over the past week.

It hasn’t been enough to get Turnbull out of the woods — yet — and if the ALP re-establishes an iron grip over its own campaign, giving people easy answers and bags of non-existent money whilst saying what they think they want to hear, the ray of light shining on the government heading into week four may yet prove to have been a false dawn.

And it might be trite to say so, but every one of these attack themes have been advocated both in this column and elsewhere in the conservative press for almost three years as the key to securing a second term in office for the Coalition, and have been largely ignored: it might be a case of “better late than never,” but if the Coalition finally gets its communications and strategy people doing what they are paid to do, then the past week may yet be seen in hindsight as the point at which Shorten’s “leadership” of the ALP imploded, and the ALP’s electoral prospects with it.

For the first time in quite some time, Turnbull starts the week with a golden opportunity to turn the tide of public opinion back in his government’s favour, and to begin a process that culminates in slaying the Labor dragon in 33 days’ time.

The big question, of course, is whether or not he can. Time will tell. It always does.


“Black Hole” Or Not, Labor Simply Can’t Manage Money

THE INTERNECINE brawl over whether the ALP has a “black hole” in its policy costings — and if so, how big it is — represents a cynical, over-used (and abused) feature of elections in this country; even so, for all but three of the past 30 years, Labor has never delivered a balanced federal budget: and its record of debt accrual at both state and federal levels is unrivalled. Even the deficit and debt increase under the Coalition is directly Labor’s fault.

I am off to Brisbane again for the day today, and whilst I have to spend a day there next month this is the last one until late July: so with some luck, that particular impact on our discussions here will lessen considerably in the next little bit.

But you know it’s election time in Australia when the Liberals and Labor are throwing around barbs about black holes and blowouts; this time-dishonoured practice is in full swing, with a tick over five weeks until polling day, and the danger of this insidious practice is that by the time voters march wearily into the polling booth they will have been so bombarded with bullshit as to disregard the matter altogether.

They shouldn’t.

It is one of those ironies that three years ago, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan accused the Coalition of having a $70bn “black hole” in its policy costings: it didn’t. Not unless you count the apparently predetermined Labor position of blocking every Coalition spending cut in sight to try to wreck the federal budget if it lost the election as expected, that is.

This week, of course, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance minister Mathias Cormann have levelled the same charge at Labor, and in eerily similar terms — $67bn — and whilst there will inevitably be some dispute over the quantum, the balance of probabilities based on Labor’s form over decades is that they are onto something.

Readers will recall the unprecedented program of tax rises totalling $102bn set out by Bill Shorten last month, which was almost immediately discredited as falling between $20bn and $30bn short; wild estimations of the money to be had from slugging smokers yet again in excise imposts were the main culprit, and the episode was reminiscent of another fatuous justification for hitting smokers by another fatuous ALP leader.

At the time of the last election, the idiotic Kevin Rudd ran around proclaiming that smokers cost the health system $31.9bn per year to treat smoking-related illness as a justification for slapping on an extra $5 per packet in tax; in something of a breath of fresh air, it was one of Rudd’s own health bureaucrats who publicly contradicted the then-PM, stating that not only had Rudd exaggerated the figure tenfold (the actual cost was $3.19bn) but that the regime of excise collection, as it stood at the time to reap $6bn per year, more than paid the cost of smokers’ healthcare.

Demonising smokers might be fun, but at least do it honestly.

The record of the Rudd-Gillard-Swan government — whilst withdrawing some Howard-era measures — was to lift expenditure on social experiments and welfare addiction measures targeted at the most vulnerable under the cover of the Global Financial Crisis; contrary to the ranting of Rudd and Swan in particular, revenue never fell during or after the GFC, and increased on average during the six years of Labor governance by 7% per annum.

But this didn’t worry Labor then — as it borrowed heavily overseas to fund its mad obsession with locking selected constituencies onto the Labor teat — and it won’t worry Labor now; its Treasury spokesman is the same Labor Treasurer who was a party to Rudd’s mad pronouncements on the state of the budget in 2013, and there is no reason to believe he has changed his spots.

And to some extent, serial embarrassment David Feeney — already a source of negative headlines for Labor over his failure to remember he has negatively geared property, contradicting Labor’s plans to abolish negative gearing — has let the cat out of the bag with his “inability” to say whether the ALP will continue the $1.6bn annual Schoolkids’ Bonus introduced by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, abolished by Tony Abbott, and set to expire after this year.

Feeney, of course, ought — by the usual debased standards of an election campaign — to be disendorsed; many better people than him have been booted off the cart by both sides over the years for a lot less.

But he is a union and factional thug with clout, which means Labor is obliged to carry his festering carcass all the way into the next Parliament: if he doesn’t lose his seat to the Greens, that is.

My point this morning is that where there is smoke, there is usually fire, and this commodity is not in short supply where Labor’s election effort to date has been concerned.

Already, Shorten is promising tens of billions of extra dollars in health and education spending with at best a dubious story as to how it will be paid for: never mind, of course, that more and more money won’t fix a health system carrying too many bureaucrats, consultants, advisers and other hangers-on, nor an education system currently consuming record levels of money in real terms, and in which deficient teacher training and not education funding is the true culprit in generating unsatisfactory outcomes.

According to Shorten, GP consultations will fall by up to $24 under a Labor government, which is the biggest pile of manure seen outside a proctologist’s office in some time: for bulk billed patients, how much less than “free” can you get? And for those who are not bulk billed,  the volume of money required to deliver this unbelievably crass pledge is horrific.

But let’s not forget that this is the same party which insisted government borrowings were low “by international standards” — as it merrily racked up $300bn in debt in less than six years — and which has shown such cavalier disregard for the national good as to have spent three years playing fast and loose with Australia’s future, blocking every Coalition bill aimed at reining in the tens of billions of dollars in annual recurrent expenditure it legislated before leaving office in what we now know was an attempt to blame the whole lot on the Coalition.

Labor has governed this country for 16 of the last 30 years; of those it has delivered surplus budgets just three times, and even then more than quarter of a century ago when Paul Keating was Treasurer.

By contrast, 11 of the 15 Coalition budgets in that time have delivered surpluses.

The past three (and especially the unmoving trend in the bottom line) arguably have far more to do with Labor’s misuse of the Senate as an instrument to prevent the delivery of election promises by its conservative opponents than with any real charge of mismanagement on the Coalition’s part.

(Political stupidity a la the 2014 budget and fiscal incompetence are not the same thing).

In other words — with debt now at the half trillion dollar mark — Labor has effectively spent somewhere in the order of $200bn on the public purse from opposition, in the form of borrowings that might not have been required, and that is the price Australia has paid for a Shorten government before such a contemptible entity has even come into existence.

God willing, it never will.

And when it is remembered that every Labor state government that has been kicked out over the past 30 years left a huge pile of debt behind that wasn’t there to begin with — and in at least two of those bequests, in Victoria in 1992 and South Australia in 1993, those states were left all but insolvent — the charge I regularly make about Labor being rotten to the core becomes difficult to convincingly refute.

Is there a “black hole” in Labor’s election costings? Who in hell knows, if we’re being honest. But based on past form and on balance of probabilities, betting your house on the suggestion Labor’s sums don’t add up is probably a guaranteed way to hit paydirt.

Even if, by some miracle, Shorten and Bowen have added mathematical prowess to the thin list of problems the ALP has resolved since being flicked by voters three years ago, their party doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

My great fear is that voters have grown so accustomed to a federal government haemorrhaging red ink and mortgaging future generations’ living standards for the dubious benefit of Labor’s election prospects that such considerations register with fewer and fewer people who take such matters seriously.

Certainly, most of the many people I talk to every week have no comprehension of how the debt disgrace afflicting this country can be Labor’s fault after three years of government by someone else.

But once I explain it — and clarify anything that might unduly bias the point — there’s no problem understanding it at all: and in this sense, Bill Shorten can probably feel grateful that when it comes to the TV soundbites from which most swinging voters get their political insights from, their usual attention span is less than that of a gnat.

Is there a black hole in Labor’s numbers? It would be a miracle if there wasn’t, but the greatest shame of all is that you only have the word of a politician for that: and as the politician in question is on the record as a self-confessed liar, his word isn’t worth all that much at all.

Is it, Mr Billy Bullshit?

Memo To Labor: Why Not Just Select The Best Candidate In Batman?

IT’S ON again; thanks to the retirement of veteran  MP Martin Ferguson, the ALP in Victoria has a vacant seat — ultra-safe on paper — to find a candidate for. But amid “debate” over whether to install a Prime Ministerial mate or a token female, finding the best candidate seems the least of Labor’s concerns.

It might sound unduly cynical of me to say so, but Labor preselections are about as impressive and as transparent as watching grass germinate from a Boeing 747 at 37,000 feet; you can’t see much and what you can see isn’t clear, but even if it was you wouldn’t waste your time because you already know the outcome, and it’s of little interest anyway.

The “outcome,” of course, isn’t necessarily the person who wins: rather, I am talking of course about the process of factional warfare, tokens and baubles for women, “stars” and backroom operatives, and often sheer bloody-minded vindictiveness.

There’s a recent precedent for the sort of thing I am alluding to; the seat of Gellibrand — also in Victoria, also on an obese electoral buffer, and also vacated by its long-term occupant — would seem to offer a textbook example of what not to do when selecting candidates for a safe seat already held by the party making the selection.

But just like Groundhog Day, when it comes to the Labor Party nothing ever changes.

I’m talking about Martin Ferguson’s seat of Batman, which thanks to his justifiably surly resignation from Parliament — a bloody decent individual lost, I might add — will now have a new representative for the first time in nearly 20 years after the September election.

I put it in those terms because there’s no guarantee that such a representative will be from the ALP, and Labor hardheads must surely realise this; Batman — just like Melbourne three years ago — might well be won by a Communist Party Greens candidate.

But with the risks of the consequences of any bad behaviour safely dismissed from consideration, Labor is ploughing ahead with a ridiculous and needlessly divisive preselection that so far resembles the one in Gellibrand seven weeks ago in all but name.

The first hat into the ring was that of Senator David Feeney, one of the so-called “faceless men” who helped orchestrate the midnight assassination of Kevin Rudd and the installation of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister.

Facing re-election in September from the unwinnable third spot on the ALP’s Victorian Senate ticket, it has long been accepted that a factional deal would see Feeney preselected to a lower house seat that fell vacant prior to the election.

The next cab off the rank — and just as quick to return to it — was ACTU President Ged Kearney, who immediately attracted support from the likes of Left faction figure Jenny Macklin simply on the basis she was female.

Kearney’s withdrawal likely saves Labor a lot of angst; as we have discussed before, she has already been linked to attempts to cause industrial trouble for a Liberal government, and union militancy is the last thing Labor will need as it works to rebuild its shattered party after the election belting now confronting it.

Now two more candidates — both women — have leapt into the fray; one is Hatice (“Hutch”) Hussein, whose LinkedIn profile presents her as “Senior Manager-Refugees Immigration & Multiculturalism” (sic), listing a string of roles in the migrant and social work sectors, as well as long involvement at the head of the deeply socialist feminist organisation Emily’s List.

The other — Mary-Anne Thomas — has a profile on LinkedIn too; hers lists out a stack of ministerial advisor roles during the Bracks/Brumby government and earlier at the LHMU, but aside from a short stint at NAB there’s nothing to suggest any meaningful relevance to the ordinary man and woman on the street.

In fact, you could say the same thing about all three of them: bovverish Labor insiders and fellow travellers who really don’t represent a cross-section of ordinary people at all.

I’d be asking the simple question, if I were a rank and file member of the ALP in Melbourne’s north: where’s the real candidate? And if there isn’t one, why isn’t the party replacing Ferguson with someone of at least similar public standing and esteem?

But no, the reality is more prosaic; it’s far more important in the Labor Party to engage in a round of public bloody-mindedness and faction fighting over the merits of political midgets than it is to put up decent candidates.

News Ltd quotes Hussein — from her Facebook page — as saying that “At 37, I not only embody Labor values as a passionate supporter of social justice, but also represent the face of that change.”

How nauseatingly pompous from someone aspiring to a seat in Parliament.

Thomas — who indications suggest is being backed as the Left’s preferred candidate — at least had the decency to make a more moderate pitch, saying that “my strength is I’m from this community; I’ve lived here for 15 years, I’ve brought up my family here.”

But the problem with both of them — which in turn is one of the big problems with the wider ALP — is that their candidacies are being showcased through the prism of Labor’s tokenistic and demeaning quota system for women.

Apparently, if a woman doesn’t win Batman only 27% of Labor’s MPs in Victoria will be female, and that’s just not good enough.

The fact a man emerged victorious from the preselection shitfight over Nicola Roxon’s vacant Gellibrand seat makes this imperative all the more urgent.

And Feeney, for his part — a man looking to collect on an agreement to keep him in Parliament — isn’t someone who springs to mind as Prime Ministerial material either, or even someone you’d want to discuss a constituent matter with as your local MP.

So there it is: a backroom boy and two little-known Leftie women are Labor’s candidates to represent 150,000 people in Parliament in one if its safest seats. What a sham.

I’m sure all three are perfectly charming and decent people, but what do they have to offer the ordinary men and women they expect to support them? I’d wager not much.

And it brings me back to the overriding point: why not simply find the best candidate, and endorse them? If there is no comparable replacement for Ferguson, why not encourage the brightest rank-and-file members to stand, and take a punt on one? They might surprise.

Who cares if the best candidate is male or female, so long as whoever it is does the job?

To hell with Emily’s list, Labor’s quotas, and the Left’s prescriptions for social engineering, insiderish political bovverism, and the largely useless government all of this culminated in with Julia Gillard’s ascension to the Prime Ministership.

And if there is one spectacular piece of proof of the sheer uselessness of Labor’s quotas for women, it is the Prime Minister herself: a walking, talking, political disaster that strikes every time she opens her mouth, who is largely responsible for the enormous and perhaps terminal damage the ALP is set to suffer at the election a little over three months away.

At least the combatants in Batman haven’t resorted to accusing each other of “misogyny” (as even the women did among themselves in Gellibrand); at least, not yet.

But the chances of this turning into yet another ugly brawl are better than even, and we watch with great interest.

Even so, it may prove to be a useless enterprise in the end — whoever stands in Batman.

The seat might notionally sit on a 25% two-party margin over the Liberal Party — on such a basis, indeed, the safest Labor seat in Australia — but the 2010 election wasn’t a contest between Ferguson and the Liberal Party; it was between Ferguson and the Greens.

On that basis, his two-party margin is just 7.9%, and whilst one would expect the Liberal Party to preference Labor ahead of the Greens as it did at the state election in 2010, largely robbing the Greens of a weapon in the contest, it might yet be a moot point.

With Ferguson gone, the Labor vote in Batman will be susceptible to the collapse the party faces in almost every part of the country, and if the Greens can pick up a decent portion of the 52% ALP primary vote to add to the 24% they scored in 2010 it might just be enough, with minor party preferences and the inevitable leakage of Liberal votes, to push them over the line.

It’s not probable but it is certainly possible in the current climate.

And were it to occur, it would show up the bickering over past agreements, female quotas and all the other irrelevant crap Labor engages in for the charade it is.

They should go back to the branches, and look for the rough diamond who could be polished into a glittering gem of the Labor Party’s future.

But they won’t.