2 July Approaches: Election Was Won, Or Lost, On Thursday

IN A SIGN tight polls mirror internal findings by the major parties showing the ALP could win on 2 July — and in a response that may well backfire — Labor “leader” Bill Shorten has trashed two years of rhetoric about “fairness” by embracing Abbott-era spending cuts he once derided as vicious, unfair and cruel. It is a belated recognition government involves at least an appearance of responsibility, but may well explode in the vacuous Shorten’s face.

I must apologise for my silence this week; not the result of my workload elsewhere (although that remains very solid indeed) but an involuntary consequence of the death of the computer in my home office, the week has been a very interesting experience in trying to keep balls in the air at all, let alone manage the usual juggle. There has been a lot happening, and I will try to cover off on some of this in a series of shorter posts than usual over the next few days.

And lest there be any doubt, there are some relevant issues (like the Victorian ALP’s dictatorial execution of union demands in sacking the board of the Country Fire Authority over an industrial dispute fashioned to extend and entrench the relevant union against the wishes of CFA members) that may prove influential over the balance of the federal election campaign, and others (like the disendorsement and expulsion of a Liberal candidate for an ultra-safe ALP seat in Victoria) that don’t matter two-tenths of diddlysquat in the wider scheme of things: some of the more salient of these issues will form some of the ground we make up.

But there are two schools of thought about the stunning about-face performed by the ALP, its cretinous “leader,” Bill Shorten, and his Treasury spokesman, the Rudd-esque slogan regurgitator Chris Bowen, on Thursday.

On the one hand, the declaration that a Labor government would adopt a swag of stalled savings measures from the notorious 2014 budget might be seen as a tacit admission that sensing an election win is in the offing, the ALP needed to begin to present at least the facade of economic responsibility where management of the haemorrhaging federal budget is concerned.

On the other, it could be seen as a panicked response to sustained Liberal Party attacks on the ALP’s credibility (and specifically, the credibility of its costings promises) and in particular, the admission by Shorten during the week that whilst the budget would return to surplus in 2020-21 — the same timeframe proposed by the Coalition — deficits over the initial three to four years would be larger than those projected by the Coalition.

On both interpretations, Labor is open to the charge of economic vandalism made in this column two years ago, and guilty of needlessly adding tens of billions of dollars to Commonwealth debt through its bloody-minded obstruction tactics in the Senate, to say nothing of the further billions in interest payments that would not have been incurred to service it over that time.

And on both interpretations, the ALP appears to have gambled that the prospect of what hitherto been an appallingly lacklustre campaign from the Coalition throwing up further mistakes and own goals to diminish the re-election prospects of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull outweighs the very real risk that voters will, en masse, now conclude Shorten and his cohorts are the pack of useless and unprincipled shits we have warned about for two years, and lurch back to the Coalition and the familiarity of the devil they already know.

Joe Hockey’s 2014 budget — whilst likely, as Coalition figures at the time insisted, to go at least some way toward fixing the structural budget deficit bequeathed by the ALP had it been legislated — was a colossal political failure of almost unquantifiable magnitude; rather than seek to terminate unsustainable and massive new recurrent spending programs legislated by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan to booby-trap the budget, Hockey instead took disproportionate aim at almost every component of the Coalition’s core constituency, with families, middle income earners and pensioners among the groups that would have been hardest hit.

Simultaneously, a misdirected and utterly deficient “communications” strategy saw the budget entrenched as politically toxic in the electorate within days, as a vapid, vacuous Labor onslaught about “fairness” went completely unrebutted in any meaningful sense, and this — combined with unreasoning intransigence in the Senate on the part of the ALP, the Communist Party Greens and the insidious, Labor-aiding Palmer United Party — created persistent wide Labor leads across all the major polls that were ultimately central to the premature demise of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.

Even so, Shorten’s own program for budget “repair” — a slate of tax slugs said to be worth $102bn over a decade (notwithstanding bickering over whether this figure was accurate or not) — was almost exclusively bound to new spending programs the ALP proposed to implement if elected.

Now, with an election win having begun to look increasingly plausible, a secondary “program” of adopting the very cuts that were once pilloried as vicious, cruel and unfair has been wheeled out at the eleventh hour in a bid to make Shorten and Labor appear as responsible economic managers, even if the reality — should they form government after 2 July — is likely to prove very different indeed.

Everyone knows the publicly published polls have been terrible for the government; for this, Turnbull and his team have only themselves to blame, as a Prime Minister whose personal support has predictably drifted into solidly negative territory over the past six months — people didn’t like Turnbull as opposition leader, and it isn’t a surprise that assessment is being revisited — is being further compromised by a campaign that has hitherto failed to lay a glove on the smugly glib Shorten, nor apparently to convince sufficient numbers of voters of the merits of voting Liberal at all.

I have been receiving word from reliable sources across Australia about private Liberal Party polling that substantially verifies the results of the public polls — and then some.

Prior to last Thursday, the consensus appears to have been that between 10 and 15 Coalition seats stood to be lost to Labor in just Queensland and NSW alone; when it is remembered that Liberals and Nationals notionally approach polling day with 90* of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, this movement would be sufficient for Turnbull to lose the government’s majority in those two states alone.

At least one extra seat in Tasmania, perhaps two in Victoria, one in SA and up to four in WA — plus the Darwin-based seat of Solomon — rounded out the upper end of potential losses to the ALP Coalition insiders have been bracing for.

Talk of the Liberal Party winning two or three additional seats in Melbourne, on the back of Turnbull’s alleged popularity, evaporated: sandbagging and holding existing territory had become the order of the day.

And more ominously, some research conducted in very safe Liberal electorates showed the Turnbull government’s superannuation changes — replete with the despicable sleight of retrospective taxation — were generating white-hot fury among the party’s most affluent supporters, although the effects of this had not been quantified in terms of a swing against the party in those seats.

These are just some of the things that have made me think a Shorten victory — as distasteful as it would be — was growing likelier.

But all of these things also preceded the bombshell dropped by the ALP on Thursday, in which the families, age pensioners and recipients of some healthcare services that Shorten has spent two years solemnly claiming to represent are all now lined up in the sights of the Labor gun.

At the very minimum, Shorten and Bowen have validated virtually every criticism levelled at them by the government, conservative commentators, and those elements of the press who are independently minded enough to call them out for what they are: wreckers and economic vandals prepared to gamble with the very viability of Australia itself through political tactics designed to slake an obsession with regaining power at literally any price.

In the case of Shorten — already thoroughly discredited as completely untrustworthy as a self-confessed liar, and having done nothing during this term of Parliament to alter that perception among the wider public — Thursday’s backflip will simply feed into the electoral sentiment that he stands for nothing, and nobody, except himself and his delusional view that he is “destined” to be Prime Minister.

But whilst Labor’s breathtaking about-face on the 2014-vintage savings measures will do nothing to engender any credibility for Shorten, the simple truth is that he had little to begin with.

With three weeks to go and an ineffective, mistake-prone opponent, Shorten may well calculate that by getting the yuckiest bit of his own campaign out of the way, there is ample time for Turnbull to slip up, perhaps terminally: the truth be told, and based on the Coalition’s efforts to date, it’s probably a reasonable assessment to make.

And whilst it elicited a lot of noise from Turnbull and his Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, the equally simple truth is that there is no guarantee their economic attack lines will resonate with voters even now: after all, this Coalition government has been almost fatally defective where communications and tactics are concerned since the day it took office, and this flaw is arguably just as pronounced today as it was when Peta Credlin was in charge of overseeing such things during Abbott’s tenure.

In any case, and perversely, the fracas over the CFA in Victoria on Friday has probably already taken much of the wind out of the Coalition’s sails where federal Labor’s budget backflip is concerned: people, and politics, move on. Politics is an eternally fluid business. Events gazump events. The Shorten-Bowen show is already old news.

Either way, in a pedestrian and moribund re-election campaign, Thursday was the first genuine turning point the Coalition has encountered: and with three weeks to go, it may well be — nay, is probably — also the last.

The big question (to put it very bluntly) is whether — after two and a half years of talking complete shit, violating many of the “principles” Labor has historically claimed to stand for, and playing fast and loose with the country’s economic security by virtue of its behaviour in the Senate — Shorten’s latest gambit amounts to one half-arsed move too many.

I think it’s fair to say that this election was won, or lost — depending on your viewpoint — on Thursday afternoon.

If the Coalition’s fortunes rise from here, it will be obvious that Shorten’s stunt has backfired.

But even if they do, the Coalition can afford no further mistakes: for if a rise in support from the government is followed by more gaffes that lead to that support resuming its decline, then Shorten — unbelievably — may yet have set himself up to triumph with his announcement that despite ranting for years about fairness and cruelty, the whole thing was an act from the very beginning.

Should a Labor win come to pass, then God help Australia.

 

*Includes the seat of Fairfax held by Clive Palmer, which will almost certainly be regained by the Liberal Party on 2 July.

 

Tony Abbott And His Cohorts Dishonoured Australian Conservatism

AS 2016 takes early steps toward post-silly season normality, a ministerial reshuffle looms as the first task of the Turnbull government; far from finding a portfolio for Tony Abbott — who really ought to leave Parliament — those on the Liberal Right must accept their deposed leader, and the coterie assembled by him on their behalf, dishonoured Australian conservatism at a time this country most needed sound, orthodox Tory governance.

Today, I’m not interested in the ghastly (and to some degree, self-inflicted) problems Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces when he returns from his Christmas holiday; if Jamie Briggs can’t keep his hands to himself on a work’s outing, or if the risk of appointing Mal Brough to Cabinet whilst under federal police investigation has blown up in Turnbull’s face, or if Peter Dutton continues to substantiate the error of leaving him in Cabinet, those matters are ones that will sort themselves out in the fullness of time.

And of course, there’s no need to talk about Turnbull’s defective political judgement. Not today, at least.

This morning’s essay is lengthy; partly to atone for going walkabout these past few days, but also because it’s high time we covered this subject thoroughly.

I remain as committed as ever to the principles of reasonable, moderate, mainstream Conservatism, and believe passionately and without reserve that these offer the very best model for government in a liberal democratic society, ensuring all boats are lifted as the tide rises, and providing a bulwark against its inevitable ebb and flow.

But the tremendous opportunity that was delivered on 7 September 2013 was summarily squandered, in a thousand steps before and after, in a pantomime and a farce that could hardly be described as conservative, and which brought great dishonour to the conservative cause. It will be many years before such an opportunity again presents itself.

I was reading an article from Brisbane’s Courier Mail yesterday, and it behoves me to opine just what a failure and a disappointment the Abbott government was; all but the most recent readers of this column will know I was a staunch advocate of Tony Abbott for 20 years before he became Prime Minister, and for much of his subsequent ill-fated tenure in that post.

But the Abbott government — to paraphrase former Liberal Party member and fellow online columnist Andrew Elder — was a fuck-up, and far from finding Abbott a portfolio in Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet now a couple of foreseeable accidents have come to fruition, I think that not only should those of us on the mainstream Right call time on Abbott’s career, but that those among us who refuse to see the reality should also recognise that the path he led Australian Conservatism down was destined to end in disaster.

That’s not a prescient judgement on the likely fortunes of the government under Turnbull — although those, too, could well end in catastrophe — but had Turnbull not overthrown Abbott, the likelihood of electoral defeat this year was very high indeed.

I have little time for the quasi-socialist politics of Malcolm Turnbull, but I’m pragmatic enough to accept that — provided he gets his finger out and battles off to Government House in the next few weeks — his opinion poll numbers are likely to translate into a sizeable election victory, the question of what might follow notwithstanding.

Yet when possibly the most inappropriate candidate for the Prime Ministership since Doc Evatt 60 years ago can spend 18 months maintaining election-winning leads in every reputable opinion poll — the average of which, at 54% for the ALP, represents a 7.6% swing and 90 seats in the House of Representatives, a 35-seat gain — the truth, however unpalatable, of the utter failure of what was meant to be a conservative government simply cannot be ignored or glossed over.

To be sure, the fault for this was simultaneously Abbott’s alone and the fault of many people around him; Abbott personally must carry the can in terms of responsibility for the truncation of his political career, but many others are equally, if not more, to blame than he is, albeit not invested with the Prime Ministerial imprimatur that rested in Abbott himself.

The conservative model of low taxes, small government, strong national defences, low government spending, less government intrusion into ordinary people’s lives, more choice, national pride and a tight ship encompasses proven values that work; one look at the booming British economy (which, after nearly six years of Tory government, is outperforming almost every other OECD country, including Australia) is enough to appreciate the fruits these principles can bear if soundly implemented.

In many respects, the circumstances in which the Conservative Party took office in the UK in 2010 are reflected in those that prevailed when Abbott won office here in 2013.

Both faced rocketing public debt and recurrent spending obligations bequeathed them by Labour/Labor predecessors. Both faced collapsing revenue bases, the British government thanks to the Global Financial Crisis, which knocked the stuffing out of its economy; the Abbott government on account of the progressive (and now near-total) collapse of record commodity prices. Both inherited burgeoning, ballooning welfare bills that extended largesse and profligacy on the clear but deadly assumption that the requisite “boom times” to pay for them would never end. And both governments inherited budgets that were haemorrhaging red ink, meaning the only way to pay for Labour’s/Labor’s “civilised” social spending was to borrow the cash: mostly from the Arabs, in the case of the UK, and from China, here in Australia.

I don’t intend to continue the comparison with Britain throughout this article, although by way of summary it should be pointed out that the British economy — now growing at an annualised rate of 3% and set to accelerate this year — is generating hundreds of thousands of jobs per year; the budget deficit the Cameron government inherited (far worse than anything we’ve seen in this country) has been cut by two-thirds, and will be eliminated altogether by 2018; income and business taxes are being cut; welfare spending has been reined in, streamlined into a single universal benefit payment, and capped at payments per household of 80% of the average annual British wage (£21,000 per year, or $43,000); business has been incentivised not just to hire people, but to invest within Britain and in opportunities abroad that can generate revenue and other benefits for the UK; and the damage 13 years of Labour government inflicted in the form of defence cuts and downsizing (at a time of heightened international instability, and not least where Europe, NATO and Russia are concerned) is beginning to be undone. The British national debt pile of £1.5 trillion ($3.3 trillion) will begin to be repaid from 2020: not according to fanciful “estimates” that extend four years and are constantly revised into the never-never, but on account of substantiable economies in government outlays that will return the UK to surplus within the next three years.

It’s an impressive achievement.

But just as the Abbott government had the (exceedingly hostile) Senate to contend with, the Cameron government arguably faced even greater obstacles: a left-leaning coalition partner of necessity until May last year in the form of the Liberal Democrats, for one thing, whose chief effect was to impede the reinvigoration of the British economy with no better objection than the rate of change. An intellectually dishonest separatist movement in Scotland, led by a man whose hatred of the English borders on the pathological, and which would have bankrupted Scotland and caused great upheaval throughout what was left of the UK. European Union “partners” who have spent decades making it abundantly clear they do not regard Britain as “European,” but whose hands eagerly pocket more than £2bn every year in payments from the UK to fund the swollen EU bureaucracy and its insidious, slithering intrusion into all aspects of the governance and societies of its constituent countries. And last but by no means least, the basket case status of many of Britain’s neighbours — not least its nearest, Ireland, which continues to teeter on bankruptcy — means that the UK has hardly been operating in the most propitious economic circumstances (or trading environment) in its own region for the duration to date of the Conservative government.

The reason I relate all of this, before moving to the thrust of my argument today, is to illustrate just how divergent two Centre-Right governments taking office in very similar situations can be; David Cameron’s government isn’t perfect, and I don’t think British Conservatives would claim as much. But the enviable record it is able to boast is one that should shame the Right in this country. It had one obstacle: the Senate. Yet with just about everything else stacked in its favour, it was (as Elder has often reiterated) a monumental fuck-up during its tenure in office.

It is easy to point the finger at wrecker and troublemaker Clive Palmer: after all, the three Senate spots his stupid grudge party won in 2013 in WA, Tasmania and Queensland would all have likely been won by the Liberal Party (or the Nationals) had Palmer not stomped out of the Coalition tent because he couldn’t control Queensland’s LNP government; had it won them, the Coalition would have been two seats shy of a Senate majority, with at least one friendly crossbencher (Family First’s Bob Day) putting it halfway toward passing whatever bills it liked provided it accommodated Day’s concerns.

Yet the fact it didn’t points to the defective “brains” trust at the Liberals’ federal secretariat — and, to varying degrees, their counterparts in state divisions of the party across the country — who were loyal to Abbott and the party’s Right, but who proved completely inept at running an election campaign for the Senate that mitigated against the onslaught of the bellicose tyrant Palmer. The Coalition has paid for this ineptitude ever since.

At a time of rising public sector debt, collapsing revenues and increased recurrent spending that will continue to increase exponentially as the National Disability Insurance Scheme soon adds $24bn to the annual pile of outgoings, it is clear this country blundered badly into trouble by electing a Labor government at all in 2007.

Far from substantiating the solemn assurances of fiscal “conservatism” pledged by Kevin Rudd, as he sought to sell himself as “John Howard lite,” the ALP quickly embarked on a tax, borrow and spend binge that cannot be justified or explained away by glibly pointing at the Global Financial Crisis — irrespective of whatever vapid claims to competence are uttered by Rudd, his useless Treasurer Wayne Swan, or their replacements in Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen.

But that’s history; the Abbott-led Liberal Party had three years to make comprehensive plans for a return to office after the stunning near-miss it achieved against Gillard in 2010, or nearly four years if you instead start the clock from the day Abbott succeeded Turnbull as Liberal leader in 2009: arguably the day Labor’s defeat became a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Armed with idiot-simple slogans and an apparatus for destroying an uber-popular government ahead of time, Abbott and his coterie duly set forth.

There were big targets, and big hits were landed — think the “great big new (carbon) tax” that Julia Gillard explicitly promised not to introduce but went ahead and legislated anyway, in a sop to the Communist Party Greens (who were a big liability to Labor in their own right), and Wayne Swan’s botched mining tax, which unbelievably raised no revenue — to say nothing of the permanent state of warfare over the ALP leadership and thus the Prime Ministership.

There were controversies, such as the “Ditch the Witch” fiasco and Julia Gillard’s reprehensibly dishonest “misogyny” speech, which even now very few people realise was a defence of then-Speaker Peter Slipper after the latter had been found out for sending filthy text messages about female genitalia.

There were also colossal campaign mistakes that, in hindsight, offered a very large pointer to the dysfunction likely to beset an Abbott government if it materialised, like the shopping list of things Abbott explicitly guaranteed would be immune from spending cuts if he won the election. Yes, the silly statement was offset by a catch-all that followed, elaborating that if “things are worse than we believe they are” once the Coalition took office then all bets were off. But the first statement was the one that resonated. It was a gaffe that should never have been made.

In and amongst those instances of bad judgement on the part of Turnbull we’re not going to discuss, one notably shining exception stands out: the decision to remove Peta Credlin as his Chief of Staff, replacing her with journalist Chris Kenny a year before he lost the Liberal leadership; as subsequent events would show, this one action — irrespective of the errors and misfortunes that persisted within Turnbull’s office — was the only opportunity that would be open to the Liberal Party for almost seven years to get rid of an ingrained problem.

That the demotion was reversed when Abbott won the leadership, and Credlin restored as Chief of Staff to the opposition leader, sowed the seeds of the pitiful failure of the Conservatism Australian electors would vote overwhelmingly in favour of in September 2013.

Abbott — in his various defences of his deeply divisive and rightly loathed adviser — memorably described Credlin as “the smartest and fiercest political warrior (he’s) known,” and perhaps in some respects she was, and is. But political warriors fight political fights. Governance of a country like Australia is an altogether different task than fighting the petty political blood feuds prosecuted by an ascendant opposition.

There is a school of thought that says Abbott — who was initially confronted by a new-ish Labor government sitting on well above 55% of the two-party vote in opinion polls, and who tore that government down in two reasonable anti-Labor swings totalling 6.3% — was the most effective opposition leader this country has ever produced.

Certainly, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd outfit had been so comprehensively trashed by the time the 2013 election rolled around that it was deeply panicked about “saving furniture.” But how much of the dysfunction within the ALP was self-inflicted and how much the result of Abbott and Credlin’s efforts is a matter for conjecture, especially as Labor today remains a deeply defective political outfit under the “leadership” of an ex-union grub who makes the likes of Evatt and another former Labor leader, Mark Latham, appear positively sane and rational by contrast.

Whatever the means, the end result is that Abbott arrived as Prime Minister with a huge task ahead of his government to restore public finances to a sustainable footing, as well as (famously) to stop the flow of asylum seeker boats, get rid of Labor’s hated carbon tax, repeal the pointless and investment-destroying mining tax, and to wind back the profligate waste and unrestrained spending spree Labor, under Swan, had imprudently embarked upon.

Right from the outset, the Senate was an impediment that might have been avoided: in another glimpse into the future, the federal Liberals had fought a campaign that whilst delivering government, had singularly failed to deal with the rising menace of Clive Palmer: little (or no) attempt was made in the runup to polling day to confront the Palmer United Party head-on, and this failure underscores a methodology that was repeatedly revisited in the aftermath of the election.

Sometimes, in democratic politics, it is necessary to confront rivals and opponents directly; one of the criticisms I have repeatedly made of my own party in the past few years is that it houses far too many insiders and apparatchiks who think they’re Francis Urquhart. The notion that “the worst humiliation is not to be taken seriously” is well and good, but in failing to attack Palmer or to deal with the threat he posed, the Liberals ceded three Senate berths to his God-forsaken rabble that would otherwise have been their own.

Where Senate elections are concerned, red herrings like Clive Palmer only have to be relevant for the metaphoric five minutes of an election campaign to encumber the country — and the government — for six years. The three Senators elected on the Palmer ticket may have fragmented, but two remain almost implacably opposed to the government’s agenda whilst the third is at best unpredictable. All three form a potent political pretext for a double dissolution election to at least try to improve the government’s Senate position and prematurely terminate their six-year tenures.

Early on, the Abbott government showed some promise; the consolidation of revenue arrangements and the recapitalisation of the Reserve Bank that were undertaken by Joe Hockey as treasurer were a good start.

Yet another necessary move by Hockey — abolishing the debt ceiling to accommodate the unstoppable ballooning of debt that was a direct consequence of years of Labor mismanagement — was allowed, by the Coalition, to be framed unchallenged as an “increase in debt” by the ALP under its insidious new leader. It was yet another pointer to the likelihood that when the real business of governing moved into full swing, the Abbott outfit would prove ineffectual at best at either implementing its agenda adroitly or, tellingly, at selling it.

A Commission of Audit report, which (as expected) found the state of the country’s books was far worse than anything Swan or Rudd or Gillard had had the honesty or integrity to admit, was finalised and delivered by January 2014; for reasons that were never explained and which are beyond belief anyway, Hockey sat on this report until a matter of days prior to his first budget, instead of using it — as Peter Costello had done 18 years earlier — to comprehensively shred whatever remnants of perceived competence the ALP still retained publicly.

This failure to fully expose the disastrous misadventure in economic stewardship that had been six years of abysmal Labor government is a fundamental mistake that still hobbles the government today, even after Abbott and Hockey have been dispatched from their positions of authority.

But look around what was the Abbott ministry: there were plenty of wanton duds occupying plenty of the blue-ribbon seats.

There was Hockey, delivering a budget that increased taxes and spending; to the extent it cut spending at all — and with an eye to the Senate, it wasn’t by much — Hockey’s abysmal 2014 effort broke every rule in the political book by targeting floating voters in marginal Coalition-held constituencies.

There was Kevin Andrews, in Social Services, who seemed to turn not just every welfare-addicted handout recipient against the government (without actually doing much to hurt them) but also every fair-minded person in the country who listened to the vacuous diatribes of the ALP and who had real compassion for people worse off than themselves whose lot they were convinced was set to be made much harder.

Perhaps Andrews’ free marriage counselling voucher program was designed for couples whose marriages were pushed to breaking point by his welfare and family services changes.

There was Peter Dutton — lucky in my view, as readers might have guessed, to be in Cabinet under Turnbull at all — who managed to take a straightforward $5 co-payment for GP visits (which, anecdotal evidence early in 2014 suggested, would be tolerated in the community) and to turn it into an oddly figured, compounding $7 charge that would apply to GP visits, and radiology, and pathology services, and heaven knows what else. It was complicated, confusing, and was said to be destined to fund a $20 billion medical research trust that defied the notion of paying down government debt in the first place.

There was “Industry Assistance” minister Ian Macfarlane — so sure of his own adequacy and value to a conservative government that he tried to jump the fence to the Nationals just weeks after finalising his preselection for the Liberal Party — whose idea of industry policy was to stand shoulder to shoulder with unions as an advocate for bottomless, endless buckets of cash to prop up in perpetuity an inefficient and internationally uncompetitive manufacturing industry that swallowed billions of dollars every year with nothing to show except jobs that were bought by government from the companies that provided them, rather than jobs that were sustainable.

Macfarlane followed that effort up, of course, by advocating more millions to be poured into a small, loss-making division of a conglomerate that cumulatively generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits the previous year.

There was Eric Abetz in Workplace Relations Employment, promising a minimalist approach to labour market reform so as not to awaken the sleeping WorkChoices scare campaign of the ALP and the unions (which would have been trundled out irrespective), who — when the promised Productivity Commission report that he solemnly swore the government would adopt the recommendations of materialised — disappeared to hide in the toilet the instant blathering Bill Shorten began whining about “fairness” and “cruelty” over the suggested minor changes contained in that report.

There was Attorney-General George Brandis, who once questions around travel allowances and library entitlements were cleared up, proved spectacularly unable to articulate clearly, simply and concisely a) what metadata was, b) what the government’s approach to it actually meant, and c) how the provisions it legislated to collect/store/monitor metadata were consistent with a government championing freedom, personal choice and the rolling back of state intrusion from people’s lives.

There was Christopher Pyne in Education, whose moderate education reforms were screamed down by students on campuses across Australia, backed — incongruously and ridiculously — by demonstrating construction workers from militant unions whose connection to the reforms was unclear, but who nonetheless brought capital city CBD areas to a halt for several hours at a time in “solidarity” with the students.

There was a heavy-handed (but justified) get-square crusade against anti-Coalition bias at the ABC, which can’t even bring itself to provide equal numbers of representatives from the Left and Right on its loathsome “adventure in democracy” panel programme, QandA: and there was Malcolm Turnbull as Communications minister who singularly failed to rein the ABC in, which instead engaged known sympathisers of the Left to conduct a review that concluded the Left, itself, had in fact been discriminated against. Christ alive!

There was David Johnston in Defence, who helpfully pointed out that the South Australian shipbuilding industry couldn’t build “a canoe.”

Then there was Kevin Andrews — again — in Defence, after Johnston was forced to walk the plank; not content with effecting one reprise of his botched performance in charge of WorkChoices under Howard, this time he set about performing a second, with the letting of a contract to build replacements for the accident-ridden Collins class submarines all but turned into an international debacle.

And sitting in the Speaker’s chair was Bronwyn Bishop (and I cringe every time I recall jumping enthusiastically on the “Bronwyn for PM” bandwagon in 1994, like most otherwise sane Liberals around the place did at that time, only to jump back off just as enthusiastically shortly thereafter) whose idea of small government clearly did not extend to exercising any sense of frugality where “official” travel arrangements were concerned.

If I’ve offended anyone by leaving them out, I’m very sorry. (If your name is Andrew Robb — one of the finest ministers of the Crown to ever hold office in this country — then you are summarily excused from this assessment).

But someone had to carry the can for all these “accomplishments,” and that someone is Tony Abbott; for a Rhodes scholar with degrees in Law and Economics, an excellent pedigree of ministerial service under John Howard, and solid credentials as a conservative thinker, Abbott — for all the promise he showed — was a great big disappointment.

People can point the finger at Credlin all they like (and I’ve been wont to do it often enough); amateurish, micromanaging to an obsession and completely out of her depth, Credlin — and the structures she was given the authority and the freedom to erect around Abbott and the government — bears a disproportionate share of the responsibility for the failure of the Abbott government.

Ministers were berated just out of sight of cameras if they didn’t accurately parrot the lines she gave them. Their staff were more or less hand-picked by her, with more of an emphasis on pliability and obedience than on actual competence in doing their jobs. Credlin seemed to think she was of Cabinet rank (she wasn’t) and was stoutly defended for too long by Abbott against (wholly appropriate) objections from Cabinet ministers over her presence in the Cabinet room. Advisers responsible for media management, communication, and the sales and marketing functions of the government — assembled on her authority — were completely incompetent, for as defective as the activities of the Abbott government mostly were, there were nevertheless enough saleable points to mount a case for them.

Monitoring opinion polls over an 18-month period consistently reflected the utter uselessness of such efforts. If, some days, it even appeared any effort had been made at all.

All of these things, and much more, were within Credlin’s remit; all of them were monumental fuck-ups. As I have said before, Credlin was given both the most senior non-elected job in Australian politics and the freedom and authority with which to carry it out. The resulting Armageddon is one for which she can only blame herself: nothing to do with “sexism” or “misogyny” or whether her name is spelt “P-E-T-E-R.” Credlin was an utter failure, and the ultimate responsibility for her lay with Abbott himself.

I knew it was all over for Abbott just weeks after he survived the “challenge without a candidate” (and said so at the time — the article has a date on it, you see). By the time his involuntary demise rolled around almost seven months later, I was resolute that he — and the “support” axis of Credlin and her husband, federal Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane, and those closest to them — had to go.

My only reticence was the likely victor in any contest to replace him — the current Prime Minister — and whilst I did not support Turnbull, just about any other candidate who stood in his place would probably have received a ringing endorsement from this column.

Time will tell if my historic critique of Turnbull rings true or not: loyalty to the Liberal Party dictates that I give him a fair hearing with a clean slate. I think there are some ominous signs that the “old” Turnbull has learned nothing; that he never really went away. But for now at least, Turnbull’s performance sees his overall tally at just the right side of the balance sheet.

Yet whether Turnbull succeeds in the longer run or not, his peculiar blend of social democracy and small “l” liberalism does not equal a conservative government, and nor will it deliver one. Ironically, however, if Turnbull delivers a moderate liberal programme, he will have exhibited fidelity to his beliefs. The same cannot be said of Abbott and his coterie.

It has been fashionable on the Left (and among others elsewhere who don’t know any better) to deride the Abbott government as a “far Right” government: it was nothing of the sort. It implemented big increases in taxes and social spending. It targeted families. It proposed burdening business to pay for yet more social spending. It did nothing to roll back the march of Big Brother into the lives of ordinary, decent folk, nor to roll back the creeping, insidious slither of socialism through every facet of Australian society. Like most points of principle, it botched what should have been an obvious and praiseworthy position on free speech — not least because Brandis effectively gave licence to the government’s opponents to smear it as bigoted. And to the extent any cuts (real, perceived, or imaginatively engineered by Labor despite failing to legislate certain items of “funding” in the first place) could possibly be characterised as right-wing, they weren’t adequately explained or even convincingly positioned as budget savings measures.

For those readers who missed it at the top of my piece today, here’s the article from the Courier Mail again: aside from the fact its author apparently affords a modicum of respect to the ghastly Senator Sarah “Accidents Happen” Hanson-Young, I find it difficult to argue with any of the points she has made.

As the clamour among some conservative Liberals for Abbott to be given a frontbench spot in Turnbull’s impending reshuffle grows, certain realities need to be accepted, however unpalatable they might seem and no matter how regretfully such conclusions are drawn.

Abbott is a good man, a decent man, and has been outrageously accused of all kinds of things that simply aren’t and never were true. People like Julia Gillard and her “handbag hit squad” should be ashamed of themselves, but this is scarcely the point: whether you like him or detest him for whatever reason, Abbott is human too.

In the most immediate sense, Abbott being restored to the ministry would almost certainly see the return of Credlin to the ministerial wing: an opportunity cost in harnessing the former PM’s experience that is simply too high to countenance in view of what has transpired over the past couple of years.

I offer no opinion on whether there would be “undermining” going on or not. After the precedent set by Gillard and Rudd, however, and with passions on the Liberal Right still simmering explosively four months after his dumping, the best thing for all concerned — Abbott included — would be to avoid the situation altogether.

And just as the men and women who served — dismally — under Abbott are good and decent people, the unrestrained anger of none of them is a suitable pretext to revisit that situation.

Blame the Senate? Fine, but the astute approach would have been to systematically stockpile double dissolution triggers from the moment the government took office, “just in case;” there should be enough of them in hand to throw them like confetti at the Governor-General along with advice of an election for both Houses of Parliament. Instead, it did deals with anyone prepared to cut them — often Palmer — that delivered in some instances worse outcomes in terms of the budget than if there had been no deal at all. There is now only a few months remaining for a double dissolution to be called, if there is to be one. To date, the Coalition has accrued just two potential triggers — the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Registered Organisations bill — and of those, the validity of the former isn’t even clear, rejected as it was once by the pre-July 2014 Senate, and once by the Senate that sat from 1 July of that year.

So blaming the Senate only cuts so much ice when in reality, it was tactically and strategically mishandled from the start.

Abbott has a handful of achievements to be rightly proud of, and to point to, but the tragic reality is that two years of governance in his name left Australia — already in desperate need of sound, decisive, astute conservative leadership — in a worse state than when he took charge.

Painful as it is to admit it, the Abbott government dishonoured the conservative vision and badly damaged its image in the eyes of an already sceptical, jaded electorate.

News reports at the weekend suggested another of the Abbott-Credlin-Loughnane junta — Loughnane’s deputy at the Liberal federal secretariat and its former assistant federal director, Julian Sheezel — has got it into his head that he should occupy the number one position on the Liberals’ Senate ticket for Victoria at this year’s election.

I’ve known Julian for more than 25 years, and when I say I’m ambivalent, I mean it: but for those Liberals already looking for an avenue to make some kind of protest against the manner of Abbott’s dumping but wishing to keep it in-house, Sheezel at the top of the Coalition’s joint Senate ticket in Victoria would offer an almost irresistible argument to vote for the National Party candidates on the ticket, to number all the squares — however tedious — and to place Sheezel last.

After all, a clean break should be just that: and just as Abbott and Credlin and Loughnane had to go, so too should those of their most senior lieutenants behind the scenes whose opportunities to serve arguably should have ended with Abbott’s commission as Prime Minister.

Sheezel accepted a job as chief of staff to new minister Kelly O’Dwyer just two months ago, and took a leave of absence from it just as retiring Senator Michael Ronaldson (and number one position holder on the Senate ticket) announced he was quitting.

Aside from the breathtaking arrogance it suggests and the failure to make any attempt whatsoever to disguise the naked ambition that accompanies it, if that doesn’t sound like a repeat of the same defective methods that have turned Conservatism into a dirty word in this country — and by one of their practitioners, no less — then I don’t know what is.

 

Fact Or Crap, Peta Credlin, And Doing Things Differently

FOR ONCE we’ll be nice about Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin; with the government at a crossroads and Tony Abbott himself perhaps dependent for survival on a solid result at the Canning by-election, rather than (justifiably) slating Credlin, today we are going to acknowledge her supposed strengths — and pray flexibility might be added to them. Nobody knows everything: especially Credlin and the coterie she is surrounded by.

It really doesn’t matter how smart, insightful, or how strategically and tactically astute you are — or think you are, or are told you are — when the whole enterprise for which you have been given oversight is going to hell in a handbasket; to be brutally Darwinian about it, faced with oblivion, you either change or die.

It is just such a position in which the federal government (and specifically, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin) finds itself, one week out from what some believe is a make-or-break electoral test at a by-election in the outer Perth seat of Canning.

Not for the first time, what should have been a good week for the Coalition has ended on a sour, divisive note, with yet more rumours of a leadership challenge from Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, and an increasing number of gutlessly anonymous Liberal MPs briefing journalists that Abbott is “finished” irrespective of the Canning result — just the thing to encourage voters in that electorate to deliver a ringing endorsement at a mid-term field trip to the ballot box whose outcome will not affect the overall composition of Parliament.

In other words, the electors in Canning have a free hit in hand next Saturday: with so much apparently riding on the result, the behaviour of the Coalition camp this week is inexplicable. And unforgivable.

I read an excellent article earlier today in The Australian from Peter van Onselen, who argues — correctly — that Abbott must listen to conservative critics of his government; van Onselen’s central thesis applies equally to Credlin, for anyone who seriously thinks Tony Abbott singlehandedly runs his own government is delusionally naive.

That responsibility, ultimately, is carried by Credlin: and if one side of that partnership is permanently misfiring, then the closer the implosion point comes the greater the risk it will destroy not just both of them, but the government with it.

For years now, anyone who follows politics has been told by Abbott, ad infinitum, that Credlin is the “smartest and fiercest political warrior he has ever known,” and perhaps, in fact, she is; nobody seriously doubts the intellect of someone who comes from a background in law and who has held a swathe of high-profile roles both in and out of politics for the better part of 20 years.

But something is clearly not working; after 18 consecutive months of opinion polling showing, on average, a 6.5% two-party swing against the Coalition at an election — enough, if uniform, to gift an additional 29 seats to the ALP and with them, government in a cakewalk — and with Credlin nominally in charge of the entire management effort of the Coalition’s political fortunes, the buck stops with her.

Let me say that again: the buck stops with Peta Credlin, as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.

This is a job to which she was appointed; she was demonstrably qualified for the post, at the time of the appointment, by her track record as a government staffer in a range of roles over a 15-year period; she accepted the responsibility that goes with the post when she accepted the appointment; and whilst it’s certainly true that Abbott is responsible for her as her employer, Credlin’s role dictates that she is the responsible official if politically acceptable outcomes are not being delivered by the government as a whole.

So for today at least, we will accept that Credlin is, all other things being equal, an ideal candidate to head the Prime Minister’s Office.

In turn, she is also responsible for the entire coterie of advisors who discharge what all observers know is a centrally planned political strategy that emanates from the PMO.

She has had oversight over their recruitment, famously vetoing scores — perhaps hundreds — of names; some reputedly for petty reasons, and some on the dubious grounds that she didn’t know them: whichever way you cut it the government’s advisory pool is, if not entirely hand-picked, certainly personally shaped by the direct input of Credlin.

My understanding, from extremely reliable sources, is that the emphasis in selecting these people was less on capability and more on obedience, and certainly, anyone hiring staff wants to ensure the people they pick do what they are told.

But this wasn’t the case when the Abbott government was being staffed; it is widely known in Liberal Party circles that Credlin wanted people who were personally compliant, rather than simply people who would do what they were told in the course of the day’s business — and even without the evidence of a government trailing in the polls and seemingly destined for an electoral belting, this approach to “people and culture” as it has become quaintly known in business was easily foreseeable as a recipe for catastrophe.

It isn’t that any of them are bad people, per se; rather, the Abbott government is being run, broadly, by the wrong people in the wrong roles, and the frightening thing is that by and large, the impenetrable, incandescent disaster that has been made of two years in office is quite probably (and literally) the very best the people stacked into those roles are capable of.

Just like the internal ructions that culminated in an abortive but desperate putsch against Abbott in February, it should have surprised nobody in the Credlin cabal that others — outside Parliament and/or excluded from any involvement in or influence over the workings of the government for one malicious reason or another — would find their voices, and in many cases much more quickly than the MPs who moved on Abbott at the beginning of the year and who widely nominated Credlin as their number one target.

In this context, the van Onselen article completely nails the problem the government faces.

Accepted wisdom around the corridors of power is that the Abbott government boasts a shining record of achievement that has seen it do all sorts of good things for Australia. It hasn’t.

Accepted wisdom around the corridors of power persists with the fantasy that those charged with the stewardship of the government’s fortunes — headed by Credlin — not only know what they are doing, but that they know better than everyone else. They don’t.

Accepted wisdom around the corridors of power is that the government has a strategy that will see voters flock back to the Coalition when the time for expressing an opinion that matters — at the ballot box — arrives next year. It doesn’t, and unless things change, they won’t.

And part of the problem (and this might sound odd coming from someone who identifies as sitting on the conservative wing of the Liberal Party) is that the Liberal Right, despite some disillusioned drift over two poor years in government, still retains overwhelming numerical dominance of both the Liberal party room and the organisational wing that enables Credlin and others like her — husband Brian Loughnane just one of many — to remain in positions at considerable expense to the party which they have discharged very, very badly indeed.

Once again — just to keep the point central — a government so entrenched in a losing electoral position cannot be regarded as either a glittering testament to those in charge behind the scenes and/or a triumph of “astute” political practice.

My criticisms of the government are on record and may be accessed by anyone wishing to sift through the archives of this site, and I would make the point that whilst I use colourful language from time to time — phrasing my points in sometimes absolutist and even confrontational terms — the views expressed here are hardly extreme even if the terminology used to give voice to them is. After all, there needs to be a little sizzle provided with the sausage, so to speak.

But van Onselen rightly lists out a throng of higher-profile commentators than myself: Janet Albrechtsen, Grace Collier, Miranda Devine, Niki Savva, Peter Costello, Chris Kenny, John Roskam, Tim Wilson, even Alan Jones.

None of them are socialists or voices of the Left; all of them are naturally sympathetic to the Coalition and to the Liberal Party specifically, and for various reasons — just like me — are desperate to see the Abbott government succeed.

Like me, each of them is responsible for a veritable tome of constructive criticism in his or her own right.

All of them, like me — and like anyone else who dares to raise their voice in defiance — is dismissed: we’re malcontents bent on stirring up trouble, or trying to damage the party (“damaging the party” is an insult I’ve both heard bandied around and at various stages had levelled at me personally ever since I joined the Liberal Party in 1990), or we don’t “understand,” or we’re motivated by sour grapes over one thing or another, or we’re lunatics, insane, barking mad.

But all of us want to help: this is not the kind of “help” that takes the form of an adolescent fantasy in a grown-up world; different people offer different strands of thought, insight, expertise and competence that, in a shallow and reasonably closed system like a political staffing pool, might add depth and perspective.

Instead, as things stand, a shallow gene pool drawn from people of limited overall ability began fucking things up shortly after gaining access to the government suites in Canberra and has continued to do so ever since.

This week should have been an outstanding one for the Abbott government; after an initial lurch as how to respond was quickly canvassed and calibrated, its approach to the refugee crisis emanating from Syria was bold, compassionate, and I think well reflected community expectations and sentiment.

But on Thursday night, some fool in Canberra leaked word of a looming ministerial reshuffle — complete with not just an explicit hit list but also names of people who were said to be “immune” but who probably should have sat atop the list of intended casualties — and today, we see headlines in the press across the country of yet more mutterings of an imminent leadership challenge by Turnbull.

It is here, of course, that the dominant numbers of the Right come into play: that faction can do whatever it likes, it believes. But only until enough of the softer support around its edges detaches itself in desperation — and then Abbott, like the minders around him, become fair game.

And it is here that the crossroads — faced by the government, Abbott personally, and the likes of Credlin, Loughnane, and their assembled minions — has crystallised into one very big problem: just like it did a little over six months ago, and for similar reasons when distilled to their essence.

Now, of course — less than a year prior to polling day — an additional urgency has characterised that problem and the reasons underpinning it.

This government, in the absence of radical change, is certain to lose an election.

Such an election defeat, even to a charlatan, a populist imbecile and an intellectual fraud like Bill Shorten, could signal three years in opposition: or it could herald the start of a decade in the political wilderness. Nobody — not even the smug, self-congratulatory types in charge of things inside the Liberal citadel — can say with confidence which would be the outcome.

Either way, restored to office on a platform of rank irresponsibility and little else, the damage that would be inflicted on Australia by another Labor government would make the foibles of the Rudd and Gillard governments — and their cretinous, useless, spectacularly incompetent Treasurer, Wayne Swan — look mildly risible by comparison.

And for Shorten and Co to win an election to the extent disturbingly consistent opinion sampling suggests, dozens of Coalition MPs are going to be turfed out of Canberra and onto the street: and the self-interest of those people before the event is likely to be a powerful, and unstoppable, force.

None of this sits with the official version of events at the PMO or, by extension, at the Liberals’ federal secretariat at Canberra, presided over by Loughnane and aided in its defective but holier-than-though insistence it knows better than its critics as well.

But in the meantime, the PMO and the Liberal secretariat in Canberra can see the fruits of their handiwork in articles like this one from reputable journalists who have no association with the Liberal Party, are not noted for being sympathetic to it — far from it — but who can spot the facts of the matter from the crap served up as spin at a thousand paces distant.

On the reshuffle (and we spoke about this not so long ago: I urge readers to revisit it today) I simply say that not only should one occur, but names like Peter Dutton’s, Joe Hockey’s and Kevin Andrews’ — irrespective of the protection afforded them by the numerical primacy of the Liberal Right and/or their political enmeshment with Abbott — should appear on any list of ministers to be fired or demoted, not to be granted immunity from change: these gentlemen, and others like them (“Industry Assistance” minister Ian Macfarlane, Attorney-General George Brandis, and Employment minister Eric Abetz being standout candidates for replacement at first glance) are all responsible for different aspects of the abysmal fist the Abbott government has made of too much of what has confronted it, and should be moved on.

There is no point having bumbling no-hopers from the Right locked into the ministry out of “loyalty” if an election loss is the result: after that, there aren’t any goodies to pass around, to factional buddies or to anyone else. At least, not any goodies that matter. Opposition is not a commodity to be savoured.

If people don’t want Malcolm Turnbull to become Liberal leader and Prime Minister by way of a successful leadership challenge, personnel changes — in the ministry and the advisory pool — and the benefits that can flow from replacing duds who’ve benefited from “loyalty” with people who have the political success of the government at heart and the various shades of expertise with which to help engineer it are mandatory, even if they’re not personally sycophantic to Abbott, Credlin, Loughnane and his mates, or a combination of them.

Whilst I have publicly backed him for promotion to Treasurer, I will argue until I am blue in the face that Malcolm Turnbull is no solution as Prime Minister. But unless things change, drastically and quickly, Turnbull is precisely what the party may end up being lumbered with out of the sheer desperation of those MPs fearful of losing their seats at an election under Abbott and guided by the “expertise” of his “friends.”

Prior to both the 1998 and 2001 elections, the government of John Howard faced entrenched and far worse opinion polling than the present government does; on each occasion, the Howard government recovered to win re-election.

The difference is that Howard had learned over decades that options had to be kept open, and that change — however much he disliked it — sometimes had to be involuntarily accepted as the price for continuing political and electoral success. It is a lesson that is not evident in the behaviour of key people within the Abbott government.

His Chief of Staff — Arthur Sinodinis — now sits as a Senator from New South Wales; as the equivalent official in the Howard government to Credlin, Sinodinis obviously knew a thing or two about what it takes to retrieve a seemingly terminal government and restore its fortunes to a winning position. Credlin would do well to seek, and accept, the counsel of Sinodinis.

But above all, there is a wealth of talent available to the government — both on its backbench and away from Credlin’s chosen coterie, outside Parliament – that is not merely being ignored, but which is roundly dismissed as irrelevant.

Responsible for a ship of state following an eerily similar trajectory to the Titanic, such a closed position in the face of looming disaster is unforgivable.

I have always said I’m happy to work with anyone I’m satisfied has the best interests of the Liberal Party at heart; I have no interest in being an MP (although, yes, readers know of a certain threat I made earlier this year, which will be honoured if the specified preconditions ever materialise), and I certainly don’t want a public political profile if I can avoid one. Even now, I would be prepared to work with Credlin and the others like her who have been the target of this column’s invective if suitable circumstances arose. But I doubt an invitation to do so will ever materialise.

We can only hope, at a seminal and pivotal point in the political cycle, that everyone with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in the Abbott government even if it kills it — Credlin, Loughnane, the horde of abject lackeys and quislings they have assembled around them, and even Abbott himself — have the “come to Jesus” moment and embrace a change of direction.

The story of the unimpeachable value of this junta, however validly grounded, is by virtue of its execution an absolute fantasy: and whilst Turnbull might be the enemy they think they are holding in abeyance, and conservative dissidents punitively excluded to communicate that they are not at all taken seriously, an election loss to Labor — and to Billy Bullshit, of all people — will destroy not just the government, but the “legend” of their intellectual, moral and political superiority as well.

The ball is in Credlin’s court to drive change, and to do for Abbott what Sinodinis did for Howard.

It remains to see whether she is capable of doing so, but the indications this week of a disinclination toward anything other than more of the same bullshit that has fouled two years in government are not encouraging at all.

Nearing Recession, Canberra Must Clean Up Its Act

SOBERING news yesterday of GDP growth for the June quarter of 0.2% — half the expectation of economists — and 2% for the year to that point should ring alarm bells in Canberra; whilst any recession in Australia will owe much to external factors (they usually do) local politicians can nonetheless work to avert or limit the damage. To this end, both Liberal and Labor parties, to say nothing of the Senate crossbench, must clean up their act.

At the outset, I should note I am well aware that politicians of all stripes (or at least, where the major parties are concerned) avoid “talking down” the economy like bubonic plague; on the other hand, readers of this column have come to expect nothing other than blunt candour where my views are concerned — and this candour, increasingly, has applied to my assessment of both the main parties — and so today I am simply going to stick to the subject at hand, and call it as I see it.

Before anyone gets too excited, the darkening economic outlook is simultaneously the fault of both major parties (if anyone must be blamed) and has as much to do with uncontrollable external factors as it does with any avoidable missteps at home, and I say that not to defend the Liberal Party, but to make the point that shortsightedness is a unilateral commodity in Australian politics these days, but even that sin often lacks efficacy in the face of global headwinds.

The news that Australian economic output slumped to just 0.2% in the June quarter (and an annualised rate of 2%) should serve as potent notice that for the first time in almost quarter of a century, this country is lurching toward recession; whilst it’s a vain hope in the present gladiatorial environment in Canberra, it’s not possible to pin “blame” for any contraction on one party or the other, and the temptation should be resisted.

But it won’t be, so let’s talk about it a little.

The obvious point to make is that the collapse in commodity prices over the past couple of years has amounted to a double whammy, as billions of dollars in receipts have been stripped from government coffers in addition to the billions in investment money that has dried up in the wider economy; the unemployment rate has proven a prescient indicator of this process, inching upwards as business confidence slowly evaporates, and taking consumer confidence with it.

And of course, every job that disappears also costs the country twice: once in the disappearance of tax payments and consumer spending, and one through the cost of any welfare payments it triggers.

I spend a lot of time in the course of things talking to people from all walks of life — businesspeople, those in the public sector, certain politicians, other media people, ordinary voters — and stripped of the BS that anyone can find if they go looking for quotes from government sources, the economic mood seems as ambivalent now as it has been for many, many years: and even during the Global Financial Crisis there was a sense the mining sector would somehow pull Australia through without a great deal of damage (which it did) that is markedly absent now.

Even so, more than a hundred billion dollars of poorly targeted “stimulus” money thrown around at that time by the Rudd government (and the consequent $350 billion debt pile inherited by the Coalition where none existed beforehand) has left the Commonwealth poorly placed to make any significant attempt to spend the country out of any recession that occurs, and I would make the point that loading up on even more debt now to try to cushion any economic blow will simply make an awful lot more pain later mandatory: and with the irresponsible and thoroughly reprehensible approach of the ALP to budget management and government debt a constant whether it sits in office or opposition, the kind of austerity that would be required down the track to fix the legacy of such largesse would probably never eventuate — and that would be a problem for a whole other set of reasons.

There are, to be sure, some factors at play that will work to ameliorate any recession and arguably truncate it; the Australian dollar — already down 30% from its post-float highs — is as we speak slipping above and below the 70c mark against the US dollar; widely tipped to fall another eight to ten cents against the greenback, the dollar is a potent factor in making Australia more competitive internationally whilst cutting the price of our goods and services on world markets.

Similarly, official Australian interest rates — stuck since May at an all-time low of 2% — are effectively leaving more disposable income in the bank accounts of home buyers, and whilst it remains to be seen whether any consequent discretionary spending results from this, boosting economic activity (and consumer confidence, it must be noted, isn’t what you’d call startling), it at least means that households with mortgages are better able to either save, pay down debt or to spend in the present environment than they have ever been: and whichever way you cut it, those activities too are useful at a time of economic torpor.

And for someone I’ve felt the need to be so critical of, Joe Hockey may have helped to stave off trouble too with a mildly expansionary budget this year, offering instant write-offs of purchases up to $20,000 per item to small business; at a time of economic trouble every bit helps when it comes to firing up activity, although it’s a fair bet the income tax cuts Hockey has unwisely bandied around won’t be forthcoming any time soon: and if they are promised, they should be believed with the utmost of caution.

Yet these things can’t counter the fact that thanks to profligate recurrent government spending — by both sides of politics at various times, and by the states as well as the Commonwealth — and by virtue of the dangerously ballooning structural deficit in federal finances, Australia comes out of a prolonged period of economic growth, underpinned by a lengthy boom in commodity prices, in very poor shape to weather a protracted recession of significant depth.

But that is the situation this country faces, as economic growth in China slows to below 5% annually, and with other so-called “Asian tiger” economies also lagging; Japan — still the world’s fourth-largest economy — continues to languish in stagflation, whilst our other key trading market in the US is growing, but of less consequence to Australia than it used to be now our exposure to Asia (and China especially) has grown as it has.

By contrast, the UK — once upon a time Australia’s most important export market — is booming, with the British economy growing faster now than any other OECD country. Yet there are lessons from the UK that can be applied here in Australia, and it is here that the economics of any downturn intersect with the domestic politics of one: and it is here that Australia’s supposed “miracle economy” is about to be exposed as severely tarnished.

Quite simply, the Cameron government — admittedly in a coalition of inconvenience with the Liberal Democrats — spent its first term in office cutting handouts, slashing politically motivated spending, implementing modest tax rises (mainly on consumption) and delivering matching modest cuts to income tax, and doing at least one thing it was elected for: to fix the British budget, which was left in far worse shape by British Labour than anything Wayne Swan could have hoped in his wildest dreams to have sabotaged, and readying to redress a similarly bloated national debt pile — which obscenely stood, the day Gordon Brown was unceremoniously dumped from 10 Downing Street, at some £1.5 trillion.

The outright re-election of Cameron’s Tory Party in May is evidence, were it even required, that a government administering tough and unpopular reforms, provided it is open with the public and explains what it is doing and why, can easily achieve re-election. But the tough reforms also need to be the right reforms (and Hockey’s 2014 budget was nothing of the sort), although even if they were the ALP would still have led a cynically populist charge to obliterate them in the interests of its insatiable lust for power at literally any cost.

Here in Australia, of course, the common ground we share with Britain is a federal budget plunged into a structural abyss by Labor, with rampant recurrent spending running out of control and a debt pile that continues to spiral: but unlike the UK, we also have a Senate — dominated by Labor, the Communist Party Greens and a motley assortment of whichever single-issue cross benchers wish to oppose the government at any given time — that has singularly and spectacularly failed to permit the Abbott government making any serious attempt at fixing the damage so ruinously bequeathed by the Rudd-Gillard-Swan Labor government.

Where I am heading here isn’t to rip into the ALP and its resident intellectual cripple, Swan, not that there is anything wrong with doing so, of course; rather, there is a shining example of what happens when the hatches are battened down and genuine repair work is enacted on a budget — and the booming British economy is proof that the pain is worth the gain — and that in any case, both sides of politics actually have a duty to do whatever they can to ensure what I think could be a pretty vicious downturn is dealt with by making the reforms a hostile Senate has to date cynically refused to allow.

One thing that is likely if the bust really hits is that the correction in Australian property markets — which should have happened during the GFC, but which was largely staved off through stimulus spending — will finally arrive, and rather than using public money to try to avert it for fear of the political consequences, whomever is in government when it hits must allow that correction to happen: property markets in this country, heavily skewed to speculation and open to non-residents to distort by making acquisitions that drive up prices, are so overblown that if the bubble bursts, no attempt should be made to stop it.

If people get their fingers burned, that’s commercial reality: there is no right or entitlement to immunity from economic trouble or bad investments; and in any case, if people who lose money on a property bust are so leveraged that a recession takes them under, I would contend it’s their own greed and lack of judgement that stopped them taking huge paper profits (built on the backs of those who can’t afford to enter the market at all) when they should have, and that they have no right to complain.

Still, the swathe of state and federal first home buyers’ schemes — all of which have helped fuel the inflation of the property bubble — should all be abolished; for one thing, it would save a lot of money; for another, the original idea, whilst worthy, has arguably had the opposite effect to the intended help for people to buy housing at all.

Heading into stormy waters, the need to toss Hockey overboard is now past due; unimpressive in office to date and unable to deliver meaningful outcomes as Treasurer when conditions were comparatively benign, there is no reason for Australians to have a shred of confidence in him now the weather has turned: come on down, Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison.

And in case Labor-oriented readers think I’m handing them a free kick, the ALP doesn’t boast a single MP in its ranks with the requisite nous to do the job: Chris Bowen is a red herring and a slogan-regurgitating embodiment of the Keynesian ideas that trashed Australia’s envied international position in the first place; Penny Wong is useless, and as Finance minister presided over a debt blowout that ran into the hundreds of billions of dollars; Swan himself is so incompetent where money matters are concerned he simply shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as the term “economic management;” and as for the rest of them, Labor couldn’t produce a capable Treasurer from an aggregation of the financial nous of the lot.

Today’s piece is intended not so much as to advance a particular argument or position as to raise the curtain on a subject we all knew would present itself sooner or later; after almost a quarter of a century of uninterrupted growth, a recession was always going to be a matter of “when” and not “if.”

Regrettably, I don’t think this will be the last time we talk about recession in Australia — far from it.

But aside from a new Treasurer, those who govern (as well as those who oppose) would do best to abandon the tactics of the schoolkid and the bully, and embrace some responsibility and principle — and that does actually apply to those on the Left more so than the Right, although nobody is blameless.

And the Senate — as much fun as there might be to be had in trying to destroy the Abbott government — would be best served coming to some kind of consensus built not around trying to sabotage and/or emasculate the government’s legislative program, but to enable as much of any eventual response to pass as possible: even if some minor tweaks are needed to render aspects of it less unpalatable to some of the ideological basket cases who sit in the upper House.

I am fast warming to the argument that if reasonable reform of the Senate proves impossible — or if attempts to pursue it are abandoned — then a debate that might instead be worth having centres on whether it should be abolished altogether; not, perhaps, an ideal scenario, but the Senate is being used in ways it was never intended to be, and the abuse of that chamber (right down to the series of “reforms” made by successive Labor governments last century to rig it against conservatives) simply has to stop.

If the looming recession really does hit with full force and great fury, the Senate will have a role to play in any government response; its crossbenchers and the opposition parties have already shown themselves incapable of acting with any decorum or maturity when things are reasonably good, but should they continue to do so in the depths of a recession, then abolishing the Senate just might have to be the first order of business for any government inclined to argue the case at a referendum.

 

Any Reshuffle Must Go Further Than Dumping Hockey

WITH ONE EYE on the Canning by-election and the other on consistently dreadful opinion poll numbers, whispers emanating from the Abbott government and into the Fairfax press suggest a strategy of dumping Joe Hockey in the by-election’s aftermath followed by a double dissolution in March. A “reset” may — may — still work. But Hockey, who is a political liability, must be just one of a raft of changes if there is to be any point attempting one.

Sooner or later the fraught position of the Abbott government was bound to occupy our conversation in this column again, and — thanks to some injudicious chatter finding its way into the willing ears of the Fairfax press — it seems today has been selected for that purpose.

One of the journalists at Fairfax I have great respect for is James Massola, who today has filed this report and this analysis piece, both of which detail an apparent “survival” strategy being cooked up by elements inside the Liberal party room to throw Treasurer Joe Hockey under a bus and to get the government to an early election in March in the wake of the looming by-election in Don Randall’s old seat of Canning in Western Australia.

We have discussed the misfortunes of the Abbott government — mostly self-inflicted as they have been — at great length since Hockey’s ridiculously misdirected 2014 budget, and the irony is that whilst Massola raises the issue of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s famed loyalty to those around him (and the direct adverse effects it has had on his government’s standing), a position of true loyalty to the best interests of the government, the Liberal Party and the millions of ordinary people it is charged with representing lies in advocating the exact opposite of much of how Abbott has allowed that government to be conducted.

The idea that merely throwing Hockey under the bus, as a scapegoat for a poor result in Canning, will somehow restore the Coalition’s political fortunes is sorely wanting at best, for as much as Hockey has made himself a political liability in his current post, the real seeds of the problem lie elsewhere: namely, in Abbott’s own office.

Even so, the fact such a change is even being seriously countenanced when just six months ago Hockey was sacrosanct and protected by Prime Ministerial imprimatur is telling.

Just a couple of short months ago — before the outrage of Bronwyn Bishop’s travel entitlement excesses became public knowledge — it did rather look as if the Abbott government had a case for calling (and winning) an early double dissolution election, although I didn’t think doing so was wise without a handful of triggers lined up for a subsequent joint sitting as opposed to just the bills to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Yet even so, a 2015 budget that was publicly received far more benignly than its predecessor, combined with Labor and Bill Shorten feeling real heat from the Royal Commission into the unions, saw the Liberals’ fortunes turn strongly for the first time in over a year, even getting well within the error margin in a slew of opinion polls if not in fact managing to pull into the lead.

Bronwyn Bishop stopped that momentum dead in its tracks. Abbott’s obstinate display of loyalty toward her threw it into reverse. The revelation that some knucklehead in the NSW Liberals saw fit to invite Dyson Heydon to a Liberal Party event compounded the damage.

The government is now in real — probably existential — trouble, and it remains to be seen if there is adequate time to dig it back out by any means, although with an election due to be called in 10 months’ time it’s fairly obvious that the Coalition will get one opportunity to enact a major salvage effort before that election (held on schedule or otherwise) and one only.

Replacing Hockey with either Scott Morrison or Malcolm Turnbull should have happened in the wake of the abortive leadership putsch against Abbott at the start of the year; the fact it didn’t — and that Abbott instead rattled on vacuously with chatter about “loyalty” to his Treasurer to the point he asserted the pair would stand or fall together — is symptomatic of the dysfunction that infects much of the government away from the public eye.

The problem, of course, is that so dysfunctional is the Abbott government away from the public eye that its consequences have frequently been laid bare for all to see.

Whilst no supporter of Turnbull’s in a leadership context, I have been consistent for the duration of this column in acknowledging his talent and, in certain circumstances, his ability; contrary to some of those more blindly opposed to him I think he would make an excellent Treasurer, and the leadership risks of moving him to that post are easily outweighed by the continuing and compounding damage Hockey’s tenure in it is creating.

And I think Morrison should be held back — at least until after the election — from such a frontline post, not least when he is performing brilliantly in Social Services: another heavy domestic portfolio that is traditionally very problematic for the Liberal Party.

But any reshuffle, if it starts and finishes with Hockey, is a waste of time.

There are others who have either outlived their usefulness or who won’t be around for much longer anyway — Kevin Andrews and Ian Macfarlane are just two names on what, if I wanted to be brutal, could be an extensive list — and the opportunity to get more of the embarrassment of backbench talent the Coalition parties boast into ministerial posts should not be squandered or passed up.

After all, talented backbenchers — even if they make the mistakes of the beginner — are arguably of more use to the government than ageing duds anyway.

And in any case, the composition of the Abbott ministry is scarcely the government’s greatest problem.

It seems ridiculous that fully a year after it became undeniable that the Abbott government was in dire, dire electoral straits, we are still having exactly the same conversation; it is a measure of just how poorly calibrated the government is that its problems, whilst stark in their clarity and obvious in terms of the action required to remedy them, are basically the same list of ills that was supposedly ticked off after the coup attempt against Abbott.

This government can’t carry a message; its tactical and strategic activities are so defective it would be better off dispensing with them altogether; it can’t respond decisively to Labor, the unions, the ABC or the Fairfax press without overreach or misdirection; it has proven spectacularly inept at dealing with a hostile Senate; its message to voters — such as it is — is confused and inconsistent; and it is supported by a plethora of state and federal secretariats that couldn’t campaign their way out of a paper bag.

Election defeats in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia constitute deadly proof of that final point, and rather than shuffling the club members who run them from one division to another to keep “talented” losers in the gravy (read: putting “maaates” ahead of the true best interests of the Liberal Party) a large number of them should be encouraged to simply pirouette out the door and not come back.

And this leads me to the Prime Minister’s Office; creditable attempts were made earlier in the year to hoodwink people into believing that that sinecure had changed, and that notorious Chief of Staff Peta Credlin had been curtailed.

The brutal truth is that it hasn’t, and she wasn’t, and consequently the government continues to make the same mistakes in the same way it has ever since it was elected. Only the daily issues that surround those mistakes change, and even some of those are ominously constant.

Now we’ve had Arthur Sinodinis — a one-time Chief of Staff to John Howard — come out today, demanding ministers and/or advisers who’ve leaked the details of the “Hockey as scapegoat” plan either quit or be fired; Sinodinis has also spoken of “loyalty,” and my issue here covers yet another point I have been banging on about for months.

Quite bluntly stated, the notion of “simply standing firm” might be a worthy one if there was actually something worth standing firm behind at all; this government might fool itself into believing in its own competence, but it isn’t fooling anyone else.

What a lot of these insiderish boffins don’t realise and/or don’t want to know is that vast numbers of the Liberal rank and file are angry, disgusted and aghast that the party has comprehensively trashed a golden opportunity for a decade in power.

And all of that is before we even countenance the average punter on the street who is expected to vote Liberal in a year or so.

The “debt and deficit” emergency the Coalition was elected to fix has miraculously given way — after a horror budget whose punitive fixes mostly weren’t even legislated — to a blue skies scenario featuring supposed endless growth, large giveaways to small business, and the incredible promise of fat tax cuts without the pain required to fund them; believe that and you’ll believe anything.

Labor’s profligate spending continues to run out of control — and perhaps it’s true the government faces a roadblock in the form of the Senate to rein it in — but the savings measures it has attempted are mostly direct additional hits on its own constituency, with very little by way of actual cuts at all.

Not only has the government failed to fix the budget, it has failed to line up bills to cut Labor’s waste and extravagance and electoral bribery of Left-leaning interest groups. And it has sent the signal to Coalition voters in so doing that they are fair game when it comes to squibbing genuinely tough action and instead enacting a quick fix by slugging those who decided to vote for it in 2013.

What a mess.

Meanwhile, all of the other issues I’ve talked about fester away, to varying degrees; and even the Royal Commission into the unions — whilst uncovering copious evidence of criminal misconduct — has been seized by the ALP and the unions and turned into a political weapon for those God-forsaken entities.

A professional political outfit would never have handed such a battering ram to its opponents, but this government has managed to do just that.

Someone as astute as John Howard (and the coterie he kept around him) would never have let himself get into such a parlous political position through wilful and stubborn incompetence, but that is where the Abbott government stands today.

And Sinodinis trying to close ranks around the rotten edifice might be noble on one level, but it amounts to an uncharacteristic lapse of judgement on his part when the edifice itself is in urgent need of a significant structural overhaul.

I don’t think the Canning by-election should be some inane test of Abbott’s leadership and I don’t think he should be pushed off the plank if the party loses, which admittedly at this point in time has to be regarded as distinctly possible.

But there is little point in standing firm when such a stance is utterly misguided, and no point in blind ongoing loyalty to the very people who put the government in that situation in the first place.

Win or lose in Canning, a reshuffle is a good idea: but if it starts and finishes with replacing Joe Hockey as a token scapegoat, it will have been for nothing.

Either way, replacing a large proportion of the contingent of advisers sponging off the taxpayer and cruelling the government politically and electorally, if anyone is really serious about fixing the government, is mandatory.

Anyone responsible for (surprise, surprise) communications, strategy and tactics should be in line to get it in the neck, for if they can’t manoeuvre a first-term government into a position of invulnerability against an utterly discredited Labor Party — hurdles such as the Senate notwithstanding — then heaven help the Coalition if the going ever gets really rough, and the thunderbolts begin shooting from hands other than its own.

Those who want to preach of loyalty to this government should first get to grips with the real reasons for its malaise, and if they are unwilling or unable to look inwards to do so, then they too are a part of the problem.

Nobody likes singling out those they work with, get on well with and with whom they have professional associations that in some cases span decades, but there is something very wrong at the heart of the Abbott government, and it isn’t something Labor can be blamed for or that a token sacrifice will wash away.

There may or may not be time to fix the government, and perhaps one more opportunity afforded by the electoral cycle to make a concerted effort to do so.

Any talk of early elections must be abandoned, and the cancer at the heart of the government excised once and for all, for if allowed to remain and to grow it won’t matter when the election is held: the Coalition will lose anyway.

And that is a hell of a price to pay for what is being bandied around as “loyalty” but which, in the end, is nothing more than unmitigated stupidity.

 

“Choppergate:” Bishop Must Resign After Expenses Outrage

THERE IS NO POINT sugar-coating what on any objective criteria is an insult to decency and a flagrant abuse of the privileges of public office: news the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, spent $5,227 of taxpayer money on a 60km helicopter trip instead of a car for a fraction of the price is indefensible. For Bishop — a repeat big spender on premium travel — the matter is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. She must resign.

Forget the “definitions” that sometimes legitimise largesse when it comes to the “entitlements” of our elected representatives: this was Liberal Party business, and nothing else.

The news yesterday that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop had been exposed for chartering a helicopter flight last year to fly from the Melbourne CBD to Geelong — at a cost of some $5,227 for the return trip — no doubt seems reasonable to some.

But with a perfectly good freeway a couple of miles away and the fine town of Geelong just an hour by road, there is no reason Bishop couldn’t have booked a chauffeured private hire car (or a ComCar) for a few hundred dollars instead.

And not least, when taxpayers are footing the bill.

I am prepared to defend reasonable expenditure by MPs on all sides of politics, and over the lifespan of this column have either done so actively or (more usually) by simply declining to oxygenate sensationalist coverage of supposed rorts by ignoring them altogether.

Elected representatives have the reasonable expectation that expenses incurred in the course of carrying out their duties will be covered, and those expenses may, by the nature of their roles, be inflated when compared to those incurred by a private individual — the practice, for example, of flying in business class, which avoids the prospect of mid-air confrontations between politicians and angry voters, and reduces the requirement for expensive, extensive security details whose costs significantly outstrip the price of the airline ticket.

Often, there is a fine line between what is reasonable and what is ridiculous — particularly where public opinion is concerned — and the aggregate demands on MPs of official business and party business (especially when the MP in question is a minister, party leader or Speaker) often legitimise consolidated travel arrangements at public expense whose bona fides, whilst clear, are not always immediately visible to the typical voter.

None of these defences exist in the case of “Choppergate,” and Ms Bishop must consequently consider her position.

As a veteran of almost 30 years in federal politics, Bishop would know better than most of her Canberra colleagues what is acceptable, and what is not.

Moreover, when it comes to drawing the distinction between what is made legitimate and lawful by virtue of parliamentary guidelines on the one hand, and what could not and cannot be justified in the court of public opinion even if the minutiae of expense claims were disclosed in full on the other, Ms Bishop’s experience uniquely places her to be able to draw such a distinction.

The helicopter trip in question — whilst ridiculous — was, by the universal agreement of players on all sides in Canberra, a purely political conveyance, undertaken to attend a Liberal Party function at the start of last year’s state election campaign, and to date nobody — including Ms Bishop — has provided evidence of coincident business or other ameliorating factors to justify it.

In this case, repayment of the monies simply doesn’t cut it: and a terse, two-sentence statement that accompanied news she would do so — essentially reiterating the trip was, in her view, covered by parliamentary guidelines, but that she would make the payment from her own pocket “to avoid ambiguity” — gives every indication the reimbursement is to be made grudgingly, and under heavy duress indeed.

Even so, this might have been the end of the matter, were it not for the fact Bishop appears to be something of a recidivist when it comes to playing fast and loose with taxpayer monies on “official” travel.

The Fairfax press is carrying a story this morning that details some $309,000 spent by Ms Bishop on overseas travel in her first year as speaker, outstripping predecessors Anna Burke, Harry Jenkins and even the profligate Peter Slipper: the details make for infuriating reading.

It outlines some $90,000 spent by Ms Bishop on a two-week jaunt to Europe (to unsuccessfully lobby for a job with the Inter-Parliamentary Union) that featured expenditure items for herself and two staffers including $42,400 in airfares and $25,400 on accommodation and food. The unjustifiable largesse is astonishing.

And even the Murdoch press is weighing in against Bishop, with the Courier Mail opining the public has every right to be angry with the Speaker, whilst The Australian gave details that Bishop chose the most expensive helicopter transport option on offer — and even suggesting the matter smacked of preferment for the company chartered to provide the flight.

The “pub test” — as Treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday put it — essentially comes down to a distinction between what is legal on the one hand, and what can reasonably be considered appropriate on the other, and whilst nobody suggests Bishop has broken any laws, even if parliamentary guidelines cover her for the outrageous expense she incurred by billing taxpayers for a flight between Melbourne and Geelong, there is no basis in common sense or proper regard for public funds to justify it.

Unlike those in the ALP who bleat of favouritism, I do think Ms Bishop has made a reasonable fist of her role as Speaker.

Like more prominent figures who — like me — should have known better, I too jumped on the momentary madness of the “Bronwyn for PM” bandwagon in early 1994, which saw so many otherwise astute Liberals take leave of their senses as the doomed leadership of John Hewson began to implode.

And whilst perhaps no ministerial standout, Bishop has made a solid contribution over her three decades in public office, and does in fact have a record she can be proud of.

That includes advancement of the status and prospects for women in politics — even if the pinko feminazis at Emily’s List dismiss her (along with every other woman in the Coalition) as somehow less than female because she is not a socialist.

But then again, the fact Bishop has endured and succeeded without quotas and an Emily’s List-style cheer squad merely underlines what she has been able to accomplish.

For all that, however, this latest scandal (and her brusque justification of it) deserves to signal the end of her career.

Playing fast and loose with taxpayer monies is a pastime that has gone on for too long in political life, and if for no better reason than to set an example, Ms Bishop should be removed if she refuses to quit.

I accept that others have been “at it” and that other MPs may be guilty of worse than what Ms Bishop has been revealed to have done, but after the first few public humiliations — and terminated sinecures — have played out, the signal to the rest of the parliamentary pack might and should have been heeded.

And as a final but nonetheless critical point, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Bishop is the highest ranking parliamentary official in Canberra: among other things, her office is charged with upholding the standards of Parliament as an institution itself. It is for this reason I agitated so loudly for the removal of the grub Peter Slipper from the post when he held it.

It is imperative, therefore, and especially in light of these revelations, that the office and its bearer not only maintain rigorous standards of probity, but to be seen to be doing so.

To make good on her misuse of public monies, therefore, Ms Bishop should resign.

 

GST Idiocy: Just Shut Up About Tax On Tampons

THE RIDICULOUS, emptily populist campaign to have female sanitary items exempted from the GST is two things: a proposed act of sabotage on a tax that already exempts more than it covers, and a perverse attempt to reverse-engineer “misogyny”where none exists from the Prime Minister and his government. Instead of increasing exemptions, the GST should be increased. GST on tampons is minimal. Those seeking its removal should be quiet.

Yes, I have missed posting over the weekend: partly due to a day in the kitchen on Saturday, and partly due to an ISP issue that apparently knocked out my provider right up the eastern seaboard yesterday; we have missed (for now) at least one of the issues I was aiming to discuss — the Borbidge/Sheldon report into the LNP’s election loss in Queensland in January — and if we can return to it in the next day or two we will (notwithstanding the fact the ABC’s weekly diatribe of Leftist garbage, #QandA, is on this evening).

But speaking of #QandA, an issue that has blown up into an ugly fracas over the past week, since Treasurer Joe Hockey foolishly failed to shut it down the moment it was raised on that “august” programme, is the silliness about GST on feminine hygiene products and the “campaign” by the wimmin’s movement to have it abolished: and in the process, an attempt to hoist the government on the petard of misogyny that was so obvious from the outset that Hockey’s failure to recognise it defies all belief.

There has been a lot of good arguments raised against this ridiculous measure during the week that has ensured — an excellent, and representative, example of these can be accessed here — but I am unrepentant that not only should the proposed “initiative” be simply ignored, but that GST should be extended to all the exempt items cited by the tampon activists in addition to being left unchanged on those goods and services it already covers.

Depending on whose maths you use, GST on tampons represents the princely impost on the average woman of between six and ten dollars per year, and frankly, if we’re going to have vicious political brawls over such a piddling amount of money, it speaks volumes about the degree of mental fortitude (or lack of it) among those agitating for its abolition.

It is also an insult to the intelligence of those who are supposed to be impressed by it and/or motivated to remove it.

And it does not matter what Canada has done; this country is not Canada, is not governed by Stephen Harper, does not share the economic fundamentals or outlook of that lovely country, and — despite the international comparisons so beloved of the Australian Left as justifications for their idiotic fancies — Canada does not matter a can of beans in the context of the tampon “debate.”

The federal budget is already haemorrhaging, in round terms, a billion dollars every week; part of this is directly attributable to the criminal injury inflicted on the national finances when Labor last got its paws on them, and most of the rest is directly attributable to the budget sabotage strategy Labor has pursued in the Senate (in cahoots with the Communist Party Greens, whose activists are at the forefront of the tampon campaign) through which its “leader” has sought to glean popularity and electoral fortune by way of a strategy predicated on the prevention of sound monetary management.

And if this were not enough, Labor under Shorten, the Greens, and the rest of the left-wing lunatics given media exposure that transcends both the relevance of their ideas and their popular support, have seen to it that any genuine attempt to fix the inadequacies of the present GST regime is all but politically lethal.

The simple fact is that as things stand, the “universal” consumption tax that 15 years ago replaced the archaic Wholesale Sales Tax regime covers only 48% of all goods and services produced and sold in Australia; at a time the budget is oozing red ink in ten figure amounts every week, there is no rational case to add to these exemptions.

In fact, the GST should and must be extended, and even increased; and in direct response to the tampon brigade, if condoms and lubricant and other items on their outrage catalogue are indeed exempt from GST as they state, then it’s time to extend the tax to cover them.

A $5 packet of six condoms, for example, would attract 50 cents in GST — or less than nine cents per condom — and I am equally as cavalier about inflicting this cost (on men, no less) than I am that the impost on tampons should also be maintained.

At the risk of being risqué, nine cents hardly makes horizontal recreation an expensive pastime, to be sure.  🙂

In fact, the GST should apply to everything except actual healthcare (you know, doctor’s fees and the like), actual monies transacted in the financial system (the dollars you owe on your loan, for instance) and perhaps education; and as readers know I have long believed, the rate should be doubled to enable steep increases in (legitimate) social security payments, as well as cuts to PAYE income tax scales and company taxation rates.

The GST — even levied on an incomplete and inadequate base as ours is — is nonetheless a growth tax; that is, receipts from it will increase every year. By contrast, PAYE tax is a shrinking base, and the effect of maintaining the status quo in this regard is that a diminishing number of us who pay tax fund an ever-increasing burden of largesse for those who don’t. This is clearly unsustainable.

On the other hand, by levelling a nominal impost on all goods and services, everyone contributes to the GST take: and with that pool of funds increasing each year, such an arrangement places the country’s finances on a firmer — and far more sustainable — footing.

It is on this point that Hockey deserves to be pilloried: apparently unable to stand up to a militant feminist onslaught on a silly left-wing propaganda programme over a couple of cents at a time, the Treasurer has seen to it that this ridiculous piece of attempted economic savagery remains firmly on the table when it should have been pushed off it and into the garbage can.

But then again, so sensitive is this government to the manufactured “misogyny” ruse that has been unfairly and wrongly used to smear the Prime Minister, perhaps Hockey judged capitulation to be the lesser of two evils.

Either way, it raises fresh questions about his suitability to remain in his present role and again, whilst I like Joe — you couldn’t not like Joe — I think his, and the government’s, interests would be best served by reshuffling him into another job, and giving Treasury to Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison.

At the end of the day, however — and excuse my language — those responsible for this revisitation of Kim Beazley’s GST “rollback” campaign should be told, in short, to tell their fucking stories walking.

One of the more minor issues that cruelled Beazley’s second attempt to win office in 2001 was the eleventh-hour admission that “rollback” amounted to little more than an attempt to remove tampons from the GST net, and the matter is as insignificant in the big scheme of things now as it was then.

Those who advocate doing so now, for no better reason than trying yet again to skewer Tony Abbott on a jumped-up charge of “misogyny,” should shut the hell up: and if they are unable to produce alternative plans in detail as to how the great big bleeding black hole Labor left at the epicentre of the national budget might be repaired, then their “ideas” on matters pertaining to taxation and revenue should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.