Federal Opinion Polls And State Funding Fury

AT THE CONCLUSION of a budget week that has ignited a torrid political climate — with accusations and counter-accusations flying on all sides of the political spectrum — a similarly febrile week seems certain to begin tomorrow. Results of reputable polling conducted in the aftermath of the budget will shortly become public, and it is necessary to note the attitude of the states toward funding changes, and not the way they might choose.

I think it is fair to say that nobody (and I do mean nobody) in Australia is completely happy with the federal budget delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey on Tuesday night.

This column — known for its conservative views, and far too often incorrectly accused of blind bias on account of them — has reacted savagely to some of the measures in that document, and I maintain that changes to fuel excise and the so-called “deficit tax” will cost far more in votes than they will yield monetarily for government coffers.

Nonetheless, the budget was a big step in the right direction; despite protestations to the contrary from the ALP and the Greens, the debt and deficit position engineered by those parties in office was absolutely reprehensible, and Hockey is right: pain and heavy lifting must be undertaken now to avoid much, much worse in 10 or 20 years’ time.

This afternoon’s post is intended simply as a wrap-up before things get moving again tomorrow; indeed, I may even post again late tonight, and especially if some of the polling data that is imminent begins to filter through before bedtime in Melbourne.

I had started writing a piece last night on the latest (imbecilic) predictions by Clive Palmer — that any early double dissolution over the budget would see him elected Prime Minister — although the prospect of an early election seems to have receded a little today, with actual Prime Minister Tony Abbott hosing down the speculation and talking of an election in “the middle of 2016.”

Even so, we’ll keep an eye on this, and an ear on the utterances of Clive; I have rarely been as certain of anything in politics as I am that Palmer will never, ever become Prime Minister of this country, and although the window for such an article to be topical might have closed for now, I may still revisit the issue if election speculation and/or delusional pronouncements of this nature begin anew.

As far as the impending polls are concerned, the hit taken by the Abbott government may prove smaller than many believe or — in the case of the ALP and the Communist Party Greens — hope.

After all, a large proportion of the “nasties” in Hockey’s budget were leaked in advance, in some cases well in advance; consequently, much of the public anger such measures might generate has already been aerated, and the relatively poor average figures recorded by the government over the past six weeks represent the form it has taken.

It should be remembered that for every angry voter, there is another who will express satisfaction that Hockey and Abbott haven’t squibbed the reconstruction job the budget required them to perform, although as I noted during the week the budget is in such poor structural shape thanks to the efforts of Wayne Swan that even with the measures Hockey seeks to enact, debt will remain at about $300 million in ten years’ time.

In other words, the backlash against the government from the handout lobby, outrage peddlers, the proportion of the electorate who listens to them and the political Left, which fans their fury, will be tempered to some extent by those who know there’s a problem and are satisfied (if not personally content) that the job the Coalition was elected to do has been started.

In any case, the polls we see this week are no indication of what they might look like on election eve — whenever that turns out to be — and whilst the Left will revel in the numbers they reveal, the odds must still overwhelmingly favour Abbott’s re-election even if by a drastically reduced majority.

In some respects, the 2016 election is one the Left cannot afford to lose: if the Coalition’s program is able to be fully (or substantially) implemented, and the bulk of the time prior to another election nominally due in 2019 sees that program bedded down and in a manner that sees the average voter increasingly happy with his or her lot, then the prospect of Labor remaining in opposition for at least a decade increases exponentially.

It’s a consideration no doubt informing the absolute bullshit being propagated by that party and its “leader,” Bill Shorten: this week, it’s been a story circulated virally online that Labor was a low tax, low spending, low debt government. It will surprise nobody to see that the old Labor principle of regurgitating rubbish repeatedly until people believe it is still alive and well.

I’m not going to dignify the offending material by republishing it here. But I will simply say of the international comparisons so beloved of Labor in justifying its incompetence that debt, spending and taxes were all left higher than they ever had been by the ALP when it left office — irrespective of what the OECD average is or how bad things are in Greece. “I murdered him, but the guy in the next cell killed his victim more” is no defence, although this is essentially what such arguments boil down to.

Yet even so, Labor must realise that if the sky hasn’t fallen in by 2016, it probably never will; it didn’t after the Liberals won in 1996, and it won’t now. Time, quite literally, is Labor’s enemy, and there are clear signs even with the disconnection from reality that ultimately cost it government last year the ALP understands this.

Finally, I want to comment briefly on the “outrage” of state Premiers — Liberal and Labor alike — over changes to health and education funding contained in Hockey’s budget.

Abbott and Hockey were very clear that they would only honour spending commitments inherited from Labor over the four-year estimates period, and whilst I don’t wish to comment on health just yet, the Gonski commitment from the Coalition very clearly excluded the fifth and sixth years of the package (which account for close to half the total money Gillard and Swan were throwing around in search of votes).

But the point I really wanted to make — more as food for thought really — relates to the GST, and the present debate over whether it should either be broadened and/or increased.

This tax, when first implemented, was conceived as a growth tax whose proceeds would be handed over to the states in total, and whilst I disagree with the so-called formula of the Grants Commission that sees some states (almost criminally) shortchanged to subsidise others, this central premise of the GST funding the states was honoured.

Nearly 15 years later, the benefit of hindsight is revealing indeed.

Rather than invest a reasonable proportion of their GST revenues in infrastructure, the states — predominantly run by the ALP — instead squandered the GST windfall the Howard government gave them. Bloated bureaucracies, extortionate pay rises for teachers and nurses and at times ridiculous social spending — even duplicating Howard government initiatives like the First Home Buyers’ Scheme — took centre stage as infrastructure rotted, critical projects were deferred or purchased by means that saddled their constituents with decades of public sector debt to repay.

Here in Victoria, the Kennett government left office in 1999 with enough money in the bank to build the Scoresby Freeway through Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs, and to pay cash for it. Yet Labor under Steve Bracks spent the money somewhere unidentifiable, and the Scoresby (now EastLink) carries a toll and will do so for decades. Rail, road and tram infrastructure was neglected, and capital works projects such as a desalination plant were built with private sector money that obligates Victorian taxpayers into the 2050s, with obscene water bills stretching that far into the future to pay for a plant that has never delivered a drop of desalinated water, and isn’t ever likely to.

There are other examples of state profligacy in Victoria, just as there are equivalent stories everywhere else a state government pissed its GST booty up against a post.

It may be the case, however, that in declaring the states should accept a more rigorous level of accountability for funding their responsibilities, Hockey might have told them instead to confront their public sector unions: the highest recurrent costs faced by all of the states are labour costs, and arguments about equalisation of GST transfers aside, the opportunity was taken by Labor governments to pour their GST bounties into big ongoing pay rises for teachers, nurses, pen-pushers, and anyone else whose union had the clout to belt their ALP paymasters into submission.

It’s another clue that the Gonski money, for example, was always destined to end up in the wallets of teachers rather than “resourcing” schools as claimed, and one that follows from the relatively mute response by teacher unions to the budget during the week.

Abbott and Hockey are not removing funding from the states altogether from 2018; merely slowing the rate at which non-GST revenues have increased on Labor’s watch. It is responsible to bring to an end the legislated bribes and budget booby traps Labor enshrined in law before it left office. The ALP does not govern this country any longer. It is time it woke up to the fact.



Texting And Driving: News Limited Picks Up The Cause

FOLLOWING our article at the beginning of the month on the dangers of using mobile phones to send and receive text messages whilst driving, the Murdoch press across the country is this weekend taking up the campaign to rid our roads of this scourge with the potential to needlessly kill.

Back on the first of June, I posted an article about idiot drivers on our roads who pay more attention to their mobile telephones than they do to the road; God forbid they actually concentrate on their driving.

Today — refreshingly — the same issue is being pursued by the Murdoch press across Australia, and it is to be hoped that their campaign makes some impact.

Readers can access the version published in Melbourne’s Herald Sun here if they are yet to see the pieces in question.

It’s a problem that just seems to be spiralling out of control; in the four weeks since I published the earlier article on the perils of texting and driving, it seems that everywhere you look now, when on the road, there are people engaging in this insidious habit.

Indeed, just this morning I was given “the finger” by a driver ahead of me who remained stationary at an intersection, typing a text message, after traffic signals had turned green; I gave him a toot of the horn — and he in turn proceeded to drive and continue texting, narrowly missing a row of parked cars as he swerved all over the road in Melbourne’s affluent inner eastern suburbs.

There are some — there are always some, whose excrement-filled brains are impervious to common sense and sanity — who will dismiss all of this as some kind of finger-wagging wowserism.

The reality is that it is no joke, nor something to be dismissed at will; those who engage in this practice are a menace to themselves, and to other road users, and the sooner they are either stopped from doing it or removed from the road permanently, the better.

Clearly, with others picking up the cudgels on this issue, I wanted to reinforce it through this column.

I encourage all readers to heed the message, and — if you know people who do this, on the “it can’t happen to me” principle — to find some way of getting through them.

It will be far preferable to see them alive and inconvenienced, for whatever period of delay is required before they can get off the road and take or send the messages they are currently tapping away at when they are supposed to be driving, than it will be to attend their funerals.

Or those of the people they end up killing.

And if they have so little regard for the safety and welfare of other road users — if not for themselves — then firmer measures are well and truly justified to try to stop them.


State Issues: Cars And SMS Texting Do Not Mix

TWO YEARS AGO — when this site was in its infancy — I posted an article talking about road management and traffic enforcement. At the time I pointed out that the issues are political, and that politicians can fix them, and there’s an issue from that early piece that needs to be revisited.

It’s easy to forget that as often as we talk about elections and leadership, debts and deficits, and scandals and strategic brilliance, that at the other end of the same pool of subjects are the frontline issues that these things directly affect: health, education and so forth.

I wanted to post on just such an issue that is the preserve of state governments because I think the time is past due that something is done about it — namely, the insidious and downright dangerous practice of people driving around punching out text messages.

That early old post, by the way, can be accessed here, but one scenario I outlined in it — which was a direct record of something that happened the day I wrote it — said

The green car is moving slowly; it stops five car lengths short of the barrier line, and in three hops, closes that gap out. When the car stops, I notice that the reflection of the young girl driving it, from her rear vision mirror, shows her looking at her crotch. The traffic lights turn green; after a delay of a few seconds, the green car starts moving, but something is still wrong: the car, so ever slightly, is swerving in and out of its lane. When safe, I change lanes and flatten it to get past the little green car…and as I pass and shoot a look at the driver, it’s clear she is sending an SMS text message on her mobile phone.

There is a new kind of filth in the drivers’ seats of cars across this country; misguidedly immortal in their outlook and possessed of a complete and cavalier disregard for the safety of every driver on the road — themselves included — they spend their driving time reading text messages, tapping away at their phones, and embodying what I think is the #1 public menace in daily life right now.

My purpose in raising this is because readers will (naturally) fall into one of two camps: those that do tour around the streets and highways using their phones to send messages, and those who would never do such a thing; I will be interested in the comments that come back from this.

I think the focus of Police on speed and alcohol is entirely appropriate and, indeed, effective; but an integrated road safety campaign requires a much broader focus, and with the considerable amount of time I spend on the road I am in no way convinced mobile phone use gets the attention it deserves.

Mind you, I’m not talking about people who talk on their phones; there’s a distinction, especially when it’s on a hands-free unit of some description, and therefore legal.

I am talking about people who (in no particular order) speed up, slow down, drift from side to side and in and out of their lanes…with the attendant risk of really doing some damage.

Or killing people.

Ten years ago — in a case that attracted national attention — a driver in Geelong avoided jail after killing a cyclist, Anthony John Marsh, whilst sending a text message when driving; the dead cyclist’s parents indicated they did not wish to see the woman, Sylvia Ciach imprisoned after she agreed to plead guilty to culpable driving causing death.

I remember the case at the time and thought how extraordinarily generous the dead man’s parents had been in telling the judge they didn’t want the convicted miscreant jailed because to do so would ruin a second life after their son’s.

But should it really have to come to that?

If anything, the problem is far worse ten years on. I’ll share a couple of personal examples.

Just prior to Christmas last year I was travelling in my car with my then-pregnant wife and three year old daughter, when we were rear-ended at a stop light by a 30-year-old in a ute at approximately 45 kilometres per hour; the guy made a weak excuse that “his brakes stopped working” but didn’t make any attempt to hide the fact his phone was in his hand.

I worked with a young girl a couple of years ago who thought it hilarious that I appeared in our office one morning, angry, after having just about been cleaned up by someone sending a text message. “Everyone does it!” she told me. “No,” I retorted, “only shitheads do it,” which apparently made me the shithead because I didn’t send messages when I was in the car too. She was 22 at the time: even by that age, the habit was ingrained.

And it isn’t just P-platers and young drivers who do it: men, women, old, young…they’re all at it. Just yesterday we had a near miss with someone who looked as if she was over 60, you guessed it: phone in hand, sending a text, and almost causing road carnage.

Something has to be done to stamp this mentality out.

On a typical day I would see dozens of people tap-tap-tapping away, not watching what they’re supposed to be doing; it is just so dangerous, and on a given day I estimate I’d have half a dozen near misses with people whose lack of attention almost causes accidents.

The odd thing is if you toot a horn at them, or have a word with them if you get to stop next to them, they are the most abusive and vitriolic individuals imaginable; it’s not their fault they almost killed you…of course it isn’t.

Most, if not all, of my readers can probably relate similar stories.

I think sending text messages is even more dangerous than drink driving; if you’ve had a few too many and you’re stupid enough to get behind the wheel, the chances are that you will at least be looking through the windscreen (even if you’re too impaired to react properly).

If you’re sending an SMS, you’re not even looking — or if you are, the chances of hitting something whilst peering furtively into your crotch (where they all seem to “hide” the phone) are very good: a car travelling at just 60kph covers nearly 17 metres every second — and that’s enough distance for something unexpected to happen.

I think it’s time law enforcement officers — the Police — got serious about removing these people from the road; if you’re prosecuted for texting whilst driving, a mandatory two-year suspension of licence plus a $1,500 fine should suffice in getting the message across.

As it stands, if you’re caught by the Police (and assuming you’re lucky enough not to have caused an accident or killed someone), a fine of a few hundred dollars and three points off your licence will see you on your way, free to do the same thing again, until you either run through all of your points or you’re jailed.

We get drunks off the road; in many ways, the scum who can’t control their urge to send SMS text messages are more dangerous, and should be treated accordingly.

What do you think? And if you agree, how can this be made a higher priority for those who make policy governing road use and enforcement?

This Week At The Red And The Blue

JUST A teaser this afternoon; over the next week or so I will be talking about some direct frontline issues rather than the strictly political side of them; these are issues of great everyday importance, and represent ground on which most of us can agree irrespective of political stripe.

There are a few things I have been thinking of addressing in this column for a little while now; issues that occur every day, in our daily lives, on which I feel action is required or about which I want to put my position on the table to bolster one side of an argument.

These are issues relating to health, transport and the like: and I do think that what will be published here will offer some common ground as a little bit of a break to the typically adversarial nature of political discussion and debate.

And they are relevant: government is ultimately the arbiter for the kind of things I will be discussing, and in talking about them here I will be keen to see if others do share my view and — if so — what we may do to bring pressure to bear as appropriate.

Of course, we will continue to follow the issues of the day in politics as they arise; the next cab off the rank, of course, is Newspoll: due for publication in tomorrow’s issue of The Australian, the figures will be available late tonight, and when they’re through I will be posting on them too.

The first poll of the week is out this afternoon; an Essential Research survey finding an unchanged Coalition lead from last week of 55% to Labor’s 45%, after preferences.

Will Newspoll remain unchanged from last fortnight’s 56-44 result as well? We will see.

Finally this afternoon, I’ll take the opportunity to reiterate the invitation to readers to follow me on Twitter for those not already doing so: you will find me @theredandblue .

Barring unforeseens — the eternal qualification when it comes to planning content and the issues we provide coverage to — I will be back again late tonight to talk about polling.

UPDATE, 11.49pm: There is no Newspoll tonight; that gem will have to wait until next week. As I said, barring unforeseens…