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Monday Message Board

February 16th, 2004

It’s time for the Monday Message Board, where you get to post your comments (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). My suggested discussion starter – Is the Latham resurgence too good to last (or, if you prefer, a nightmare that will soon pass).

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  1. observa
    February 16th, 2004 at 09:36 | #1

    One of the problems I see for Latham, is outlined in my comments(which Chris is pondering) in response to his quickness to play to the gallery on popular issues like politicians super.(backpagesblog.com ‘Ramsey goes for it’ 14/2/2004)He has been quick to seize the high ground on pollies super being one rule for the rulers and one for the ruled. However, by offering to do the job for less, he has left himself vulnerable to the obvious charge that he doesn’t support his party’s line on comparitive wage justice. As an employer, I find his offer of employment at a lower rate, a tantalising one. IMO Mr Latham has not thought through properly, the position he now finds himself in, as well as the example it sets for future politicians in such auctions. What do others think?

  2. Mark McGrath
    February 16th, 2004 at 09:53 | #2

    Latham’s leadership has now gone beyond the honeymoon phase.

    Latham has now become the dominant storyteller of national politics (as Chris Sheil put it), being able to raise issues that resonate with middle Australia in a language that cuts through the media noise. Howard now merely responds to his agenda, albeit in a rather reflexive, panicky way that doesn’t engender confidence in his leadership.

    People are now interested in and listening to Latham becuase they sense a fresh voice alive with new ideas.

    Latham now has the precious political commodity of momentum, which once it reaches a critical point, becomes self-perpetuating. The press gallery view Latham as the coming man, which gives him better coverage and thus more momentum, which reinforces this view.

    I think the Superannuation cave-in by Howard last week pushed Latham past that critical point.

    Latest polling only gives the press gallery more reason to keep reporting it this way.

    Can Howard reverse the slide? Well to do this he needs to put a big hit on Latham and fast because time is running out. If Howard doesn’t put a hit on Latham soon the media will start to report politics through the prism of the decline of Howard, much the same way they did with Keating in 1995/96.

    What are Howard’s options?

    Free Trade Agreement? No. Middle Australia aren’t going to get excited about a few extra sales for some rural producers. What postives this will deliver for Howard will fall largely in seats the Coalition already hold (not too mention the damage in to be had in the FNQ sugar seats).

    Border Security? No. It’s slowly dawning upon middle Australia that the world hasn’t caved in and they aren’t being over-run by illegal immigrants. Plus there’s growing realisation of Howard’s trickery on this issue, all of which gives him less capacity to play this card again.

    War on Terror? No. For the same reasons as border security. People are realising that their world is realtively safe and our now turing their attention to issues like health, education and environment, which people view Labor as being stronger on. No WMD’s and meek fess ups by Howard’s senior allies in the War on Terror doesn’t exacly help matters. The only possible get out here would be a terrorist attack in Australia. Hopefully for all our sakes Howard would not be so lucky here.

    Any other issues? A massive pork-barrell in the form of a tax cut? Don’t think so – too late in the day as it would beg the question, “if you can now why couldn’t you previously when you had massive surpluses?”

    I think Howard’s only hopes are a series of stumbles by Latham and/or a domestic terrorist attack. If none of these occurs it’s goodnight John.

  3. Steve
    February 16th, 2004 at 10:14 | #3

    Was doing some reading on the internet on the weekend, after reading a magazine article about oil.

    Apparently we have about 1000 billion barrels of reserves, and we use 77 million barrels per day. This means that, if we continue to consume at current rates, we run out in less than 40 years.

    I guess we could discover more, or find alternatives, but even if we doubled reserves, we still run out this century.

    It seems to me that the issue of dwindling reserves doesn’t seem to grab much attention these days. Maybe people are tired of being told the oil is running out.

    Got most of my info by searching for ‘oil reserves’ or ‘annual oil consumption’ in google. Tables of stats on the US Dept. of Energy website.

    I’m optimistic that we’ll find an alternative to oil, but I’m concerned about what the transition period will be like. This petroleum consulting company http://www.petroleumequities.com/ predict that production will plateau and prices go up before 2010.

  4. February 16th, 2004 at 10:44 | #4

    I just heard about the riots in Redfern and what crossed my mind was, “Now Howard has his wedge issue.”

  5. Mike Hunt
    February 16th, 2004 at 11:35 | #5

    Mark,

    How can you call tax cuts a massive pork-barrell?

    Here’s a definition I found in a quick search of the net -

    “Pork barrel is a derogatory term used to describe government spending that is intended to enrich constituents of a politician.”

    Cutting the rate of tax and letting people keep more of their OWN money is NOT government spending.

  6. Mark McGrath
    February 16th, 2004 at 11:49 | #6

    OK Mike, let’s not call it a pork-barrelling exercise then. But my point remains the same: bribing the electorate with a tax cut won’t work for Howard.

    Howard and Costello have little credibility here as PAYE taxpayers are being taxed, in total, at a higher rate than they were when Howard was elected in 1996 on the platform of saving the battlers.

    The battlers are battling now more than ever. See the Crikey article on Peter Costello’s dirty little secret.

  7. nathan
    February 16th, 2004 at 12:00 | #7

    Please excuse my political naivety, but:

    Why are the negotiations over Medicare Plus held behind closed doors? Questions in the senate are only marginally more instructive than the utter futility that is question time in the HOR, and it hardly provides an interested citizen with valuable debate.

    How can the ordinary Australian engage in politics if we are forced to rely on obfuscating political reports or the media (whose reporting bias is entertainment)? How is such a citizen expected to trust a process which is kept hidden from him? On what basis can the government delay the release of the Free Trade Agreement?

    I freely admit these questions stem from a democratic idealism, but are they not valid??

  8. February 16th, 2004 at 12:11 | #8

    Nathan- in answer to your question, you can only do serious negotiations behind closed doors because serious negoatiations require a certain amount of ‘give and take’ that can’t be done in the open because you cannot trust your political opponents not to take advantage of it.

    If you do it behind closed doors, there seems to be a dynamic where trust is high enough for serious negotiations can take place.

  9. gordon
    February 16th, 2004 at 13:18 | #9

    Steve, you might be interesed in the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre website at http://www.odac-info.org/, and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil website at http://www.peakoil.net/

  10. Factory
    February 16th, 2004 at 16:58 | #10

    I don’t think Latham has quite been tested yet, since Latham was voted in, it’s been more of a case of Howard probing the new leader on a few issues and making making a rather bad flip-flop. To Latham’s credit he’s not allowed Howard to get past his defences.

    The main issue that will be at the core of the next election has still not be become clear, nor has the person who will lead the liberal party to the election. I think after these two matters are resolved then we will see the leadership of Latham (or the lack thereof).

  11. February 16th, 2004 at 18:14 | #11

    Since Latham offers no hope of either better men or better measures, and all change is for the worse, neither his actual coming or his hypothetical going offers any comfort. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, a politician will always get in (since any non-politician will metamorphose).

    Be that as it may, here is something from Trollope on North America, in his chapter on the constitution:-

    ‘Much may be said in favour of this payment of legislators, but very much may also be said against it. There was a time when our members of the House of Commons were entitled to payment for their services, and when, at any rate, some of them took the money… no one, I think, will deny that the tone of both houses would be raised by the gratuitous service of the legislators. It is well known that politicians … solely with a view to the loaves and fishes. The very word “politician” is foul and unsavoury throughout the States…’

    And he also puts the other side of the case, which I need not do since the politicians themselves have not been backward in coming forward about it. However, I should point out that arguments about monkeys and peanuts do not hold water, since the reverse is patently not correct (we do not pay peanuts, yet the monkeys are with us still). Perhaps recent developments show us what I have long suspected, that you cannot get useful reforms by getting the turkeys to vote for Christmas, but that they are willing and more than willing to vote to kick the ladder away beneath them to deprive others of it once they themselves have used it.

    The only remaining point of interest I found in the US example was, that in going from the Articles of Confederation to their regular constitution the Americans moved the responsibility for paying politicians away from their electors to an unaccountable central system of funding, and at the same time dropped term limits with which their pay and conditions were associated. I would be interested to know if that change was for sound reasons of principle or for practical reasons instigated by the turkeys (sorry, politicians) themselves.

  12. Jill Rush
    February 16th, 2004 at 20:33 | #12

    The reason that Latham won last week is that there are many of us who are in jobs equally as uncertain as that of the politicians without the free feeds and plonk, without the obsequious respect of those who want our favour and living in modest accommodation with no prospect of changing anything.

    We understand all too well that many have gone onto sucking at the public teat once leaving parliament through committees and other jobs for the boys. An insidious form of double dipping which is seen as dreadful if someone else was to do something similar.

    We hear Peter Costello complain that he gets less than his head of department – but who was it that decided how much to pay and how secure is that position anyway? The system he has created of differential and contracted payments for top public servants has certainly put an end to “Yes Minister” as now public servants know all too well that the Minister must be supported through being kept in ignorance of uncomfortable facts. This requires high pay – which has the benefit of helping the Remuneration Tribunal raise the rates paid to politicians

    - Great Scott they couldn’t survive on the paltry 3 or 4% per annum pay rises of the lowly servants of the public who try to put policy into practice.

    If paying well ensured that we had a better class of person as politicians it would be worth the golden handshake of superannuation. What has become painfully obvious however that this is an area of market failure as party hacks get safe seats and others toe the party line as they try to climb the greased pole.

    The Advertiser had an article today bemoaning the fact that the proposed changes will lead to people staying in seats for many years whilst waiting for a pension to kick in. On the other hand a more realistic standard of pay and conditions may in fact deter people who wish to have politics as a career until they have achieved and gained some experience and knowledge of other parts of life.

    What I would like to see is a version of the annual Performance Assessment which has become ubiquitous through out the public service put against the politicians.

    Why are they the only group in society who are not measured annually against what they promise to do. Let them set some performance measures up front and if they don’t achieve then they are unable to stand for office in the next election or undertake some remedial training and have their pay cut back.

    These are the kind of community standards the current elite have introduced for others – they really should live under the same kinds of rules, so that they understand the impact of the managerial decisions they impose on workers who are not as well paid but are expected to live under stressful conditions created by their masters.

  13. Mike Pepperday
    February 16th, 2004 at 21:31 | #13

    Steve

    When the oil runs out don’t we just make it from coal as the Germans did during WW2? During the seventies people were saying the price only had to double to make the process economic.

    There is supposed to be coal there for many centuries. So no problem. Right?

  14. February 17th, 2004 at 02:00 | #14

    The Germans weren’t terribly successful at making oil out of coal (though granted they did have the Allies constantly bombing their factories by the time they gave up on siezing Soviet oil and went full bore into coal). There’s reason to think we’d do somewhat better in the 21st century with technologies like thermal depolymerization, but there will be huge costs to get all the processing infrastructure in place.

  15. February 17th, 2004 at 08:11 | #15

    Scott Wickstein’s rebuttal of Nathan isn’t a refutation. What it shows is, you can have ersatz democracy but the real thing is not on offer. If you take it as meaning “ersatz is real” you are doing doublethink to yourself.

    On the replacement for oil topic, I’ve looked into it at a shallow level. Straight ethanol is unworkable, but – in a country like Australia with crop surpluses – it could work as part of a package, if the agricultural processes themselves were also uncoupled from fossil fuels. That is presently uneconomic but could work in Australia, whereas the USA would have no agricultural surplus left so it couldn’t work there. That “work” means “work physically” – it would only ever get economic if the alternatives were even worse. The uncoupling would involve running rural equipment off producer gas, World War II style, and growing biodiesel crops of the sort that don’t compete with prime agricultural uses (so, Honge nuts on roadsides but not rape seed in fields).

    Knowing there is a fall back position at least lets us start looking for better options within the biofuel range without the fear of ending up stuck; the pressure is off.

  16. observa
    February 17th, 2004 at 10:47 | #16

    Apart from my observation that Latham is a bit flaky on principle, when grabbing for popular policies, I’d pretty much concur with Mark Mcgrath’s summation. The media don’t seem to indulge in too much in-depth analysis Latham’s policy stances(eg on the offer to throw his super on the table). Given this, he should remain a small target, nipping in here and there with the odd populist polcy. He just needs to ensure over-confidence doesn’t tempt him to get too flaky. In the final analysis, the Murdoch press have usually got it right, in sniffing the change in the political wind.

  17. February 17th, 2004 at 11:26 | #17

    I wasn’t trying to rebut Nathan’s post, but to answer a question.

  18. david tiley
    February 17th, 2004 at 13:55 | #18

    oh, and creating it too, Observa – that’s one reason why the ALP feels the tide has turned.

  19. observa
    February 18th, 2004 at 13:59 | #19

    david, I know it’s the popular view that the Murdoch Press can create winners, but I’m more inclined to the view that this is a bit of- ‘at the same time therefore because of’,from my recollection of Federal and State elections. IMO the Murdoch Press is populist and wants to back what it thinks is the popular view of the readership. This is hard to call in the close ones of course, but I seem to recall some fence sitting on occasions.

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