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Hubris

November 14th, 2005

Having gained unchallenged control of Parliament John Howard is displaying the same kind of arrogance that helped to doom Paul Keating after 1993. The huge expenditure on IR ads is one example, as is the general tendency to ram legislation through with no significant scrutiny or debate.

An even more striking instance was on display in Brisbane over the weekend. Howard has long been under pressure to upgrade the Ipswich Motorway, and has now decided that only a partial upgrade will be offered. Nothing surprising in that, and there may be a defensible rationale, though none was offered.

What is surprising is that Howard decided to make the announcement in Brisbane at the Liberal party state conference, with no advance warning for the local Libs, who are, not surprisingly furious. Then, when the Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane protested, he apparently got a threatening dressing down from one of Howard’s minders. These stories dominated the local TV news over the weekend.

I can only assume Howard believed that he could pull the local Libs into line in supporting his views, and ignore the inevitable attacks from the State government. If so, he appears to have miscalculated.

I’m surprised by this. Howard warned his colleagues against this kind of thing after the 2004 election victory, but he doesn’t seem to have learned his own lesson.

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  1. Terje
    November 14th, 2005 at 08:32 | #1

    I wouldn’t miss Howard so much except that it would probably mean Beazley as PM.

    We need more competition in the democratic sphere. I think the only way we would ever get that is if we pushed more power to the regions. However the oligopoly is unlikely to advance that idea.

  2. Homer Paxton
    November 14th, 2005 at 08:55 | #2

    what this will mean is bad legislation as people have little influence to change legislation.

    this willbite them in the backside.

  3. wronwright
    November 14th, 2005 at 09:32 | #3

    “We need more competition in the democratic sphere. I think the only way we would ever get that is if we pushed more power to the regions.”

    Hey, how about this for an idea. The ALP and the Greens move to the middle by compromising with more moderate proposals. Then maybe they will receive more votes and win more elections.

    It’s a bold move but maybe it will work.

  4. Terje Petersen
    November 14th, 2005 at 09:51 | #4

    Wronwright,

    It still forces us all to buy the same product.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  5. Ian Gould
    November 14th, 2005 at 09:52 | #5

    “Then maybe they will receive more votes and win more elections.”

    And maybe if the liberals do likewise they’ll finally end their massive losing streak at state elections.

    To all: Howard, as I have noted previously, has proven to be one of the most adept politicians this country has ever produced.

    This make his recent behaviour even more surprising.

  6. wilful
    November 14th, 2005 at 11:04 | #6

    Howard is probably getting bored and has resolved to hand over to Costello bgefore the election, so is just trying to set his stamp on all his precious ideas. Wronwright, re “The ALP … move to the middle”. You’re joking right, you want them to become more left-wing?

  7. Katz
    November 14th, 2005 at 11:15 | #7

    Howard knows he’s in grasping range of his Holy Grail, dismantlement of Australia’s Industrial Relations machinery.

    He probably knows that his success in passage of the IR legislation represents electoral failure for the Coalition.

    But he doesn’t care.

  8. November 14th, 2005 at 11:46 | #8

    It is possible there is some hubris, but I think there are two other explanations:

    1 – John Howard has already decided he won’t run at the next election, and thus is less concerned about constraining himself. I don’t know if this is true and neither does anyone else (except Howard and maybe his wife), so it’s fairly pointless to make a judgement on it, but it’s still a possible factor.

    2 – Many Libs have quite calmly said to me that it’s not ideal the way everything is being guillotined through in a mad rush before the end of the year and it is a not good look, but they are very confident that it is better to get all the major controversy out of the way as soon aspossible and all at once, and that most people will either forget all about it or realise it’s not as bad as they feared by this time next year (especially with a few more tax cuts and the distractions of the terror coverage which will undoubtedly reappear fairly regularly). This is basically the ‘as long as the economy keeps going well, we’ll be fine’ view (which is not to suggest that I concur with any view that the economy is going as well as is usually asserted)

    Option 2 doesn’t fully explain why the road announcement wasn’t smoothed out, but maybe it was figured that there was no way it would go down well anway, so it was best to just throw it out there. (combined with a general contempt for the state Libs organisation at the federal level, which may have decreased the desire to be bothered with diplomatic niceties). I suppose one could also suggest that it actually suits the federal Liberals to have Labor in power in all the state and territory governments, so there is no real incentive there to help out the Qld Libs anyway.

  9. R. Patterson
    November 14th, 2005 at 12:14 | #9

    After spending millions buying [as some have put it] votes in the last election. After lying to the electorate since his first successful election and every election since.
    Is it no wonder that this “man?” holds the Australian electors in absolute disdain and total contempt.
    Howard seems to think that he is unsinkable, the “Titanic” of Australian politics.
    This could be so as the incredibly dumb and completely greedy voting public will probably fall prone before this man of ‘steal’ once again.
    Anyhow little john thinks he has them, the little darlings, in his hip pocket. Regards, numbat

  10. Roberto
    November 14th, 2005 at 14:06 | #10

    Katz Says: November 14th, 2005 at 11:15 am “He probably knows that his success in passage of the IR legislation represents electoral failure for the Coalition. But he doesn’t care.”

    Howard is a ‘classic’ politician – he will have to be carried-out in a box out of the PM job, having spent circa 30 years and countless tilts to get it.

    Also, he has (somewhat strangely) a warm regard for the Liberal Party, and the last thing he would want as part of a ‘legacy’ is that he left the party millstoned to opposition arising from some reform or other he enacted.

    My punt is that (in the long term) he views the IR reforms as electorally bankable, once all the controversy dies down. Like the after affect of the GST introduction, he politically survided that to win a couple of elections.

  11. Ian Gould
    November 14th, 2005 at 14:23 | #11

    “Howard is a ‘classic’ politician – he will have to be carried-out in a box out of the PM job, having spent circa 30 years and countless tilts to get it.

    Also, he has (somewhat strangely) a warm regard for the Liberal Party, and the last thing he would want as part of a ‘legacy’ is that he left the party millstoned to opposition arising from some reform or other he enacted.”

    Given his fondness for the Party and his particular admiration for Bob Menzies you have to wonder why he hasn’t made better provision for his own retirement and the succession.

    Lingering endlessly and encouraging possible challengers to a Costello succession hardly serves the party’s long-term interests.

  12. Katz
    November 14th, 2005 at 14:56 | #12

    Not much point arguing about the future Roberto. You may be right. I may be right. Only time will tell.

    I can see virtue in your ascription of “classical politician” traits to Howard. And you may be right about the growing regard that Australians may feel toward IR reform.

    My argument is that the reform may not be bedded down sufficiently come the next election. Moreover, the effects aren’t like the GST, which was a one-time shock, and didn’t affect large numbers of swing voters, except insofar as wage earners were rewarded with income tax reductions.

    But I’m talking about the future again.

  13. Roberto
    November 14th, 2005 at 18:54 | #13

    Katz Says: November 14th, 2005 at 2:56 pm “My argument is that the reform may not be bedded down sufficiently come the next election.”

    Very true Katz. I think that the intention (hope?) is that the system will not become live until immiedately after the next election, owing to the ‘natural’ conclusion of Certified Agreements, that will time in with after the next election.

    Another issue that has come to mind is the default position of incorporation: businesses (employing sole traders, trusts etc) will be expected(?) to become incorporated to gain any benefit from Work Choices. Staying out of the system will become difficult over time. I’m happy staying unincorporated given the lack of compliance requirements – so why should I be expected to change?

  14. lurch
    November 14th, 2005 at 19:23 | #14

    Roberto says: so why should I be expected to change?
    I don’t think that youre expected to change Robetro, as the effects of this Dickensian nightmare will flow on to all workers regardless of whether they work for an incorporated employer or not. I can think of the unincorporated employers mantra now – in order to get/keep this job your conditions will have to be the same as the (incorporated) competition.
    Thats the beauty of having a virtually non-exsistent award structure and a “fair” pay commission that leaves the minimum wage up to Gods discretion – where will the worker turn?

  15. Terje Petersen
    November 14th, 2005 at 19:37 | #15

    QUOTE: Howard seems to think that he is unsinkable, the “Titanic� of Australian politics.

    RESPONSE: I think that he has been sunk too many times in the past to truely believe in his own political immortality.

    I think Andrew summed it up well with option 2. Most people read political articles and consider political questions only in the weeks before an election. What happens now is not a real issue so long as people feel more secure with Howard at the time of the next election. And by then the ALP will be banging on about old news unless the IR reforms actually cause people significant and widespread pain.

    Beazley won’t roll back the IR reforms anyway. He will just scrap them and implement a new set of reforms that use different words. New Zealand Labour seem to like Labour market flexibility.

  16. Roberto
    November 14th, 2005 at 20:47 | #16

    lurch Says: November 14th, 2005 at 7:23 pm “Roberto says: so why should I be expected to change? I don’t think that youre expected to change Robetro, as the effects of this Dickensian nightmare will flow on to all workers regardless of whether they work for an incorporated employer or not.”

    Lurch the advise I received from my lawer at a top 5 legal firm was that incorporation was indeed an issue, with a five year window inwhich an election was required.

  17. November 15th, 2005 at 10:24 | #17

    It would be fantastic if Howard took enough rope to hurt himself, but he seems by nature to not be a very excessive person. I wouldn’t hold out this kind of hope. The opposition simply have to do better rather than hoping like hell that Howard will make some big mistakes!

  18. Mike
    November 15th, 2005 at 16:56 | #18

    Am I missing something? Why was it any role or responsibility of the Federal Government to pay for any of this road? Why is it “hubris” to offer to pay part of the cost? What happened to State responsiblilty for its own intra-State infrastructure?

    On JQ’s own (oft repeated) arguments Queensland can afford to borrow the cost of this road just as well and cheaply as the Commonwealth – and Qld has the jurisdiction to charge tolls if it wanted to (and the Commonwealth could not do so unilaterally).

  19. jquiggin
    November 15th, 2005 at 17:09 | #19

    Mike, you are missing something. There is a long-standing agreement on the part of the Commonwealth to fund certain major roads, and this is reflected in the division of the revenues from fuel taxes. If the Commonwealth is going to drop such responsibilities, it should hand over the associated tax money.

    Also, tolls are bad policy and the idea that toll revenue should be hypothecated to particular projects is worse.

  20. Roberto
    November 15th, 2005 at 17:35 | #20

    jquiggin Says: “Also, tolls are bad policy and the idea that toll revenue should be hypothecated to particular projects is worse.”

    John could you pls point me to a link where you argue this point. Very curious. (apologies if you’ve posted the link previously)

  21. kartiya
    November 15th, 2005 at 20:58 | #21

    John howard’s arrogance seems to come out in his dealings with the ABC radio . On close questioning during interviews he seems to speak over the reporters ,particularly the women, when their questions become difficult ; he generally seems to “squash” them.
    No doubt they want to be able to get continued access but it is at considerable cost for the public . i feel sure they would not be happy with their results on many occasions .

  22. jquiggin
    November 15th, 2005 at 21:45 | #22

    Roberto, follow this link and scroll down

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2005/10/20/ppps/

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