The departure of Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is, on balance, good news for the Rudd government. Most importantly, in the first real test case, Rudd has stuck to his ministerial standards rather than bend the rules for a close ally. Fitzgibbon had received the benefit of the doubt a couple of times, but allowing his office to be used by a family member for lobbying was just too much. (Note the family motif in most of Fitzgibbon’s problems – another argument against hereditary MPs).
A scandal of this kind is never good, but such things are inevitable. That the Rudd government has suffered only one such loss after 18 months in office compares very favorable with state Labor governments and with the Howard government, which lost a string of ministers and Parliamentary secretaries before Howard threw out the rules to save Warwick Parer – after that, there was scarcely a member of the Cabinet who wasn’t implicated in some kind of corrupt or dodgy dealing.
Finally, if there’s any truth to the claim that Defence staff were undermining Fitzgibbon to block his reform agenda, they scored a Pyhrric victory here. John Faulkner is going to cause them much more grief than Fitzgibbon ever could.
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It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language.
The site went down this morning and my hosts at Joyent diagnosed a problem with the red theme I was using, so I’ve temporarily switched to blue.
Quite by chance, this matches some words of a song I wrote a long time ago, which, I just found out were sung by Warren Fahey on Radio National Breakfast this AM. You can listen here (near the end).
I’ve added a caching plug-in to speed up performance. Please advise if you notice any benefit, or any adverse side effects. If you are locked out altogether, you can email me or reach me on Facebookfinal conflict the download
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I’ve been opining in all sorts of media on the Queensland government’s asset sales programs. A couple of general points, both favorable.
1. The government has said that the sale process will take 3-5 years, and that the assets won’t sold if the offers are inadequate. They need to be held to this
2. The privatisation story has swamped the abolition of the fuel subsidy. At some level, I think everyone recognises that this program was at best an unaffordable luxury in the current environment, and at worst a counterproductive and damaging misuse of public funds.
Coming to the asset sales, and with a whole day to reflect on a $7 billion program here are my provisional views
Good: Queensland Forests. State forestry has never made commercial sense, since the timber industry has always had effective control, ensuring no proper return on the public capital investment. There were moves towards reform, but plenty of obstacles. Easier to let a private buyer set commercial prices
Bad: Queensland motorways. Toll roads are bad, private toll roads are worse. We need a comprehensive system of road pricing, with congestion as the main driver. The existence of privately owned toll roads is a huge obstacle to this goal
Ugly: QR coal freight and coal terminals. There are potential gains here, but there are also some huge traps, as illustrated by disastrous rail privatisations elsewhere. And there will be a lot of problems with wages and working conditions to be sorted out. I don’t think the government will be able to get away with using privatisation as a backdoor route to large-scale redundancies, but a sale with union conditions attached will have obvious problems
Indifferent: Port of Brisbane. A regulated monopoly asset with secure returns. Selling this and using the proceeds to repay debt doesn’t really change anything but perhaps it will fool Standard and Poors.
Big news just now. The Bligh government has abolished the fuel subsidy with effect from 1 July, and announced the sale of a huge range of asset s, with QR coal freight, Port of Brisbane and others to be privatised.
I support the first of these measures (with marginal regret that they didn’t take up my idea for a phase-out starting five years ago when I first put it up).
As for the asset sales, they need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. A crucial requirement is a high reserve price and a willingness to retain the asset in public ownership if this price is not realised. In the current environment, the government’s estimates look optimistic, but I haven’t seen any detail yet.
A detailed response to come, when I get a free moment.
Update: I just did an interview for 7:30 report, so you may get to hear a minute or so of my thoughts on the subject tonight
I’ll be talking on Climate Change in a Changing Economy: The Risks and Rewards for the New Farm Neighbourhood Centre ‘Politics in the Pub’ on Tuesday 2nd June 7-9pm, at the Brisbane Powerhouse, New Farm.
Its time once again for Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.
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I’m working on a bunch of essays, book chapters and maybe even a book or two in response to the global financial crisis, making the general point that the sudden collapse of the neoliberal order has found social democrats unprepared for the shift from a long defensive struggle to the opportunity (and need!) to develop a progressive response to the crisis. As obvious examples, it’s necessary to reconstruct the global financial system and to ensure that the burden of the debts that are building up so rapidly is not borne by the poor, who did nothing to create the crisis. This piece (PDF) is an example of what I’m thinking.
I have plenty of ideas about policy (though of course I’m always interested in new ones). But, I don’t have much of a feeling for the political strategies that are needed, so I thought I would try the crowdsourcing thing, which has worked pretty well for me in the past .