Home > Oz Politics > Send in the clowns

Send in the clowns

February 8th, 2010

It’s hard to believe that, three months ago, Australian national politics was (primarily) a contest between two broadly normal political parties. The government was running well ahead, but open to criticism for having talked a lot and done relatively little. The opposition was excessively keen on the maxim ‘the first duty of an opposition is to oppose’, and the alternative policies it proposed were neither as detailed as they might be, nor entirely consistent, but that has always been true of oppositions. Although a change of government in 2010 looked unlikely, there was nothing to suggest that such an event would be a disaster if it happened.

That could not be said today. The government is much the same as before, but the opposition has become a clown show, happy to do or say whatever comes to mind, either to chase votes, secure the support of its base or simply to muddy the waters enough that they have a chance to win in the resulting confusion.

Most obviously, we have an opposition leadership that embraces delusional beliefs on climate science. That would be bad enough if delusion could be confined to denial of the validity of science, but such isolation is not possible. Instead, delusionism is pervading everything the Liberal and National parties do and say.

First up, there are the personnel changes, with the replacement of Turnbull by Abbott, the rise of Minchin to the position of kingmaker and, most absurdly, the appointment of the ‘authentic’ but innumerate Barnaby Joyce as finance spokesman. Of the leadership team, only the marginalized Julie Bishop gives any indication of being connected to the real world. In the key economics portfolios, only Joe Hockey rises to the level of mediocrity, and he’s pretty much discredited by his vacillation during the leadership spill.

Then there’s the shift from ‘scepticism’ (the belief that thousands of scientists have simply got it wrong in ways that can easily be detected by armchair critics) to the kind of full-scale conspiracy theory exemplified by Lord Monckton’s claim that NASA crashed its own satellite to prevent it revealing the data that would disprove AGW theory. While the conspiracy theory has the merit of being more coherent and plausible, it paves the road to absolute craziness (again, see Lord Monckton). Of the leading figures in the Opposition, Minchin and Joyce are overt conspiracy theorists, and Abbott is willing to go along with idea. And whereas the conspiracy theorists were willing to undermine Turnbull throughout his leadership, any remaining pro-science Liberals (with the exception of Turnbull himself and the departing Judith Troeth) are keeping very quiet.

Unsurprisingly, this combination of delusion and incompetence is reflected in the opposition’s response to the government’s climate change policy. Naturally, the ‘science’ is pure wishful thinking, based on a willingess to count highly speculative gains from increased soil carbon as the primary line of policy response. But the economics is far worse – even the advocates of soil carbon don’t claim it can be done in the zero-cost fashion claimed by the opposition. More generally, since the opposition plan amounts to picking some winners, and throwing public money at them, it’s obvious from first principles that it must be more expensive than the government’s ETS.

But of course this doesn’t matter. No one, not even the opposition themselves takes the plan seriously – it’s simply there to meet the political necessity to have a supposed plan to refer to.

Finally, and most seriously, there is the embrace of the reality-free talking point approach that characterises the delusionist commentariat as a whole. Someone like Andrew Bolt is not acting out of character when recycles discredited delusionist talking points on a daily basis. His general approach to politics is no better. And, as the blogosphere has shown (as an archetypal example, see Glenn Reynolds) the longer you are immersed in this point-scoring, talking-point approach to political debate, the more distant becomes any connection to actual reality.

Barnaby Joyce has copped a bit of flak for this, most notably for the fiasco at the Press Club. But Abbott himself is just as guilty as witness his claim that NZ, which didn’t have much of a stimulus package, is doing as well, economically, as Australia. This is obviously false, but that didn’t stop Abbott making the claim or getting, broadly speaking, a free pass on it.

So far, the clown show has been at least a partial success in political terms. This is not all that surprising – at any time, much of the public is disengaged from politics and welcomes a bit of entertainment. And, with this level of disengagement, it takes a long time for the fact that a political party has taken leave of its senses to percolate through the public consciousness, as witness the recent successes of the US Republicans, despite their catastrophic mismanagement in office. So, there is no guarantee that this clown show will lose the next election. But, with luck, the long term good sense of the Australian public will come into play before then.

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  1. wilful
    February 8th, 2010 at 12:20 | #1

    Or of course we could be heading down the american route, whereby objectively insane views are considered part of the natural discourse.

  2. conrad
    February 8th, 2010 at 12:32 | #2

    I’m as worried as wilful. Thank god the RBA is independent if Barnaby becomes treasurer.

  3. Freelander
    February 8th, 2010 at 12:32 | #3

    I was very surprised that Abbott got a free pass on his claim that NZ without a stimulus is doing just as well. But journalists seem to be giving free passes on the most outrageous statements while disputing what one would think only the ignorant would dispute. We are heading the American way.

    I listened to the speech given by Palin to the T-party conference. Those in the Tea party appear to reason, she is a totally ignorant idiot, just like us. She is one of us. We can trust her. We should vote for her.

    Oh to be so blissfully ignorant as to not recognise that for certain jobs you are better to hire someone who is competent who does not fully share all of your views than someone who is incompetent who may share your views but is totally incapable of achieving anything you might want.

    Surely the presidency of Bush the younger should have shot home that message?

  4. Doug
    February 8th, 2010 at 12:33 | #4

    One of the other dynamics is that the ALP supporters who are most articulate and concerned about the need for an effective response on climate change are far from enthusiastic about what the government is proposing and regard the Green’s policy stance as something that they are more supportive of than the Government’s option.

    We have an Opposition that will be trying to argue for a policy that deals with a problem that their leadership does not belive really exists versus a Government that is reluctant to push hard for their policy because they cannot convincingly argue that it is an effective response to a problem that they know is real.

  5. Freelander
    February 8th, 2010 at 12:37 | #5


    Along the lines of your thankfulness for the independence of the RBA, I think it is about time that an independent fiscal authority was created along the lines suggested by Nicholas Gruen. That could be further insurance against a Joyce or a Palin getting the chance to dabble in macro policy.

  6. February 8th, 2010 at 13:03 | #6

    “he’s pretty much discredited by his vacillation during the leadership spill.”

    Wouldn’t it have been a disaster for him to have taken the leadership? I would say the spill increased his chances of becoming PM.

  7. Donald Oats
    February 8th, 2010 at 13:24 | #7

    Good journalists are being gutted by the relentless efficiency push in the print media, and that is in large part due to declining circulations, and perhaps to a lesser extent, the splitting of some advertising revenue by the web-related technologies. Good journalists who are sufficiently senior can research effectively and supply an intelligent presentation of the facts. As they yield to early resignations, retirement and the rest, the new breed are in large part shameless plagiarisers who are insulated from any repercussions due to verballing interviewees – who in a number of recent cases were not even interviewed. The fact gathering journalists’s articles just get lost in the noise. Truthiness trumps reality now.

    For the remaining print media consumers there is debate which is 95% about who is beating who in the inflated hyperbolae (an oxymoron I know) wars. Rhetoric and outright fabrication dominate. Can’t one paper somewhere give a factual account of how an ETS works, for goodness sakes? And a carbon tax? No is the apparent answer.

    The clowns are the net result of favouring hyperbolae over factual accounts.

    Speaking of clowns: Don’t forget Monckton vs Tim Lambert on Friday 12:30 EST.

  8. Paul Williams
    February 8th, 2010 at 13:27 | #8

    Of course, Barnaby Joyce is not innumerate, he merely had a verbal short circuit of the kind that happens to nearly everyone occasionally. Are you therefore to be branded a liar for saying so, John?

    On the stimulus package, Joyce made the points that a) the US stimulus package has not delivered the promised unemployment figures, and b) some countries without stimulus packages have had unemployment rises less than ours (and the US). Is he wrong?

    Here’s his speech,

  9. Freelander
    February 8th, 2010 at 13:33 | #9

    @Paul Williams

    What he is wrong about (other than numbers) is the claim that the stimulus was unnecessary and should be withdrawn. If he is not a fool he does an excellent impersonation.

  10. Paul Williams
    February 8th, 2010 at 13:54 | #10


    Apart from the verbal stumble, what numbers did he get wrong?

    Is he wrong to say that some OECD countries without stimulus packages have had lesser rises in unemployment than us?

  11. Fran Barlow
    February 8th, 2010 at 13:55 | #11

    I don’t suppose for a moment that the ALP is going to be the first government since the 1930s to be ejected after one term. Governments lose office by being seen as incompetent in key areas of policy when the opposition looks well organised. Neither of these things applies here. Indeed, the coalition was far better placed to win in 2007 when it had incumbency and fear of an untried opposition as its allies.

    This time round, the major coalition issues, the economy and national security are repectively going to run for the government or at worst be marginal. The ALP will claim they saved us from meltdown, and they will have large sections of Howard voters think they are right. In marginal seat land, the coalition will struggle to hang on and one can be sure that if the opposition convinces itself that it really is a show, the squabbling will intensify. They are also facing setbacks in the senate.

    That’s not particularly encouraging of course because the ALP’s politics will be business as usual, which is really still just Howard-lite.

  12. Colin Webb
    February 8th, 2010 at 14:06 | #12

    While generally agreeing with your comments, John, I think you have missed the attractiveness that Abbott seems to have for many people. He is being presented very positively in the media, but I don’t think it is just for entertainment value. (On the other hand, it is possible some editors are playing the ‘build him up, the world is at his feet : see the angel fall’ game.) Abbott’s persona is considerably more subtle and complex than the two dimensional caricature often portrayed. It’s easy to talk him up as a straight-talking man of principle and emotional connection, which contrasts with his main opponent.

    His carbon emissions reduction plan looks like junk to me, but it was very favourably written up by the Canberra Times’ environment reporter when released, so it is getting at least some positive publicity. (Quite apart from the natural tribal support to be expected from those who don’t want to do anything much, and those who wouldn’t trust a greenie with their lunch, and those who just want the real naturally good people to be back in control.)

    I wouldn’t put too much faith in the ‘long term good sense of the Australian public’ – good sense is a multi-layered thing. There are lots of levels at which Abbott appeals to ‘good sense’, even if the total package is rotten. Didn’t we/they keep the previous Liberal PM in office for a long time?

    Abbott (and other radical conservatives) are clearly surfing the wave of disregard and cynicism that the climate change debate has brought to the surface. The political process looks almost broken and it is easy to see a near future when every issue is ‘debated’ on the basis of suspected motives and thrown rocks. Abbott is drawing enthusiastic support from those who have created this climate, but he is also attracting many who are sick of it and just want something simple, ‘that makes sense’.

    It makes me sick.

  13. peterm
    February 8th, 2010 at 14:06 | #13

    This blog has connected with me. Suffering from a bit of insomnia last night/early this morning, I turned on the weekly review of the current federal parliamentary session on ABC 1. Abbott’s debating performance was excellent, clearly overshadowing anyone from the government. (I guess I should have not been surprised given that he is world class competitive debater.) What was worse was that the government ministers descended into nasty personal character assignations in an attempt to counter him. It didn’t go down well with me and I don’t think it will go down well with the voting public if they keep using these nasty tactics. Anyway Abbott’s well made points got me thinking he is on a winner. They were:

    • From broad acre agriculture to coal export and aluminium smelting, Australia depends on low energy costs to give us the competitive advantage on which our standard of living depends.

    • A carbon cap or tax will destroy this advantage and the man in street knows this in his hearts. Anyone in manufacturing, agriculture, and services has had two decades of competition with cheap labour from Asia to reinforce this point.

    • The fact that Australia is attempting to introduce a CTS without the rest of Asia implementing a similar system adds to this concern.

    • Financial markets are on the nose. The fact that the financial sector is currently creaming off 40% of corporate returns hasn’t gone unnoticed by the average voter. A CTS is seen as the sector finding yet another way to get their hands deeper into the average persons pocket.

    These are all valid points and if the government doesn’t counter these with a coherent legitimate case they will be in trouble. Personal abuse of the opposition won’t do the trick. While the science may be saying we need to do something about carbon emissions, the average voter knows this will hit them in the hip pocket. I think the government needs to come clean about this and make sure the pain is shared evenly around the community.

    BTW: Also highlighted in the same program was a debate between Kate Lundy and Nick Minchin on the NBN. It was a complete contrast compared with the debating performance of the government ministers in the lower house. Minchin came across as incompetent, sensation seeking and loose with the truth while Lundy appeared as a voice of common sense.

  14. wilful
    February 8th, 2010 at 14:27 | #14

    peterm, not to shoot the messenger, but unfortunately Abbott, if you are representing his arguments accurately, is flat out wrong.

    On point one, agriculture and coal exports are not included in the ETS, never have been proposed. Aluminium smelting is based on massive subsidies from the Vic Govt to the US-based multinational Alcoa, and we would have been better off simply paying the workers lots of cash. Point two simply follows from point one. Point three is partly a moral issue – we put the crap in the atmosphere, and are far wealthier than asian countries, so we ahve to move first. Which is not to say China isn’t doing stuff anyway. Point four, well I agree with you. I think that support for the ETS from the professional economists relies on far too much discounting of the rent-seekers that they are, and support for a cap and trade system in principle shouldn’t transfer across to the dogs breakfast we have with this CPRS.

  15. Chris Warren
    February 8th, 2010 at 14:36 | #15


    This so-called competitive advantage is unsustainable and is jeopardising our environment. Australia needs to shift its trading emphasis to less ‘low energy costs’ (code for fossil) exportable. International education is a suitable example.

    A carbon tax has no extra ability to damage competitive advantage than any other tax. Funding the welfare state reduces our competitive advantage with oppressed Asian labour. It also has no specific extra ability to feed the financial sector. In any case, if Australia needs to make adjustments, then this should be possible within a broadly-based tax system.

    So these concerns are all rather opportunistic verbal templates usually raised against tax in general.

  16. Peter Whiteford
    February 8th, 2010 at 14:50 | #16

    Paul Williams,

    Yes, he is wrong – there is no OECD country that has not had a fiscal stimulus that has had a smaller increase in unemployment than us.

    As far as I can tell from http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/3/62/42421337.pdf the only countries that have not had a net fiscal stimulus are Iceland, Ireland, Hungary and Italy, all of which have had increases in their unemployment rates of between 2 and 5 times as much as we have.

    There are also charts in the source cited that indicate that the estimated effect on GDP of the Australian stimulus package was greater than any other country, but we still have the best fiscal position of any of the countries included (look at figures 3.4 and 3.6)

  17. Jim Birch
    February 8th, 2010 at 14:57 | #17

    What was worse was that the government ministers descended into nasty personal character assignations in an attempt to counter him. It didn’t go down well with me and I don’t think it will go down well with the voting public if they keep using these nasty tactics.
    Have you recently arrived from another planet?

  18. peterm
    February 8th, 2010 at 15:25 | #18

    Wilful, thanks for not shooting me. (My feet already contain self administers from previous postings!) I am just an undecided voter like most Australians. I believe we need to do something about global warming and I want to see the government put up legitimate counter points to those being made very professionally by Abbott. They have disappointed in the parliamentary debates I viewed last night. Plus, they have the resources of the whole Federal bureaucracy behind them.

    The next election probably won’t be decided on the ETS but if they keep trying to use Tony Blair style superficial spin against a polished debater in Abbott the way they did last week in other policy areas they will be in trouble. (I’d like see more Kate Lundy and less Kevin Rudd given the sample of speeches I saw last night). I suspect voters know that every government initiate has positives and negatives. last week, the current government seem to try to ignore the negatives, rather than come clean and produce argument as why the gain is worth the pain. (And how the pain is be shared around evenly!) This spin seemed to be cannon fodder for an analytical mind like the one Abbott appears to possess.

  19. John Thompson
    February 8th, 2010 at 15:33 | #19

    Because the centrepiece of the Coalition’s climate change policy is carbon sequestration in soil, it is useful to learn a little about some of the difficulties of implementing this “solution”. This is a very good (and impartial) report that should be read as background to the policy:
    I am surprised that the technical issues relating to this key element have not been picked up by the media.

  20. James
    February 8th, 2010 at 15:47 | #20

    John Thompson :I am surprised that the technical issues relating to this key element have not been picked up by the media.


  21. wilful
    February 8th, 2010 at 15:58 | #21

    peterm, i agree that Rudd et al have a serious salesmanship deficiency, and the incoherent nonsense that Joyce, Abbott and Minchin spout is, for the unengaged voter, perfectly effective for now. I deplore of this, because I try to keep up with the arguments, and hope and expect that cogent, rational argument, adequately explained and represented by the media, will win the day.

    But sadly no. We are going down the path that the US has beaten, where vapid soundbite and pandering to the worst, most irrational fears of the electorate are considered winners.

  22. Freelander
    February 8th, 2010 at 16:02 | #22

    Paul Williams :
    Is he wrong to say that some OECD countries without stimulus packages have had lesser rises in unemployment than us?

    Others have shown this statement is wrong, but regardless, its not particularly good English.

  23. iain
    February 8th, 2010 at 16:19 | #23

    The coalition’s emissions “reduction” numbers are even more specious than Rudd’s numbers (and that is saying quite a lot).

    Abbott and Hunt seem to be saying that current emissions are around 550-560 Mt/yr (which they aren’t) and that they will be 525Mt/yr by 2020 (which they won’t be).

    The coaltion’s proposal for emissions production allows for emissions to rise to art least 650-670 Mt/yr by 2020 (using their own numbers). They will then creatively “offset” these emissions with soil carbon and tree planting – allowing them to claim 525 Mt/yr.

    The reality, however, is far worse – scope 1 and 2 emissions are currently nudging 600 Mt/yr, and the coalition’s proposal will (therefore) allow real emissions to rise to well over 700 Mt/yr by 2020.

    When one considers that no one is currently counting scope 3 emissions in this country (which we are fully responsible for, and which represent the bulk of our emissions), the reality is that emissions (across all scopes) for Australia will be 1500+M/yr by 2020 under a coalition government.

  24. Joe
    February 8th, 2010 at 17:21 | #24

    What I find strange is that Rudd and co. have not rewarded their supporters, rather the reverse: the CPRS is an insult to the environment lobby, the MySchool folly to the teachers, the slightly-watered-down WorkChoices to the unions, and indeed just about anything else you care to name. Yet Liberal Party politicians are added to the gravy train.
    I reckon a lot of us had hoped that Rudd and co. would adopt something like an evidence-based approach to policy, what we are getting is a ‘keep us in power’ policy.

  25. Michael of Summer Hill
    February 8th, 2010 at 17:41 | #25

    Iain, if the lastest report is correct and Abbott is not ruling out a future ETS, then I expect other sane Liberals to follow Turnbull’s example and cross the floor in favor of Labor’s ETS.

  26. Donald Oats
    February 8th, 2010 at 18:12 | #26

    The Liberal front bench and the Macchiavellian Minchin (or is it the Minchinian Macchiavelli?) have all made a big thing about not punishing those Liberal ministers who cross the floor. That might come back to bite them if a handful of Liberals take them at their word.

    As for the policy: Abbott is just as deceptive as Howard is – the idea is to offer something which after an election may be left to wither on the vine. Since it is like an honour system in many ways, noone has an incentive to waste time reducing emissions through more efficient practices and alternative technologies.

    The big kicker though – a report today demolished the myth of making Northern Australia the “food bowl of the Asia-Pacific”. An expansion from 20,000 hectares to 60,000 hectares is the upper limit for agricultural use due to the major problems in collecting and reservoiring water. Dams are largely futile for while they fill during the large downfalls, the high rate of evaporation empties them too rapidly. Other issues put constraints on what is possible too. This also brings up some questions to do with Abbott’s soil plan in the north.

  27. Ken Lovell
    February 8th, 2010 at 18:52 | #27

    ‘Surely the presidency of Bush the younger should have shot home that message?’

    Freelander I think the only lesson dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, teabaggers (to the extent they are different people) and assorted other AGW denialists have learned from the Bush catastrophe is that you should never elect a president who’ll be corrupted by the liberals in Washington … which is why Sarah Palin is so popular.

  28. Freelander
    February 8th, 2010 at 19:17 | #28

    @Ken Lovell

    You’re probably right. After all the fallen Greenspam was disowned by libertarians and the right when his legacy was finally universally acknowledged. Disowning your failures is a useful strategy for those committed to long term delusion.

  29. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 8th, 2010 at 19:24 | #29

    The Abbott ETS alternative is a rubbish policy. However at least it doesn’t institutionalise a monster. The Greens $20 tax policy is also rubbish but if they made it the solution rather than a shoe horn for an ETS it would actually be the least bad of all the policies on offer from major parties.

    It is not just the media that likes Tony Abbott, the polls suggest that thus far the punters are quite warming to him also. If he is a clown then he seems to be a well liked clown. Not as popular as the ALP clown but perhaps less expensive.

  30. Hal9000
    February 8th, 2010 at 21:04 | #30

    It has I suspect always been thus. Labor in office is a necessary but by no means a sufficient condition for the fairly radical public policy that will be necessary to mitigate global warming. Part of the easy ride Australia has had with the GFC has been, I suspect, a Faustian pact with mining capital. Rudd won’t do anything to challenge their profits unless forced to do so by public protest. It reminds me oddly of Howard’s intervention in East Timor – the pro-Indonesian herd view of the national commentariat had to be overturned by sudden and unexpected public revulsion. But I digress… The optimistic view is that Rudd and Wong can cobble together some sort of deal with the Greens, Xenophon and a sane Liberal. Maybe.

  31. Peter Evans
    February 8th, 2010 at 21:44 | #31

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Couple of points. First is that the polls are showing that Abbott has been successful at pulling the extreme right back into the Liberal Party fold, hence the improvement in LP/NP first preferences. That’s hardly surprising after Turnbull, and obviously he’s got Joyce and Minchin furiously out dog whisling away like the mad men they are.

    Second is that the media needs a close race to generate interest, and hence pull readers/viewers/listeners to its content. It’s not credible though. The LP/NP will be hammered on their opposition to the stimulus etc, and Labor will be very successful in fighting the next election on the ground of its choosing. The LP/NP will not be able to come across as credible, and their obvious inability to accept the last election result has done immense damage.

  32. Freelander
    February 8th, 2010 at 21:56 | #32

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    The public might be mildly amused by the clown as you call him (Abbott) but he will continually have to come up with new material or he will lose their interest.

  33. Paul Williams
    February 8th, 2010 at 22:00 | #33

    @Peter Whiteford

    Peter, looking at table 3.1 of your OECD link and page 3 of this report http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/30/61/44367840.pdf Barnaby has got some of his figures wrong. I have emailed his office and asked for the source of his figures. I’ll post if he replies.

    Two countries have a bigger stimulus package than us, in percentage terms. Korea’s unemployment over the period in question increased 0.4%, the US’s 3.2%. Ours increased 1.2%.

    Italy, with no stimulus package, increased unemployment 1.0%. France, with a package of 0.6%, increased unemployment 1.4%.

    It’s not obvious from the table that the size of the stimulus package has had much effect on changes in unemployment.

    Nevertheless, Australia is in a good position compared to most of the other OECD countries. No doubt due to the fact that Howard and Costello worked for years to pay off the deficit bequeathed by Keating, a task that Abbot and Hockey will have to shoulder following Rudd’s “drunken sailor” act.

  34. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 8th, 2010 at 22:17 | #34

    Peter – I’m thinking of the two party preference polls. If as you suggest Abbott is retrieving the votes of the extreme right then it is surprising that these individuals have until recently been so supportive of the ALP. I wouldn’t have thought of the ALP as the logical choice of extreme right wing voters. By your reckoning Abbotts core change is to become more right wing than the ALP. This does not seem overly credible to me. There hasn’t been any change of policy or rhetoric that takes the coalition from being to the left of the ALP to being on the right. It seems far more likely that it is swing voters in the centre that are changing sides. And they are changing sides because the coalition presents as united and as offering a coherent alternative. And I think the coalition is more united and coherent in it’s message. And thank goodness because good government is more likely when the opposition is strong and politically viable.

    My main point however was that the Abbott ETS alternative is rubbish.

  35. Tony G
    February 8th, 2010 at 23:30 | #35

    It is “embracing a delusional belief in science” to think that the ets is going to stop carbon accumulating in the atmosphere at @1.5ppm pa, even in the unlikely event that the ets achieved a 100%; or a 50%; or a 5% cut in Australia’s carbon emissions.

    It is obvious the “good sense of the Australian public” can see that capping the cost of something that is going to do next to nothing for the environment at a $3billion cost, is better than having policy with an open cheque book somewhere north of $120billion, a policy that is also going to do next to nothing for the environment; Maybe the real ‘reality-free clowns’ aren’t going to get their $120billion spendfest.

    Bring on the ets DD so the “good sense of the Australian public can come into play.

  36. Freelander
    February 9th, 2010 at 00:23 | #36

    @Paul Williams

    Where is the source for your unemployment numbers?

    Re: Italy. Three things. They increased their consumption tax and the extra revenue was equaled by increased spending with the result that the package was a fiscal stimulus. (Its in the report.) Second, Italy is part of the Euro zone which means that stimulus packages elsewhere in the Euro zone will have had significant spillover effects on Italy. Hence, an analysis of Italy is more comparable to an analysis of a single US state. Third, Italy has a significant hidden economy with a significant number of workers who are not on the books and not off the books when they are unemployed.

    The link between a simple measure of each stimulus and the impact on the level of unemployment is not obvious, because the detail and timing of package components is all important. Unfortunately, the way things work doesn’t conform to some simple minded mechanical model. As for Howard and Costello, it was Australia’s stimulus package that has left us so well off, and the stimulus packages around the world are what have saved the world from Great Depression II. Australia’s stimulus package was particularly well designed.

  37. February 9th, 2010 at 03:39 | #37

    All economies are linked, so being in the EU isn’t that special. Increasing tax & spending at the same time is not a stimulus. Many countries have a large black economy.

    There is no theoretical reason why the stimulus should make much difference, and very little historical precident for successful stimulus packages. Recent stimulus-clapping seems to be based on the desire to see what you want to see.

    One thing we do know… the stimulus lead directly to a drop in net exports (by definition KAS = CAD), and it was low net exports that pushed the September 2009 quarter GDP/person growth negative.

  38. jquiggin
    February 9th, 2010 at 04:57 | #38

    @John Humphreys
    You can’t infer a non-trivial factual claim from an accounting identity, John. This is just a rediscovery of the (long-discredited) twin deficits hypothesis.

  39. jquiggin
    February 9th, 2010 at 04:58 | #39

    It is, of course, likely, on a standard Keynesian analysis that some part of the stimulus was lost to the Australian economy via increased demand. But then, we benefitted from China’s stimulus, which was even bigger.

  40. Peter Whiteford
    February 9th, 2010 at 05:25 | #40

    Paul Williams

    Yes the situation is complex. In addition to the stimulus packages in different countries there are the effects of the automatic stabilisers, so that while Italy shows no net stimulus the effect of additional benefit spending and falling tax revenues is to produce an additional fiscal deficit of about 8% of GDP. Now whether that deficit would have been different if Italy had a stimulus package is an interesting question. Australia has relatively small automatic stabilisers.

    In addition, I think that the change in the unemployment rate is not necessarily the best measure of labour market impacts since people can withdraw from the labour force, reduce hours or have reduced wages. To assess effectiveness better measures include the change in the employment to population ratio – in which I think Australia does relatively better. Interestingly Japan has also experienced very large reductions in wage levels between 2008 and 2009, which you cn also find from OECD sources.

    The first paper I linked to also shows that the composition of packages differs significantly. Australia has the largest components directed to transfer spending and to investment spending rather than tax cuts, for what it is worth.

  41. Doug
    February 9th, 2010 at 13:31 | #41

    Speaking of the clowns – Barnaby Joyce has just anounced that Australia is in danger of defaulting on its overseas debt.

  42. February 9th, 2010 at 13:42 | #42

    “More generally, since the opposition plan amounts to picking some winners, and throwing public money at them, it’s obvious from first principles that it must be more expensive than the government’s ETS”.

    Er… no, because all that those first principles show is that it must be more expensive than a non-leaking, non-gameable, immune from rent seeking ETS (and do not cast much light on any wealth transfers incurred on setting it up or on their consequences). Those same first principles show us that the government’s ETS is worse than that too, without telling us anything as between the opposition plan and the government’s ETS; for that, we would have to bring in further argument and information – and, to my mind, the government’s ETS does not look very good under that itself as far as costs and benefits go (not once you look at the hidden costs, including any wealth transfers).

  43. Freelander
    February 9th, 2010 at 13:43 | #43

    I like the way that Abbott announced that Barnaby is the new ‘Black Jack’. To most economists ‘Black Jack’ was nothing but a simple minded populist pork barreller who distributed tariffs to any industry that asked and who damaged the Australian economy as a result.

  44. The Big Fella
    February 9th, 2010 at 13:53 | #44

    I think JQ and others of like mind on this string have given the opposition far too much credibility in the purpose behind the opposition’s so called carbon reduction bucket. The premise of political expediency to claim leadership and catch votes, or shoring up the white Australian conservative base is a sideshow. Further to Abbott’s, Minchin, Joyce’s…constant clangers and short term vision if you read /listened to Turnbull’s speech there is this –

    “Now, all of us know in this House that industries and businesses, attended by an army of lobbyists, are particularly persuasive and all too effective at getting their sticky fingers into the taxpayer’s pocket. Having the Government pick projects for subsidy is a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale and there will always be the temptation for projects to be selected for their political appeal. In short having the Government pay for emissions abatement, as opposed to the polluting industries themselves, is a slippery slope which can only result in higher taxes and more costly and less effective abatement of emissions”

    I put to you that the coalition is doing what it did best for 11 years sow dissention and confusion, the latter (confusion) is a truer reflection of the underlying strategy carbon reduction binge bucket is – confuse the voter, ween out the weak lambs to reduce the numbers in favour of the broader strategy to reduce emissions, including market mechanisms. Confuse, Divert and Delay. Otherwise why would you rehash previous policies that were designed solely to appease the electorate’s concern, (do your research) except to rehash the Howard Government’s policy characteristics of pandering to mining magnates and foreign interests to protect against reduced reliance on fossil fuels. If the above is not enough then why would the opposition leader meet with Lord Monkton where any reasonable person who scratched at the surface of his claims would find there is just enough of a hint of truth to give credibility but would ultimately find that each of Monkton’s claims and accusations do not stack up to reasonable scrutiny (I’m avoiding the obvious statement – suggest you go to media watch for a hint).

    In my mind the media have played a significant role in projecting the white noise of the extremes and not holding the opposition and other’s claims to scrutiny thereby giving them opposition, Monkton, Pilmer, Bolt etc etc, a free ride to bandy any extraneous claims about climate change and the economy that they so desire. If all the above is still not enough I leave you with “the GST is not Government policy… the GST is dead” and his student “no carbon tax”. Whom will you believe?

  45. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 9th, 2010 at 19:03 | #45

    Why do you presume the exclusion of the non-white conservatives? Or are you suggesting thatcolleen non-whites are non-conservative?

  46. Freelander
    February 9th, 2010 at 19:12 | #46

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    I think the word white in white conservative is to some extent redundant. True, there are some non-white conservatives, but to their fellow travelers, they are tolerated to the extent that white conservatives have designated them ‘honorary’ whites. Although those so ‘honoured’ are small in number, white conservatives do like to have these non-white ‘honorary’ whites around as they do like to trot them out on public occasions to dispel the recognition that a lot of white conservatives conserve all the old values, which is to say, they are racists.

  47. Andrew
    February 9th, 2010 at 20:21 | #47

    ” lot of white conservatives conserve all the old values, which is to say, they are racists”

    What of a load of crud. Says more about your small mindedness than about conservatives.

    JQ – Agree with you about Joyce being a Clown. Abbott is going to regret promoting him to that position – I guess it was a sop to the Nationals. Joyce won’t last long. But outside Joyce – we’d just be arguing about whose clown is funnier – yours or mine. The biggest Clown in politics outside Pauline Hanson is Bob Brown – now there’s a funny act. The Libs and Labour have a fair smattering of clowns each.

  48. Michael
    February 9th, 2010 at 21:01 | #48

    Andrew :
    ” lot of white conservatives conserve all the old values, which is to say, they are racists”
    What of a load of crud. Says more about your small mindedness than about conservatives.

    Quite right. Race has never been used by conservative politicians. Except when it has.

  49. Donald Oats
    February 9th, 2010 at 21:29 | #49

    Barnacle Joyce is a very effective communicator in the bush. Like Bob Carter and Ian Plimer – to name two – Barnacle has toured on taxpayer’s money and spouted absolute crap about both the science and the policies concerning AGW. He keeps his discussions at the level that sounds good, so long as you don’t go away and think about it – and God forbid if you should research it in the scientific literature. No, Tony G, WUWT is not scientific literature :-P

    I think this fact alone is sufficient for Barnacle to be promoted to a senior position; after all, it is payment by Minchin for Barnacle – who is one of Minchin’s band of utter delusionists – for assisting in toppling Turnbull. Such is the politics of reward and deceit.

    Speaking of which, I think Conroy’s “pick” for liason officer was a less than intelligent decision in so far as the politics is concerned. I don’t know his competency for the job – which as David Marr has pointed out is superfluous when NBNCo has only one shareholder, namely the government! Thanks PM Agenda for also giving Laura Tingle some airtime. She made the obvious but unsaid observation that the opposition are going around verballing government members, hoping the mud would make it to the papers and stick. This is indeed a very low practice that shouldn’t be tolerated by any member of any political party.

  50. Freelander
    February 9th, 2010 at 22:06 | #50


    Maybe you haven’t met your share of conservatives. Being racist while considering yourself elite and intellectual, in this hostile politically correct environment, requires disguising your beliefs when in public. If you had met enough conservatives when they ‘let their hair down’ you would soon get a more accurate idea of the meaning of the ‘dog whistle’ words they target at their supporters. Have you ever read Quadrant post Manne, for example?

    What the attack on political correctness is really about is making the world safe for people like them to spout their vile views publicly, without suffering opprobrium.

  51. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 10th, 2010 at 07:27 | #51

    The term conservative seems to be a somewhat vague grouping. If it simply means people that vote Liberal rather than Labor it is worth pointing out that the white Australia policy was introduced by a Labor government and dismantled primarily by Liberal governments. Personally I think the term conservatism is more applicable as a description of personal mores than as a political ideology. In it’s most fundamental form it just means resistant to change which depending on the issue can be used to describe just about anybody.

    So long as I’m being precise about terminology I should say that I think racism is widespread and benign. What is problematic is not racism (presumptions based on race) buy racial bigotry (presumption that a person is inferior based on race). Presuming that a Chinese looking women speaks Chinese merely on the basis of race is benign racism, presuming that a black guy is stronger than a white guy purely on the basis of race is racial bigotry.

  52. Salient Green
    February 10th, 2010 at 08:47 | #52

    Andrew @ #47

    At risk of feeding a troll, perhaps Andrew could expand on why he thinks Bob Brown is a clown, or perhaps he could just educate himself a little about the man before shooting his mouth off.

  53. Michael
    February 10th, 2010 at 08:48 | #53

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    I think the distinction between making assumptions about someone based on their race and inferring inferiority based on race is rather in the eye of the beholder. The effects are just too subtle to parse in many situations. I agree it’s pervasive and race based assumptions are often not meant by the person holding them to be offensive or malign but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Have you ever worked in a country where you are not in the majority race? I have and I can tell you that it’s different when you are in the minority and you have to deal with a lot of incorrect assumptions being made about you based on your appearance. It’s part of life and not on the level of racial vilification or violence but it is not without effect. This is an interesting read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack By Peggy McIntosh.

  54. The Big Fella
    February 10th, 2010 at 12:18 | #54

    In a strangely obtuse way TerjeP you have proven my underlying premise of diversion and confusion also how simply it is to perform (although that was never my intent ). As entertaining as it is by focusing on my use of a simple word ‘white’ (which was an after thought but cheap shot at the liberal party traditional supporter base – ie the demographic that Abbott is attempting to shore up), the trend of discussion has switched to the white Australia policy away from the ‘clowns’. Proving as I stated the basic premise of my comment we are not enjoying a rational credible debate of economic principles on an ETS. If that occurs we are bombarded with half truths, misrepresentations, confusion, diversion and delay of the underlying science – it is all false (The Monkton Principle – the name is interchangeable). You could say I am a healthy sceptic of market mechanisms as the underlying premise is we are rational beings, it can not take . The debate about the diabolical policy issue that this is – is not occuring meaning the immediate effect is an undermining of democracy and naturally policy compromise. Both parties in one way or another are open to and influenced by the multinational army of lobbyists, which has never been more apparent than the gross pandering performed by the previous Government . Turnbulls speach is ironic when you consider the launch of the opposition carbon reduction rorts bucket. By invoking Frontier Economics (same firm dusting off an ETS solution for Xenephon and Coalition) as having supported the fund FE when asked had to qualify their review. No comparison performed. Underlying this response however was also a question which was the best solution – Xenophon’s which was provided by FE. FE also remarked they had to protect their client’s interests (paraphrased). We should be asking whom are their clients, govt etc obviously. Whom did they represent in responses to the Garnaut Review? – it is their to see.

    I tip my hat off to you for a masterful yet entertaining diversion. By the way the “White Australia Policy” was first initiated under the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901, ironically opposed by the british government, to our denigration formally end until 1973 and 75 when all racial qualifications were removed from immigration policy which did not mean it did not continue or come back in some form. Which party just like this discourse on the topic at hand is immatarial. I am also happy to debate this and the liberal parties attempt to create an Australian aristocracy (remnants can be found at the Melbourne Club) in another forum at another time ;-)

  55. The Big Fella
    February 10th, 2010 at 12:24 | #55

    sorry after rational beings was meant to include it can not take into consideration the vulgarities of irrational behaviour let alone supply side dominance and gouging.

  56. gerard
    February 10th, 2010 at 13:00 | #56

    @Salient Green

    At risk of feeding a troll, perhaps Andrew could expand on why he thinks Bob Brown is a clown, or perhaps he could just educate himself a little about the man before shooting his mouth off.

    Don’t bother. Andrew pops up here and at LP on the very odd occasion and almost every time he pops up it is to make the same comment, which is to compare the Greens with One Nation.

  57. Salient Green
    February 10th, 2010 at 15:09 | #57

    gerard, ok and thanks.

  58. Tony G
    February 10th, 2010 at 15:22 | #58

    RE @ 49

    Donald, I hear a rumour Turnbull wants to run again in Wentworth but as the ALP candidate this time. Do you think the Alp will acknowledge his covert membership as he was a good secret agent for them? I know a lot of ALP members around here who voted for him last time.

    BTW what is WUWT?

  59. Fran Barlow
    February 10th, 2010 at 15:25 | #59

    @Tony G

    BTW what is WUWT?

    You ask as if you don’t know. Don’t be so coy …

  60. Freelander
    February 10th, 2010 at 16:38 | #60

    @Tony G

    Very funny. The Liberal Party has turned into a comedy serial and Turnbull is a bit of an idiot, but Abbott and Minchin and Joyce set out to make him look a right intellectual (and they have succeeded, if only in relative terms).

  61. Mathew
    February 10th, 2010 at 17:33 | #61

    If you levy a tax on something, then promise to give 100% of the tax revenue back to the people, then surely the result is zero?

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to apply a small carbon tax, and spend all the tax on building clean energy generation infrastructure?

  62. Fran Barlow
    February 10th, 2010 at 17:51 | #62


    If you levy a tax on something, then promise to give 100% of the tax revenue back to the people, then surely the result is zero?

    The result is revenue neutral but the result may not be zero. The results may include

    a) a transfer of wealth
    b) a re-shaping of spending patterns

    Taxing and refunding is like the opposite of a loyalty program. A loyalty program rewards you by making it marginally cheaper (or giving you valubale benefits) for continuing to patronise a service. A tax and 100% liquid refund program allows you to repurchase 100% of your taxed services, but plainly, many will choose to spend their money on other things.

    Of course, rebating lower (and some middle) income households means that upper income households transfer wealth down the scale, while encouraging all householders to avoid the tax by making other arrangements.

    It’s also possible of course to spend the revenue on services aimed at the bulk of the populace — semi or illiquid rebates, as you suggest. This becoems a loyalty program for the lifestyle change since you only get the benefit if you use the service. The service may be substituted for one you’d normally pay for, making it a semi-liquid rebate, but again even in that case, it may well be that you save the money or spend it on some less highly taxed item.

  63. chrisl
    February 10th, 2010 at 18:23 | #63

    Mathew. That is a cut through question that really goes to the heart of the matter.
    To put it another way, would a tax on fuel cause you to drive one kilometre less?
    Would a 5% rise in the cost of electricity cause you to use 5% less?
    Aside from modelling(aka guesswork) there is no way of knowing.

  64. February 10th, 2010 at 19:13 | #64

    @Fran Barlow
    “The result is revenue neutral”

    Actually, it’s not. As I’ve said before:

    Secondly, taxes impose a deadweight loss to the overall economy, because the reduction in the quantity sold at the higher, taxed price reduces producer and consumer surplus by more than what is gained by the government. Lastly, taxes need a system to evaluate and collect and distribute the revenue, which takes up resources just to move money around without producing anything…One can agree or disagree about whether any particular tax is a necessary burden, given the various arguments about the proper role and extent of tax-funded government, but the underlying facts should never be far from people’s minds when having that debate.

  65. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 10th, 2010 at 21:00 | #65

    Jarrah – if the tax is merely providing a price signal that the market is failing to provide (eg the cost to third parties caused by emissions) then there may not be any deadweight cost because rather than leading to a misallocation of resources it is correcting a misallocation of resources. Although this does entail a lot of assumptions about the size of the tax and the initial missallocation.

    Matthew – Imagine that you and 10 friends go to a restaurant and that you have all agreed to pay your own way. Every time one of you orders a softdrink I slug the individual with a $20 tax and then give everybody at the table $2. Assuming that I’m up front about this rule will it effect behaviour in terms of ordering softdrinks?

  66. Ernestine Gross
    February 10th, 2010 at 21:17 | #66


    The deadweight loss argument is valid if and only if a lot of other conditions are fulfilled. To name a few, there is no excess supply in marketable commodities (ie no unemployment); the minimum wealth condition is approximately fulfilled (ie no working poor); and there are no significant externalities (ie no major negative externality such as anthopogenic AGW due to the unpriced GHG emissions)

    A cap and tax on GHG emissions has the purpose of affecting relative prices of marketable commodities such that actual GHG emission output does not exceed the target (see Lindahl for the first general equilibrium model which deals with this type of problem).

    As our host, Professor Quiggin, has said at least once, possibly many times, under some conditions there is no difference between a cap and tax and a cap and trade system.

    But these are only theoretical considerations. Taking a few little steps toward the actual policy problems, it gets very quickly very difficult to say anything without a lot of empirical information, not only economic information but also scientific and technological information down to the age and capacity of existing energy producers and natural resources – world wide in the case in question. So, as people say, the problem is complex (and, if I may say, the endless invitations for talk feasts from certain libertarians and possibly others, including the people like L.C. Monckton, does not reduce this complexity – it only generates verbal white noise).

    One example of scientific information: I understand that a sequence of cap decisions is required and the exact timing is not known for sure but will depend on future scientific results. This means that a cap and trade system does not provide enough price information whenever the planning horizon for investment decisions is longer than the cap adjustment period. IMHO, a cap and tax system provides more potential flexibility for governments to intervene to smooth transition periods (eg subsidies for renewables)..

    A few examples of economic information.
    1. The foregoing theoretical considerations do not take into account financial markets. I do not know of any non-trivial period in recorded history on commerce in the broadest sense of the word where there wasn’t a problem with finance somewhere in the world. By non-trivial I mean long enough to be relevant for physical capital investment decisions in both, natural resource extraction and processing, in contemporary life. I am happy to be provided with reasonably reliable empirical evidence to the contrary (no economic Moncktons please). The current GFC is, what the acronym says – global.
    2. There are not only significant wealth distribution problems between geo-politically defined countries but there are even bigger problems within so-called rich countries since the GFC than before. IMHO, it is impossible to predict exactly how relative prices will change after a cap has been introduced. It is all very nice to have something like IPART, who regulates consumer prices, except there are limits to their power – it is not possible to force suppliers of energy to supply at negative profits. IMHO, a cap and tax system provides more flexibility than a cap and trade system for the government to respond to unanticipated real income consequences.
    3. I agree with those who maintain that several complementary policy responses, both from governments and from individuals, are sensible, including planting trees for ecological reasons.
    4. To state the obvious, it is beyond the power of one single government to provide the solution. (I find it irritating to read about some people’s apparent belief that no coordinating agent, such as the UN, is required. Isn’t it obvious that when there is a case of a market failure – in the sense of missing markets – the role of markets to coordinate the decisions is suspended and some other coordination mechanism has to be found.)

  67. Ken
    February 11th, 2010 at 11:18 | #67

    If the clowns can get lots of people laughing at, rather than being interested and concerned about, serious long term issues they can keep those issues from being addressed in any meaningful way. Delay on serious action equates to a win for the entrenched interests that don’t want to act on climate change. I’m not convinced that Labor is any more serious about it than Liberals. I’m also not convinced the Australian voting public is engaged enough to demand better policy from governments; doing the least we can get away with and no more than the least that our least developed trading partners do actually has a lot of appeal to people who generally believe the problem isn’t of our making and is for others to sort out. Unlike world wars which did get widespread willing belt-tightening and self sacrifice, issues like climate change, ecosystem destruction and sustainability lack those crude and effective motivations like nationalism and xenophobic fears. Those motivations appear more effective in the cause of denialism.

  68. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2010 at 14:20 | #68


    Now there Jarrah, while it is undesirable for significant deadweight losses to attach to any system, since these represent a diversion of the resource into activity of little public utility, providing the losses, (more precisely the transfer costs) closely approximate the minimal cost needed to administer the system the overhead is justified and even these resources are ultimately returned to the pool in the form of new spending.

  69. wilful
    February 11th, 2010 at 14:54 | #69

    chrisl :
    Mathew. That is a cut through question that really goes to the heart of the matter.
    To put it another way, would a tax on fuel cause you to drive one kilometre less?
    Would a 5% rise in the cost of electricity cause you to use 5% less?
    Aside from modelling(aka guesswork) there is no way of knowing.

    If you are making the entirely trivial point that the future is unknowable, then yes you are correct. So therefore we should never make any changes whatsoever??

    If you are claiming that price signals don’t work, well you’re just plain wrong.

  70. Pedro X
    February 12th, 2010 at 09:06 | #70

    Ken is right. There is a real question about how much the ALP wants to pass something heavy.

    A plan that had really serious costs would cause electoral damage. A plan like the ETS could have extra-permits introduced if and when it started to bite. It would be like printing money, except that the effects would be positive for the economy. The history of fiat money is littered with governments printing too much money, the idea that this wouldn’t happen was always a stretch.

    I’d always assumed that the ETS would pass and Copenhagen would see a deal. That wasn’t that bad as when it would start to bite credits would be given out ‘just this time’ so it wouldn’t bite.

    No one fore saw the huge revelation of the Climategate emails that substantiate much of what many skeptics were saying, the mess with Pachauri and the press’s new taste for looking at how poor the WG2 report was. This wrecks trust in the IPCC.

    Have you seen the Nature editorial where a number of climate scientists call for either a radical restructure of the IPCC or its abolition?

  71. Ernestine Gross
    February 12th, 2010 at 16:39 | #71

    @Pedro X

    Please post your stuff on the thread on Climategate so that you expose your assertions to critique.

  72. February 12th, 2010 at 20:35 | #72

    I like many others are very happy with the Liberals. I give KRudd 2-3 months at most and then the moron will be gone and history will not be kind to him.

  73. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 13th, 2010 at 07:36 | #73

    I’d like to see Rudd gone at the next election but I don’t think it highly likely.

  74. Michael Harris
    February 16th, 2010 at 17:04 | #74

    Quite right. Race has never been used by conservative politicians. Except when it has.

    I’m coming to this late, but this is salutory.


    “And so we get yet another classic expression of the weird conservative view on racism. They’re not exactly for white racism, and they get very upset if you accuse them of being for it. They’re just against doing anything about it and very concerned that efforts to do something about it are having all manner of dire consequences.”

  75. Michael
    February 16th, 2010 at 18:18 | #75

    @Michael Harris
    Thanks for the link. Priceless!

  76. Ken
    February 16th, 2010 at 20:15 | #76

    I have to disagree with Pedro that “climategate” showed anything of real consequence to the science underlying AGW; at most the hostile response to facing multiple hostile FOI’s was ill advised but meanwhile denialism has continued to fail to ‘hide the incline’ of ongoing global warming. The climate data, with and without tree ring proxies, shows continuing warming no matter that the mainstream media prefers to peddle the illusion that there’s been a fundamental shift.
    The integrity of the IPCC’s science isn’t significantly changed, only popular perceptions – in the politically spun sense – have changed.
    As for the comments about popular appeals to bigotry in Australian politics I find it worse than distasteful. The children overboard incident comes to my mind as representing one of the worst examples of those kinds of appeals to xenophobia and unstated racism that get used by Australian politicians. To my mind it was one of the lowest of low points in the Howard years; people accused, not only of thowing their kids overboard, but of not being legitimate refugees and of probably being terrorists ( and none of the accusations stood up to actual investigation). They were denied any right to even state their own account of events as they were being smeared mercilessly. Howard and others had to know that the accusations would appeal to the bigotry and xenophobia that runs like an undercurrent through Australia – no populist leaders and spin doctors at that level could be oblivious of that. And it was right on the eve of an election with investigation only possible after the tally was in. That Labor bought into it rather than risk vote losses from challenging that same xenophobic sentiment just took the whole affair deeper into the sewer.

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