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An undeserving alternative PM

September 3rd, 2013

Unless there’s a sudden turnaround in the polls, Tony Abbott will become Prime Minister of Australia. This will be the third time in my life that a Federal Labor government has been defeated, the other two occasions being 1975 and 1996. On both those occasions, despite substantial and enduring accomplishments, the government had made a mess of macroeconomic management, and the electorate, unsurprisingly, wanted to punish them. And, despite my strong disagreements with them (and with the way Fraser came to office), the incoming Prime Ministers had serious views on how best Australia’s future could be managed. Fraser has only improved since leaving office, making valuable contributions on the national and global stage. My evaluation of Howard, following his defeat, starts with the observation that he was ‘the most substantial figure produced by the Liberal party since the party itself was created by Menzies’.

Nothing of the sort can be said this time. The case put forward by the LNP is based entirely on lies and myths. These include the claims that
* Labor has mismanaged the economy and piled up unnecessary debt and deficits
* Australian families are ‘doing it tough’ because of a soaring cost of living
* The carbon tax/price is a ‘wrecking ball’, destroying economic activity
* The arrival of refugees represents a ‘national emergency’

None of these claims stands up to even momentary scrutiny.

Then there’s Abbott himself. After 20 years in politics, I can’t point to any substantial accomplishments on his part, or even any coherent political philosophy. For example, I’m not as critical of his parental leave scheme as some, but it’s totally inconsistent with his general political line, a fact that his supporters in business have been keen to point out. On climate change, he’s held every position possible and is now promising, in effect, to do nothing. His refusal to reveal policy costings until the second-last day of the campaign debases an already appalling process. He treated budget surplus as a holy grail until it became inconvenient, and has now become carefully vague on the topic.

Obviously, the fact that such a party and such a leader can be on the verge of victory implies that the Labor side has done something dreadfully wrong. It’s the oldest cliche in politics for the losing side to claim that the problem is not the policies but inability to get the message across. In this case, however, I think it’s true. Gillard lost the voters early on with stunts like the consultative assembly, and never managed to get them to listen to her for any length of time. Rudd was doing well in communicating his vision from his return to the leadership until he called the election. He then wasted three weeks on small-bore stuff apparently aimed at Katter party preferences. He seems finally to have rediscovered his voice, with the launch speech and his Q&A appearance, but I fear it’s too late.

Still, in the unlikely event that any undecided voters are reading this, I urge you to take a serious look at the alternative government, and place the LNP last on your ballot in both houses of Parliament.

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  1. Hermit
    September 9th, 2013 at 10:54 | #1

    The LNP haven’t taken long to show themselves as small minded and vindictive. It appears their first actions will be wrecking not building. Greg Hunt for example should fix the massive funding and scientific loopholes in his flakey Direct Action plan before he declares carbon tax repeal as the ‘first order of business’. Perhaps the real agenda is No Action. We might have thought that would take weeks or months to show its hand but it only took days.

    Manning Clark would have called them ‘haters’.

  2. Fran Barlow
    September 9th, 2013 at 11:34 | #2

    As someone on Twitter remarked after Saturday’s debacle: Australia has spoken — and said the dumbest thing possible.

    That’s not entirely right. Adam Bandt was re-elected with a strong swing (8% AIUI) and he have one extra Green Senator it seems.

    But yes, those manipulating the stupid for ends that serve the venal but non-stupid are clearly in charge.

  3. Ernestine Gross
    September 9th, 2013 at 11:39 | #3

    What ‘the market’ says: The All Ord (ASX share market index) had a tiny lift early this morning and is since going up and down and up and down and……………

  4. wilful
    September 9th, 2013 at 15:15 | #4

    @Fran Barlow Except of course fran, the ALP’s Melbourne candidate was as left-wing as you get in the modern Labor party, so it was hardly a clash between vastly different candidates. I wonder what if any policy differences there would be between Cath Bowtell and Adam Bandt. Marginal at most.

  5. Jim Rose
    September 9th, 2013 at 17:13 | #5

    None of the motley crew will risk a double dissolution. They want their six years of fame.

  6. Tim Macknay
    September 9th, 2013 at 17:44 | #6

    Mirabella falling behind in Indi.

  7. Nick
    September 9th, 2013 at 17:49 | #7

    @Tim Macknay
    Oh,good.

  8. crocodile
    September 9th, 2013 at 17:53 | #8

    @Jim Rose
    Don’t think Tony will risk one either for much the same reasons that Kevin avoided it. DDs can end up with the government losing seats as well. With all 76 senate seats up for grabs a quota of only half the size will get a motley candidate over line.

  9. rog
    September 9th, 2013 at 18:25 | #9

    From what I have read it seems that Abbott will walk around controversial legislation and use tax as a device to benefit small business. Lots of votes in that and a change from free market principles of the past.

  10. Fran Barlow
    September 9th, 2013 at 19:33 | #10

    @wilful

    I’m not sure what Bowtell’s position on gay marriage was, but I asume she was in favour of coercive rendition and punitive detention of children under the Persona non Grata policy.

    I’d be surprised if she didn’t think 5% from 2000 by 2020 was enough of a target on GHGs, favoured continuing to occupy Afghanistan until the US left, and favoured cutting taxes to big business, the penny ante MRRT and generally pandering to the poker machine lobby. Doubtless she favoured live exports, an irrigator-friendly Murray Darling policy and cutting university funding.

    Mind you, if she really is a left-of-centre candidate, that makes Bandt’s win all the more impressive.

  11. Donald Oats
    September 9th, 2013 at 21:04 | #11

    @Fran Barlow
    Exactly.

  12. paul walter
    September 9th, 2013 at 23:59 | #12

    Will full, Claire Bowtell was such a marvel, why wasn’t she offered a safe seat to contest, or put into battle for a seat Labor could win off the tories? More than ever, this will be remembered as the election where Labor’s birds came home to roost as to denialism and its cranky rejection of the Greens and consequently its own values.
    Here in SA, Labor right faction leader Don Farrell looks on the way to be ousted from the senate by FF, a party Labor (again, despite the disaster of the Fielding election in 2004) chose to preference in front of the Greens and other progressive movements.
    Good on Bandt. \Wake up Labor and leave the McCarthyite antics somewhere in the past where they belong.

  13. Mel
    September 10th, 2013 at 07:35 | #13

    If the Greens push for a live export ban they’ll be putting a gun in the mouth of farmers and pulling the trigger. We already have enough farmer suicides, thank you very much.

    Meanwhile, the Greens HoR vote has declined to from 11.8% in 2010 to 8.4%. Thank Gaia.

  14. Fran Barlow
    September 10th, 2013 at 08:59 | #14

    @Mel

    If the Greens push for a live export ban they’ll be putting a gun in the mouth of farmers and pulling the trigger.

    Simply OTT … and highly inappropriate for this place IMO …

    It’s also completely untenable since not even the ALP was willing to entertain a live export ban, regrettably.

  15. Lt. Fred
    September 10th, 2013 at 10:03 | #15

    The obvious answer to live expert is to do the slaughtering here, “onshore” so to speak. Train domestic slaughterers (sp?) to do it in the appropriate halal manner and then invite some representatives from Indonesia et al to come and make sure we’re doing it right.

  16. Tim Macknay
    September 10th, 2013 at 10:53 | #16

    Why are we talking about hypothetical agendas the Greens will have absolutely no way of progressing in the next parliament?

  17. Donald Oats
    September 10th, 2013 at 12:12 | #17

    Tony Abbott keeps pushing that he has a mandate to repeal the carbon tax—as he calls it, but the Liberal opposition in the previous two terms of government fought tooth and nail to deny Australian voters the implementation of the CPRS they voted for. If the Liberals rejected Labor’s obvious mandate to implement the CPRS, then I don’t see any reason for Labor to consider the Liberals as having a mandate to repeal the legislation. However, with the marvel of Clive Palmer the plutocrat, now in the system, I suspect the legislation is going to be repealed successfully.

  18. Fran Barlow
    September 10th, 2013 at 12:29 | #18

    @Donald Oats

    Tony Abbott keeps pushing that he has a mandate to repeal the carbon “tax”—

    Given that he scarcely discussed the matter in the campaign that seems doubtful. One of the new senators elected from the PUP oppose repealing it. An extra Green seems likely to be added to the senate numbers. In any event mandate theory is bunkum.

    The fixed price permit phase will end shortly after the new senate takes its seats one might argue that Abbott’s official problem was that it was “the largest carbon ‘tax’ in the world” and now it will be purely a tradeable permit scheme with a price around a quarter of what it was after July 2012, that arguments about mandates become more fuzzy.

    The fact is that he will be giving away revenue but not clawing back the tax threshhold which doesn’t make sense for someone claiming they want to fiscally consolidate.

  19. paul walter
    September 10th, 2013 at 13:07 | #19

    And picking up the papers this morning, we also read of a pogrom against welfare recipients to be instigated.
    So little examination of any Tory policies, so many pot boiling beat ups on the Rudd Gillard soap opera or whether SHY was being pollyanna ish over the last remaining habitat of the speckled wedge tailed numbat being bulldozed for gas fracking.

  20. Donald Oats
    September 10th, 2013 at 13:17 | #20

    @Fran Barlow
    Sorry Fran, I should have been clearer: since winning the election, Tony Abbott has been pushing that he has a mandate to repeal the “Carbon Tax”, and that Labor should respect that mandate. Other than that, I agree with you.

    Still, we know the gig: the incoming Liberals claim the budget is worse than they were told, that there is a black hole, and they must ditch a bunch of (non-core) promises in the interests of restoring Australia’s economic status (from an AAA rating to…an AAA rating :-) ), they cut hard into public service, and then slowly repopulate the public service with public servants on special contracts, contracts that bind the PS to the Liberal party’s will.

    It is quite a shame that Julia Gillard did the deal that whoever lost the contest for PM would quit politics; that was a major mistake, in my opinion, and the Labor party shouldn’t have accepted that sort of conditional attached to the leadership ballot. Worst case scenario has developed: namely no Gillard, but still Rudd, and Labor in opposition. Until Rudd leaves, some of the Gillard camp are going to continue their scorched Earth campaign to drive him out of politics. Emerson and O’Connor have already indulged themselves at the expense of party unity, with the election dust barely settled. Given how much they have complained about Rudd’s leaking to the press, their behaviour is on par with Rudd’s camp. Goodness, can’t they just figure it out?

  21. crocodile
    September 10th, 2013 at 15:04 | #21

    @Donald Oats
    I’ve commented on the mandate thing in this thread already but since Donald brings it up again I would add that Abbott not only refused the carbon policy of the ALP but just about every item that came before the house. This was his tactic of attrition and it worked. He continually forced the government to make adjustments that they probably didn’t want in order to please the crossbenchers in the senate.

    On those grounds I don’t believe he is justified in asking for a new opposition to respect a so called mandate. Not sure if the punters have long enough memories of these events. If they do, he has probably made a rod for his own back, if not, it will be seen as bad faith for the new opposition.

    The prospect of an Abbott led government does not particularly bother me as much as some others here and I can’t see how Rudd could be judged in a positive light despite some reasonable policy ( and some duds ). The ALP badly need some time in the sun to reflect. This is demonstrated even today by the rumour that Shorten is front runner for leader and even more preposterous is the idea that Paul Howes is front runner for Carr’s soon to be vacated senate seat. Welcome to a lengthy opposition.

    Despite all that the new leader should not give Abbott an easy path with so called mandates. Force him to deal with motley senate. Don’t know how long he can hold his campaign mode poise for. I look forward to it with great interest.

  22. Hermit
    September 10th, 2013 at 18:29 | #22

    V for victory and V for vendettas. Steve Bracks pulled from his diplomatic posting and clean energy loans about to be settled now reneged upon. Greg Hunt told us carbon tax repeal was the first order of business despite the gaping financial and scientific holes in his own pet theories. Abbott in his victory speech mentioned his government would be competent presumably unlike the last mob. How gracious. We’re off to a flyer in statesmanship terms.

  23. September 10th, 2013 at 20:01 | #23

    Yeah, its weird. The carbon tax was not bad in itself, it was just used as a lightning rod for voter dissatisfaction. The libs know that. But I guess they feel the need to keep faith with their (ignorant) supporters.

  24. Tim Macknay
    September 10th, 2013 at 20:05 | #24

    @John Brookes
    And it gives you an idea of how degraded politics has become, when the Government deliberately pursues policies it knows to be bad, because it believes it has to “keep faith” with voters whose ignorance it exploited.

  25. sunshine
    September 10th, 2013 at 21:09 | #25

    On Q&A Brandis and Kroger both repeated Abbott s statement (promise?) that there is no plan for economic reform beyond removing the carbon and mining taxes, all have said there will be ‘no surprises’ .Having quietly adopted 90% of the ALP policy he spent years deriding he now has no economic agenda beyond the removal of 2 taxes . The Libs seem to think his mere presence as PM will inspire a significant revival in economic activity .

  26. Will
    September 11th, 2013 at 00:20 | #26

    sunshine :
    On Q&A Brandis and Kroger both repeated Abbott s statement (promise?) that there is no plan for economic reform beyond removing the carbon and mining taxes, all have said there will be ‘no surprises’ .Having quietly adopted 90% of the ALP policy he spent years deriding he now has no economic agenda beyond the removal of 2 taxes . The Libs seem to think his mere presence as PM will inspire a significant revival in economic activity .

    What about the signed-in-blood promise to deliver 2 million new jobs?
    WHERE ARE THE JOBS, TONY?
    Don’t blame Labor, YOU are in government! Stop deflecting! Stand up and take some personal responsibility!
    #WorstPMEver

    Sorry, just channeling my inner rightist nutjob and the filth that accrues from that peanut gallery whenever the Left is voted in.

  27. Fran Barlow
    September 11th, 2013 at 09:33 | #27

    I’ve long supported a robust loophole-free explicit carbon price, and still do, but it has never occurred to me that this would be an adequate answer to capping emissions.

    Naomi Klein speaks a lot of sense on this matter, and with policy in this country apparently headed away from explicit pricing or at best, trivial explicit pricing I commend this article to others (but Ikonoclast in particular):

    http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-hurricanes-capitalism-democracy/

    We can and certainly should use the slogan “Direct Action” and its likely failure to deliver even the 95% of 2000 by 2020 target to campaign for more regulation of fossil fuel and carbon-intensive industries. This is an obvious place where Abbott — who claimed to support the target during his campaign — can be wedged.

  28. Donald Oats
    September 11th, 2013 at 10:11 | #28

    Now that Labor is in opposition, perhaps they should invest some time looking into AWB, and the evidence submitted by several key Liberal politicians (past and present). Who knows, might get a scalp out of it; after all, if the Australian newspaper can harrass Julia Gillard over something alleged to have happened—without her direct knowledge or complicity—some two decades ago, why not something far more significant like AWB and Liberal officials possibly having prior knowledge of kickbacks? It should be checked out—again, and again, and again, just like Gillard’s situation was. Crickets chirping…

  29. Hermit
    September 11th, 2013 at 11:11 | #29

    First of all a 5% emissions reduction 2000-2020 is pissweak given we are the OECD’s highest per capita emitter and I believe it is relevant to point out we are also the worlds biggest coal exporter. We could fluke 5% just with subdued BAU so the carbon tax and RET weren’t that relevant. The Climate Change Authority on which Pr Q is/was a panel member was about to recommend the cut should be 15%. I understand the CCA is about to be put down or at least castrated.

    It may be that Direct Action is a smokescreen for No Action after some initial fumbling. OTOH some kind of hybrid policy could come from left field that does reduce emissions absent an economic slowdown. It’s hard to see the Palmer MPs voting for less coal digging though. Xenophon’s high hopes for geothermal seem a bit naive given the lack of results so far. We can only wait and see but a 5% cut is not good enough.

  30. Tim Macknay
    September 11th, 2013 at 15:57 | #30

    An administrative error in the vote count in Indi has revealed that the Cathy McGowan’s vote was initially under-counted by 1,003 votes. It’s looking grim for Sophie Mirabella. :)

  31. crocodile
    September 11th, 2013 at 17:54 | #31

    @Tim Macknay
    I expect that privately, Tony is also relieved.

  32. Brad
    September 12th, 2013 at 11:45 | #32

    John, didn’t you predict a few years ago that the Liberals would never win another election on their own steam? Seems you’re probably right (they’re expected to win 59 seats, well short of the 76 needed to form government). But I wonder how close they might have come if the Libs and Nats hadn’t joined forces in Queensland?

  33. John Quiggin
    September 17th, 2013 at 14:24 | #33

    @Brad

    It’s hard to do a proper hypothetical here. I guess we could look at where the LNP members choose to caucus . I predicted a merger, but not the odd situation where a unified state party nominates candidates who then join different parties at the national level.

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