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Victori spolia

September 12th, 2013

We haven’t yet seen much indication yet of the policy line the Abbott government will take. On the one hand, their election commitments suggest that, with a handful of exceptions such as climate policy, Abbott will carry on the policies of the Labor government, including DisabilityCare, the Gonski reforms, and the NBN (in a cut-down version). On the other hand, historical precedent, recently reaffirmed at the state level by Campbell Newman, and the urgings of people like Bob Officer, who ran the Howard-Costello government’s Audit Commission, suggests the government will discover a spurious budget crisis, dump its promises and introduce big cuts to health and education. Even if they do this, it’s clear that they have no real ideas beyond scraping the barrel of the 1980s microeconomic reform agenda. The worthwhile parts of this agenda were pushed through long ago, and the failures in areas like financial deregulation, Workchoices, Public Private Partnerships and so on are now obvious. The only positive initiative associated with Abbott’s win, the Paid Parental Leave scheme, is directly opposed to the microeconomic reform agenda, and hated by Abbott’s big business agenda. So, beyond it’s three word slogans, I doubt that the government has much more idea about its plans for office, than I do.

We didn’t have to wait long, however, to see how the government would work in process terms. Julie Bishop’s sacking of Steve Bracks as consul-general in New York (rumored replacement, Nick Minchin) is the most notable example of a vindictive tribalism that is evident throughout the right. We’re already hearing talk of cuts aimed at right wing betes noires like the arts, and there is bound to be more of this. The contrast with the last change of government, when Rudd left LNP appointees in place, and even gave jobs to retired opponents, as well as playing down the culture wars, is striking. For the LNP, long accustomed to see itself as our natural rulers, it’s all about getting into office, and sharing out the spoils.

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  1. David Allen
    September 12th, 2013 at 09:42 | #1

    John, as being an economist is your day job, I’m disappointed that you did not dissect the economic parts of Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN FTTN plan before the election. The detail holes and huge downside risks inherent in his alternative would have been easy meat for you. NBNCo’s current FTTP plan looked likely to exceed its 7% roi and replay its investment. Turnbull’s plan is unlikely to ever repay its costs. Surely this is worth you unpicking before the disaster unfolds and be in front of the game.

  2. m0nty
    September 12th, 2013 at 10:02 | #2

    Rudd is now backgrounding that he wants a third go at the leadership. Saints preserve us. Look what you have wrought, Ruddmentum acolytes.

    Labor should kick him out of the party at this point.

  3. Alan
    September 12th, 2013 at 10:25 | #3


    And your source for this is?

  4. crocodile
    September 12th, 2013 at 10:29 | #4

    The lack of any economic reforms are evident from the appearances of George Brandis and Michael Kroger on telly the other night. They were asked this question directly and apart from removing two taxes there is nothing. Brandis squirmed and tried to fob off a few spending cuts as a reform but Jones quite correctly picked him up on that.

    I expect that some IR reform is on the agenda but not politically palatable to mention it this early. Unlike Howard, Abbot seems like he would be cautious here and move slowly. Wait and see.

  5. John Quiggin
    September 12th, 2013 at 10:30 | #5


    As advised pre-election, no more Rudd/Gillard discussion, please. Take it somewhere else.

    David, along with WordPress, my DayDoubler software broke down, so I’m limited to 24hrs now. Something had to give, and NBN was part of that.

  6. Graham
    September 12th, 2013 at 11:00 | #6

    Well it’d be nice if we can get through a liberal era without too much change. Sad about cuts to foreign aid though

  7. Newtownian
    September 12th, 2013 at 11:43 | #7

    “So, beyond it’s three word slogans, I doubt that the government has much more idea about its plans for office, than I do.”

    One of the downsides of airing only daft ideas like the (gun)boat option or no ideas at all is that it prevented reality checking during the less vulnerable period means their policy development will be both alien and clumsy and mistake prone to a degree even the Daily Telegraph will have trouble glossing over.

    As part of this forthcoming fiasco hopefully their non-climate management policy will be shown for the lies it is. This could be useful as it may allow Labor to reevaluate its own policies and assess whether economic instruments are still good or rather too much a case of the tail wagging the dog.

    Personally I’m not totally disappointed with the demise of Labor’s climate policy, not because I don’t believe in a ‘carbon tax’ (society wide collection of revenue directed into fossil fuel replacement and green infrastructure more generally). I do. Rather its this questionable dogma that the most efficient means to save the natural world is to use ‘market mechanisms’ and combine the tax with trading to the great benefit of what Don Watson terms the Plague Rats (consultants) like the financial speculation industry.

    What I see as philosophical flaws in Labor’s ‘Green Capitalism’ appear to be the subject of a forthcoming book by Canadian bette noire of stupid people Naomi Kline. In the meantime this article provides a nice tease.


    Worrying though the other hand the coalition could do a lot of direct damage to the natural environment in the short term especially if they cosy up too much to this new bunch of very odd senators – how should we refer to them?? I greatly dislike the term ‘Bogan’ and in any case it doesn’t describe this bag of largely anti environmental roosters.

    Any suggestions for a suitably descriptive collective acronym?

  8. wilful
    September 12th, 2013 at 12:34 | #8

    The coalition haven’t even sworn in a Treasurer or a Minister for Climate Change and they’re changing parts of “Direct Action”. The Latrobe Valley has lost its $20M Clean Energy Employment Hub already. Nice to be a safe Coalition seat!

  9. Nick
    September 12th, 2013 at 12:56 | #9

    “The Delusionals” ? The gun-happy one seems to know nothing about the gun crime stats, yet guns is his pet subject. It’s going to be an excruciating few years of reality inversion. Without political funding reform,and with News Ltd’s stifling presence, we may never recover a reasonable and informed public discourse.

  10. John Quiggin
    September 12th, 2013 at 13:10 | #10


    Foreign aid is the nastiest and most consequential example of vindictive tribalism from this lot. It’s notable that even though nearly all of our defence effort is, in effect, foreign aid, they treat it totally differently

  11. m0nty
    September 12th, 2013 at 13:50 | #11

    Anything further along these lines will lead to a ban. I’m sure you can find other venues to air this issue – JQ

  12. Ben
    September 12th, 2013 at 14:21 | #12

    @John Quiggin
    Ah, but John, intervention by the military is Direct Action! That’s OK ..

  13. Angus Cameron
    September 12th, 2013 at 14:37 | #13

    One of the problems of only talking to your own tribal inner-circle of believers is that you don’t even learn what experienced fair-minded Labor MPs could tell you. Eg. there is no vindictiveness needed to explain Steve Bracks not going to New York even if you have never been to New York and experienced what the Australian representative does there. It is hard to see any Coalition person feeling even remotely pleased with the idea of being beastly to the agreeable Steve either because it is him or because it sends some message (what would that be BTW – something pretty idiotic and unnecessary?) to the ALP which hardly needs messages. It is totally explicable on the grounds that, although Bracks is a decent, competent person which doesn’t distinguish him from plenty of other candidates for such appointments, he has no special qualifications for representing Australian interests in New York and, probably biggest consideration, he will not, under a Coalition government, give the automatic assurance to Americans that he can speak for the Coalition government or can be sure of getting their messages through to it. Obviously choosing Nick Minchin, former senior minister in the Howard government, indeed Finance Minister, would give them that assurance.

    Then there is the timing. Was Bracks completely free from involvement with partisan politics from the time of his nomination in May? I don’t think so. But, more important, the promptness of the decision was what was required in fairness and courtesy to Bracks. It would therefore be wrong to give any special weight to the decision as reflection priorities or feelings or “messages”. It is noticeable because Abbott is obviously determined to mark a contrast between his deliberate pace and Rudd’s frenetic ways (and nothing at all like those days of action when Whitlam and Barnard were the only ministers of the Crown sworn it).

  14. Angus Cameron
    September 12th, 2013 at 14:52 | #14

    How is the decision to cut foreign aid “tribalism”. Is it the same kind of tribalism you mention in connection with the non-appointment of Bracks (as to which I bet they will find something else for him to do, or at least to offer to him without it being such a dead-end post that he wouldn’t except, and you can be sure that Kim Beazley will remain Ambassador in DC e.g.)

    In so far as the foreign aid decision reflects “nastiness” is it not a populist recognition of a broad-based feeling in the community that foreign aid is not often money well spent?

    As it happens Australians who feel they can afford it have been increasing their charitable contributions to foreign purpose charities greatly in the last 12 years or so. But those more hard-pressed (OK by over investment in their housing….. if you like) surely have a case when they see a lot of tertiary educated people of no obvious genius, energy or talent, doing interesting things overseas on quite decent salaries (and expenses) often untaxed, and then reflect on how well the money is spent after 50 years or so of money being funneled to the Third World, too often to kleptocrats, many studies casting doubt on the efficacy of aid, and so on…. Rationalisation for selfishness you say? Maybe, but there is a lot of sense and truth in that line of thinking.

    The outgoing government led the way with the PNG solution being financed in large measure by transfer of moneys from the aid budget. But it is hard to deny the logic of treating the vast amounts spent on refugees, asylum seekers, etc. as equivalent to foreign aid depending of course on your (unstated) criteria. If, which is rational, you want to “do well by doing good” (but not by dope-peddling) then continuation of aid for Indonesian schools (especially for girls) would appear to have a big claim on top priority. Emergency relief in case of tsunamis and the like is also high priority, but also likely to remain so.

  15. invictus
    September 12th, 2013 at 15:05 | #15

    If you meant “to the victor, the spoils” it should be “victori spolia”. But bravo for using Latin at all – the internet seems to be the one place where it can flourish.

  16. John Quiggin
    September 12th, 2013 at 15:30 | #16


    I Googled it to get it right, then spoilt it with a typo – fixed now thanks

  17. John Quiggin
    September 12th, 2013 at 15:31 | #17

    @Angus Cameron

    You don’t really need to defend the government’s brutality at such length. As you say, widespread nastiness is a sufficient, if depressing, explanation.

  18. Hermit
    September 12th, 2013 at 15:43 | #18

    The correct thing to do now is appoint sometime apolitical to the US Consul job and to quickly show some constructive alternative to carbon tax and green loans. Somehow I suspect neither will happen. They’ve broken the old rule that revenge is best served cold.

  19. bystander
    September 12th, 2013 at 16:00 | #19

    A new way. 1. 2. 3. What was this about 3 word slogan

  20. Angus Cameron
    September 12th, 2013 at 16:15 | #20

    @ Hermit

    Why appoint someone non-political to New York if one of the chief criteria for appointment by any government is that the person in the Big Apple (which is very very big and thinks of Australia as a very far-away place where it is an adventure to go once in a lifetime – and thinks of Australia otherwise only about once every five years) must, because of who he is, be seen as well connected to the Australian government?

    If you knew Steve Bracks and knew some senior Liberals you would know that the Bracks decision having anything to do with revenge was absurd.

    And why, and by what criteria, do you put “some constructive alternative to carbon tax and green loans” as any kind of priority for this or any other government? My own comment would be that it should be a low priority matter to do anything at all which is not done on hard-nosed economic grounds since nothing that Australia does or says is going to have the slightest effect on whatever changes to our climate or shorelines will have imposed on them by the actual policies and programs of China, India and the US over the next 20-30 years and beyond. The world doesn’t even listen to us as Rudd learned in Copenhagen in 2009 when the Chinese wouldn’t even allow him in the same room as them and the US representatives.

    Your reference to green loans makes you sound like one of those whose distaste for business like calculation doesn’t even recognise that all those self-interested pleaders for support for solar energy about 10 years ago – often complaining that we had great potential businesses being allowed to go to China – were effectually pleading for taxpayers’ money to be put into supporting businesses which would now be broke – like a lot of the Chinese businesses. I say that as a great fan of solar energy but one who also notes that it was China that brought down the price of photo-voltaic cells by about 80 per cent in a little over 5 years. That couldn’t have happened in Australia to anyone’s profit.

  21. Alphonse
    September 12th, 2013 at 17:06 | #21


    In relation to Indi, will you accept mirabile dictu?

  22. steve from brisbane
    September 12th, 2013 at 17:32 | #22

    One thing that makes me vaguely hopeful on carbon policy is that, from the brief media appearances that I have seen, a couple of the Senators elect (the Tasmanian woman, and the 4WDer from Victoria) do not appear to have a rock solid position against carbon pricing. (Perhaps the sports party guy is the same?)

    Also, we will soon have an IPCC report that is expected to bring the seriousness of the issue to the attention of the public again.

    It would seem that it might be possible that, with appropriate briefing by the right people, these “micro party” Senators may be persuaded before they hit the Senate that the Abbott plan really is inadequate and worth resisting. (Also, if business confidence and the lower dollar do their thing and the economy appears to be doing a bit better by mid next year, wouldn’t that help persuade them that the carbon price isn’t killing the economy?)

    So, it I were running a group interested in preserving carbon pricing, I would be contacting these people and offering free briefings on the issue by some persuasive people.

  23. Jamie
    September 12th, 2013 at 17:32 | #23

    @Angus Cameron
    So, are you saying that previous appointees like Amanda Vanstone (Ambassador to Italy) and Brendon Nelson (Ambassador to the EU,etc) were ineffective due to their inability to speak for the government? Were they unable to push Australia’s interests because they came from a different political party to their paymasters?

  24. rog
    September 12th, 2013 at 17:55 | #24

    I see Bracks removal as being first shot in a war by the self appointed ruling class to remove all evidence of a viable opposition. First Independents then Greens then ALP. Or maybe in another order.

    Not to matter about the order, the policy is to restore control of the state.

    Fortunately they appear to lack the intellectual resources to pull off such a stunt.

  25. Hermit
    September 12th, 2013 at 17:57 | #25

    @Angus Cameron
    1) If they give Minchin or another time server the US job it will look bad.
    2) Are you saying we shouldn’t have had the Snowy Mountains scheme?

  26. crocodile
    September 12th, 2013 at 18:31 | #26

    The new government will sway the motoring party to veto the carbon tax if it is resisted by the Greens and the ALP. They will simply promise legislation to allow 4WDs in our national parks and then blame the Greens for backing them into a corner.

  27. Ikonoclast
    September 12th, 2013 at 19:46 | #27

    Why would neoliberals send a Consul-General to New York at all? Doesn’t this amount to proof that they don’t believe in free markets at all? If their professed belief in free markets was genuine then they would see no need for a government man or woman to be spruiking for Australia. But then, we knew all along that the LNP don’t really believe in free markets. They believe in rigged, corporate capitalist markets and oligopolistic power; something very different indeed.

  28. Fran Barlow
    September 12th, 2013 at 19:48 | #28

    I should say that I have no huge problem with the Bracks decision. As a matter of general principle, governments are entitled to have whatever top public servants they like, and in any event, as I understand it, Bracks continued to fundraise and advocate for the ALP after he’d been appointed, which was IMO, rather unwise. He must have assumed this would jeopardise the appointment, even if the Libs hadn’t wanted to send a signal to other top public servants.

    Really, not the least of Rudd’s failings was that in his craven quest for popularity, he failed to remake the public service with more politically reliable people — especially in #theirABC and in the Future Fund — both of whose heads turned out to be far right climate deniers.

  29. Jim Rose
    September 12th, 2013 at 21:51 | #29

    Abbott lacks a senate majority so his ability to spring surprises is limited.

  30. Michael
    September 12th, 2013 at 22:17 | #30

    One (of the 2) major policies ‘ stop the boats’ looks to have sprung a major leak just 4 days in.

    Hard to beieive that such scrupulously thought out and designed 3 word policies could run aground so quickly.

  31. Sam
    September 12th, 2013 at 23:38 | #31

    @Fran Barlow
    Mark Scott is a climate denier?

  32. Nathan
    September 12th, 2013 at 23:53 | #32

    I believe Fran is referring to former chairman Maurice Newman and his infamous “groupthink” on climate change comments.

  33. Angus Cameron
    September 13th, 2013 at 03:11 | #33

    What does Rudd believe about climate? “Greatest moral challenge” was soooooo long ago and Rudd has proved since then he could beat the White Queen – believing six impossible things before breakfast: nothing!

    And who of all the worthy who say the know what “the science” says and what Australia should do in consequence has any qualification to give them firm opinions? As someone has pointed out even our very distinguished medical scientists who have said far more than they are qualified to say in support of other great and good opining about “climate science” lack the simple logic to understand that they needed to explain why Australia why Australia should waste money whatever the state of science.

  34. Angus Cameron
    September 13th, 2013 at 03:28 | #34

    @ Jamie

    Point taken. I am not sure that I would have wanted to appoint either of them whatever government was in power. But the messages which Rudd and co were seeking to send, misguidedly or otherwise, would not have been commercially important messages to the hardheads of New York. “Messages” or “signals” noted by Fran Barlow does bring up a nuance I hadn’t thought of. Yes, maybe the Bracks dis-appointment was intended to show other public servants that raising money for opposed political parties or the equivalent in partisan activity would be regarded as beyond the pale.

    I note that Amanda Vanstone had been Minister for Immigration which might possibly have been regarded as a good qualification for Italy. Brendan Nelson’s flexibility was no doubt right for representing Australia at the EU if someone could work out what was. Anyway, if I were to defend the Rudd government’s decisions I would point to the fact that they had been senior ministers in a government which had been in power for 11 years and might therefore give some assurance of continuity to the hosts.

  35. Angus Cameron
    September 13th, 2013 at 03:43 | #35

    @ Hermit

    You disqualify yourself from consideration by referring to Nick Minchin as a time-server. It would be like referring to Senator Peter Walsh, Hawke’s Finance Minister, or Gary Grey, or, another Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner as “time server”.

    As for the Snowy Mountains scheme I’m not “saying” anything about it by implication or otherwise. I haven’t read the considerable amount of work that has, I believe, been done on it and would want to do a great deal of work on it before saying that it was a bad idea either in prospect or in retrospect. What is pretty clear is that we benefited enormously from post-war immigration, apart from any good we were doing to others, and it was appropriate to engage in major infrasctructure schemes. Whether, in retrospect there could have been better investments than what went into the Snowy River Scheme I don’t know.

    It seems reasonably clear that the Ord River scheme is hard to justify unless you believe every government must be allowed to play with some big lumps of money and they might have done worse.

    If the analogy you make with the Snowy River scheme which produces hydro-electricity is with power production from solar energy I don’t know what your point is. We had and have limited resources of potential hydro power which well known technology could exploit and there were several reasons, no doubt, for developing some of it, including lessons from the coal miners’ strikes under the Chifley government in the late 40s. We have apparently unlimited solar potential but it was, until the Chinese brought down the price, quite uneconomic – and possibly still is for most purposes, at least in a country which could produce power very cheaply from coal burning and is, anyway, exporting more than half the coal it mines for others to burn.

  36. TerjeP
    September 13th, 2013 at 08:31 | #36

    I’ll be watching the Labor leadership contest with interest. I’m guessing the new rule about how the leader is choosen will be sidelined by ensuring there is only one candidate.

  37. crocodile
    September 13th, 2013 at 08:59 | #37

    The leadership doesn’t matter that much. Anyone who really wants it won’t run anyway unless there are really compelling reasons. The leaders who have taken over after a defeat have a poor record of eventually getting the top gig. That goes for both sides.

  38. crocodile
    September 13th, 2013 at 09:01 | #38

    Spoke too soon. Albanese is running now.

  39. TerjeP
    September 13th, 2013 at 09:15 | #39

    I prefer Albanese over Shorten. However it’s going to be an interesting couple of months watching them campaign against each other under the new rules. Should do wonders for unity.

  40. crocodile
    September 13th, 2013 at 09:35 | #40

    Scratch that. Albanese now says he will make his decision known after he talks to caucus.
    I think Shorten has too much baggage. Albanese being from the left faction may not be viewed so well.

  41. Ikonoclast
    September 13th, 2013 at 09:58 | #41

    Who cares what Labor does? They are just Clayton’s Liberals anyway. Labor have a complete lack of talent. The Liberals have a complete lack of talent too. Tony Abbott! What a joke! It is instructive though to have watched the Murdoch propaganda machine push Abbott as a man of ability and substance. It just shows you can push any rubbish if you propagandise and advertise hard enough. Our society is now swayed and indeed governed through the mass media. Pretty scarey.

  42. Crispin Bennett
    September 13th, 2013 at 10:37 | #42

    @Ikonoclast Australian expats care. They would probably prefer to be a laughing stock for no more than the 3 years they have just been sentenced to. Labor’s their only chance.

  43. Donald Oats
    September 13th, 2013 at 12:12 | #43

    @Fran Barlow

    Why on Earth did Rudd appoint Alexander Downer to his role, for example? Of the people available, Downer was always going to rubbish the ALP and the Greens every chance he got, and he had plenty of chances to do that via his regular opinion piece in The Advertiser. While I don’t believe in being an absolute bastard with these appointments, there is such a thing as going too far in the other direction and effectively trying to suck up to the opposition—which is how Rudd’s eclectic appointments seemed to me at the time. At least pick people who have the capacity to look at an issue without always subjecting it to the political blinkers first. Fair-minded people, not dyed-in-the-wool one-eyed tribalists. I certainly hope the ALP learned the lesson of this failed experiment.

  44. Donald Oats
    September 13th, 2013 at 12:16 | #44

    For a laugh, someone ought to keep a score card on (the few) political promises that the Libs break in government, as they break them, for whatever reason. For example, Indonesia’s knock-back of the Libs’ policy to buy up fishing vessels to prevent their use by people smugglers, and the knock-back of providing local intel on people smuggling activities to the AFP: this is a fairly definitive blocking of Liberal stop-the-boats promised policy. Chalk up one failure already.

  45. Fran Barlow
    September 13th, 2013 at 14:13 | #45

    A stray thought — remember the fuss made during thr 2010 election oveer the Murrya Darling Draft Plan– people burning copiesin Deliliquin, the head of the MDBA rolled by the minister… why wouldn’t the ALP release the fianl plan before the election because it was allso damned important?

    How important is it now, according to those same press organs? I might have missed it, but I can’t recall the subject being mentioned at all. Certainly, it wasn’t in the debates or any of the chatter.

    Apparently, now, it’s not so important. Where have all those angry bushies gone? Is waterr for irrigators now in abundance?

    Apparently we’ve also had four more boats. The Indonesians have rejected the Abbott plans. The Australian doesn’tthink the Lib policy in in “CHAOS!” or the government is in meltdown. How unsurprisement

  46. Adam (ak)
    September 13th, 2013 at 16:04 | #46

    Sorry the majority of the people don’t understand anything about Tony “RU486?” Abbortt I am afraid because it seems to be incomprehensible for the “normal”, educated Australians for a politician to be driven by the 16th century ideas in the 21th century. But it is NOT the economics, stupid!

    This guy is on a mission. Whether he succeeds its another issue. I hope he will fail miserably because there is zero tolerance for this kind of inspiration among the people who pull the strings (and finance) the Liberal enterprise. Let’s hope the so-called “free market forces” prevail when it comes to implementing for example the “middle class expedited breeding” (aka paid parental leave) program. “We can’t afford because we have to pay back the Government debt or our grandchildren will be bankrupt”.

    This is what in my opinion drives Tony:
    “Santamaria had no formal political role and never ran for office, but he kept Labor out of power for 17 years. He was also huge in the life of Abbott, who said after his death that Santamaria “saw politics as a way of giving glory to God”. Historical amnesia about Santamaria also raises the question about how well we know Tony Abbott, the man who would be Prime Minister.”

    see http://www.afr.com/p/lifestyle/afrmagazine/tony_abbott_higher_calling_aNGk1uJKD26R4KQ6TWkbJJ

    Tony also wants to “keep Labor out of power for 17 years” this is why he was hired. But the neoliberal ideology (“greed is good”) is fundamentally incompatible with “but I think we need idealism, mate” (see the article). Who gives? Once the carbon tax is abolished and workplace regulations relaxed, Tony will be shown the door and there will be business as usual.

  47. Will
    September 13th, 2013 at 16:35 | #47

    @Adam (ak)

    From the linked article:

    “Abbott has been an MP for 18?years, a minister for nine; member of cabinet for six years and, since upending his party leader, Malcolm Turnbull, by one vote after suddenly switching sides on the issue of an emissions trading scheme, Opposition Leader for almost 30 months.”

    Sooo, if he were a member of the ALP they would be smearing him for “never having a real job”.

  48. Angus Cameron
    September 13th, 2013 at 17:00 | #48

    @ Will

    What you say doesn’t stack up on its internal logic. Even if you had chosen the quote about im working for John Hewson that would be true, though that would have been a bit nearer the mark. After all he was about 36 when elected to Parliament and had earned his keep mostly as a journalist (though some reference is made to business management I hadn’t heard about). But your worst failure of reasoning is in not recognising that no such inept and unapt charge is made against serious players’ who have been long serving ministers; e.g. Kim Beazley.

    The problem, a real one, IMHO, is the pure careerist from student politics to staff of party or politician to MP. Unfortunately that has been creeping in on the Liberal side too. Some union careerists could be criticised for similar reasons but most of them have had some pretty serious life experience of managing people and responding to unpredictable (or just unpredicted) contingencies of varied kinds so the criticism isn’t particularly telling. Compare someone having spent 10 years building up a pharmacy or newsagency and a couple of years of the head of their business association/lobby group.

    As it happens the evidence of past political leaders is that an early start is one of the best indications that the capacity to lead the party into government will be there. Fraser, Holt, Keating, Kennett are just a few that come to mind that started their lives in Parliament between 25 and 28. Then there are those like Hawke and Howard who had a de facto political life from their 20s. Brains are handy but Turnbull was one who fell down from lack of the political data-base and instincts stacked over time in his mind. Abbott started fairly young and certainly has enough years up his sleeve to make him primarily a creature of politics rather than any other vocation or profession or habitual occupation.

  49. Angus Cameron
    September 13th, 2013 at 17:21 | #49

    @ Ikonoclast

    The Greek touch draws attention to the unfortunate connotations of cynicism. Terse cynicism isn’t a serious improvement on the fully reasoned. It conveys a sense of probably unwarranted feelings of superiority.

    The idea that the Liberals have a “complete lack of talent” (or Labor before the disasters, for that matter, given that Chris Bowen, Bob Carr, Craig Emerson, Mark Dreyfus and Terry Burke, inter alios, have to be counted) is at best a sign that you know little about the requirements of politics as practised since about 1700 anyway (cf F.S. Oliver’s “The Endless Adventure” 3 vols published about 1930 and starting with the clever politics of Sir Robert Walpole. I assume you have never actually had personal experience of any value for educating you about practical politics). Abbott, Turnbull, Hunt, Hockey, Jensen, Bishop (not Bronwyn), Frydenberg, O’Dwyer, Brough (despite his military background, or because of it, he instituted the intervention policies which Labor continued) and not a few others have both talent and credentials from experience.

    Talent, BTW, is not the word that comes to mind when one is looking for a leader. Many years on the job taking politics seriously is what people like Fraser, Kennett, Holt, Keating – and indeed Menzies and Howard and even Hawke (though not in Parliament) show is more important than being e.g. the smarter of the Rhodes Scholars Abbott and Turnbull. Hawke, come to think of it, mightn’t have been much good as a Leader of the Opposition if he had lost the 1983 election. Opposition is harder than government by a country mile. Also, as a Labor leader said to me once after bemoaning the stupidity of a colleague who had been given responsibility beyond his brains and word power “It’s in Opposition that you need brains. In government you can hire them”. So, even if it were true that Abbott only had a few competent ministers he might get by with hired help as long as the ministers didn’t say too many stupid things.

  50. Angus Cameron
    September 13th, 2013 at 17:31 | #50

    @ Adam (ak)

    Thanks for the link to the interesting AFR piece on Abbott last year.

    But I wonder why, since you only give assertions dragged up from your innards, you say that Abbott is a man on a mission, one which is to treat the country to Catholic rule as if by Sharia Law in a Muslim state judging by what you seem to fear.

    Anyone who knows long serving politicians well, at least those who rise to the top and lead a pretty united team, knows that the idea that Abbott is going to do anything as stupid as you suggest which might risk losing the next election is absurd. Playing the political game well becomes part of people like that. I say this as one who is very glad we no longer have the extraordinary Catholic-Protestant divide (where were the Jews? Bewildered bystanders!) since (a) Catholics provided as big a proportion of the professional and educated bourgeois classes and (b) were officially somewhat liberated by Vatican ll. And I say it as one who cannot fathom how so many highly intelligent people, including professionally and materially successful people, believe in an Abrahamic God (or any other). While that is beyond me, it doesn’t stop me recognising the abilities of such people and their capacity to use them in a pluralistic society which e.g. simply won’t accept criminalisation of abortions which are not now criminal, ever again.

  51. Tim Macknay
    September 13th, 2013 at 18:45 | #51


    The new government will sway the motoring party to veto the carbon tax if it is resisted by the Greens and the ALP. They will simply promise legislation to allow 4WDs in our national parks and then blame the Greens for backing them into a corner.

    Hopefully the motoring party rep will be able to work out that the Federal govt doesn’t have the power to do that.

  52. crocodile
    September 13th, 2013 at 19:03 | #52

    They can promise it though. Couldn’t get it through. Sorry fellas, we did try.

  53. Adam (ak)
    September 13th, 2013 at 19:24 | #53

    Angus Cameron,

    I haven’t invented that he is on a mission (from his “god”), you can infer it from the text I linked or from this article: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/33392.html I would be much less concerned if he was just a psychopathic ex-boxer longing for power just for the sake of seizing it. But he is not an empty shell. He really wants to change our society. He is not going to say “from tomorrow you can’t eat meat on Fridays”. He will use slightly more sophisticated methods, for example showing deep Christian compassion to unemployed once the austerity drives the unemployment rate to 10%. I also believe that he has a zero chance in the long term but I disagree with you about whether he is going to give it a go.

    From the linked article:
    “In his ambiguous inheritance of the Santamaria heritage, Abbott is actually much closer to Bob Katter and Barnaby Joyce and others in or formerly in the Queensland Nationals (into which large elements of the DLP and the National Civic Council moved in the 1970s) than to those Liberals for whom Catholicism is largely a private faith. BA Santamaria, by contrast, was not – in any meaningful sense – an advocate of the separation of church and state. And he was certainly opposed to the secularisation of Australian culture, an opposition which has some resonances in Tony Abbott’s writing about Pope Benedict and his closeness to Cardinal George Pell.”

    My rather dire predictions about a looming “cultural war” for example about abortion (see what’s going on in the NSW now) and an attempt to reverse the process of secularisation are based on my own experience of living in another county where John Paul II prevailed and imposed his views upon the majority of the society. Abortion was legal in Poland in 1989. It is illegal now and the Church wants to limit the access to IVF because “unborn children” (embryos) are “murdered”. All is going on in an European country which is a member of the EU. The return to the situation from the 1950s or even 1930s is certainly possible, hopefully not in Australia but Tony Abbott is not a liberal or a libertarian. He is a staunch conservative just like Cardinal Pell. “A leopard cannot change its spots” says the Bible. Tony Abbott has never recanted his views expressed some time ago about abortion or other aspect of sexual life. Also – about the ideal social order where individuals are parts of an organism called the society or Christian Nation. Abbott has simply shut up (urged by his minders) and relentlessly pursued a small target strategy to get elected not because people trust him but because they are sick of the Labor who stand for nothing and are corrupt (at least in the NSW). When Tony Abbott will have to choose between the social teaching of pope Francis and requests made by Gina and Rupert to further “liberate” the economy we will see whether power spoils him and drives towards pure pragmatism or whether he is a man of principles. I hope he is not but if he is – he will be a big target on his own.

  54. September 13th, 2013 at 20:09 | #54

    Julie Bishop’s sacking of Steve Bracks as consul-general in New York…is the most notable example of a vindictive tribalism

    According to the AFR, Bishop made her position clear in May when Bracks’ appointment was announced. They write:

    In May, when the decision was made, she said she would review it if elected, given it would take effect after the election and the Coalition had not been consulted.

    I have no doubt there will be plenty of vindictive tribalism to go around, but this probably isn’t much of an example. They extended Bomber Beasley’s gig as ambassador.

    As an aside, I note that my prediction (not exactly nostradamus) about post-election ALP is spot on. Just like NSW and Qld, the federal ALP make no acknowledgment of the reasons they lost and make no effort to change at all. They are ideologically pro-empire ‘neo-cons’ with all the anti social democracy, anti environment, anti refugees, pro war etc… baggage that goes with it.

  55. sunshine
    September 14th, 2013 at 17:01 | #55

    I cant imagine any lasting economic reforms an Abbott govt would try . They have basically adopted all Labors policy (but the mining tax) . The Libs prefer to let Labor do the reforming and get kicked out for it .I think Abbotts main mission may be to continue the culture wars so effectively perused by Howard (in the absence of economic reform, bar the GST). They appeal to fear and greed to move the populace to the right ,then anyone who wants to win an election must go there to have any chance. Handing out the benefits of reform will be harder for Abbott than Howard as the mining boom etc has subsided.

  56. Fran Barlow
    September 14th, 2013 at 21:16 | #56

    I think Abbotts main mission may be to continue the culture wars so effectively perused {pursued} by Howard

  57. September 15th, 2013 at 23:36 | #57

    @Crispin Bennett
    Crispin, please speak for yourself. As a long term Expat in Indonesia I can assure the vast majority of expatriates in the commercial world were overjoyed to see the Rudd/Gillard soap opera over.

  58. Crispin Bennett
    September 16th, 2013 at 12:01 | #58

    @Rustynails Mr. Nails, I doubt you can assure me of any such thing beyond your own personal circles. Yes, to be fair, there are of course plenty of corporate spivs waiting with baited breath for Abbott to funnel public money into private hands. But the fact of Australia being a laughing stock for having elected far-right loons of a stripe hitherto largely confined to Texas into office will surely come back to bite even them.

  59. Angus Cameron
    September 16th, 2013 at 12:17 | #59

    @ Crispin Bennett

    Outside some precious parts of North London I can’t imagine such ignorance of either Australia or of the United States being expressed.

    Abbott and company “right wing” in an American context: give me a break!

  60. Fran Barlow
    September 16th, 2013 at 12:48 | #60


    Tony Abbott has stated previously that opposition is 90% theatre and 10% hard policy grind, whereas government is the reverse of that. And so it goes with deliberations over the Budget.

    For the best part of five years, the Coalition admonished the Rudd/Gillard Labor Governments over their Budget deficit and supposedly excessive and wasteful stimulus in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, instead advocating for tough spending cuts in order to return the Budget to surplus sooner.

    Now, the Coalition appears to have performed a backflip on that position and is planning to launch a large stimulus package of its own in a bid to offset the hit to growth and employment as the once-in-a-century mining investment boom unwinds.


  61. September 16th, 2013 at 13:11 | #61

    @Crispin Bennett Now now Mr Crispin, hardly a Corperate Spiv but the Country Manager of a mid size business employing 250 plus people. Involving amongst other significant importation of major equipments from Australia on a monthly basis. Certainly no government handouts have ever come the way of this company and no tax payer or public money supports my activities (I assume you can claim the same?).

    I do grant you no one hear ever laughed when Rudd or Gillard opened their mouths. Groaned and winced a lot but way too serious for laughs.

  62. Michael
    September 16th, 2013 at 13:31 | #62

    I’m sure Juile Bishops comments that the Oz Govt will be doing as it pleases in Indonesia, and it’s no business of Indonesia’s, will go down a treat.

  63. Fran Barlow
    September 16th, 2013 at 14:04 | #63

    @Crispin Bennett

    waiting with baited {bated} breath

    It’s an aphetic for “abated” (now archaic). The reference is from The Merchant of Venice, IIRC.


    Abbott and company “right wing” in an American context: give me a break!

    Of course, we are in an Australian context … Objectively of course, the LNP are a right-of-centre party, both by way of official policy positions — policies tend to enhance the maldistribution of wealth and indeed, make a virtue out of it, highly moralistic and punitive social policies, appeals to rightwing populism and xenophobia (ironically sometimes with appeals to policies described as neoliberal), primary concern over controlling wages and breaking up unions etc …

    Many of these descriptions could also fit the ALP, though there is more tension within the ALP due to its core constituency’s distaste for such policies and passive acceptance of them as merely instrumental rather than doctrinal.

    Abbott once described himself as “the lovechild of Bronwyn Bishop and John Howard” something no left-of-centre person would claim — though some of his rhetoric (and his background in the seminary) point to the heritage of the rightwing icon, B A Santamaria.

    As things stand, we have two effectively centre-right parties contesting the field, though the ALP makes greater concessions to social liberalism and adopts a less hostile attitude to official unionism.

  64. Crispin Bennett
    September 16th, 2013 at 14:12 | #64

    Rustynails :
    @Crispin Bennett Now now Mr Crispin, hardly a Corperate Spiv but the Country Manager of a mid size business employing 250 plus people

    Not knowing you from an, er, bag of nails, I didn’t intend to accuse you personally (and apologise if it came across that way). But having worked for much of my life in the corporate sector, I have zero respect for it or any opinions issuing therewith. Spivvery seems more prevalent the larger the company. Absolute power, etc. The corporate sector is corrupt beyond redemption.

    .. or public money supports my activities (I assume you can claim the same?).

    Currently sole trader, so I guess the answer’s ‘yes’, but definitively not worn as a badge of honour. I’d very happily take public money to perform most of the things it pays for, which, by and large, are what stand between us and barbarism. Unfortunately barbarism is very much in current political vogue (except here in QLD, where any distinction between it and civilisation would be entirely lost to the ruling trogs).

  65. Angus Cameron
    September 16th, 2013 at 14:20 | #65

    @ Fran Barlow

    Don’t you find a difficulty in describing B.A. Santamaria as right wing (or even a “right wing icon”) given your attribution of views to the “right” which are the antithesis of Santamaria’s old-fashioned Catholic Labor views on economic matters?

  66. September 16th, 2013 at 14:26 | #66

    @Michael You must have read a different
    report to me as I cannot find anywhere that Bishop said “Australia will be doing as it pleases in Indonesia”. A tad of (nagh make it a whole wack) hyperbole perhaps? I did see where she said mentioned that it is was not up to Indonesia what Asylum Policies (right or wrong) Australia adopts (addressing the primary issue of turning back boats). Which seems a perfectly reasonable comment to make.

    That said, it is silly to indulge in this kind of Megaphone discussions particulary in light of the up coming Presidential elections here in Indonesia but that is hardly a Liberal only fault.

  67. September 16th, 2013 at 14:37 | #67

    @Fran Barlow I don’t think anyone is seriously debating that Abbott and co are Centre Right with some policies more so than others. However to suggest they are and I para phrase “gun toting, shoot em up, right wing Texas loons” is just silly.

    You do of course raise a far more interesting question “within the ALP due to its core constituency”. What is the Labor parties core constituency? Certainly the ALP and the general public seems to have no idea.

  68. Fran Barlow
    September 16th, 2013 at 16:10 | #68


    However to suggest they are and I para phrase “gun toting, shoot em up, right wing Texas loons” is just silly.

    Had that been the substance of someone’s claim then it would clearly have been OTT. I found no such claim or similar — though another poster — not Crispin Bennett — did mention Santamaria.

    You do of course raise a far more interesting question “within the ALP due to its core constituency”. What is the Labor parties core constituency? Certainly the ALP and the general public seems to have no idea.

    As far as I can tell, there are a number of overlapping and interdependent groups. One group are people who can be broadly described as social liberals with a leaning to a kind of untutored left-of-centre populism. There are also some professional people with an intellectual and ethical attachment to more inclusive social policy. There are people who are in or associated with trade unions or other social movements. There are also people with a catholic background. Of course, there are many people of non-anglo descent who are attracted to the ALP on one of the bases above. And there are young people who tend to take the concept of social justice as a given and who recognise this most readily in the words of the ALP.

    I don’t doubt that the question of what the ALP actually stands for has become a lot more murky than it was in 1975 and even, arguably, since 1992, but having stood on polling booths for most of my adult life, I can tell you that I can distinguish the likely ALP and Greens voters from the Liberals when handing out HTVs.

  69. Fran Barlow
    September 16th, 2013 at 16:24 | #69

    @Angus Cameron

    Don’t you find a difficulty in describing B.A. Santamaria as right wing (or even a “right wing icon”) given your attribution of views to the “right” which are the antithesis of Santamaria’s old-fashioned Catholic Labor views on economic matters?

    Nope … not at all. He was a fanatical opponent in practice of every movement offering even the most minimal steps to empower workers. His involvement in worker-related activity was purely to serve his desire that workers should be utterly subservient to the politics of the most hostile fractions of the boss class, and in pursuit of these aims he teamed up with the most energetic members of the elite to keep the trade unions neutered and the ALP from power. He was lauded by Menzies, who had apparently voted DLP on three occasions and declared that this was the party he thought he’d founded. He also opposed even moves to liberalise the catholic church.

    Now Santamaria was clearly not a Nazi, but such as he had an economic point of view, it was corporatist — and there is no shortage of exemplars of his kind of social policy in action — Mussolini, Salazar, Franco, H|tler himself. They too were worried about ‘monopoly capitalism’.

  70. Nathanael
    September 16th, 2013 at 16:47 | #70

    Right-wingers have ALWAYS been all about tribalism. That’s the core difference between left-wingers (“liberte, equalite, fraternite”/”we are all comrades”/”all men and women are created equal”) and right-wingers (“the right kind of people”/”the master race”).

    It’s really the core difference. Since most people are hurt by right-wingers (if you aren’t part of the right club, you get hurt by right-wingers), right-wingers have to lie in order to get elected. They’ve been doing that since at least the 1800s in the US, and probably equally long in Australia.

    Now, your right-wing tribe, the so-called “Liberal Party”, are at least marginally sane. Here in the US our right-wing tribes have succumbed to collective delusions — becase the leaders actually believe the lies which they’ve been spreading to the public. That’s when things get really, really bad.

  71. September 16th, 2013 at 16:58 | #71

    @Crispin Bennett
    Well if it helps as far a government neglect and corperate greed with no morals (and for ego’s sake, I leave myself out) you shoould visit Indonesia. As they say in the classics..”You ain’t seen nothing yet”

  72. September 16th, 2013 at 17:03 | #72

    That’s the core difference between left-wingers (“liberte, equalite, fraternite”/”we are all comrades”/”all men and women are created equal”) and right-wingers (“the right kind of people”/”the master race”).

    Seriously, this kind of thing still gets a run these days? Do we really need to list the murderous examples of “some pigs are more equal than others”? I would have thought it was self evident that the extremes of the left or right tend to have very bad consequences. I make no bones about being right of centre nor how every does that mean I (nor millions of others) are anti environment or are shoving little kids down coal mines.

  73. September 16th, 2013 at 17:09 | #73

    @Fran Barlow
    To help you out then Fran,

    elected far-right loons of a stripe hitherto largely confined to Texas

    ok I confess the gun tot’n was a bit of artistic license but I suspect even Mr.Crispin will agree that was the image he was drawing. As for OTT, I think not but no-one forces a response.

  74. Michael
    September 16th, 2013 at 21:27 | #74


    It was more about their boat buy back plan, which Bishop announced, via megaphone, was really none of Indonesia’s business, ie “We’re not asking for Indonesia’s permission”.

    Nice move for a yet to be sworn in FM.

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