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An undeserving alternative PM

September 3rd, 2013 233 comments

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.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Launch delayed

September 1st, 2013 21 comments

After a disappointing campaign, Kevin Rudd’s “launch” speech was excellent, both as a defence of Labor’s record and in setting out an agenda for the next term, notably with a long-overdue focus on the TAFE sector. Unfortunately, this announcement wasn’t the only thing that was overdue. What possible sense is there in “launching” the campaign with a week to go, when most voters have already made up their minds or turned off? This isn’t one of the quirks for which Rudd has been criticised – Gillard did the same thing in 2010, and the Liberals were only a few days earlier. I have no idea how the supposed experts who run campaigns cna think this is a good way to do things – it’s obviously not a good way of presenting voters with a reasoned argument[1]

If Rudd had given this speech three weeks ago, and campaigned around it, Labor would be in with a good chance. As it is, their best hope is that the corresponding piece of trickiness on the other side will backfire. This is Abbott’s decision to release his allegedly independent costings on Thursday, with the advertising blackout in place, and only a couple of days to go. It’s hard to see any creditable explanation of this, and it ought to be reason enough not to elect him as PM. But that seems unlikely.

fn1. In fact, I have no idea why these “experts” are given any credence. As the debate between pundits and psephbloggers has shown, here and in the US, the alleged experts don’t even have the basic (first-year uni) statistics needed to interpret an opinion poll, which means that they can not have, and never have had, the slightest idea whether their strategies were working. It’s just that one side always wins, and victory has a thousand parents, at least until failure the next time around shows them up. The classic example is Karl Rove, acclaimed or dreaded as an electoral genius, who humiliated himself by refusing to believe the 2012 election results, even when they were beyond doubt. Then there’s Dick Morris, the famed inventor of “triangulation” who also predicted that Romney would win in a landslide.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Reading the economic theories of Rudd and Abbott

August 20th, 2013 53 comments

That’s the headline for my latest piece in Crikey, over the fold

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

I’m underwhelmed …

August 15th, 2013 43 comments

… to put it mildly, by Kevin Rudd’s endorsement of the Coalition/IPA proposals for a variety of tax and policy distortions to subsidise economic activity in Northern Australia.

I get that a certain amount of this kind of thing is to be expected in an election campaign, but I hope we don’t see too much more of it.

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

We’re only ‘doing it tough’ out of envy

August 14th, 2013 58 comments

That’s the title of my latest piece in Crikey, over the fold

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Labor, hiding its light under a bushel

August 7th, 2013 96 comments

A bit belatedly, a piece I posted on Crikey a couple of days ago, bemoaning Wayne Swan’s failure to tell the story of the government’s success in managing the GFC. His obsessive pursuit of a return to surplus with a fixed target date suggests to me that he never really saw Keynesian fiscal policy as anything other than a once-off emergency measure, and that the credit for the government’s courage in 2009 must go to Ken Henry and Kevin Rudd. Regardless, the government should be winning the economic debate hands down, instead of being on the defensive.

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Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Oz, NZ and the election

August 5th, 2013 46 comments

Following my earlier discussion of relative economic performance in Australia and NZ, I’ve been chatting with people in the NZ Treasury, and also with some of the macroeconomists in my own department. Its given me a number of research ideas I hope to pursue in the future, both with respect to possible ways the NZ-Oz gap might be bridged and more general implications about macroeconomic theory.

In the circumstances of the election what matters is the suggestion by Tony Abbott and others on the political right that New Zealand is a model for Australia to follow as regards macroeconomic policy. The key point is that NZ had a smaller stimulus than we did, and looks set to return to surplus a little earlier, though of course we know how unreliable such projections can be.

If, like Abbott, Hockey and (on even-numbered days) Robb[1], you regard budget surpluses as the paramount measure of good economic performance, there’s a case to be made here. But if you think that employment and economic growth are more important, Australia looks a whole lot better, as you can see from the graphs below.

Standard economic theory suggests that, when two countries have access to the same technology, comparable education systems, free labour and capital movements and so on, any initial differences in income levels should gradually be evened out. Instead, the Oz-NZ gap has widened since the GFC. Anyone who could seriously suggest NZ as an economic model should not be entrusted with the management of our economy.

OzNZ002
NZandothers

fn1. Not to mention Peter Costello and Wayne Swan, who seemed to view the stimulus that saved us from recession as an embarrassing departure from normality.

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Election on 7 September

August 4th, 2013 87 comments

At least that’s what I’m reading. As I’ve argued before, I think this is a mistake for a number of reasons. In fact, I spent a fair bit of yesterday working up a piece arguing the case for allowing Parliament to sit again, and holding an election in October. [Irony on] If only I had run it on Friday, the course of history would doubtless have been changed [Irony off]. It’s now only of academic interest, in the pejorative sense of the term, so I’ll turn my attention to issues that actually matter.

My views on the election are simple. Whatever the weaknesses of the Rudd government, it’s far preferable to the disaster that Abbott would give us. So, I’ll certainly be putting Labor ahead of the Coalition in the House of Representatives. I’ll probably give my first preference to the Greens, though if my vote matters in Ryan, Labor will have swept Queensland. Both Labor and Greens have good local candidates, so I’d happily support either, and I’ll equally happily give my last preference to the LNP incumbent, unless someone truly awful runs.

The big issue is the Senate. Regardless of the Lower House outcome, it’s critical that a Labor-Green majority should be returned, and therefore that Labor and the Greens work together. This was one of Rudd’s big weaknesses last time round, and hasn’t been helped by some statements from his frontbench, or from perceptions on both sides of the way the last Labor-Green deal worked out.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Is there a solution to the refugee problem?

July 21st, 2013 161 comments

The announcement by Kevin Rudd and PNG PM O’Neill that asylum seekers arriving by boat would, from now on, be settled in PNG came as a shock to most of us. I’ve waited a while to respond, because I’m neither happy with the policy nor satisfied with the critical responses from the Left. It also remains unclear whether the policy will actually work as planned, but that will take some time to determine.

The benefit of waiting is that I’ve had time to see this piece by Tad Tietze, who I think sums up the issues pretty well, making the point that, while Rudd has outflanked Abbott regarding a hard line on boat arrivals, he has also outflanked critics on the left by increasing the total refugee intake, which is already claimed by the government to be the highest in the developed world on a per capita basis. [1]

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Rent-seeking rampant

July 19th, 2013 86 comments

The Rudd government’s proposal to tighten up documentation requirements for the very generous tax concessions provided for people who receive motor cars as a fringe benefit has produced some striking examples of rent-seeking from the Australian right, notably including Catallaxy and the Australian Financial Review. Catallaxy has a string of posts defending this rort.

The Fin gives lots of space to bleating rent-seekers, while imputing to “academics” the opinion that this is a subsidy. I guess that’s fair enough, given that the Fin regards basic science as a matter of academic opinion, while treating the failed dogmas of the 1980s as proven facts. And, of course, the Opposition has promised to oppose the measure, while weaselling out on the question of whether it would reverse the changes if elected.

This really is a test for Rudd. If he wants to refute the oft-repeated claim that he is all spin and no substance, this is his first chance, and one of the best he is going to get.

The return of the ETS

July 17th, 2013 56 comments

As a member of the Climate Change Authority, I’m constrained to some extent in what I can say about the plan to bring forward the date at which emission permits will become tradeable, so I’m going to make a few points, and leave discussion to others

* The really big change, which went largely un-noticed, was the link to the EU scheme, announced by Greg Combet shortly after the carbon price came into effect. Bringing this forward by a year is a minor adjustment by comparison

* The offsetting savings announced today are mostly good, the most obvious exception being the biodiversity fund. I supported assistance to Carbon Capture and Storage in the past, on the general principle of backing every horse, but it’s time to admit that this horse won’t run

* The tightening of Fringe Benefit exemptions for cars is, I hope, a recognition that subsidising motor vehicle use in general isn’t going to save the domestic car industry, which has a small and shrinking share of the market. The impending demise of the Falcon should kill the presumption that fleet cars are likely to be Australian-made I hope this view is taken more generally. Preservation of the domestic industry is probably a lost cause, but if governments are going to try, they should do so with direct subsidies to domestic production not subsidies to car use in general.

* I hope Parliament sits again, and that the government puts the necessary legislation forward. The amusement of watching Tony Abbott voting *for* the carbon tax would be well worth the price of admission.

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

Westminster in the Antipodes

July 15th, 2013 29 comments

I’ve written a piece for the Conversation about a side issue in the Rudd-Gillard contest, namely the view that, under the Westminster system, voters elect the politicians who then choose the PM. Rudd’s proposed reforms obviously contradict that. I argue that Rudd is effectively codifying the existing system, as established by the bulk of historical precedent and understood by voters, and rejecting the view of insiders (especially the kind who appear on Insiders, or so I’m told – I’ve never watched the show and plan never to do so).

As a side issue, my piece was extensively edited for publication. With the natural pride of authorship, I thought my original (over the fold) was better. But I’d be interested in a reality check on this from readers here.

As I’ve said before, I don’t want to rehash the substantive merits of Rudd and Gillard at further length here. If you want to have your say on this, go to the Crooked Timber post I’ve linked.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

My take on Rudd and Gillard, at Crooked Timber

July 15th, 2013 Comments off

I’ve posted a piece about Rudd and Gillard on Crooked Timber, aimed at an international audience. Readers here might want to present alternative, or concurring, views in comments there.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Tony Abbott, fact-checked and FOI’d

July 8th, 2013 147 comments

The Conversation has now launched its election fact-checking site. The opening set includes a factcheck I’ve done, on a claim by Tony Abbott that it now takes three years to get a mine approved compared to less than twelve months six years ago. This is wrong on about as many levels as it can possibly be, the most important being

* The claim rests on a single coal mine in NSW, which was initially rejected, then approved on appeal
* The implied blame is directed to the Commonwealth government, which changed in 2007. But mine approval is mostly a state function, and most states have switched from Labor to LNP governments in the last six years

Meanwhile, there was a Twitterstorm over the weekend, about a story run by independent journalist Margo Kingston, who used FOI to determine that Abbott had been made to repay $9400, claimed as expenses while he was promoting his book Battlelines in 2009. MSM weren’t much interested, but the barrage of tweets has elicited at least one story, here in the Age.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Fact checking Tony Abbott

July 2nd, 2013 92 comments

I’ve had two calls in the last 24 hours asking me to fact-check claims by Tony Abbott. I accepted one, and found that his claims were nonsense (links soon, I hope). The other didn’t sound much better, but I thought I’d let someone else deal with it.

The emergence of systematic fact-checking is a huge vulnerability for Abbott, coming at just the wrong time for him. Until recently, the perception that the government was untrustworthy and deceitful[1] allowed Abbott to get away with just about anything he said, and he took full advantage of this. Now his record is littered with obvious lies and he’s finding it hard to break the habit. Worse still, the post-truth state of the political right, in Australia and the US, makes it hard for anyone on that side of politics to discern the truth even if they want to. Once you assume (correctly) that anything said by Bolt, the IPA, the Oz, Fox and so on is probably false, where can a conservative go for information. Essentially, it’s necessary to do the work from scratch, and I don’t get the impression that Abbott or his team enjoy hitting the books[2]. So, switching from his previous line of fact-free negativity and putting forward a positive alternative to Rudd is going to be very difficult for Abbott, I think

fn1. As previously, I don’t want to debate the accuracy of this perception. I don’t suppose anyone will dispute its existence
fn2. To be fair, he obviously trains much harder than I do, as our relative performance in endurance events illustrates. But I haven’t found a lot of transference of training between ironman length triathlon and policy analysis.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Rudd and policy substance

June 28th, 2013 66 comments

Quite appropriately, since Kevin Rudd’s return to the Prime Ministership, a lot of people are reassessing his record in office. One of the stranger claims I’m seeing from a variety of sources is that he lacked policy substance. It’s fair to say that his election campaign in 2007 (when he had been Opposition leader for less than a year) was a fairly typical small target exercise, and that he didn’t have a big set of initiatives ready to go. But he soon started thinking about them – as the jibe of the time had it, he “hit the ground reviewing”. Among the reviews initiated while Rudd was PM were:

* The Henry inquiry into the Tax System, which gave rise to the mining tax
* The Garnaut review (taken over from the Labor states) which gave rise to the CPRS
* The Productivity Commission inquiry into a National Long-term Care and Support Scheme which gave rise to the NDIS
* The Gonski review of School Education
* The National Broadband Network
* A review of plain packaging for cigarettes, which came into force last year

In addition, of course, the Rudd government managed the successful response to the Global Financial Crisis. At the time, Rudd worked with Treasurer Wayne Swan and Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and it was hard to tell who was responsible for the brave and decisive switch to fiscal stimulus. But given Swan’s subsequent performance, especially after the departure of Rudd and Henry, it’s clear he wasn’t the leading figure.

So, the idea that Rudd lacked policy substance is silly. A fairer criticism is that Rudd was better on getting policy formulated than on getting legislation through Parliament and implemented. Against that

* He could reasonably have expected two full terms, so the fact that much of the agenda was unfinished when he was deposed is not a valid criticism
* Although he had a majority in the House of Representatives, he had to deal with a far less favorable Senate than that of the current Parliament. Despite that, he got a fair bit of legislation through

Finally, it would be worth doing a comparison between Rudd’s achievements and those of Tony Abbott, who held office for 11 years under Howard, first as a Parliamentary Secretary, then as a junior minister and, from 2001 as a Cabinet Minister.

Update In comments, Bronster reminds me of the the White paper on homelessness ‘The Road Home’, which led to a number of improvements. There was also the Dental Health Reform package, which finally came in last year. Then there was the elimination of most substantive discrimination against LGBT couples, the replacement of WorkChoices by FairWorkAustralia, and the abolition of full-fee university places for domestic students. Most of these last initiatives were not just proposed but implemented during Rudd’s first term.

Given what seemed like the certainty of an Abbott victory, I haven’t paid much attention to Labor’s policy agenda for the next Parliament, which Rudd has now inherited. The listing at Ausvotes mostly links to the 2013 Budget, which wasn’t big in the way of new initiatives as a I recall. Can readers point to policy initiatives from the current Parliament that Rudd (and his radically reshaped ministerial team) should be expanding on (or, alternatively, dumping).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Can Parliament sit again?

June 27th, 2013 62 comments

If so (advice from anyone who actually knows the rules would be helpful), it should. I assume this would require an election date later than 14 September but I don’t see a problem with that. A

In general terms, the democratic process would be improved by a chance to see the aspirants to the Prime Ministership present their case to the Parliament. The public is entitled to ask for a decent look at the new improved Kevin Rudd, and also for Abbott to present a positive alternative, rather than coasting to victory on the basis of negative views about the incumbent, as was his plan until yesterday.

More specifically, there are a number of issues where Rudd ought to put forward legislation.

One of the most important is equal marriage. Abbott is fudging on the question of a free vote, and Rudd ought to force him to take a stand. He should say that the vote will be either free on both sides, or party-line on both sides. Since the majority of Labor members voted for equal marriage last time, a party-line measure would mean equal marriage passing both houses.

A number of the other suggestions I’ve made, such as increasing Job Search Allowance would need legislation. That would be much better than having them as campaign promises, since it would put the onus on Abbott to endorse them or commit to repeal.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

What should Rudd do now?

June 27th, 2013 103 comments

Regardless of attitudes to the leadership dispute, politics is no longer a question of waiting for Abbott’s inevitable victory. So, for those of us who don’t desire an Abbott government, it’s now worthwhile to consider how Labor, and Kevin Rudd, should use the limited time available before the next election. Here are some suggestions, obviously preliminary

* A root-and-branch review of the Labor Party. The relationship with the union movement, the continued existence of the factional system, the relationship between the PM and Caucus and the need for MPs with real life experience, rather than party/union careerists – everything should be on the table. I’d suggest John Faulkner as the person to lead such a review. Other names that come to mind are Ged Kearney and Peter Beatty

* Take the economic policy debate to Abbott, as he did last night. Instead of Swan’s deficit fetishism we need a full-throated defence of the 2009 stimulus package, and Keynesian fiscal policy in general, and a correspondingly sharp attack on austerity

* The return to CPRS has already been announced. Since I’m part of the Authority responsible for advising the government, I’m not going to comment on the details. But Rudd should return to the attack on Abbott’s scientific and economic delusionism on this issue.

* Fix some of the worst Swan-Gillard decisions, like the refusal to increase Job Search allowance

* Scrap Gillard’s deal on the mining tax

* Mend fences with the Greens – this was one of Rudd’s biggest failings during his period as PM, and one of the things he needs to change

* Get Combet back – of all the ministers who’ve quit, he’s the only one who’s a real loss. The departure of people like Conroy and Ludwig is one of the unqualified benefits of this change, and that of Swan and Emerson a net plus for the government

Feel free to offer your own thoughts. Rehashes of the leadership debate will be deleted with prejudice.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Game on

June 26th, 2013 63 comments

With the return of Kevin Rudd to the Labor leadership and presumably the Prime Ministership, Australian politics is worth talking about once again. A couple of observations

* It’s worth watching Rudd’s press conference today, and his last couple. More policy substance in a few minutes than Gillard and Abbott between them have provided in three years

* I saw the Libs YouTube ad with Labor figures attacking Rudd – the list included Richardson (the single person most responsible for corruption in the Labor party), Conroy, Latham, Swan and of course Gillard herself. It’s hard to see that being attacked by this crew can be regarded as a bad thing.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

How Gillard could have won for Labor (repost)

June 5th, 2013 118 comments

I see from my Twitter feed that the viewpoint I expressed a year or so ago is becoming more widespread. Of course, it’s too late now for anything but damage mitigation.

Repost follows:

How Gillard could win for Labor

By resigning gracefully. If I were advising Gillard on how best to secure her place in history, I’d suggest waiting until the 1st of July and then making a speech along the following lines

The carbon price, legislated by my government is now in place. It will soon become obvious that the scare campaign run by Mr Abbott and the Opposition has no basis in reality and that our plan will achieve cost-effective reductions in carbon emissions, while making most Australian households better off. I am proud of my government’s achievements in this and other areas. Nevertheless, I recognise with sadness that I am not the best person to take this message to the Australian public. I have therefore decided to resign the office of Prime Minister and advise my Labor colleagues to support the return of Mr Kevin Rudd to this position. Mr Rudd and I have had substantial disagreements over matters of managerial style, but we are agreed on the need for a Labor government with Labor values, and on the need for action in key areas including the carbon price, the mineral resource rent tax and the successful management of the Australian economy. I will give the new PM my enthusiastic support, and work for the re-election of a Labor government.

Would this work? I’m not really sure. But given Abbott’s failure to achieve any popular support at a time when Labor has plumbed unheard of depths of popular support, it would have to be worth a shot. At a minimum, it would help avoid the Queensland-style wipeout that is currently on the cards. And if it worked, history would certainly look kindly upon a PM willing to give up the job for the sake of her party and, more importantly, in the best interests of the country.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Queensland Budget Response

June 5th, 2013 2 comments

I ran this up yesterday, but have only just had time and Internet access to post it

Despite the usual attempts to shift blame to the previous Labor government, Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls’ budget speech shows that the real problem is inadequate tax revenue. The boost provided by the housing and mining booms has passed, but the demand for public services continues to grow. Attempts to solve the problem by cutting staff, supposedly without reducing services, are doomed to failure, as is already becoming apparent.

Because it is the lowest taxing state in Australia, Queensland’s difficulties are even worse than those of other states. The Budget contains some belated recognition of this, with the deferral of the irresponsible proposal to raise the payroll tax threshold, already the highest in Australia, even further. Scrapping this proposal altogether would do more to ensure the fiscal sustainability of the state budget than the unsustainable cuts imposed last year.

Ultimately, however, the solution to this problem must be found at the national level. While the Budget’s complaints about the meanness of the Federal government strike a familiar chord, in the present context they are fully justified

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Selling assets to ourselves, yet again

April 19th, 2013 44 comments

According to a report in the Courier-Mail, Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls has just announced the sale of seven government buildings in the Brisbane CBD. This transaction has all the dodgy features we’ve come to expect from Queensland asset sales

* The buyers are “assorted funds managed by the [state-owned] Queensland Investment Corporation”. So, as often seems to be the case, we are selling assets to ourselves

* Nicholls says “the sale proceeds will be used to reduce state debt. The government will also save about $130 million in interest payments.” Of course, this is double counting – the whole point of reducing debt is to save interest payments. But what does the $130 million mean? It’s about 24 per cent of the sale price, so I’d guess it refers to savings of 6 per cent a year over the four years usual in forward estimates. But that’s a very short-term way of looking at transactions that will affect the public for decades to come

* The buildings will be rented back on set leases with fixed rent increases. So, we’ll also be renting them back from ourselves. Costs will mount over time, but the big increases will doubtless be outside the forward estimates. So, there might be net saving for the next few years, but there will be losses after that.

And of course, as Shadow Treasurer Curtis Pitt points out, selling assets without a mandate was exactly what this government (elected because of Labor’s mandate-free asset sales) promised not to do.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

There is a world market for maybe five computers …*

April 13th, 2013 201 comments

As has been true since 2010, our aspiring leaders seem to be determined to outdo each other in silliness this week. Since Julia Gillard will (with 90 per cent probability) be nothing more than a bad memory in a year’s time, while Tony Abbott will be an unavoidable reality, I’m going to ignore Gillard’s “Rob Peter to Pay Paul” aprroach to funding Gonski and talk about the National Broadband Network.

The Abbott-Turnbull proposal for a cutprice NBN has been an amazing success in clarifying issues that previously seemed too complex to be resolved. Until now, it’s been far from obvious how to assess the NBN – the complaint that we didn’t have a benefit cost analysis was obviously silly in the absence of any easy way of quantifying the benefits. But now that we’ve seen the alternative – a 25MBps network, dependent on Telstra’s failing copper network and non-existent goodwill, it’s obvious that the NBN is the only option that gives us any hope of keeping up with the steady growth in demand for information. The claim that individual subscribers can choose to upgrade to fibre-to-the-premises appears to have collapsed in the face of expert scrutiny. Instead, it seems, we’ll end up with lots of street-corner boxes, which will have to be ripped out and replaced wholesale when their inadequacy becomes apparent.

Given that he is going to win the coming election anyway, Abbott could greatly improve his chances of re-election in 2016 by admitting his mistake and going with the existing NBN plan, maybe with some cosmetic tweaks. As a bonus, from Abbott’s POV, Turnbull would have to eat a lot of humble pie.

The same is true for the other slogans on which he’s relied so far, like “Stop the Boats’ and “Axe the Tax”. Thanks to Labor’s implosion, he can afford to dump them now, and replace them with something more realistic – there’s no shame in changing policies before an election.

I don’t expect Abbott to take this unsolicited advice, but he could look at the cautionary lesson provided by Bligh, Gillard and NSW Labor among others, and consider carefully whether it’s better to take a few lumps now, or gain office on the basis of commitments that will prove a millstone, whether they are abandoned or adhered to.

[Comments are closed]

* I know, this quote attributed to Thomas J Watson is apocryphal, as is a similar one attributed to Bill Gates, but lots of similar statements have been made in reality, and they’ve all proved to be silly. For example, I can remember people saying in the early 80s that 8-bit address space of 64k (a double octet) were all we would ever need. Many more people said, well into the 1990s, that graphical interfaces were an unnecessary luxury and that personal computers would always start with a C:\> prompt.

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Counting to three

April 11th, 2013 64 comments

Responding to my observation that Andrew Bolt’s estimate of the impact of the carbon tax/price on global warming was out by a couple of orders of magnitude (he calculated the impact for one year, not that over the decades for which the policy is supposed to operate), Quadrant contributor John Dawson jumped into the fray and pronounced himself satisfied with Bolt’s arithmetic (H/T Terje Petersen). Dawson’s piece is too confused for a link but confusing enough that Terje couldn’t see where he ran into error. Rather than try to clean up this arithmetic mess, I’ll step back to something much simpler – the inability of Dawson, and his mentor Keith Windschuttle, to count to three.

Long-term readers will recall that, back in 2002, Windschuttle made quite a splash with The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One, Van Diemen’s Land, 1803-1847, which attempted a revisionist account of the tragic history of the Tasmanian Aborigines. He didn’t achieve much except to point out some sloppy footnoting in a fairly obscure recent history[1]. The main interest in the book was as an appetiser for the succeeding volumes, on Queensland and Western Australia, promised to appear on an annual schedule. Here, Windschuttle promised to refute the work of Henry Reynolds and others, who painted the frontier as a scene of prolonged violent warfare between the indigenous inhabitants and the white settlers who sought, successfully in the end, to displace and subdue them.

Year followed year, and promise followed promise, but Volumes 2 and 3 didn’t appear. Finally, in 2009, Volume 3 was published. Not only was there no Volume 2, but the new Volume 3 bore no resemblance to the book originally promised for 2004. Instead, it was a critique of the Stolen Generations report and the film Rabbit Proof Fence. Windschuttle said that this volume had been published “out of order”, and that the missing volumes 2 and 4 would appear “later”.

Even by Windschuttle’s standards, this is bizarre. The Stolen Generations debate refers almost entirely to the 20th century, so this volume, on his reasoning ought to come after the others.

It’s truly bizarre to see self-satisfied climate “sceptics” who can’t even calculate a standard error, but have convinced themselves they are smarter than professional scientists. Stranger still to see someone like Bolt, who’s incapable of basic arithmetic, treated as an expert by his readers. But surely even the editor of a literary magazine ought to be able to count to three.

Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Saving the Senate

March 25th, 2013 172 comments

Discussion over the Labor leadership, and the government in general, is now academic, in the pejorative sense of the term. Barring a shock on a larger scale than that of 2001, Abbott is going to win the election, whenever it is held, and win it easily. Nothing Labor does or doesn’t do can make any real difference now.

At this point, the only issue to be considered is whether he can be stopped from gaining control of the Senate. Labor and the Greens have 21 seats from 2010, and Labor can be assured of 1 each in the territories (there’s a perennial hope that a Green or independent will win the second ACT seat, but I’m not counting on it. That means they need to win a combined 3 seats in every state for a majority, and can block legislation if they win 3 in at least five states.

Appalling as Labor’s situation is, they should still muster enough support for two senators in each state, but have (AFAICT) no realistic chance of getting three anywhere. So, what’s needed is to elect a Green in every state.

What can be done to achieve this? The first requirement is that the geniuses who run Labor’s preference strategies should not pull the stunts they have in the past, cutting deals with rightwing independents in the futile hope of adding one to their numbers. If anyone reading this has any influence in this respect, they should exercise it now.

The second is to make a positive case for the Greens that will appeal to people who don’t like Abbott, but can no longer justify a vote for Labor. In my view, the Greens are now the real inheritors of the best traditions of Labor, as opposed to the kind of hardhat/HiVizVest posturing that passes for “Labor values” in the ALP. But that case needs to be spelt out for voters who are understandably turned off by the entire political scene.

Suggestions welcome

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Learning from my mistakes

March 23rd, 2013 92 comments

If you engage in commentary for an extended time on any issue, but particularly on politics, you’re bound to get things wrong. In such cases, there are a few options. The most common is to double down, grasping at any straw that will justify your original claim. Another is to wait; the world is so changeable that a prediction that seemed laughably wrong at one time may turn out correct after all. But, mostly the best thing is to learn from your mistakes.

I’ve made a few mistakes, but the one that I’ve been picked up on most is my prediction, in 2007, that

The Liberal Party will never again win a federal election.”

Of course, this wasn’t meant to be taken at face value. I went on immediately to say that

This isn’t a prediction of unending Labor rule, rather an observation that the Liberal and National parties are in such dire straits that they can’t continue as they are. They haven’t got enough support, parliamentary representation or ideas for one party, let alone two.

I thought the obvious solution was a merger, as in fact happened in Queensland not long afterwards. But my many friends in the Murdoch Press and the rightwing blogosphere have taken great delight in quoting the first sentence out of context. Given that the Liberals have yet to win their election, I followed the waiting strategy, waiting to see whether the turn of events (and the fact that my characterization of the Libs and Nats remains entirely accurate) might validate the prediction after all. But, after the events of the last week, I think it’s time to admit error.

What lessons should I learn from this?

First, never try to be cute on the Internetz, unless you’re a cat. I could have written a straight post suggesting a merger and it would long since have been forgotten. I knew perfectly well that Newscorp and its allies are shameless liars, and that their readers are utterly gullible (provided that what they are reading confirms their prejudices) and I handed them a stick to beat me with. I’ll avoid paradox in future.

Second, never underestimate the capacity of the Labor Party for suicidal stupidity. At the time I wrote the post, Labor seemed safe for two or more terms everywhere but NSW. Instead we saw
* WA Premier Carpenter revoke the ban on dealings with Brian Burke, leading to immediate disaster
* Privatisation campaigns in both NSW and Queensland
* The dumping of Nathan Rees (NSW Labor’s last hope) in favor of Tripodi-Obeid puppet Kristina Keneally
and, most disastrously of all,
* The coup against Kevin Rudd. The march of folly has continued to the very end, with a majority of the Parliamentary Party confirming, for the second time, that they would rather give Tony Abbott control of both houses of Parliament, and, in many cases, lose their own seats, than break with the failed leadership of Julia Gillard. The many (now former) Labor MPs in Queensland who marched straight over the electoral cliff with Anna Bligh and Andrew Fraser seem to have set the pattern here

Categories: Metablogging, Oz Politics Tags:

I may be some little time …

March 12th, 2013 119 comments

Paul Norton has a post at LP, summed up by the teaser

current poll support for the election of an Abbott-led Coalition government is soft and brittle. Yet it exists, and persists. And voter opinion of what the Federal Labor government has actually done is not all that unfavourable. Yet people don’t think the government deserves to be reelected. What are we to make of this?

I don’t think it takes a genius to work out that a sufficient explanation for this paradox is the personal unpopularity (among a large group of voters, detestation) of Julia Gillard. Other factors may be relevant, but most of them are exacerbated by the leadership problem. In particular, the Obeid scandal is made worse for Federal Labor by the perception that Gillard is beholden to the same machine operators (Arbib, Bitar, Conroy and ultimately Graeme Richardson) who put Obeid in a position to corrupt the entire NSW Party.

For the sake of argument, let’s grant that this is all the result of misperceptions and bad press and that Gillard is both likeable at a personal level and someone with a “steely determination” to get the job done for Labor. It’s obvious, by now (and regardless of marginal fluctuations in polls) that this perception is not going away within six months. In these circumstances, wouldn’t a leader who cared about her colleagues, or one who was determined to do the best thing for the country, decide that this was the time to talk a walk into the snow, and give the rest of the party a shot at survival?

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GBS pwns IPA

March 11th, 2013 35 comments

Anyone who has been around the left of Australian (or UK) politics long enough will be aware of the Fabian Society. It’s a group that’s earnest in the way only an organization founded in the late 19th century can be. It produces carefully researched papers on topics like education funding and housing policy, invariably worthwhile, but rarely fiery.

The Society takes its name from a Roman general who achieved victory over the seemingly invincible Hannibal, by avoiding pitched battle and wearing his opponent down: the idea was that socialism should be achieved by gradual reform through democratic processes, rather than through the revolutionary approach advocated by Marxism. This gradual approach was symbolised by the adoption, as a logo, of a tortoise (or maybe turtle), drawn by Walter Crane, the leading illustrator of children’s books in the late 19th century, and a society member. And, after 100+ years, even the most optimistic Fabians would concede that, if anything, the tortoise exaggerates the pace of movement towards socialism.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, this resolutely gradualist approach, the Fabian Society has always loomed large in the demonology of the nuttier sections of the political right, appearing as some sort of cross between the Illuminati and the United Nations. Here for example is Rose Martin of the Mises Society, warning that the tortoise is now going at the pace of a freeway.

The Institute of Public Affairs is the leading Australian representative of this kind of wingnuttery[1] (although it manages to get taken seriously by surprisingly many) so it’s unsurprising to see the IPA’s Julie Novak muttering darkly at Catallaxy[2] about this “shadowy group” (she’s a bit puzzled that Julia Gillard openly declares her membership). What’s interesting is her claim, with illustration that “The logo of the Society, of a wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing, is all you need to know about how these people seek to achieve their objectives”

Huh? What happened to the tortoise? The answer it turns out, goes back to a joke played by George Bernard Shaw early in the 20th century

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The IPA: Less scruples than Billy Hughes

February 28th, 2013 95 comments

A prominent figure in Australian politics in the first half of last century, Billy Hughes, ‘the Little Digger’, was famous for his flexibility, having successively led the Labor Party, National Labor, the Nationalists and then the United Australia Party, before serving in Labor’s Advisory War Council and then joining the Liberal Party. According to legend, he was once asked why he had never joined the Country Party (now the National Party) and replied ‘You have to draw the line somewhere’.

Starting about the time Hughes retired, the Institute of Public Affairs has been similarly flexible, serving first as a Liberal Party slush fund, and then combining a high-minded line in free-market ideology with hackish advocacy on the part of all kinds of vested interests. But, unlike Hughes, the IPA has decided not to draw a line anywhere.

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Who wants Abbott PM?

February 18th, 2013 152 comments

We’ve had quite a few debates here about the Labor leadership. While there are plenty of issues, there is one that, at this point in the cycle, trumps all the others. Of the two serious contenders, who is more likely to save Australia from the disaster of an Abbott-led coalition government? The answer to this question is so clear-cut that I find it impossible to believe anyone would dispute it: Julia Gillard has almost no chance of victory at this point, while Kevin Rudd has a chance. There’s certainly room for debate about how good Rudd’s chances are, but none, I think, as regards Gillard’s. And, whatever the stylistic differences, in substantive terms Gillard’s agenda is the one she inherited from Rudd.

The question now is whether we will have another three years to implement that agenda, or whether we have a Newman-style slash and burn assault on the public sector, the environment, science, women’s rights and, of course, the working class. The only thing likely to stop that is an immediate change of leadership.

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