Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Interview with the Federal Industry Minister: Decoded

The Federal Industry Minister, Ian MacFarlane, was interviewed about Toyota closing it's local manufacturing operation on '7.30' tonight. It was not something that anyone associated with that industry would have derived much pleasure from.

Looking a bit like a tough from an Australian TV drama set in the 50's, or a rogue potato that had somehow found a body, McFarlane spelled out the Government's hardline position, without actually saying much at all. As always, it sometimes helps to have someone (me in this case) to cut through the jargon and unearth the messages that were actually being communicated.

The following is a series of quotes from the interview - which you can watch here - followed by a translation of the Minister's responses.

*  *  *

INTERVIEWER: In the wake of the Toyota closure, the Prime Minister has talked about transitioning from good jobs to better jobs. It sounds good, what does it actually mean?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: What it means is, over the three years that we have in front of us, that we need to work with industry, but also make sure that we work with business, to create a framework, then create the business investor confidence to ensure that the new jobs are created by new industries.

Decoded: I was handed some talking points before the interview which I memorised, but didn't really understand.

INTERVIEWER: You say that you've got three years but why are you so confident about that timeframe? The situation in the market is changing rapidly and Ford has already decided to lay off workers earlier this year. Have you got a plan in place if the timeframe changes?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well, this discussion that we're having at the moment is about the Toyota closure. And I met last night with Mr Toyota and Max Yasuda, the Australian manager, and they were categoric that they would run the full term.

Decoded: Not only is there no plan if the timeframe changes, but I couldn't believe that the head of Toyota is actually called Mr Toyota! Just to be sure, I asked him several times, 'Is your name really Toyota? Really?... Really?' He said it was. It filled in some time, anyway.

INTERVIEWER: All right, let's talk about those jobs because those numbers are huge as you know. Up to 50 000 jobs in the automotive industry, according to the Australian Industry Group, up to 200 000 people whose jobs depend on the sector. Where are those new jobs coming from?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well those new jobs will come out of innovative industries and we have set up a panel to have a look at both the economic impact in Victoria and another panel to look at South Australia and both of those panels have taken submissions and we've seen industries, take last week for example, industries based in South Australia, that aren't attached to the automotive industry, that are world leaders in their class, world leaders, employing hundreds of people, exporting product as well as supplying the domestic market.

Decoded: I can talk for a really long time without breathing in. If the job crisis gets bad enough, I may never breathe in again. 

INTERVIEWER: Yes, but I think what people are looking for here are some details. We're talking about thousands of jobs, ten of thousands of jobs, not hundred of jobs. Where are those jobs coming from?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Those jobs are going to come partly from the normal job creation that occurs in Australia, remember that in the forward estimates there are 630 000 net new jobs that will be created in Australia, so some of those people will be soaked up in those areas, but we will have to work hard with the Victorian Government, and with the South Australian Government if it wants to cooperate, in bringing new industries and establishing new operations and re-orienting companies so that they can expand their operations.

Decoded: We expect quite a few former auto industry workers will find jobs at their local Charcoal Chicken. Plenty of them still around, last time I looked. And chicken remains popular. But we are also, unequivocally, absolutely, still committed to laying as much of the blame for this as possible on the respective state governments of Victoria and South Australia.

INTERVIEWER: You've been talking about transitioning Toyota and the component parts industry into an export industry, are you going to give those industries time and the help they need to do that?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well, I mean, in terms of how we deal with this, everyone understands the process and I have to say Sarah, this shouldn't be news to anyone.

Decoded: What is she on about? What day is this?

INTERVIEWER: Is there going to be money in the budget for the transition?

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well... there will be money. But let's cross the bridges as we come to them.

Decoded: There may or may not be money, but there will be bridges... Many bridges.

INTERVIEWER: I think what people are looking for is a clear indication that this work has already been done. That this should not have come as a surprise. People are looking for the plan for the restructure and for the funds for the restructure that are going to be forthcoming.

FEDERAL INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well we are doing the work. We started the work the day I was sworn in as minister. I announced that I would immediately be instigating a process for the car industry. Now, issues have come on perhaps faster than people have expected but we are in a process to create long term sustainable jobs, we will train them as part of my portfolio and we will offer the training that people need.

Decoded: All of this stuff came like a bolt out of the clear blue sky. But still, we're not fortune tellers are we? Although some former car industry people may like to look at this as a career option now.

INTERVIEWER: Thanks for joining us.


Decoded: I'll miss the ABC when it's gone.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Brief Word Against Compulsory Voting

'The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.'

                                                          - Winston Churchill

Since 1924, voting at elections in Australia has been compulsory.

All citizens over the age of 18 are required to register with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and attend a polling place to lodge a ballot paper on election day. It is a firmly entrenched part of Australian life and often cited as one of the key achievements of the free, egalitarian country that we live in. The elections are open to everyone and everyone participates.We take it seriously enough to fine people who opt out.

But the time has come to re-examine this tradition and see if it still serves a  purpose. Or, even if it is actually working against the aims that caused it to be initiated in the first place.

Firstly, a set of figures, supplied by the AEC.

Informal Votes
799 852
Registered But Didn’t Vote
1 124 025
Not Registered to Vote
1 500 000
3 423 877

This shows the number of people who did not participate in the recent Federal election; either by incorrectly marking their ballot, not showing up on polling day or not registering in the first place (this last an estimate based on population data). So a staggering 23%, nearly a quarter of the voting age population, did not cast a valid vote. One person in ten is not even on the electoral roll.

These figures alone seem to shake the foundation of the argument for compulsory voting. Everyone isn't participating. The system that we have in place is not forcing much more of the electorate to vote than may be expected under a voluntary system.

Now consider these figures:

This shows a random assortment of democratic countries from around the world that have a voluntary voting system, with participation rates from the most recent elections held in each. Some of the rates listed show essentially the same outcome as what we currently achieve in Australia. New Zealand, a country with whom we share much in terms of heritage and cultural custom, has almost exactly the same voting rate under voluntary provisions, as Australia does under a compulsory system.

But even a casual glance at the unscientifically assembled figures above indicates that if Australia were to switch to a voluntary system, voting rates would probably decline. Countries with similar political systems to Australia, like the UK and US, show participation rates 15 - 20% below the current rate in Australia. And this forms the basis of much of what is said in defence of our compulsory system; voluntary system = fewer people voting = bad.

But just because fewer people may vote, it doesn't necessarily follow that the system overall is weaker.

Let's say that Australia introduces a voluntary system of voting and the rate of participation declines to 65%, a reduction of 12% and a likely outcome in my estimation. What this means is that out of eight people who vote currently, 7 will continue to do so. And one might grab a snag from a polling place on election day and then carry on somewhere else:

The key question then becomes: Who is this sausage loving iconoclast?

Someone not much interested in politics or policy. Someone who hasn't paid much attention to the debate around the campaign and who doesn't care about the issues. Someone who doesn't mind who wins and thinks it doesn't matter anyway. Maybe a One Nation supporter.

And if the above list is too much of a gross generalisation, then the likely non voter would at least have to be more likely to be one of these things. In any case, I think that this apathetic 1/8th of the population is someone that the other 7/8's can likely struggle on without, when it comes to choosing the country's leadership.

When compulsory voting was introduced in 1924, Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly Major Matthew Baird commented that compulsory voting:

'... would not make apathetic electors take a more intelligent interest in elections.'

The same argument remains true today. And if you accept the logic of this position, how then can you insist that someone with an apathetic disinterest should be forced to participate in the process? What useful purpose does it serve? They may vote informally, they may submit a donkey vote, they may vote for some random nut who likes kangaroo poo, but their vote will be un-informed and so not worth the time and effort required to force them to submit it. If they want to line up and submit a vote for 'Kodos' then they should be allowed to do this. But if they don't then they shouldn't be forced to.

Which brings us to a consideration of the cost.

The 2010 Federal Election cost a  mind boggling $161 000 000.

A reasonable proportion of this was spent on maintaining electoral rolls and attempting to jockey people who either hadn't registered to vote or who hadn't kept their enrollment up to date, to do these things. To say nothing of the costs of compiling data around who then didn't vote and forwarding this on for enforcement action (hapharzrdly applied, it must be said). While a voluntary system of voting would still entail significant costs, they would be reduced. So is this the best use of $161 million available to us? To ensure that Joe Sausage-Lover can line up and write 'Fuck' on a ballot for an election he couldn't care less about?

I've always felt that the answer to this question, is no.

We should never lose sight of the fact that we enjoy a high standard of living in Australia. Our economy is strong, wages are high and people are free to do much as they please. Among the advantages we enjoy in this country are the open, fair and democratic elections that underpin our Government. The argument that this fine system would be somehow reduced if our voting method became voluntary is false. A voluntary voting system simply allows for one additional choice, a much needed one when faced with deciding between candidates as mediocre as Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd.

And decisions of this nature seems to be a fate compulsory for all of us.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gillard Bashing

As our new Prime Minister named his first blokey cabinet and instructed them to start implementing his 16 point plan to do... whatever, some parts of the local media took to their mediums to take exception to the way Tony was being treated. More specifically; the terrible, unfair abuse that was being poured on the poor bloke's head.

Typical of this was a ferocious article in The Age on Monday, where Paul Sheehan bridled at the 'closed minded' and 'insidious' people who dared to criticise the PM or label him 'sexist' or a 'homophobe.' Never mind that Abbott himself had said that Australia's women should tend to their ironing and that gay folks make him feel uncomfortable, neither of these statements meant you were allowed to suggest bigotry or bias. To do so was to declare yourself a 'hater' in Sheehan's view and, much worse, a creature of the degenerate left underground. Possibly even a member of 'GetUp!' or 'Change.org'.

And Sheehan isn't alone in this view.

In the wake of Abbott's victory, newly emboldened right leaning pundits are leaping at the chance to decry any attempt to criticise their newly installed boy at the Lodge. They paint Abbott's critics as aggressive and unbalanced and fume that these left wing nut jobs just won't give poor old Tony a fair hearing. In this telling, the anti Abbott views that have been aired are based on exaggerated caricatures that willfully distort Abbott's personality, statements and policies. It is stated that this scurrilous behaviour is the expected  refuge of the left, when they've been beaten like gongs in an election, and implied that such base tactics would never be tolerated on the conservative side.

So before the winners completely re-write the history books, it may be useful to revisit the way conservative elements in Australia responded to our first female Prime Minister, and Abbott's predecessor, Julia Gillard.

You have been warned. From this point on, this page becomes extremely ugly:

‘Every person in the caucus of the Labor Party knows that Julia Gillard is a liar. The old man (Gillard's father) recently died a few weeks ago of shame.  To think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she stood in the Parliament.’

2GB radio broadcaster Alan Jones, addressing a Young Liberals group at Sydney university, 28 September 2012

'The Australian tax payer even pays for the toilet paper she uses.  Does she go down to the chemist to buy her tampons? Or is the Australian tax payer paying for those as well?’

Tony, talkback caller on Alan Jones' program, 28 February 2011

‘Look I can say this but you can’t. She’s a menopausal monster and she needs  to resign.’

Bonita, talkback caller on Jones' program, 14 July 2011

‘I mean anyone who chooses to remain deliberately barren… they’ve got no idea what life’s about.’

Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, 'Bulletin' interview, May 2007.

‘She has chosen not to be a parent… she is very much a one-dimensional person.’

Liberal Senator George Brandis, ABC Radio, January 2010. Brandis was appointed Attorney General in Tony Abbott's first cabinet this week.

Tony Abbott addresses an anti carbon tax rally in front of a sign referring to
Julia Gillard as a 'Bitch'. Gillard told Abbott in Parliament that 'I was offended.'

'You've got a big arse Julia, just get one with it.'

Germaine Greer, 'Q and A', March 2012.

'On what should have been one of the proudest days of Gillard’s political career, she bungled it with a less than flattering haircut and a frumpy ’80s tapestry print jacket… Get yourself a stylist your own age.’

Anita Quigley, 'Daily Telegraph,' December 2006.

Menu used at a Liberal fundraiser in the Federal seat of Fisher. The owner of
the restaurant, Joe Richards, took responsibility and said he meant it as a 'joke.'

‘It’s designed for non-productive old cows. Julia Gillard has got to watch out.’

David Farley, Australian Agricultural Company CEO, addressing an industry conference on new animal slaughter techniques, August 2012. Fairley also later said his comments were meant to be a 'joke.'

‘Tim’s gay. That’s not me saying it… but you hear it. He must be gay, he’s a hairdresser.’

6PR radio presenter Howard Sattler airs the rumour that Gillard's partner Tim Matheson is a homosexual, 13 July 2013.

‘She has showcased a bare home and an empty kitchen as badges of honour and commitment to her career. She has never had to make room for the frustrating demands and magnificent responsibilities of caring for little babies, picking up sick children from school, raising teenagers. Not to mention the needs of a husband or partner.’

Janet Albrechtsen, The Australian, July 2010.

Anti Gillard cartoons by Larry Pickering, two from a long series. Pickering generally depicts Gillard
nude and always wearing or carrying a large strap on dildo. Pickering is a free lance cartoonist, but
his anti Gillard drawings have been used by pro Liberal corporations and other conservative groups.

‘Like This If U Hate Julia Gillard and want to help me kill her.’

Title of anti Gillard facebook page, one among a great many.

‘Someone needs to assassinate Julia Gillard NOW before she totally destroys our way of life.’

Mark of Panania, comment published on the 'Herald Sun' website, 10 July 2011.

Other comments used to describe Gillard on the supposedly moderated Herald Sun website:


'shape-changing vampire'






'fungal growth'  

'given up all attributes of what it means to be a human being'

'Australia’s very own Jezebel'

'her milk is sour' 

'pure evil' 

'slimy con-artist' 

'slag of the lowest order' 

'lying slag without one ounce of integrity or decency'

As quoted by 'Crikey.'

Footnote... For a little context:

'What Prime Minister Julia Gillard is dealt is no different and no worse,  say these people, than the flak directed at Tony Abbott or, in the past, at John Howard or Paul Keating.

One person who wrote to me summed up the supposed equivalence: "Just two words. Budgie smugglers".

Yet there is a huge difference between an opposition leader being caricatured by cartoonists wearing an item of clothing he used to regularly don (in front of the media) for swimming, and a prime minister being depicted wearing a huge strap-on dildo, as one cartoonist does routinely, an item we can assume is not in her wardrobe.

There is an entire vocabulary of words that describe, and demean, women - bitch, barren, childless, hag, slut, witch, cow - and have been used recently in reference to Julia Gillard.

The attacks on Gillard all too often have sexual and violent overtones to them. She is drawn grotesquely naked, her head is Photoshopped onto a voluptuous naked female body, she is depicted offering sexual favours in return for votes.

There are constant calls for her to be "shot", to be hanged or otherwise disposed of in violent fashion and while these threats are not as such gender-specific, I would argue that the vehemence with which they are expressed is.

The core difference between the way male and female politicians are treated is that men might be mocked or scorned – "Little Johnny", "Mr Rabbitt", "Kevin747" - but they are not threatened and they are especially not subject to sexual intimidation. Women in politics increasingly are.'

Anne Summers, ABC 'Unleashed' website, September 2012. Anne Summers is a journalist and activist who advised the Keating government on women's issues.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Abbott: In His Own Words

Going in to last weekend's election, Tony Abbott asked us to trust him.

This made sense. He hadn't released much policy detail and his costings came at the last minute, so he recognised that a vote for him would be a leap of faith for many. He must have also felt that in terms of trustworthiness he compared favourably to Kevin Rudd, a man who had told the nation that he would never return as Labor leader 'under any circumstances,' and then had returned in that position when the circumstances had suited him.

Abbott's team sought to portray him as solid, honest and reliable. A man of his word. A kind of, you may not agree with him but you know where he stands, approach.

And so it seems appropriate to have a look at his record and see where he does stand; in his own words, from his own mouth, straight from the public record. A selection of quotes:


'I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.'

(March 15, 2010: 'Four Corners' interview).

'Now are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia, no doesn't mean no?'

(August 3, 2010: Abbott makes a joke out of sexual assault, commenting on what he said was Julia Gillard changing her mind about debating him).

'While I think men and women are equal, they are also different and I think it's inevitable and I don't think it's a bad thing at all that we always have, say, more women doing things like physiotherapy and an enormous number of women simply doing housework.'

(August 6, 2010).

'They're young, feisty, I think I can probably say they have a bit of sex appeal.'

(August 14, 2013: Abbott's response when asked to name positive attributes of the Liberal candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, and her predecessor, Jackie Kelly).

'I was oblivious, absolutely oblivious, to the fact that I had said something that could be remarked upon.'

(September 5, 2013: Abbott comments on the negative response his 'sex appeal' remark generated).


'Abortion is the easy way out. It's hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations.'   

(March 17, 2004).

'The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother's convenience.'  

(March 17, 2004).


'The Australian people need to understand that every interest rate rise over the next 12 months is due to the irresponsible spending spree of the Rudd government.'  

(December 1, 2009).

'If interest rates go down it's because this government is presiding over an economy that is in much more trouble than the government has previously been prepared to admit.'  

(August 6, 2013).


'If Australia is to greatly reduce its carbon emissions, the price of carbon intensive products should rise.' 

(July 27, 2009).

'Cost of living for families is unnecessarily higher because of the carbon tax.'

(2013: excerpt from 'Our Plan: Real Solutions for All Australians', a policy manifesto heavily spruiked by Abbott). 

'A new tax would be the intelligent... way to deal with reducing emissions.'  

(July 27, 2009. Abbott's speech, 'A Realists Approach to Climate Change,' is here).

'The carbon tax hits households, threatens jobs and damages the economy without, it turns out, ever significantly reducing Australia's domestic emissions.'

(September 2, 2013). 

'We do want to reduce our emissions and those targets stand.'  

(December 1, 2009.  The day he was elected leader, Abbott re-committed to the Coalition's target of reducing carbon emissions to 5% below 1990 levels by 2020).

'We will get as much environmental improvement, as much emissions reduction, as we can for the spending that we have budgeted.'

(September 2, 2013 Abbott confirms that he will not allocate additional funding to emissions reduction, even if his Government missed their long promised target. The target had been official policy since the Howard era). 

'The climate change argument is absolute crap.'

(February 2, 2010).

'Just ask yourself what an emissions trading scheme is all about. It's a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.'

(July 15, 2013) 


'Environmentalism might hurt the environment.'

(2009: from Abbott's book, 'Battlelines').

'More energy efficient buildings and more research into geothermal and tidal power could lead to greater carbon dioxide reduction than the proposed ETS.'


'On day one, the Treasurer will notify the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that it should suspend its operations and instruct the Treasury to prepare legislation to permanently shut down the corporation.'

(August 2013, Press release, announcing Abbott's plan to disband the CEFC, one of the Government's largest environmental agencies. Among the CEFC's responsibilities; improving the energy efficiency of public buildings and investing in alternative energy). 


'Whether it's a stealth tax like the emissions trading scheme, whether it's an upfront and straightforward tax like the carbon tax, there will not be any new taxes as part of the Coalitions policies.'

(December 1, 2009).

Four months later, in March 2010, Abbott announced his generous Paid Parental Leave Scheme, to be largely funded by 1.5% new tax on large businesses.

'Sometimes, for very important reasons, for very good reasons, you have to make departures from principal.'

(March 2010, when questioned on his sudden reversal on tax policy).

'You can trust most of the things I've said. Allright, you can
trust some of the things I've said. Look, just trust me, ok?'


'I'd say I probably feel a bit threatened. As do so many people.'

(March 8, 2010. Abbott's response on '60 Minutes' when asked how he felt about homosexuality).

'There is no doubt it (homosexuality) challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things.'

(March 9, 2010. When asked to clarify his comments on '60 Minutes').

'I think there are lots of terrific gay relationships... but I don't think marriage is the right term to put on it.'

(August 15, 2010:  Response to a question on 'Q and A').

'The marriage ended. For Chris it was replaced by something else that is marvelous. She has regrets but she did something that was brave, authentic, something she felt had to be done. I can respect that even if in every sense I can't understand it.'

(April 7, 2012. In 1992 Abbott's sister Chris separated from her husband and came out as a lesbian. In this interview Abbott described his close relationship with his sister).


'Workchoices was a political mistake, but may not have been an economic one. Workchoices wasn't all bad.'

(2009: excerpt from Abbott's book 'Battlelines').

'I have an election to win. It's the 2010 election and... Workchoices is dead, it's buried, it's cremated.'

(July 2010: radio interview).

'Obviously, I can't give a guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations legislation.'

(July 2010: from the same interview).

'What this policy promises are sensible, careful, prudent, collegial changes to the system.'

(May 2013, Abbott announces his new Industrial Relations policy).


'Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it's not necessarily the right thing for everyone to come to Australia.'

(April 5, 2010).

'I don't think it's a very Christian thing to come in the back door rather than the front door.'

(July 10, 2012)

'It's much better and more sensible to spend a few thousand dollars in Indonesia then to spend $12 million dollars processing the people who ultimately arrive here.'

(August 23, 2013, Abbott announces a new policy to buy boats from people smugglers in Indonesia, to prevent them from using the boats to bring refugees to Australia).

'We may not buy boats back.'

(August 29, 2013).


'In Australia's biggest cities, public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and a hideous drain on the public purse. Part of the problem is inefficient, overmanned, union dominated, Government run train and bus systems. Mostly though, there just aren't enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify a vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.'

(2009: excerpt from 'Battlelines').

'We have no history of funding urban rail and I think that it is important that we stick to our knitting and the Commonwealth's knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.'

(August 14, 2013. Abbott announces that a coalition government will provide $1.5 billion to Victoria to build its 'East-West Road Link' project, and $0 to Victoria to fund its 'Metro Rail Tunnel' public transport overhaul. 'Infrastructure Australia,' the Government's key advisory body on major projects, had rated the rail project of more value; economically, commercially and socially.


In 1998, then Parliamentary Secretary Tony Abbott helped set up a private fund to be used to pay for legal action against the One Nation party. Abbott had located a disgruntled former One Nation member, Terry Scharples, who accused One Nation's directors of electoral fraud. Abbott arranged for Scharples to get free legal representation and also promised to reimburse him, from the fund, for any out of pocket 'costs' he encountered during the case he brought. Abbott kept his involvement quiet.

Tony Jones: So there was never any question of any party funds, or any other funds, from any other source, being offered to Terry Scharples?

Tony Abbott: Absolutely not.

(July 31, 1998: 'Four Corners' interview).

Scharples started his case and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson was eventually convicted and jailed. Her case was overturned on appeal and she was freed after three months served. An investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald uncovered Abbott's role.

Kerry O'Brien: On July 11, you met him (Scharples) again and you handwrote him a guarantee, didn't you?... Then on July 31 you told Tony Jones, you gave him an 'absolutely not' denial about any kind of funds going to Terry Scharples.

Tony Abbott: I said that I had not offered him money and I stand by that.

Kerry O'Brien: You offered him costs?

Tony Abbott: Well, I said that he wouldn't be out of pocket. 

(August 27, 2003: 'The 7.30 Report' interview).


'Now I know that there are some Aboriginal people who aren't happy with Australia Day. I think... Aboriginal people have much to celebrate in this country's British heritage.'

(April 5, 2010: 'Q and A')

'There may not be a great job (for Indigenous people) but whatever there is, they just have to do it. And if it's picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done.'

(June 2010).

'Self determination has set up Aboriginal people to fail.'

(July 2010).


'CreaturesFact' rates a number of Abbott's public statements: Mostly False. And many of them are rated: Completely Batshit.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


As expected, Sunday finds Australia with a new Government elect.

The Liberal-National coalition lead by Tony Abbott moved to a comfortable victory early on Saturday night, with the result 'called' by some sections of the punditry as early as an hour after polling closed (and heroically called by former Liberal minister Nick Minchin an hour before it did). It was a far cry from 2010, when the nation was left hanging on election night and had to wait through several weeks of horse trading before a formal result was declared.

There was no such suspense this time.

With counting still underway, the AEC shows the following scorecard:

About six of the seats indicated above are still officially 'too close to call', while the two listed as not yet determined (Fairfax and Indi) may be delayed for some time, due to the complexities of the preference allocation in each. But the overall result is clear enough.

Tony Abbott has won the election. Not with the landslide predicted by some of the more hysterical elements of the media, but with a clear majority. The outcome neatly reverses the result in 2007 when Labor came to power (2007 results: Labor 83, Coalition 65, Independent 2).

With the overall result clear cut, the question now becomes... what next? The immediate focus was on Rudd and Abbott.

Neither leader distinguished themselves on election night, both delivering self serving speeches that sought to immediately re-write history.

Rudd began by congratulating himself; saying that Labor had 'fought the good fight.' News to anyone who had witnessed his turgid and un-enlightening campaign, full of off-the-cuff policy ideas and negativity. He also supplied his expected folksiness and cliched phraseology; he mentioned 'the good people of Australia,' he said 'the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us', he said 'Gees' (twice). He reminded everyone that he isn't going to be much missed, either by the larger electorate or by his colleagues (The Age this morning carried a story where members from both sides of politics called for Rudd to resign from Parliament, immediately).

For his part, Abbott offered up the most ungracious victory speech I can remember seeing in Australian politics. He started by saying that he had defeated Rudd... and then he said it again. And then he smirked and said that Labor's vote was the lowest it had been for a hundred years. The only thing he didn't say was 'In your face, cunts!' He looked like a man so focused on crushing his opponent that he didn't know why he was doing it. He was as disingenuous in victory as Rudd had been in defeat; claiming Australia was 'once more open for business', news to everyone who has gotten a job or invested money in the last six years, and that he would look after 'our forgotten families,' odd considering that the whole apparatus of Government now seems designed to take money from people without kids and hand it over to people who do, regardless of their respective incomes.

At least Rudd has now dropped from sight. Abbott was back this morning, Lycra clad and grinning like a hungry shark as he went for his daily bike ride, an alarming image that we will all just have to get used to:

Rudd, vanquished; Abbott, obscene. So much for our leaders.

But beyond these two, there were more interesting lessons to be drawn from what happened on September 7. Some of the highlights:


The sole Green in the House of reps, deputy leader Adam Bandt, delighted his supporters by holding his seat of Melbourne. And not only holding it, but increasing his primary vote from 36% in 2010 to 43%, and so moving the seat to the edge of safe territory. The result came on the back of the Liberal Party's decision to preference against Bandt, which many pundits thought doomed his campaign. But the Greens were determined to fight, and did so by running an enthusiastic, old school, grassroots campaign. Swarms of young volunteers targeted the electorate, dividing it up into sub-districts and then hitting these hard with door knocks, letters, events, fund raising and well thought out, positive advertising (all aided by a generous donation from the Electrical Trades Union), tactics as old as organised politics itself. The hard working Bandt was a tangible presence in his electorate, and reaped the benefit on polling day.


Labor didn't fare as badly as expected in Western Sydney but still lost ground and seats; Robertson, Banks and Lindsay were all once safe Labor seats that are now in the conservative column. But Labor's most marginal seat in the area - Greenway, held by just 0.6% - not only did not fall, but actually recorded a swing to Labor of nearly 3%, a very unexpected result. That it did so was largely down to the Liberals choice of candidate; the hapless Jaymes Diaz. You might remember him from such career ending disasters as this:

If only it had been a 1 Point Plan he would've been a cert. Diaz went to ground after his nationally televised embarrassment and was pretty much unseen from this point onwards, a fatal impediment for a candidate seeking election to public office, regardless of how unpopular the Government. When he did resurface, he didn't fare much better:

Candidates this bad are rarely seen outside of One Nation. Diaz's nightmare came to a fitting end when his brother crashed the campaign car in the parking lot outside of Liberal headquarters on election night.


Not the capital of Australia, despite what you've been told.

Overall the Labor Party would be comfortable with how they went in Western Sydney; they poured resources in, Kevin Rudd visited repeatedly, some of the furniture was saved. But the cost of this strategy can be seen when looking at the wider electoral map, something that ALP strategists appear not to have done often enough. While the Government only lost a few seats in Sydney, and none at all (as at time of writing) in their other trouble spot, Queensland; South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania swung hard to the conservative side. A decade ago, all five of Tasmania's lower house seats were safe Labor, and over this time Victoria and South Australia were the two states where they'd fared the best on the mainland. Now Labor appeared set to lose 4 out of 5 seats in Tassie - on the back of double digit swings, the largest in Australia - three more seats in Victoria and one in South Australia. In other words, half of the seats they lost as they tumbled towards defeat were from these three overlooked states. The lesson is clear. Western Sydney is important in electoral terms; millions of people live there, the population is growing and there is a high concentration of seats, but it is not the whole country. And you ignore the rest at your peril.


I wrote about this yesterday, but it seems worth repeating. The biggest single impediment to Labor winning a third term was the grim spectacle of them hacking at each other in public over the last four years. Losing candidate in Forde, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, summed it up:

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard bear most responsibility for this, but there would be few within parliamentary Labor that weren't guilty of stirring the pot, gossip mongering and leaking bullshit to the press. Considering that he is not universally popular with his colleagues, Abbott did a remarkable job of keeping his troops together and their message (however misguided) consistent, both of which are key steps towards successful political leadership. The Labor Party have an opportunity now to elect a new leader largely free of baggage and start again. But the electorate's memory is long and the damage that they have inflicted on themselves is enormous.


What's all the fuss about?

In the end, the big national polls were pretty accurate. Nielsen and Newspoll both called it 54 - 46 to the Coalition and Galaxy had it 53 - 47 (the actual result was 53.4 - 46.6) two party preferred. Which marked another in a series of elections were the national polls have proved startlingly accurate. All of the polling organisations listed above use a large sample size and have thorough methodology to make these polls as valid as possible. But this cannot be said for other polls, some organised by the same companies, that littered the political landscape this year, the worst of which seemed deliberately misleading. Most inaccurate were a series of polls taken in key marginal seats, many of which showed wildly improbable results. Some of the worst examples:

* A Longeran poll in August that predicted Kevin Rudd would lose his seat of Griffith. Rudd retained the seat comfortably.

* Newspoll's throughout August that showed Labor losing four, five or all of their seats in Queensland. As at time of writing, Labor has lost no Queensland seats, although Capricornia and Petrie are still in dispute (with Labor ahead in both).

* A JWS Research poll in August that showed Treasurer Chris Bowen losing his seat of McMahon by 3% and high profile former Treasurer Wayne Swan his seat of Lilley by 4%. Both seats were retained easily.

* A Newspoll a week before the election that predicted Labor would lose ten seats in Sydney, some by double digit margins. Labor lost three Sydney seats.

In contrast to the accurate national polls, the marginal seat polling was done with little or no scientific rigour; sample sizes as small as 200  were used (electorates contain around 100 000 voters) and calls were often made only to landlines, ruling out a large chunk of the electorate, or via automated 'robo-calls', which sensible people refuse to take. Nevertheless, the results of these totally meaningless exercises were discussed in the same earnest fashion as the polls that some effort had gone into, to the detriment of the campaign coverage. It is hoped we won't see a repeat of this rubbish in three years time, but this is probably to hope for too much.

And so with the election already fading into the rearview, a pause will fall across the field of battle. The victors will gloat a little longer, the losers will blame each other and life will continue for most people, much as it did before.

Labor's new leader will be elected sooner rather than later and then we will have a clearer idea of where the next three years will take us.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The End

Yesterday, all of Australia's newspapers bar one endorsed Tony Abbott as our next Prime Minister.

Today, the only paper that bucked this trend, Melbourne's The Age, has a front page story showing the Coalition leading 54 - 46% in their latest round of polling. Analysis attached to these results points to a Labor rout, even in Victoria where the Government's vote has largely remained steady in spite of volatility elsewhere.

Kevin Rudd's political career appears to be coming to an end, while Abbott's is about to reach a height unimaginable until very recently. Their colleagues will almost certainly be looking for new seats in the House of Reps when parliament sits again.

Some Labor excuse making has already begun.

The Murdoch press were out to get them. And Abbott and his befuddled shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, hid their figures. Even when they released them, they hid them, which is quite a feat if you give it some thought. And Abbott lied; publicly stating Australia faced a 'budgetary emergency' even while promising billions in new spending and overseas commentators called Australia's economy 'the envy of the world.'

But none of these reasons really explain the result that the Labor side are facing today. To rebut the above points:

- The Murdoch press is always hostile to the left.

- Opposition of both stripes obfuscates on detail.

- Politicians lie. See some of Labor's claims in this election for more examples of this.

The root cause of Labor's woes is simpler, and all the more frustrating for them as being largely of their own devising. You can sum it up in one sentence, hatefully supplied by former Prime Minister John Howard.

In 1987, Howard lead a disjointed and unruly Liberal Party to the Federal Election against Bob Hawke's Labor Government. Howard had been deputy to Andrew Peacock until 1985, but Peacock had suspected Howard of agitating against his leadership and had tried to force the party to remove him. When Howard refused to budge, the resulting showdown found Howard replacing Peacock as leader, but left with a determined core of Peacock supporters dedicated to undermining him. Years of instability followed.

Sound familiar?

Howard was beaten comfortably in 1987 and left one of his few enduring legacies to Australian public life. Commenting on his defeat, he said, 'Disunity is death.'

And so it goes for the ALP, in 2013.

Such happy times...

Having spent most of the last four years doing a fair impression of a dog chasing its own tail, Labor should not be surprised that voters want rid of them altogether. Looking back on their time in Government, its hard to imagine that ALP power brokers wouldn't consider the bloody coup against Rudd in 2010 a terrible mistake. They did it to avoid what they felt was a looming disaster in that year's election, and then ended up with a terrible result anyway. Worse, they were saddled with the restrictions of minority Government, which ultimately forced them into a number of unpopular policy positions they could otherwise have avoided or handled differently. Julia Gillard's time as PM was forever tainted by the method of its inception.

The other unforeseen outcome from 2010 was Tony Abbott's elevated status as a result.

Abbott announces his plan for offshore processing of puppies...

When he was elected Oppostion leader, by one vote, in late 2009, the Coalition's position could hardly have been worse. Malcolm Turnball's troubled leadership had left Labor in a dominant position and seemingly set for a crushing election victory, whenever Rudd  (still sitting above a  60% approval rating) decided to call it.

Fast forward one year and not only had Rudd been taken out of the game altogether, but the Liberals had clawed their way to a dead heat in the poll itself. Even though Labor managed to reform Government, just, the 2010 election capped one of the greatest turnarounds in Australian political history. The unexpectedly close result propelled Abbott from a nationally derided greenhorn to a political powerhouse in one stroke.

His one tangible achievement has been to keep things on track since.

Amongst all the crazed claims and misleading announcements during this election, there is one thing that is undeniably true. Tony Abbott has kept much the same course as he did three years ago; he has stuck to his simplistic catchphrases, he's kept much the same policy ideas (and cribbed watered down versions of Labor's more popular ones) and his supporting team is back and now seem comfortably familiar. He's even wearing the same outfit (light blue tie, dark blue suit).

The contrast to Labor is stark.

For the second election in a row their candidate is not the one we voted for last time. And this is a scenario so incredible, so fantastic, that if you hadn't been paying attention these last few years you would think it couldn't be possible. Incumbency is the one advantage normally enjoyed by all Governments seeking re-election, and Labor have nullified this because they just couldn't find a way to put personal enmity aside and work together.

It's difficult not to think the ALP are going to get what they deserve.

It's also difficult not to think that the country gets the Government that it deserves. Which is something that everyone will have to start facing up to from Sunday.