Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pauline, Adolf and Tony

Australian politics can be a little dull at times.

I mean, much as I love it and obsess over it, it doesn't have the same kind of loopy showbiz razzle dazzle that politics in, say, the US does. Or the ever present hint of a kinky sex scandal like what they get in England. Our political leaders are mostly a conservative, middle of the road bunch, as befits the conservative, middle of the road country they represent.

So things like last week's Anti Carbon Tax rally in Canberra are truly to be savoured:

For there they were in all their glory: Australia's lunatic fringe.

Now the lunatic fringe is a small minority in this country (see previous note about middle-of-the-roadness) so to see them all out in the sun in public together is a rare thing indeed. Normally the only time you'd see that many nutters together in one place in Australia would be the Katter family Christmas.

Ostensibly a gathering to protest Federal Labor's embryonic carbon tax policy, the rabid right wing atmosphere of last week's event brought forth not only climate change deniers:

but also fanatics opposed to boat people, multiculturalism, conservation, immigration and even, seemingly, women:

Not that the bloke, Tim, who made the above sign would accept that it was offensive. As he outlined when interviewed the following day on 2GB:

'Not one person at that rally was upset by my poster.'

Well yeah, you know, obviously. If you'd dragged Julia Gillard out of Parliament House, tied her to a stake and burned her alive they wouldn't have been upset by that either, but that doesn't mean that doing so wouldn't have contravened a few good taste boundaries.

Also moving among the protestors was someone who looked very much at home, in the person of Pauline Hanson. You remember her, right?

No, wait, that was one of her many imitators. Of course, there were lots of those at one time. I mean, here's another well known one:

But I'm quite sure that no one with even a passing interest in Australian politics has forgotten Pauline. And there she was last week, signing autographs and shaking hands like it was 1998 and her red hair and excruciating accent were still the hottest thing in Australian politics. Although, at least one thing had changed since those heady days of 12 years ago, when Ms Hanson's 'One Nation' party won eleven seats in a Queensland state election. It was most noticeable when Pauline said this about the Opposition leader:

'Tony Abbott has my full support in his campaign against this unfair tax.'

Tony Abbott has Pauline Hanson's 'full support'? The bloke who organised a private fund to campaign against her and, ultimately, helped organise the prosecution that saw her jailed for fraudulant use of public electoral funds? Strange times indeed.

Strange, but perhaps fitting on a day when the Federal Opposition leader, a man hungrily in search of credibility, saw fit to address a rally where one man held a placard that read:


You can't help but think that any association with Hitler could only be bad for the Opposition leader, who's main problem lately is that a fair chunk of middle Australia are worried he might be an angry nut. In fact, the whole day played out badly for Abbott, to the extent that you wonder why his media people or minders didn't keep him away from the event. Images and videos of him addressing a small crowd of baying crazies would seem to be something that will inevitably appear in the campaign advertising at the next election, which should be entertaining for the rest of us, if not for the Liberal Party.

Sadly, this one brief moment of humorous sunshine is already receding into the background, as the Carbon Tax debate returns to the grim everyday reality of 'We-want-to-save-the-planet/You-want-to-destroy-the-world' rhetoric.

And that's something that's entertaining for no one.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Big Ted Wakes!

There was a full moon in Melbourne this week - a 'super moon' - and there was a definite feeling of something different in the air. The spirit of change.

Footy was back, or nearly back. The days were getting shorter and darker. People moved furtively about in the gloom, discussing their teams chances over the worlds best coffee. And over on Spring Street, somewhere in the depths of the State Parliament building, something ominous was stirring...

Big Ted Baillieu, our premier of six months, was waking from his fitful slumber:

But before we get to that, a brief history lesson.

We don't change Governments very often in this country, conservative bunch that we are, normally giving the incumbent mob around ten years or so to do their worst and earn our ire. In the last twenty five years there have only been 2 changes of Federal Government, and three changes at Victorian State level.

One consequence of this is that it gives the Opposition a good chunk of time to come up with a wish list of things they'd change when they finally do get their turn. And after ten years or so of waiting, they're normally itching to get a chance to enact their program.

Think the Hawke Government in 1983 and its rapid program of economic reform; floating the dollar and deregulating the banks. Or the Howard Government in 1996 and its swift moves to deregulate the Labor market and begin work on the GST. Or even, at a local level, the Kennett Government in 1992 and it's rush to declare war on the population of the state, burn down all the villages and cancel Christmas.

So we don't change Government very often but, when we do, we normally see fairly swift changes enacted. As Paul Keating noted, before the 1996 election,

'When you change the Government, you change the country.'

But this has not been Big Ted's style, since taking office late last year.

In fact, in the six months since that time he has appeared to be more interested in working on his camouflage techniques than enacting any sort of legislative agenda, while the State parliament has been about as busy as the Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, before the Oompa Loompa's arrive:

'No one goes in... and no one comes out!'

And this brings us back to the original point of this piece, which hopefully hasn't been lost along the way. The Liberal Party in Victoria are finally on the move. Yes, after the miserable lassitude of the last few months they're slowly getting on with the business of breaking their election promises.

This process started slowly, which seems fitting for a group determined to pace themselves.

During the last election campaign, Baillieu and co ran pretty hard on Labor's poor performance on public transport. Much was made of the shortcomings in Victoria in this area - late and cancelled services, aging infrastructure, poorly negotiated contracts with the private operators, myki - but rather less of what was to be done to rectify them. The Liberals slid along on a vaguely worded promise to 'fix' the system.

So anyone that took this promise seriously must have been surprised to see that the new Governments first moves in this area were to cut services. Trains running from the suburbs to the city loop are to be trimmed considerably at leak times as part of a new timetable. Now while Baillieu may not have promised to run more trains, you'd probably struggle to find too many regular punters who regarded fewer services as much of a public transport 'fix.' Nevertheless, Baillieu has tried to defend this by claiming that fewer services will mean a better functioning system, to the infuriation of anyone out West who'll have to wait longer to get into town.

But with the next batch of broken promises, he's struggling even to get cover from vagueness or semantics.

During the election campaign, Baillieu gave a public commitment to significantly increase the pay of Victorian school teachers. Increased such that, in his words at the time, Victorian teachers would be 'the best paid in the country' (currently they rank about mid table). It should be noted that this policy announcement still sits on the Victorian Liberal website (see link above).

Last week he announced, by way of the Government's first pay offer to teachers, that this would not be happening after all. In fact, the Governments new pay offer, an increase of 2.5%, would not only move Victorian teachers backwards, in comparison to how teachers are paid in other states but, as it is below the current inflation rate of 2.9%, would also represent an actual pay cut, in real terms.

Offering to cut pay having promised to substantially increase it? Not even John Howard had the brazen 'non-core promise' cajones to try that!

Baillieu explained away this dramatic about face by saying:

'I am very keen to get the best possible outcome for teachers through an EBA process, and we remain committed to that, and...'

... oh fuck me, I think if I write out the rest of his weasel word excuse I'll probably want to go and drown myself afterwards. So we'll leave the obfuscation to Big Ted and just state in much simpler language that's he's been caught out ditching a policy that he obviously never took seriously. And for this he deserves to get as much grief and criticism as possible.

And this isn't the only policy reversal that fits into this category either.

Having got the state's teachers offside, Big Ted then made similar moves to infuriate the states police force and community care workers in the same manner: by denying them a reasonable pay increase. Again, the Government's offer is to be a pay increase of 2.5% to both sectors, again, below the rate of inflation and so representing a cut in wages in real terms. The police union were particularly aggravated by this:

considering how much time Baillieu spent droning on during the election about the crime wave gripping the state and how he was going to hire about 400 000 new coppers. While he may not have broken this promise, to turn Victoria into something akin to a medium security prison, yet, it's obvious that he does intend for his newly expanded law enforcement battalions to be poorly paid. Which has all sorts of implications, including public safety, staff moral and recruiting.

Having said all of that though, I guess it's still hard to know exactly how to feel about what is happening at the moment down on Spring Street.

On the one hand, it's good to see that the Premier and his Senior ministers haven't succumbed to some mysterious new form of polio that renders them crippled and paralysed, unable to speak or move. On the other, though, it's a shame that they have to demonstrate this by breaking a number of their key election promises and shafting the state civil service. Since I'm feeling conflicted, perhaps it's best if I leave the summing up to 'Sharon of Melb' who posted this comment on the Herald Sun site yesterday, under an article about Big Ted:

Sharon of Melb: Baillieu has to go. All he has done is hang out with Oprah and swum in the sea.

I'll have to consult 'Sharon of Melb' more often. She's much more concise than I am.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

50th Post Anniversary: Some Political Favourites Recalled

It came to my attention the other day that I had achieved a signficant milestone with this blog: 50 entries. Which makes it about the longest running project of my entire life.

So the importance of this milestone is not to be underestimated. And I feel like I've come along way in the past 6 and 3/4 months, since it was pouring rain one Sunday afternoon and the Foxtel had gone down and my girlfriend was out of town and I had nothing better to do but rant online. Well, I should say, we've come a long way on this journey together, as I wouldn't want the 14 people who regularly read this stuff to feel left out.

So to mark my 50th post, I thought I would give a kind of brief (it's kinda sunny today and nice outside) recap of some of favourite moments in Australian politics, during my time as an observor.

I'm from New Zealand originally and when we moved to Australia in 1986, Australian politics was dominated by the long, and bizarrely coiffered, shadow of Bob Hawke. Among a number of achievements in public life, he is now perhaps best remembered as the wearer of the most spectacular jacket in Australian political history:

Although I also think of him as the teller of the perhaps the greatest joke in Australian political history:

Hmmm... the greatest joke in Australian Political History? It's hard to say. I mean, it's a tough call. There's a lot of competition:

In any case, Hawke worked a very effective double team for a few years with Paul Keating, who served a lengthy apprenticeship as Treasurer, Deputy Leader and Principal Head Kicker. Keating would eventually grow tired of playing second fiddle and have Hawke removed in a fairly bloody coup, which left him to take up the fight against the then Opposition Leader John Hewson. Hewson had been riding high in the polls against Hawke, but found the going harder against Keating, who quickly moved to attack him on a variety of fronts as the 1993 election drew close: (the good bit starts about 2.50. Sorry, I didn't have time to cut it down):

History, of course, shows that Keating did stage a remarkable comeback and defeat Hewson at that election, although it was probably hard not to feel a little sorry for the Liberal leader. Next to Keating, he was left looking a little insipid:

Hewson's defeat would, eventually, pave the way for the return of Mr 17%, old 'Lazarus with a Triple Bypass' himself: John Winston Howard. Howard had suffered at the hands of Hawke in the 80's, but Keating was never as popular with the public as the Silver Bodgie and Howard sensed his chance. Gearing up for the 1996 election and his final tilt at the top job, Howard's thirst for power was the same, only this time he came armed with a secret weapon; He could sing:

Howard, of course, became PM and just like some parable out of the Old Testament, darkness settled over the land. A darkness that lasted for about a thousand years... or at least 12. There was no singing.

I lost my interest in politics for a bit around this time. The years 1996 - 2003 are largely a blank in my political mind, as Howard and his acolytes took over and did their best to make Australia into a small country town circa 1950, while Kim 'Marshmallow' Beazley drove lots of people like me out of Labor Party forever.

In this dark time, right thinking people opposed to Howard were very much in the minority, and had to take solace in things like this:

But in 2003, a ray of hope appeared again, in the form of Labor leader Mark Latham... Yes, I know, in these enlightened times that sentence seems to make no sense, but there it was. Labor had a Keating-esque leader again and for the first time in seemingly forever, looked likely to be competitive at the 2004 election as Latham took the attack up to Howard:

But a little of this sort of thing can go a long way. And in an election where serious issues like the Iraq war, middle glass welfare and Australia's brutal treatment of refugees seemed to be largely ignored, Latham found himself getting jeery thumbs-down signals for this trivial moment:

Some pundits even went so far as to say that this overly aggressive handshake may have cost Latham the election, which is so unlikely that it may well be true.

The 2004 election marked something of a generational change in Australian politics as younger, fresher faces made their way into Parliament and began to make their presence felt. They also showed some of the older hands some new moves:

Although Costello's mimicking of Peter Garrett's dancing in that last clip is undoubtedly a payback for this (quite possibly my favourite political moment from the last 20 years):

Midnight Oil - Beds Are Burning Live At Olympics... by ZapMan69

Gumption on an important issue on a very public stage. Let's hope the current ALP takes note when trying to sell their carbon pricing policy.

From the new crop, Labor would also find their next leader. A man who's unlikley culinary tastes would make him something of a global internet sensation:

Kevin Rudd was, perhaps, the unlikliest leader the Federal Labor Party has ever had. Quite apart from the ear wax thing, he was a man only 9 years in Parliament, without a lot of personal support in caucus and without strong links to the trade union movement, all of which should have been fatal handicaps. Nevertheless, when Kim Beazley was finally, mercifully, taken out and put down, this was who the ALP would turn to. And who would, even more surprisingly, lead the ALP out of the wilderness by defeating Howard at the 2007 election. Howard, less surprisingly, did not take this occurrence well:

Rudd was a new player on the national stage and was largely unknown to the general public when he took office. He would very quickly move to establish his own unique style, one which included asking himself an awful lot of questions:

'Do I look like I'm interested in answering your question? No I don't.' A motto that all politicians seem to live by.

Rudd's idiosyncrasies would soon bug the population very badly, so much so that his cabinet colleagues would have him replaced before his first term as PM was even up. Which proved a boon for the advertising industry, if no one else:

Rudd's replacement would be Julia Gillard who, after a promising first 5 minutes, would quickly end up emulating all of his unpopular traits. I was going to post a clip or a photo of this, but searching for something just proved too depressing.

So we should probably just move onto Julia's opponent, the one and only Tony Abbott, who generates that much oddball media he should probably have a highlights package of his own. Now when people think of Abbott at the moment, they probably think of this:

But to think only about this truly bizarre moment, where the first time round you're really not sure if he's going to punch the journalist or spontaneously combust, is to forget about some of his other hits. And we wouldn't want that to happen. So how about the time he denied and then confirmed a meeting he'd had with Cardinal George Pell, all in the space of 8 seconds:

Or the time he accused a dying man trying to get justice of conducting a 'stunt' by trying to meet with him:

I mean, I said 'Say what's on your mind Tony,' but Jesus! And then there was the time he swore at his shadow opposite number:

And the time he tried to explain how we shouldn't necessarily pay attention to everything he said. I mean, not to go assuming that he meant all of it:

The upside, of course, is that Abbott is a young guy, and so there should be plenty more material for me to use, when I recap the next twenty years.

And, just very quickly in small print, can I thank everyone who's had a look a look at this so far and given me feedback.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Great Big New Tax on Everything

One thing we know for certain about Tony Abott: He is a man who can spot a 'Great Big New Tax On Everything.' Although his task has been made easier in this respect, for the 'Great Big New Tax on Everythings' have been proliferating like jack rabbits.

First there was the 'Resource Rent Tax,' a tax on mining profits above a certain level, first proposed by Kevin Rudd and then modified by Julia Gillard. Abbott identified both original and modified proposals as a 'Great Big New Tax on Everything.'

More recently, we had the 'Queensland Natural Disaster Levy,' a tax on anyone earning more than $50 000 who's house wasn't washed or blown away, to help with reconstruction after the cyclone and floods in that state. Abbott had this one pegged as a 'Great Big New Tax on Everything' too.

And now that we've finally reached what will likely be defining moment of the Gillard Government (or the Gillard/Whoever They Replace Her With Before the Next Election Government), the attempts to lower Australia's carbon emissions by attaching a price to them, Abbott has found another one. Gillard's embryonic proposal to introduce a modest tax per tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere, designed to help the environment and, you know, save the planet, is actually another one of these bloody 'Great Big New Tax on Everythings' that the Government is so keen on:

So a good question would seem to be: Why is the Labor Party so keen on bringing in a Great Big New Tax on Everything?

And an even better question might be: How is it that a member of the Howard Government, who really did introduce a Great Big New Tax on Everything in the form of the GST, is allowed to get away with this nonsense?

But we can leave those questions for another time.

Right now, let's just reiterate what is obviously an established fact: TONY ABBOTT IS VERY OPPOSED TO NEW TAXES TO HELP LOWER CARBON EMISSIONS.

He's stated this opposition, in every available media outlet at his disposal, so often that you start to wonder if his vocabulary contains anything more than the words 'opposed, 'new,' 'tax,' 'on,' and 'carbon.' Which, if true, is probably a bit dull for his wife and kids, let alone those of us who pay regular attention to his public pronouncements.

But this is not to say that he doesn't think carbon emissions shouldn't be lowered. He may be a late convert to the whole 'Inconvenient Truth,' global warming business, but he's inside the tent now. His previously stated skepticism (Abbott once referred to global warming as 'absolute crap') has gradually given way to oft repeated acceptance.

What, then, does the alternative Prime Minister propose to do about lowering Australia's carbon emissions? If he's not going to put a price on them and let the market sort it out? How's he going to fix this problem at no cost to us, the taxpayer?

Well, he's got a $10 billion dollar 'Direct Action' policy that would fund a variety of initiatives designed to directly lower emissions; tree planting, clean coal, free fluorescent light bulbs for all, that sort of thing. A whole range of things really, hundreds of them. And best of all: No new GREAT BIG NEW TAX ON EVERYTHING!

But wait.

Whereabouts is he going to get his $10 billion worth of funding from to pay for all these warm and fuzzy programs? I half expected him to go:


when he was asked this question, and then maybe throw a smoke capsule on the ground before making for the exit, in the style of some sort of super villain:

For the very obvious answer is that that $10 billion dollars is going to come from the Australian tax payer, either through new taxes or reallocation of funds from existing revenue. A case of 'Half a dozen new, small taxes on everything' perhaps?

And this is where Coalition fantasy land starts to diverge from reality. For the Government's heavily criticised carbon tax is actually a tax on business, not on us regular punters. At least not directly. Businesses are the ones that are going to have to pay the levy for whatever tonnage of carbon they emit into the atmosphere (currently expected to be about 4c per 100 trillion tonnes or something equally negligible).

Abbott's argument is that businesses will then pass this extra tarriff onto us regular punters in the form of higher charges, and so higher prices, and this forms the basis of his GREAT BIG TAX ON EVERYTHING spiel. Which undoubtedly has some basis in fact. Nevertheless, us punters have a choice about how we spend out money. We can choose to accept these extra prices and stick with the same polluting companies that we've always used or, or, we can take our money elsewhere and buy products and services from carbon neutral industries that don't attract the tax and so have cheaper prices. This is the whole purpose of putting a price on carbon through a tax (or an emission trading system): peoples desire for the best price and the best value for money will reward non carbon industries through increased business.

Which is the market in action.

But with Abbott's proposal, there's no choice at all. He'll simply take $10 billion from our collective pockets and funnel it off to whatever fiddling-at-the-margins schemes he thinks will play best in the media. Which will mean more tree planting and more solar panel rebates, all paid for directly by us. And tree planting and solar panel rebates are all well and good, and certainly have their place in an overall climate strategy, but they really aren't an effective centrepeice of a policy if the goal is really to reduce carbon emissions in a cost efficient manner.

Take a recent report in 'The Age,' for example, that showed that in the last ten years Federal Governments of both stripes had spent $5.5 billion on climate reduction policies of the tree planting and solar rebate type that had reduced our emissions at the cost of $168 per tonne. And then compare that to the Government's mooted carbon tax that will reduce emissions at the price of $20 - 25 per tonne (not 4c per 100 trillion tonnes as has been inaccurately reported elsewhere) and see which one you think is the better policy.

Hmmm... the $168 dollar per tonne one paid for by us? Or the $25 per tonne way paid for by the polluters? Tricky...

It says a lot about the current state of political debate in this country that Abbott is allowed to go around the country masquerading as an anti-tax campaigner, while simultaneously proposing to take $10 billion dollars worth of extra taxes from us. Government in fighting and a lack of detail in what has been announced so far has let Abbott off the hook.

Julia Gillard must also lift her game as the Prime Minister has shown, so far, that she is not a good sales rep for her Government's ideas. The focus is on her and the ALP and they must deliver in two areas simultaneously. Explaining their carbon tax policy better and turning the attention of the media and the people to the cost and flagrant hypocrisy of what the Opposition is proposing.

It's a chewing gum and wallking at the same time moment for Labor and, so far, they haven't shown that they're capable of doing either.