Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Federal Budget 2012 - Reactions

With the Federal Budget announcement behind us, we can turn our attention to the next stage in the process: analysis.

There are many typical components to this each year. There are the weary talking heads, the dot point heavy charts, the cartoons of the Treasurer cutting up a cake and dropping a piece called 'Hope' on the floor while the Prime Minister strangles a cat called 'Opinion Polls,' each a familiar and comfortable sight to politics watchers.

Still another annual element of the Budget coverage is commentary from the people it effects; the regular folks, the real people, the joes from the suburbs. These are people particularly beloved by our newspapers, as they trawl around trying to find anyone made especially better or worse off by the Government's recent brace of initiatives. The papers normally feature some sort of photo spread of different demographic stereotypes from among the regular folk in the budget aftermath, a pictorial representation showing what these different groups wanted, what they got and how they felt about it afterwards.

And as I've always said, why spend time coming up with some new concept of your own, when you can much more easily pilfer someone else's...


Dan and Jen Klimpson, with daughter Sasha-Brionne. Household income $100 000, paying mortgage in East Struggletown.

WHAT THEY WANTED: A hundred thousand dollars dollars paid to them six monthly, indexed at 4800% of the Consumer Price Index. Discounted or free child care, study benefits, car rego, medical treatment, Foxtel. A disproportionate say in  how the Government spends its money.

WHAT THEY GOT: All of the above, in addition to a surprise announcement of a new public holiday, only for people with kids, to be called 'Family Day.'

THEIR REACTION: 'It's really disappointing to see that once again this Government has overlooked and ignored the working families that are the backbone of this nation.'

John Taylor, 38. Unemployed for 8 months, formerly a middle manager at a small shoe company. 

WHAT HE WANTED: Proper cost of living increases for his unemployment benefits. Funding to help provide affordable inner city accommodation for poor people. Hope.

WHAT HE GOT: A share in a small packet of Aldi brand rice crackers, to be distributed evenly among Australia's 5 000 000 dole recipients. A pledge from the Treasurer to personally visit each unemployed person in Australia and give them a punch in the face.

HIS REACTION: Well, who cares? Unemployed people don't count.

Caroline Yan, 23. Third year of an International Studies Degree at Monash University.

WHAT SHE WANTED: A working light bulb in every class room and a new high def flatscreen for the student union office.

WHAT SHE GOT: A reminder of how little Australian Government's care about education.

REACTION: Bought a cask of wine and watched 'Mad Men' episodes downloaded from Pirate Bay.

Martin and Chameena Cox-Kupinder, and son Atticus. Household income above $250 000. Paying mortgage in Cityfringe.

WHAT THEY WANTED: Bonus payment when purchasing an investment property AKA a 'Fourth Home Buyers Scheme.' A Government funded nanny. Lower taxes.

WHAT THEY GOT: Promise from the Government to only speak of the non means tested payments that they receive in a hushed tone.

THEIR REACTION: 'When are people going to recognise that $250 000 is not a high income in contemporary Australia?'

Maxine Alexander, 37. Owns clothing store in Hawthorn.

WHAT SHE WANTED: A return of the Howard Government.

WHAT SHE GOT: Nothing much that would prevent that, or the nearest equivalent, from happening.

HER REACTION: 'The sooner we get a posse together to light the torches and burn that witch, the better!'

Bill Farmer, 67, lives on a combination of Government and private pensions.

WHAT HE WANTED: Better support services for older Australians. Easier access to medical treatment. Friendlier staff at his local MP's office. A cup of tea.

WHAT HE GOT: Oh... er... shit! Er... turn the lights out, pretend we're not home.

REACTION: 'Well, back in my day, you never even had to deal with these wallopers. Course, round here, in those days, this was all fields. I remember...'

Monday, April 30, 2012

How and WHY!!!

It's hard to know where to start. Where to trace the threads back to. How it all happened.

To say nothing of why. Why why why why WHY (shrieking) WHYYY!!! WHHHYY!!! WHHHHYYYY!!!!!!

In fact yes, best say nothing whatever of 'why,' for that's clearly too painful. Besides which, my girlfriend's asleep and she has a cold and I don't want to wake her up. And 'why' may be unknowable in any case.

Come to think of it, I don't feel much like focussing on 'how' either. That's really not much better than 'why,' and with 'how' you're just going back over painful details that were bad enough the first time around. So yeah, let's forget that one too.

Which leaves us with what, exactly? Oh right... 'what,' exactly.

'What' at least has the advantage of simplicity.

The Federal Labor Party appears to be in ruins at this time.

The signs are everywhere.

Our Prime Minister, the fiestiness she has shown since she saw off Kevin Rudd's leadership challenge nowhere in sight, anxiously ringing her hands as she made yet another public backflip to the press yesterday. The tired, miserable expression on the faces of her senior ministers as they then tried to defend what she had just announced. The leery headlines in the Murdoch and, yes, even the more sensible outlets among the media as they called for Gillard's resignation and wondered just who the ALP might throw up as their next leader. The obligatory K.Rudd story, where unnamed sources (with the initials K.Rudd) confirmed that the little fella would be willing to step into the leadership breach, if asked (or, more realistically, if the palace guards haven't lifted the drawbridge and barricaded the doors by the time he arrives).

And, perhaps most chilling of all, the tone of voice of my Labor inclined work colleagues, as they huddled around the water cooler and tried to comprehend the reality of Tony Abbott, PM:

'We're fucked aren't we?'

Which seems as good a summation of the ALP's current state as any.

If an election were held now, the Labor Party would be obliterated by a holocaust so total, that the one in 'T2' would seem like a sunny day at the park in comparison:

Terminator 2 - nuclear attack from cpucomplexx on Vimeo.

Only the very safest Labor seats would be safe, if the current state of the polls is to be believed, and after what happened in the recent election in Queensland, where Labor candidates on margins of 15% lost their spots, not even all of those. The Libs, you would think, would probably fancy their chances in any seat in the nation right now.

So, while I already stated that I wouldn't get into the how and the why of this parlous state of events in this piece, in the spirit of the Gillard Prime Ministership, let me do exactly that.

Yesterday, our PM went to the press to announce that she had asked federal Labor back bencher Craig Thompson to stand down from the the ALP and sit in Parliament as in independent. Thompson, the parliamentarian currently under investigation for fraud and misconduct from his time as head of the Health Services Union, had been toughing it out, denying the allegations while waiting for the investigation into his affairs to be concluded. In doing so, he had had pretty staunch support from his Prime Minister, who had made numerous public comments about the 'presumption of innocence' and 'not commenting on an ongoing police investigation' and who had given every indication that nothing short of Thompson being charged with something criminal would get her to withdraw that support. As mentioned, this had been her very solid, very unchangeable, very public position, repeated on the record any number of times...

...until yesterday, when her new public position was that Thomson no longer deserved his place in Labor caucus and would be removed from it until the investigation was over. He would not be asked to resign from parliament, or forced to do so, and he could still sit in Parliament and vote for the ALP if he felt like it but, and this was crucial, he would have to sit in a different spot to the rest of them. A new chair, you see. And... a new desk! Access to his old chair and desk would be withheld, until it was known whether or not he would have to go to prison.

Gillard said she had asked Thomson to do this to 'uphold the dignity of the Parliament.'

And this brings us back to where we started; with outrage from the Opposition, mockery from the press and numb shock from Labor's dwindling band of supporters. 

While the removal of Thomson is the right idea, the PM has gone about it in such a way that she has come out of the affair with her reputation severely tarnished. Under normal circumstances, Thomson would have been forced to resign a long time ago. While the police investigation is still ongoing, based on the information already in the public domain Thomson is, at the very least, hopelessly incompetent. At worst, he is a petty criminal and will be professionally ruined, as well as having to serve some jail time. Either way, he's not the sort of person that a large political party can afford to count among it's number. But because of Labor's perilous numbers in parliament, they sit on a majority of one even with Thomson, Gillard felt she had to defend him, tying his fate to hers. Once she stood by him, and stated she would not act until the police had done, it was really too late for her to change her mind. 

If Gillard had wanted Thomson out of the party, even temporarily, then the time to act was early, so as to underline her authority and allow some claim to the high moral ground. Since she didn't do this, then she really needed to wait until there was some evidence of wrongdoing before having Thompson removed. By procrastinating, defending Thomson and then abandoning him, and then lurching to a sort of half way punishment, Gillard has managed to create the impression, once again, that she has no idea what she is doing. Worse, what she has underlined instead of her authority is the impression in the minds of the public that she makes decisions day to day, or even minute to minute, based on whatever she thinks is politically expedient and doesn't believe anything that comes out of her own mouth.

There's more than a hint of the 'Real Julia' debacle from the last election campaign about all of this. 

There, Gillard sort-of called a halt to her faltering campaign about halfway through and attempted to reset the whole thing, claiming she had thrown off the shackles of her evil spin doctors and media staff. We were set to see 'The Real Julia' from that point onwards. Sadly, while her election campaign didn't change that much, this has actually proved to be the case, as there are echoes of the The Real Julia approach in many of her decisions since, a lot of them conforming to a fairly obvious pattern.
  • Make a decision.
  • Defend it aggressively.
  • Abandon it suddenly, for no obvious reason.
  • Do the opposite of what you originally stated.
  • Never mention any of it again.
Craig Thomson is merely the latest example of this process.

But there are plenty of others - carbon tax, mining tax, people's forum, green loans, refugee processing in East Timor, cash for clunkers, Peter Slipper... sweet jesus, I haven't even mentioned him! - enough, you would think, to bring Gillard down as leader. Her credibility is at an end, her popularity is non existant and it's difficult to see how Labor can keep going, with things as they are, without doing something.

Whether that is replacing Gillard with another leader, or merely outing her as Tony Abbott's long term secret friend and double agent, only time will tell.... But not that much time, you wouldn't think.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Das KAP-ital

They love a populist politician in Queensland.

My own experience observing Australian politics is long enough that I caught the greatest of them all, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, right at the end of his thousand year reign of terror (actually 19 years, but I'm sure it felt like a thousand for a good number of people who lived there), somewhere between that moment of corrupting absolute power and the police powers of the anti corruption commission. Sir Joh distilled politics down to a very simple business; offer inane gibberish to the public while your acolytes pillage the state Treasury and an expanded police force gives a hardline interpretation of the word 'order.' He didn't really need policies, as his police and security agencies meant there was no opposition, so his connection with populism is looser than it might have been, largely down to his folksy manner and his deluded 'Joh for Canberra' campaign of 1987 (which effectively derailed John Howard's election chances that year, so it's impossible to hate the bloke). Said Joh, when his campaign for Prime Minister had petered out, 'I never wanted it anyway.'

More exciting than Joh, and nearly as resiliant, was his populist suiccessor, the exciting Queensland soap melodrama that was Pauline Hanson.

From this distance, where Hanson only shows up occasionally on telly, and usually in something like 'Dancing with the Stars,' it's hard to remember exactly what a big deal she once was. Elected to Federal Parliament in 1996 on the back of an anti-Labor swing of 19%, this being the election where Keating lead Labor over a cliff, Hanson immediately made a name for herself in her maiden parliamentary speech, where she denounced multiculturalism, immigration, tolerance, dogs, buses, vegetables, schools, immunisation, Medicare, television and most of the other things that modern Australia is founded on. This proved so popular, initially, that at the Queensland State election of 1998 she lead the 'One Nation' party she had formed around herself to 10 seats and the balance of power. But this triumph was short lived. Shortly after this, people suddenly remembered that they liked dogs and television and, most importantly, their foreign born neighbours and that the person telling them to hate all of those things was, actually, nothing more than a petty tyrant in a fright wig. Hanson soon lost her seat, then her party, and even spent some time in jail for electoral fraud, before retiring to a life as a grade D celebrity, where she was infinitely more suited.

Now Queensland has produced a new populist political leader for us to enjoy.

Although 'new' may not be the most accurate way of describing the gent in question; a silver haired veteran of 38 years in State and Federal politics by the name of Bob 'The Mad' Katter. Also known as the bloke in the hat.

Katter came into State politics, as a National Party member of Sir John's government, in 1974 and moved to Canberra in 1993, winning the far north Queensland seat of Kennedy (formerly held by his father). In 2001 he left the National Party behind, annoyed at the government's removal of sugar subisidies for his constituents and tired of Federal National leader Warren Truss' gormless face.

He subsequently won  his seat as an independant, and has now been re-elected as such three times (2004, 07 and 10). Despite the Nationals throwing gobs of money and effort at it to try and wrest the seat back, Katter won nearly 70% of the two party preferred vote in 2010 and now has one of the safest seats in the country. Sitting on such a buffer, it's no wonder the man's confidence is up.

Which brings us to Katter's latest venture: Katter's Australia Party (or KAP):

Apart from the video, the newest player on the Australian political landscape has quite a smart website, from which we can discern a few key points:

1) The man's name is in the title for a reason. This is very much KATTER'S Australia Party. On my visit to the site today, I counted five pictures of The Mad just on the home page; walking, yelling, scowling and, caution advised, even grinning. An ad to the right of these offered the chance to buy a book telling the  'passionate' history of Australia. The author of this was... Bob Katter. A separate section within the site itself is called 'Where's Bob?' and is dedicated to recording people's encounters with the great man; photos, anecdotes, hat sightings (no caution here, this is freakin' hilarious!).

2) Unlike Sir Joh, The Mad has got plenty of policies, on everything from food production in Queensland, to selling Queensland's public assets, to rebuilding Queensland's infrastructure. Hmmm... there's something about this that I can't quite put my finger on. And this is where populism really kicks in. KAP's policies are a mix of pre 60s Labor, Menzies era social conservatism and a straight out demand for pork barrel cash for the bush. It's very us against them, although the enemy shifts around a bit, and sometimes isn't defined at all.

3) Apart from policies, the site also has a separate section about the party's principals. Which I liked, as it seems to reflect the very nature of politics; Principals: What we'd like to do if we lived in a fantasy world where the usual rules of politics didn't apply; Policies: What we will try and do in this world where they do.

4) KAP is short of a few bob. They're not short of Bob, but they are short of money, at least based on the number of 'DONATE NOW' links that dot the website.

Of course, it's easy for me to sit here and make fun of a squeeky voiced old codger on a bit of a power trip. The Mad will always attract detraction,such is the nature of his political persona. But he is to be underestimated at his opponents peril.

No one really expected him to keep his seat as an independent against a well entrenched and well financed operation like The Nats, but he did, much to their annoyance. And his new political party, which has been derided by pundits considerably more serious than myself, has already had some small measure of success. In the Queensland state election of a few weeks ago they captured two seats (one to The Mad's son, Rob), a small number to be sure, but only five less than the Labor Party managed. If they keep their focus as tight as it is now - local candidates and issues - they could certainly do some damage in far north Queensland at the next Federal election. This forthcoming election, likely to feature two widely disliked leaders in Abbott and Gillard, throws open a number of opportunities for a small time populist on the make. Very much in the Queensland tradition.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


If you paid $654 for something, you'd be expecting something pretty nifty in return.

An iPad 3, for example. Or maybe a weekend away somewhere sunny, with dinner at a nice restaurant and a few drinks.

Conversely, if you paid $654 for something and got... nothing for it, not a sausage, you'd be pretty fucking ropable. That iPod spaced hole on your coffee table would remain just a hole and you'd be ready to break something.

But then, let's imagine, having endured this dud transaction, you were then told that this wasn't a one off, but that you'd actually signed up for an annual payment of $654. A once yearly sting for which you would receive... nothing. Not a bean. Not a skerrig. Not even a free magnet calendar for your fridge. Well, if this happened, then 'ropable' and 'break something' probably wouldn't cut it. If you had a temperament like mine, you'd probably just burst into flames on the spot.

And so here's the bad news.

If you live in Victoria, then this is precisely the deal that your last two Governments have stuck you with.

Only it's not $654 that we'll be paying each year for... nothing. It's $654 million. For this is the amount that the 'AquaSure' consortium, builders of Victoria's new desalination plant, will receive from us taxpayers in the 2012-13 financial year, in return for which they will need to deliver us with... nothing.

And by nothing, I mean NOTHING. Nothing as in the way Seinfeld was about nothing:

GEORGE: I think I can sum up the payments for you with one word; Nothing.


GEORGE: (Smiling) Nothing.

RUSSELL: (Unimpressed) What does that mean?

GEORGE: The payments are for nothing.

RUSSELL: All right, tell me, tell me about the water. How much water?

GEORGE: Oh, no. No water.

RUSSELL: No water? Well, what are we paying for?

Good question Russell, what indeed?

The $654 million is not for the plant, which we have already paid $5.7 billion dollars for and which may even be finished at some point in the future (as of this writing it is more than a year overdue and no revised date of completion has been announced). And it's not for any actual water. As reported by 'The Age' earlier this week, the state Government has placed an order for 'Zero litres' of recalibrated drinking water for the next financial year. Meaning that our very high tech, $5.7 billion water plant is going to be sitting unused for the next twelve months, the only noise coming from it the sounds of some high priced tradesmen trying to finish building it.

So if it's not for the plant and it's not for any actual water, what exactly have we bought with our $654 mill?

In reality, there can be no better answer given than this $654 million annual payment is stipulated in the contract signed by the Government and AquaSure. The consortium demanded it as part of their terms for building the facility and the Government signed off on it. The spectacularly dreary project summary on the Government's Public-Private partnership website - for the good of your health I don't recommend clicking that link and reading it - simply states that the Government will pay for any water used and;

...a security element that is paid to the extent the Project delivers water that is ordered, or is capable of delivering 150 GL per annum of desalinated water at the required quality.'

In other words, it's just a fat wad of our cash that goes straight into the consortium's pocket. And all they have to do to earn this, based on the above, is have the plant ready to produce water, whether we actually end up buying any or not.

So, a better question than what are we getting for our $654 million is probably, how on earth did we get stuck with such a crapulent contract? In these difficult financial times, when Government's from both sides tell us repeatedly and very loudly that they have no money for anything, how is it that we're lumbered with paying $654 million dollars annually, for twenty years, for nothing.

It seems almost too incredible to be true.

The Labor Government that produced this outcome for the state is, of course, little more than a fast fading memory. Although a few of the players behind the deal are still on the scene. Former Water Minister Tim Holding, who signed the Aquasure contract on behalf of the Government, was asked about it this week and he said that he thought Melbournians would be 'thankful' for the desalination plant in future years, despite the costs.

You can now see why he's an ex Minister.

But this is not to say that the current, Liberal, Government is free from blame for this debacle. After all, it was their scare campaign over water in 2006, with Big Ted Baillieu himself first proposing a desalination plant, that triggered this mess in the first place. Labor were initially firmly opposed to the idea - quite apart from the cost, desalination is environmentally unfriendly in a number of ways - but they waivered in the face of a concerted media campaign. A nationwide drought had a grip on the public imagination, water catchment levels were hovering around 25% and as Opposition Leader, Big Ted was happy to tell the press that Victoria would soon look the surface of the moon.

Labor's panicked response to the Liberal's effective campaign directly lead to them rushing into the poorly thought out Aquasure deal. They were keen to get in bed with someone, anyone, who could deliver a desalination plant as quickly as possible, and they were willing to spend large amounts of our money to do it.

Now, of course, the drought has broken, catchment levels are in the sixties and panic about water security seems like a mass delusion brought on by too much exposure to the Herald Sun and Neil Mitchell (sadly, a common occurrence in this state) For his part, Premier Ted is happy to shrug his shoulders and say, in his bored, listless fashion, that Labor fucked things up, just like they always do. And just be thankful that he was able to step in and... (yawns)... something something.

A more energetic Premier might think about doing something to fix a massive problem, and drain on the state's resources, that they were partly responsible for creating. But this is unlikely. Energetic is not Big Ted's style. And, in any case, the Liberal Party will be quite happy to pay $654 million a year to have such a big stick to whack the Labor Party with. For political party's at least, opportunities like this are truly priceless.

But there are options if anyone wants to follow them up. With all the problems that Aquasure have had building the blasted thing, the consortium has already lost a billion dollars over the construction of the plant, you'd think they could be tempted out of their contract, for the right offer. The state could buy them out, pack them off and then sit on what has already been built, in the off chance that we may get some use out of it in the future.

A one off chunk to save $654 million dollars a year? It's worth considering. And would probably be a vote winner. It's something for the ALP, held out of Government by only one seat and facing a Premier who has a hard time staying awake, to seriously think about.

Monday, April 2, 2012

27 Percent

'There was a firestorm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn. It wasn't safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everyone else in the neighbourhood was dead. So it goes.'

- Slaughterhouse 5

I wonder if this is how members of the Queensland ALP felt like, the survivors, as they emerged from wherever they hid during the recent state election. A handful of them had miraculously made it, while the flames of an angry electorate consumed the majority. Like Billy Pilgrim, they must have been stunned by the ferocity of the death storm that had been suddenly sprung on them. Unlike him, they probably weren't wearing silver combat boots and a stage curtain (at least, not publicly).

Now they have to face up to a similar question as the one Pilgrim faced after the city he was a POW in was burnt to the ground: What next?

For the Queensland ALP, answering this will not be easy.

It's easy to forget, but the Australian Labor Party is a Queensland invention, like XXXX and Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen. It was founded in 1891 in Barcaldine, QLD, by striking shearers who decided they'd had enough of sitting around on strike without pay and that, if they were going to sit around doing nothing, they may as well do that in Parliament and get handsomely paid for it. This was such a logical idea, that the Party grew rapidly, to the extent that Andrew Dawson was able to form a Labor Government in Queensland only 8 years later. It was the first Labor party government of any sort, anywhere in the world.

Flash forward a hundred odd years, and this proud and deep rooted institution has been reduced to such a state that calling their elected representatives a 'rump' is probably too kind. Their numbers are so few, only seven Labor parliamentarians will sit in the state legislature, that they will need a considerable improvement at the next election to even get to a position of being a 'rump.' Rump-hood is about the best that their new leader, whichever hapless sucker inherits that position, can look to the future and hope for.

Seven seats.

Out of a parliament of 89. The rest went; Liberal-National 78, Independent 2, and the Mad Katter's new 'Loopy Fru-Fru Party' 2. But more on the Mad Katter later.

It is nothing less than the greatest landslide obliteration in Australian political history.

The sheer one sidedness of it makes it hard to absorb all at once; Labor lost more than 40 seats, on the back of a 15.6% statewide swing against it, with ten senior, high profile ministers shown the door. The former Premier, Anna Bligh, suffered a 10 point swing against her, but her margin was such that she still held her seat by 5 percent... and then promptly announced that she was leaving politics immediately, giving the voters one last chance to give her party a booting at a subsequent by election. Which they probably will (Bligh's primary vote was only 0.5% ahead of the LNP candidate, making this seat ripe to switch sides as well).

As results go, the above catalogue of horrors is the sort of thing that makes the anti-Keating 'waiting with baseball bats' Federal landslide of 1996 look like a solidly credible effort. After all, the Keating lead ALP managed a primary vote of 37% in that one, considered an unmitigated disaster at the time, but which is some TEN POINTS higher than what Bligh and co just managed.

And there lies the rub for Federal Labor.

After Bligh, looking stunned and ill, shuffled away from the media pack for the last time to go on a ninety hour bender, senior Labor figures in Canberra stepped in to try and staunch the wound.

'It's a disappointing result, but we congratulate the new Liberal-National government and look forward to working with them.'

'Today is a tough day but the voters have spoken and you have to respect that.'

'Despite what happened in Queensland, Federal Labor will continue to do what it does every day; work hard to enact our agenda in support of workers and families.'

'This was an election fought on state issues, which are not really for the Federal Government to comment on.'

None of the above quotes need attribution; firstly because they're not real quotes, but, more importantly, because any number of Federal Labor figures made public comment offering variants on these themes. The result was bad, it was grim, but it was a state result based on state issues and it was nothing to do with Canberra. The Prime Minister even lead off her response by saying that 'Anna Bligh had lead a good government,' which made you wonder if she hadn't finally developed a sense of humour. She'd be hard pressed to find too many Queenslanders who shared that viewpoint currently.

But whatever the tough/calm/mildly deluded comments that members of the Federal Government offered up, you wouldn't want to put too much stock in them. Secretly they all must be terrified. For even before this tidal wave of anti-Labor feeling, they were in trouble in Queensland.

There are more marginal seats in Queensland than in any other state, enough so that the next Federal election could be won and lost in that state, alone. And then there's K.Rudd, the nation's most prominent Queensland politician, who'd just been sent to the back bench after his supposed colleagues had aggressively stomped on him. And Queensland's booming mining industries and economy make it a focal point of discontent over the carbon tax.

But, perhaps most worrying of all for the Federal ALP, is that two digit figure; 27 percent.

This is the primary vote number that Queensland Labor polled the day before the electorate buried them in a landfill with the other garbage. It turned out to be an accurate prediction. The figure that produced that stunning swing and the loss of all those seats and the end of numerous careers and the consignment of the state party to oblivion for a decade or more, if not forever...

... this is also the same primary vote figure that Federal Labor polled nationally yesterday.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Five Hundred Million

The Federal Government of Australia is broke.

Flat broke.

We know this because they keep telling us about it, loudly and insistently. And repetitively. Loudly, consistently, repetitively, vigorously and forcefully. There's no money available for nothin,' and they won't let you forget it. In In fact, it could be the only issue that Labor have communicated to us effectively over the last four and a bit years.

Whether the issue is something big, like the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme, or something smaller, like thousands of public servants keeping their jobs instead of being sacked, the Government's response is usually the same.


'Well yes of course we'd like to build that/pay for that/let those fucking weasels keep their jobs, but this Government is committed to a position of budget responsibility. And that means that any spending the Government does must be done responsibly, and with full knowledge of the Budget bottom line and our public commitment to keep it in surplus, regardless of how counter-productive/insignificant/produced by creative accounting.'

From the time this Government came to office they've been at it; razor gang-ing this or that into fiscal oblivion. And some of this was undoubtedly right.

Putting a means test on the Baby Bonus, for example, was definitely a good idea. As will be doing the same thing to the Private Health Insurance Rebate, assuming they summon the nerve to actually do that. You'd be hard pushed to find many people opposed to the idea of denying these payments to people earning more than $150 000 a year (outside of the people already earning that figure, that is).

And some of it was undoubtedly wrong. Letting the public service shrink, for example, is not such a great idea, particularly during an economic downturn when more people than ever are relying on Government services and benefits. Nor is allowing vitally important and neglected areas like mental health and dental care to continue to go unfunded a very smart idea, at least in the long run.

But the reasons given for these cutbacks, both good and bad, is generally the same. The Government might like these projects, they may even want to enact or keep some of them, but they just can't afford to. There's no money for any of it. They're just flat broke.


'And we understand that that may make us unpopular. We understand that. But that doesn't mean we can change our position or that we will free up money just to earn a few brownie points. This government isn't about brownie points. Or any sort of biscuit points for that matter. We're a non biscuit government committed to a tough bottom line and fiscal responsibility and a budget surplus that you could take a date to the movies with and still afford the tram home afterwards.'

With this in mind, it may surprise you to hear that this same Government, your Government, the one with its pockets turned inside out and barely enough cash to keep the lights on, spends $500 million a year on consultants.

That's right, FIVE... HUNDRED... MILLION.

And by 'consultants,' we're talking about some of the worlds largest firms, companies like 'KPMG' and 'PriceWaterhouseCoopers.' Sprawling, multi national companies with fancy letterheads and those big tower blocks in the heart of whatever city you live in, the sort where security guards will chase you away if you hang around too long in the lobby.

These massive, very profitable, firms get FIVE... HUNDRED... MILLION... dollars of our taxes every year to provide the Government with... what exactly.

In a story on the topic in 'The Age' earlier this week, the journalists investigating were unable, really, to find out exactly what this money was for. In the publicly listed contracts where the fees and services were described, the payments were often listed as being for 'management services' or 'professional services.' In other words, no one has the faintest idea.

Unnamed public service sources indicated that the 'consultants' employed with this money were mostly used for policy development and implementation advice, a function that the public service itself had served, pretty tidily, for more than a hundred years. At a fraction of the cost. This reliance on consultants for this sort of work is something that has been building over a long period of time, and is now spiralling wildly out of control.

It probably doesn't need to be added, but I will, that Labor was elected in 2007 with a promise to slash spending by Government departments on outside consultants.


'Well, what I will say is this. Quite clearly, quite clearly, quite clearly, no, if you'd just let me finish. What we are looking at in this situation, is a particularly specific type of situation and one that needs to be examined with a full comprehension of this and all other situations. Further, can I just say that these remarks have been misquoted and taken out of context and that this press conference is over!'

Five hundred million dollars.

The figure itself is significant, and worth considering.

This is more money than the Government spends annually on the Bureau of Statistics, who employ 3400 full time staff.

It is also the same amount that Finance Minister Penny Wong announced, last year, that Government departments would need to cut from their spending for the year ahead. Most of these savings are expected to come from job losses.

I would wager that few would be lost at KPMG or PwC.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Finger

The nurses of Victoria had been waiting a long time for a break. Finally, two days ago, they got one.

If you're not from Victoria, or are but are a kind of shut in with no television, internet or friends, that's a picture of the Premier's cousin, Marshall Baillieu, giving the finger to a handful of protesting nurses. The Baillieu's, Big Ted was inside as well but out of sight, were at the Baillieu library at the University of Melbourne, where the Premier was launching a biography of his late relative William Baillieu, millionaire businessman and 21 year veteran of Vicotrian State politics. The previous sentence indicating exactly how entrenched the Baillieu's are in public life in this state. A half dozen nurses showed up to heckle the Premier through a megaphone, as part of an ongoing campaign of industrial action relating to their new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

For 120-odd days now, the Australian Nurses Federation has been wrangling with the Liberal Government, trying to obtain a reasonable EBA for their members. The Government has offered only a 2.5% annual pay increase, less than the current rate of inflation and so effectively a pay cut, and has stated repeatedly that they will not budge from this without 'productivity offsets,' code for 'job losses.' Having recently offered teachers and, particularly, police much more generous deals, the Government has decided to play hardball with nurses and has stuck rigidly to this position. The ANF, for their part, want an 18% increase over three years, and a pledge that 'nurse-patient ratios' will stay the same, code for 'no job losses.' With the Government offering no compromises and the union unwilling to accept a plainly inadequate offer, the two sides have gone round in circles, no nearer to an agreement despite months of dialogue.

Big Ted was on ABC radio on Monday morning, summing up the Government's position. Sounding bored and distracted, like he often does, like he was watching something going on through the window, our Premier offhandedly gave us the contradiction that lies at the heart of the Government's offer. 'Everyone is all for the nurses,' Big Ted said, 'but we have a budgetary responsibility to make sure pay rises are affordable.'

In other words, 'We're frightened of the cops and I made some rash promises to the teachers so we're going to give you a kicking to pay for their pay rises. Now kindly go away.'

Enter Marshall Baillieu.

As a furore developed around images of a brummy, spoilt, toffy nosed old git insulting some of the states hardest working people, the wheels of the Government suddenly started to turn. David Davis, state Minister for Health, was immediately made available to meet with ANF secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick, who eagerly accepted the opportunity. Spruiking this meeting on Jon Faine's breakfast radio show on Wednesday, the host asked Davis why it had taken him four months to decide to pick up the phone, to which the minister couldn't provide an answer.

Which is to say, he offered many answers, none of which addressed the question:

FAINE: So why has it taken so long for you to arrange a meeting with the union?

DAVIS: Jon! Jon! Jon! Let me just say that this meeting is important and it is of
the utmost importance that it take place.

FAINE: Right... But why has it taken so long to arrange?

DAVIS: Jon! Jon! Jon! Ok, all right, let me just say that this meeting, this very
important meeting, has been scheduled and it is of the utmost importance that
it be achieved and scheduled and I am committed to making sure that it is
achieved. And scheduled.

FAINE: Right... But why did it take you so long to do it?

DAVIS: Jon, the Government has a very clear agenda in this case. We've always been
clear about our intentions, and our agenda is a matter of public record. Your
listeners should have no doubt about the clarity of our agenda.

FAINE: Yes, but I'm asking you why it took you so long to arrange this meeting?

DAVIS: We won't respond to ratbaggery Jon. The government won't be held to account by
lunatic fringe elements and people wearing hats. If I can impress on you one
point only then let it be this; the day of the lunatic hat wearer is over!

Which is not the real transcript, but the real one would probably make you want to smash something.

But the nurses have a break and a meeting with the Health Minister, and their chances of getting some sort of acceptable pay offer appear to be much higher than they were at the start of the week. Which is the good news.

Less good is the real lesson that we can draw from this. Which is; regardless of the justness of your cause and the integrity of your protest, to get any sort of action in Australian politics you really just need some old bugger to give you The Finger.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Australia's Worst Person

For years I thought this had to be John Howard.

The rat like cunning, the hatred of gay people, black folk and anyone not born in Australia who couldn't prove their links back to an Anglo Saxon origin. To say nothing of the mangling of the language, the GST, no apology, middle class welfare, Tampa, Cornelia Rau, Workchoices and the ridiculous veneration of his holy trinity of Bradman, Gallipoli and Menzies.

Really, when it came to considering Australia's worst, the bloke had form.

But... he got old and having been unceremoniously booted out of his seat in 2007, he retired from politics and public life, save for the odd occasion when he pops up as the guest of a right wing think tank, giving his views on contemporary society and reminding us all just how awful he was.

Post Howard, public life in Australia has been somewhat lacking for villains.

Kevin Rudd gave it a shot, at least among his colleagues, but he was so awful that they did away with him before he could really entrench himself in the position. And the woman who ousted him, Julia Gillard, just doesn't have enough elan, enough panache, to really cut it as a villain. She simply plods along, largely reviled and abused on all sides, nodding her head earnestly as people call her a witch and promising to do better next time. As for her opponent, Tony Abbott has the panache for villainy, but not enough substance to make people really care what's he up to, like a baddie in a 'Police Academy' movie.

Where then to turn, to try and find Australia's Worst Person, if we're not to find them in their traditional breeding ground; Federal politics? A reasonable back up option might be the business community, and so perhaps we should consider...

... Gina Rineheart.

Head of mining company 'Hancock Prospecting' (founded by her late father Lang Hancock) since 1992 and Australia's richest person, Rineheart has, until recent times, kept a low profile and herself out of the news. But in these recent times, Rineheart has lurched awkwardly into public life, exposing, at least on occasions, the dark heart that lies within and making a pretty fair case that she could be Australia's Worst Person.

Consider the evidence:

1. In 2010, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed a new tax on inflated profits in the mining industry. Fuelled largely by China, mining in Australia is enjoying a decade long boom, as our non renewable resources are dug up and shipped overseas at record prices. The companies that do this digging and shipping are, in most cases, largely owned by overseas interests, meaning that a good chunk of the revenue generated by this industry flows back out of the country. In other words, we are selling off a very valuable but finite resource and most of the money is going elsewhere. Hence Labor's 'Super Tax' policy, designed to claw back a bit of this cash so that the Government can use some of it to build things - roads, schools, hospitals - for the benefit of people that actually live here. Something that Ms Rinehart definitely did not want to see. The new tax threatened the gi-normous profits her company rakes in each year, and so we were treated to the grim spectacle of one of the world's wealthiest people taking to the back of a flat bed truck to demand that she be allowed to keep a disproportionate share of her income.

Rinehart, and her fellow wealthy CEO's from the industry, would spend $22 million on an advertising campaign against the tax, claiming (quite inaccurately) that's its introduction would mean the end of the mining industry in this country. But, it has to be said, that her approach was successful, as bad polling followed in the wake of the advertising, Labor would dump both Rudd and the policy.

2. Having bested her regulatory enemies and sent the Government away to whimper in the corner, Rinehart was free to do what she pleased with her mining interests. Free, for example, to sell a massive chunk of Western Australia to a Korean mining company, as she did earlier this year. South Korean steel company 'Posco' now own 15% of the Roy Hill iron ore mine in WA, which Rinehart sold to them for $1.5 billion. So she has a little walking around money, even if we don't, as the cash will flow to her pocket and bypass the tax system almost entirely. Thank goodness we got rid of that tax, eh?

3. With the above two events having generated some fairly negative media coverage, eventually, Rinehart then took some pin money, a lazy $200 million , and increased her stake in Fairfax media to 13% (up from 5%). While a long way short of a controlling interest, Rinehart's stake make her one of Fairfax's largest private shareholders. With the publisher of 'The Age' and 'The Sydney Morning Herald,' wobbling somewhat, as part of the general malaise in the newspaper industry, they could be ripe for someone with deep pockets, guess who, to take over in the near future. Rinehart also owns 10% of Channel 10, and sits on their board of directors, meaning that she is quickly turning into one of Australia's largest media owners. You don't need to have seen 'Citizen Kane' to know what happens when wealthy business people with no scruples get involved in running the media.

4. With her wealth skyrocketing and her grip on the nation's airwaves inexorably tightening, there is a rumour about that Rinehart may move into politics proper. If this proves to be true (and I honestly doubt it, since she can influence our elected officials so easily now, why bother with campaigning every three years?), you would probably want to be very concerned. At least, if an article Rinehart wrote last year is anything to go by. In it, Rinehart outlines some of her ideas as to what sort of country Australia should be; low taxing, small government, brutal on criminals, favourable to low paid guest workers, people like herself free to drive around the streets in Hummers running poor people over and doing pretty much anything else they feel like. It's such a chilling vision, she should perhaps consider moving to the States and running for President as a Republican.

So what do we think? Do we have a new champion? Australia's Worst Person?

I'll print the tee-shirts...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

American Election 2012: Singalong Edition

As 2012 slowly shakes off 2011 and starts to evolve into it's own fully formed year, it's probably worth taking note of what will be one of this year's defining events: the 2012 US Presidential Election.

Well, you may as well take note of it, as it will be impossible to avoid it.

With the global obsession with American culture showing no signs of flagging, and poltiical candidates showing an ever greater reliance on social media and the internet, the US election is now something that goes far beyond battleground states like Ohio and Florida. It's now everywhere and anywhere, an enormously expensive, theatrical game of high stakes poker played out by power suited men and women who have decided that this is the year to chance their arm and try for the top job. It's a bit like the 'West Wing' really, although without all the robust policy debate, and a bit like a reality TV show, although without the really ace prizes.

And, as such, it's totally captivating. Certainly much more so than our locally produced version of the same thing, which seems to be composed entirely of two dour, thoroughly unlikeable gits telling an indifferent public how much they hate everything.

But the Yanks infuse their election cycle with a large degree of splash and showmanship, so as to try and keep people's attention. Which is probably needed, as their election campaign runs on much longer than you would think is necessary. It is now January, with the election set for November 7, and the Republican candidates have been at it, and each other, for about 3 months. Longer if you factor in the time they spend fund raising and organising before the politickin' actually begins.

But before we get down to any sort of serious analysis of how the US election may unfold this year, it's probably worth highlighting another prominent feature of politics in the states.


That's right, things always get a little nutty, a little fruity and a little weird on the campaign trail in America. This can come from the candidates themselves or the public, but the light hearted, high spirited, loopy fru fru spirit is never far from the surface in any Presidential campaign.

Two examples.

In the recently concluded Republican Primary in New Hampshire (won by front runner Mitt Romney), second place fell to veteran congressman Ron Paul, from Texas. Known as something of a maverick and an outsider, Paul has campaigned on a platform of aggressive individual rights and the fundamental destruction of the apparatus of modern American Government. His second placing was something of a surprise, considering the radical nature of his policies, but even more surprising was his choice of theme music at his celebratory after party:

Very few, if any, political candidates had thought to employ the Imperial Theme from Star Wars on their side before.

On the other side of the aisle, President Obama is set to face an uphill battle for re-election, with a struggling economy and high unemployment reflected in his lowly approval rating. With the figures as they are at this moment, no US President has been re-elected with such low poll numbers or with so many people out of work.

Nevertheless, Barack's formidable fund raising and campaigning skills mean he cannot be discounted. Doubly so while his opponents are flirting with nominating Darth Vader as their candidate. Also worth considering is the fervent personal following Obama inspires in people, which manifest itself in many different ways:

The bloke that posted this, 'barackdubs,' has got a million of these!

Roll on 2012!