Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Abbott

Abbott’s misplaced book update

If you’ve had the chance to peruse the bookstores over the holiday period, whether buying christmas gifts or just finding some holiday reading, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Tony Abbott has a new version of his book out. A word of advice: Don’t buy it. Abbott like Costello seems to think he is a blogger, able to release new versions at will (I think Costello is now up to his 4th edition!). Yet not only does the new version of Abbott’s Battlelines (review here) have no new value, it actively contradicts and damages the rest of the book.

The new 6 page addition to Abbott’s book (found nestled near the end) lets him try to explain the contradiction of having spent most of 2009 (including in his book) arguing the governments CPRS legislation ought to be passed, before suddenly switching to calling climate change ‘crap’ and leading the denialists to overthrow Turnbull.

Abbott’s not an intellectual by any means, but he has a history of laying out a clear set of beliefs. They may sometimes contradict, and he has certainly shifted on issues (especially his v.slow embrace of the free market) but they have always marked him out as a passionate public servant. Abbott’s strength as an attack dog comes because not in spite of his passionate beliefs. Yet his time as opposition leader can be summed up by the motto : Opposition for Oppositions sake. It is this, more than anything else that has been for me, the most dissapointing thing about Abbotts leadership. I wouldn’t vote for him, but I do like his approach and passion for public life and political combat for supremacy of ideas.

Nothing represents the new reactionary mold he has taken on than his approach to the CPRS. Abbott in his book writes that:

If the opposition is convinced that the governments legislation is wrong and almost the entire country is clamouring for a bill’s defeat, it would make sense to vote against it in the senate. What more often happens, though, is that the opposition votes against bills reflecting the policies on which voters usually wonder whether the opposition has learned the lessons of defeat; and the governments always demand to know, chapter and verse, the oppositions alternative…There’s much to be said for adopting the view that the government is generally entitled to get its legislation through, because that’s what the people voted for.

While Abbott rightly acknowledges that oppositions are usually damned either way, none of the benefits (such as joining strong community opposition) are apparent, and all of the negatives (seen as not learning from election/govt demanding detailed alternatives) exist in this case. Of course, Abbott came to power on the basis of leading the anti-CPRS mob within the coalition, but that simply proves the still missing wisdom of his choice to lead that particular charge. In July when his book came out, Abbott was perfectly content to say he was not seeking the leadership and expected it to run to the election. This was the only wise move given the almost guaranteed loss awaiting the liberals, and only vanity or cracking under peer pressure explain his changed situation.

When I put out a quick run through of what an Abbott opposition would look like, I failed to bring in one key point from my review: Abbott’s utter loathing of Rudd. It is that, far more than anything else which seems to be driving the coalitions policy. What you see in the CPRS, you see in other areas such as taxation (where the liberals have amazingly signaled an opposition to cutting the company tax rate) and immigration (what on earth does ‘turn the boats back’ mean ?). The only policy issue bucking the trend is that of health, where Abbott may end up leading the government to wholesale reform and away from its usual timid approach, (something I’m keenly hoping for) though still following the pattern of being as negative as possible from the outset.

The formula is simply oppose, oppose, oppose, and along old conservative faithful lines of attack ‘bureaucratic, tax, deficit, handouts,’ etc, language which voters have heard too often to really bother paying attention. I’m not asking for clear policy options, but oppositions have to at least look like they’ve thought about what the govt is proposing, and can offer a more common sense alternative, instead of simply looking for cheap shots. It’s a perception the much more respected and policy heavywight Beazley ran into in the late 1990s, and an image Rudd will have no difficulty countering. What’s more, while it energises the base, such a reactionary approach is unbecoming of Tony Abbott, and the public will twig to it.

At some point Tony Abbott will have to confront the exact same calculation as Malcolm Turnbull did. Guaranteed to lose the election, he can either go down fighting on things he believed in (as his hero Howard & former boss Hewson did in the late 80’s/early 90s) and hope for future public/histories redemption, or take the path of political expediency and go down as Mark Latham did, a dissapointing loser.

Just the other day Abbott responded to a journalists question on who he was and what he stood for, by referring them to his book.

If only that were true.

Making an impact: Middle Powers #1

A key focus of my PhD is on the topic of middle powers, so over a few topics I want to explore the concept and how it relates to Australia.

The concept of ‘middle power’ countries is as old as the middle ages, yet there still arn’t any clear definitions other than playing on the concept of ‘middle’ as in not great and not small. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the term was made popular by both academics and politicians. Academics noted that middle could refer to economic/population size, geographic size or location (such as position between two great powers). Another option was the slightly tautological choice of those countries who didn’t have the physical resources to demand leadership yet still managed to insert themselves into international affairs as significant players (tautological because its a self-selected role, with no clear requirements).

Australia, (along with canada, brazil, israel and india) has been consistently identified as a middle power, going back as far as the 1940’s. The Hawke/Keating government strongly endorsed such an idea. Being a middle power to them seemed to express a significance of power to Australia that could be achieved in spite of our lack of economic/military/material power. The Howard government ridiculed this approach and whilst occasionally using the term sought out slight synonyms such as a “considerable power” whose status as 6th largest in land mass makes us important. But this was a minor debate, largely ignored and inspired by a petty anti-intellectual attack of the howard government on the Keating government’s foundations.

Yet such sideline intellectual spats have a real-world significance. The Rudd government has picked up the term in its documents and self-identification, and scholars have respond. Scholarship on the term middle powers peaked in the early 1990s and has largely ceased since 2000. (save Ping 2004 on south east asia). What’s more while the politicians don’t read such papers, their advisors and the media occasionally do, leading to language such as Tony Abbott’s last week:

Mr Abbott attacked Mr Rudd’s belief he may have been able to influence the outcome of an agreement struck at Copenhagen. ”I think that it was always a great conceit to think that Australia could save the world on its own,” he said.

”The Australian voice should be heard in the world but I think it’s wrong for people like Mr Rudd to imagine that they can be much more than the mouse that roared.”

This is a logical outcome of the Howard Governments abandonment of the term middle power. Yet instead of it leading to a ‘realist’ assessment of Australia’s status, in the hands of Abbott, it seems a requirement to cower and hide our laurels. That Australia ought to recognise and keep to its place in the world in a ‘mouse’ like response to the giants wandering above. Such sentiments are similarly found out on the libertarian fringes of the Aus blogosphere over at catalaxyfiles:

Our Prime Minister has returned from Copenhagen, triumphant in having performed his role as Friend of the Chair at COP15 to almost universal acclaim… Admittedly, the Conference achieved nothing much of substance but we know that the Prime Minister will have done his duty with distinction. Without him it would probably have achieved nothing at all…..
Remember when the Keating government produced a series of policy pronouncements called things like “Working Nation” and “Creative Nation”? My guess is that the Prime Minister might be motivated to add to these with “Good Nation”: a plan to make our country Good, in fact to become the Goodest nation in the world. He will have been inspired by the feeling he got in Copenhagen when a grateful meeting greeted his arrival with a standing ovation: “You are the only one who can rescue this” they cried.

Yet both these responses beg the question : What is the alternative?

Take Copenhagen. It certainly didn’t deliver the response which Australia wanted. But take a look at those countries who were in the final critical meeting: USA, China, India, Brazil, South Africa. Of these countries, only South Africa has a lower GDP, and that liut excludes 10 countries with bigger economies than Australia (and thats including all EU countries as one). So what should Rudd have done instead ? Reticence? Apathy? Denialism (as some of Abbott’s colleagues would have us do) Though he has not the courage nor conviction to take a clear stand on the issue.

What other approach than Rudd’s creative middle power diplomacy would have earned Australia a significant role at the Copenhagen conference? We may not have been at the final meeting, but Rudd and Wong had significant roles both before (as close advisors to US president Barack Obama) and at the conference as friends of the chair and leaders of a country respected for its actions on combating climate change.

Wait. I tell a lie. Had Australia passed its CPRS legislation it would have been a developed country who had committed to wear the economic cost to ensure protection of the environment, yet instead thanks to Abbott’s reticence, the critical bargaining chip that Australia had to play: our ideological commitment was denied to the rudd government for nothing more than a short term partisan black eye by the opposition.

While Downer in 2003 tried to claim that labor was an isolationist party that undermined Australian strength with it’s label of middle power, it’s the conservatives who more often seem to underestimate the position and power of this country. While the support for the USA as a great protector is straight out of a realist IR theory playbook, the unwillingness to challenge any elements within the relationship, and the general reticence or interest in international affairs is a common feature of conservatives in Australia. It was not until the events of East Timor that the Howard Government gained the self-confidence to seriously engage with the Asia-Pacific. It’s first years were halting and unsure, a far cry from the end of the Keating years under Evans, and even Rudd’s confident first term. Realism as a theory of International relations plays a critical role in ensuring countries protect their own survival first, but its rigid hierarchies can lead to countries forgoing opportunities for increasing their wealth or status, roles that can eventually increase their chance of survival.

None of this proves the worth of a middle power concept or a country taking on such a role. But it is a worthwhile starting point noting that the main criticisms of the concept of ‘middle power’ countries are either based around (consciously or not)denigrating the country as a ‘mouse’ in world affairs -whilst denying it useful bargaining chips-, or attacks that simply to mock the idea that anything but powerful a-moral strategies can work in international politics. They are shallow and partisan, and none actually engage the real question of how much influence a country like Australia an have in world affairs.

Next week, I want to engage the views of serious academic commentators such as Hugh White and others on the topic of Middle powers, but given this is Boxing day, it seems a fitting time to throw the first punch in rejuvenating the concept at an academic and public level.

Abbott boxed in by climate change rhetoric

Pollution_Factory There is a tendency when it comes to political rhetoric to always go nuclear. To deploy the most strident, attacking, and damaging language you can to label an opponents position or policy. And no word has more power today than ‘Tax’.

Case-in-point: In the US 2008 election, the Republicans attacked Obama for ‘palling around with terrorists’ and saw no electoral traction. Yet when they caught him saying he wanted to ‘spread the wealth’ to Joe the Plumber, their spirits soared. It didn’t help their cause that Obama had a tax cut for about 95% of the country, yet McCain still devoted almost the entire second Presidential debate to claiming Obama wanted to raise people’s taxes, causing a few wobbles from Obama’s campaign.

While there was certainly a strong case for Tax Cuts in the 80’s & 90s, today when there isn’t much fat left on the revenue side of the budget, the social stigma applied to the word is impeding our political debate. Of course this criticism has been mounted before by social democrats who want to spend more on infrastructure or key social services, but it’s also damaging the way Liberals and Conservatives develop their policies too.

A few months ago when The Nationals were the only party against the ETS in principle, Barnaby Joyce took the obvious rhetorical step of calling it an ‘Emissions Tax Scheme’ (clever guy huh). As the vote got closer, he increased the volume calling it a ‘massive tax on everything’. A theme picked up by a number of other opponents of the scheme, and instantly adopted by Tony Abbott when he took over as Coalition leader and defeated the Governments’ policy. This was not the only rhetorical attack on offer against the governments CPRS (it could also be called complex, confusing, ineffective, counter-productive, special-interest laden, bureaucratic etc etc) however “Tax” was the leading punch. To Abbott’s reckoning he had given the Government a black eye (a defeated policy), a cruel new nickname (big taxer) and was now the hero who had saved the people from a major tax. Only, and annoying for him, the people still want something to be done. However, nothing that looks or sounds like a tax can possibly be advocated by the Coalition, leaving very few options available.

If Abbott had avoided dropping the Tax bomb on the governments scheme (and he did not need to do so to have it voted down the bill) he could have offered a much simpler and attractive scheme: A Carbon Tax.

By Jeremy Hansen in the NYT (Who Paul Krugman calls “a great climate scientist. …the first to warn about the climate crisis”)

‘Under this approach, a gradually rising carbon fee would be collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas). The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production.

All of the collected fees would then be distributed to the public. Prudent people would use their dividend wisely, adjusting their lifestyle, choice of vehicle and so on. Those who do better than average in choosing less-polluting goods would receive more in the dividend than they pay in added costs.

For example, when the fee reached $115 per ton of carbon dioxide it would add $1 per gallon to the price of gasoline and 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour to the price of electricity. Given the amount of oil, gas and coal used in the United States in 2007, that carbon fee would yield about $600 billion per year. The resulting dividend for each adult American would be as much as $3,000 per year. As the fee rose, tipping points would be reached at which various carbon-free energies and carbon-saving technologies would become cheaper than fossil fuels plus their fees. As time goes on, fossil fuel use would collapse’….

Emissions Trading Schemes were preferred because they let governments set a limit on emissions which can be reduced over time, giving assured levels of pollution reduction. Carbon Taxes are more elusive in this area, but the same logic of a rising price = less use of carbon emitting fuels/products/technology applies. This offers a wiggle room would perfectly suit a coalition party which both wants to look serious on the issue, but doesn’t want to be too tied into international deals and wants to be able to regulate Australia’s actions in line with economic circumstances.

Carbon Taxes have the advantages of being more economically efficient, and ‘just’ in a Liberal sense of being applied equally across the population. While small refunds could be applied to some industries (such as agriculture), it likely wouldn’t be the hodgepodge of deals and allowances & exceptions that the Government has set up with its ETS (which for the Greens make it now useless). And given that a carbon tax would reward individuals who act positively to reduce their own carbon footprints, it would also be in line with the parties preference for individual responsibility and reward. Not only that, but the Coalition could even piggyback some of the potency of the tax argument, by offering to sharply reduce all income taxes in line with the CO2 taxes. Just like the GST, not all taxes are equal, and given the public demand for action, this would be strongly in line with their past actions.

Finally, if they chose to keep back just a small part of that revenue, it could be invested in what is perhaps the real and only solution to climate change: better technology. This was an argument John Howard made consistently during his final years in office, and one the Coalition could pick up and run with. Australia has the minds, the education system, and the incentives to be the ones who create the next big breakthrough that fundamentally changes how we create and use energy. We’re doing it already, but with a big injection of funds imagine what we could create, what industries would come to call Australia home, what economic returns await us.

Of course Carbon Taxes are not a new idea, and I think Paul Krugman is somewhat right that having spent so long building up a Cap&Trade system, to throw it away and start down a different path just means too many delays to accept. But it’s worth noting again, how the rhetoric we use in one area, deamonising all taxation as bad harmful policy, if not outright ‘theft’ has left Conservatives (and many liberals) unable to offer sensible alternative policies in other areas. A Carbon Tax might not be considered as effective environmentally as an ETS, but it’s just as effective (if not more-so) politically for the Coalition. But it’s now off limits.

Instead, because Abbott accepted the rhetorical framework of calling a market based system a tax (thereby ruling out both) he is left with prescious little other than Command-and-Control type regulations. Not only does this also run up against 30 years of liberal and conservative economic thinking in Australia, it may well be at least twice as expensive(p152) if not even more so. But Abbott has no real options left if he wants to propose a policy that at least looks serious.

As Al Gore has said, what is ideally needed is to ensure we “tax what we burn, not what we earn”. Gore is another who has long supported a carbon tax. If the Copenhagen Summit succeeds, then to cap and trades we must committ. But if it fails, if it is all smiling handshakes with no commitment behind them, then a Carbon tax is an alternative we need to have a serious debate about.
If only we could get over the rhetorical stigma of the word ‘Tax’.

(Incidentally, this is why I like the Constructivist approach in International Relations. Everyone wants to be a ‘realist’ about the world and how to respond to it, but when you mentally close off avenues through certain rhetoric, then your options can be utterly distorted, even harming your own interests.)

For a more details explanation of Carbon Tax (and fully sourced), I recommend having a look at this testimony to the US Senate by Ted Gaynor of the Brookings Institute

Appointing Joyce risks splitting the Coalition

The big news of the day of course is the front bench reshuffle, most notably, Barnaby Joyce to the Finance Ministry. In some ways it’s a wise move by Abbott, as Barnaby will be closely watched & reported by the press (giving their attacks on the debt more oxygen than otherwise) and hopefully the demand of shadow cabinet solidarity will keep his tongue in line.

That said, it’s a fundamentally bad move because it strikes at the heart of the structural separation that is the basis of the Coalitions strength & unity on economic issues. The Nationals have largely been kept away from financial levers, never gaining a treasury role, and only rarely taking on finance (Such as John Stone as shadow finance in 1987-1990*) allowing both parties to play their preferred electoral role. The Libs get to be the serious managerial ones, keeping the financial industry happy, and the Nationals use their freedom to rail against market economics (whilst voting for them) keeping their rural base in line. This is the deal that lets two parties with very different views on economics keep as one.
Appointing Joyce destroys that deliberate separation and forces him to try and appeal to both the Bush & the Suits, a challenge he is sure to mess up (I don’t think anyone could manage it). Joyce’s role risks scaring the inner city financial crowd, and at the least betrays if not deliberately ostracises the very anti-govt rural sentiment that has made him a star. This move is sure to expose the weaknesses of the coalition, rather than its strengths as hoped.

To see what he will be like in the role, you need to do no more than take a peek at Banaby’s first blog post/media release in the new job:

I must admit that after the appointment to Shadow Finance Minister my comic relief came from Treasurer Swan’s media release stating that I must follow Labor’s strict rules on fiscal discipline.

It’s like Captain Calamity’s instructions on yoga. There’s one thing that is absolutely certain, I will not be taking any lead, whatsoever, from a crowd who have taken us from having tens of billions of dollars in the bank, to debt up to our eyeballs, with more dogs tied up around town than Bernie Madoff.
Labor has gone on a spending bender and is now waiting for the fairy godmother to come and rub the red ink from the books.
Let’s get this right from the start. The Labor Party have not got a clue what money is worth. They have no respect for debt.
Currently, so the Australian people know, the debt they owe, to a range of countries such as China, the good people of Japan and the Middle East and everyone in between, amounts to $115.71 billion dollars.
I will bet you London to a brick that this debt is only going to go in one direction under the Labor Government and that is up.

Such language may bring a smile, but it’ll instantly bring creases to the carefully ironed pants of the financial community and add grey hairs to their heads each time. Half of the analogies wont even make sense to most people “more dogs tied up around town than Bernie Maddoff??” and at some point it stops being interesting and you just want him to get to to get to the point. Political language on finance must necessarily be very deliberately articulated, and it was one of Costello’s greatest assets that he never misspoke as treasurer. Joyce’s sloppy language is going to spook markets and voters. (And likely keep them from donating to a Liberal Party that is already badly outclassed in funding)

Similarly Joyce’s line’s about the Chinese, Japanese and Middle East owning our debt have a bad odor of insularity if not xenophobia. He has run consistently on anti-foreign investment lines (such as his campaign against Chinese investment in Rio Tinto) which will jive against the Liberals natural business constituency, and seems to be taking Abbott with him.

Labor should eat Joyce alive, and entrench their position ahead in the polls on economic (In Jan 2007 the ALP was -21 points to the coalition on economic management. By the time of the worst of the GFC they had pulled even. In October Rudd had a 15 point lead over Turnbull on economic management.) So while Joyce and Abbott will be able to ‘cut through’ on hitting Rudd over the economic costs of the ETS and Debt, they won’t inspire any confidence in their own ability to handle punters cash themselves. Joyce may have a background as an accountant, but Abbott, Hockey and Joyce will be a very weak team to take against a government which is most acutely sensitive to economic attacks. Rudd, Tanner & Swan started without much credibility, but with the GFC and power of incumbency have built a solid image of competence.

As for the rest of the reshuffles I fondly remember a time when I was working in Parliament in 2005, and saw Browyn Bishop declaring that the coders of Mp3 & Mp4 formats (ie what everyone uses on their ipods) were “cartels” that were anti-competitive. While just about everyone knows that commonality of format for electronic goods is the basis of competition (hello Betamax!), Mrs Bishop sees a common format (one popularly chosen) as a threat to liberty and our economy. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so breathtakingly ignorant.

* I had missed/forgotten John Stone as Shadow Finance Minister 1987-1990. However he helps prove the point. Even though Stone had been a career public servant and former Secretary to the Treasury under Fraser, he rebelled along his National Party instincts once in the shadow cabinet. He caused John Howard no end of grief over a consumption tax, broke cabinet discipline on a number of issues, attacked the ‘business wing’ of the Liberal party, and even declared that the coalition did not deserve to win the previous election. (From Kelly, P 1994 p412). Sound like anyone we know?

Battlelines: Where the election will be fought

boxing_largeWhile Tony Abbott began his first press conference saying he wasn’t afraid to fight an election on Climate change, it seems likely from early indicates he won’t have to. It will lurk in the background but, cold war style, it’s going to be fought through proxy wars in Economics and Foreign Policy.

Economics: As is obvious from Abbott’s early media appearences, he’s not running to deny climate change, rather the economic costs of acting:

7:30 Report Transcript

TONY ABBOTT: Kerry, I was doing my best to support the then leader. And that’s what frontbenchers have to do. But the Liberal Party is liberated as of today to follow our natural instinct, which is to oppose the Government. Now, this isn’t about climate change, it’s about the mechanism for dealing with it. This isn’t about climate change denial, it’s about stopping a great, big new tax.
TONY ABBOTT: Well I’m not sure that anyone is that happy about being out of pocket. But let’s look at the Rudd Government’s ETS. It looks, at this point in time, to be a great big tax to provide a great big slush fund to produce great big handouts administered by an enormous bureaucracy. It looks like a mechanism for a political slush fund more than it does as a mechanism to help the environment.

This kind of rhetoric didn’t take on when Barnaby Joyce was sprouting it, but Abbott is a far more effective comunicator, and the press is already starting to question labor using some of his language. But the more important reason why the politicians will shift from talking climate change to economics is that it is unfertile ground for winning votes. For both groups. As Possum Pollytics helpfully notes views on climate change are effectively locked in. The deniers are stuck fast, and whilst the pro-efforts could ebb some support, those who see the environment as a primary issue already voted Labor in 2007 (or Greens though after their no vote on the CPRS I don’t know why). Instead the fulcrum of the argument is two issues: Timing and Cost. The timing issue is labors to own next year.

Most voters support an ETS despite recognising there will be an economic cost. Abbott can’t shift those voters into denying the environmental need for an ets, but he can make them think the cost imposed by Rudd is too high. Rudd likewise will whack Abbott occasionally on the issue, but he probably can’t shift too many votes on it from 2007. It’s easy to vote for someone pledging action, its much harder to vote for someone who is making your bills higher. If he doesn’t have some big policy on Climate, or looks like he is slipping into denialism he could still (unintentionally) make it the issue again, but I think the moderates will prevail in getting some kind of a policy there.

The other reason I think economics will be the major issue of the election is because 2010 offers Labor a historical chance to fundamentally re-shift voters allegiances. John Howard, just like Reagan governed a coalition of economic liberals and social conservatives. But that has broken asunder. Facing a proudly self-identifying conservative candidate, Labor has the chance to peel those economic liberal voters to it long term. It would become the socially and economically liberal party, though keep control of the mainstream & its working class base thanks to its historical support for ensuring fair working conditions. This is what Keating envisioned, what Beazley abandoned, and what Rudd has the chance to complete.

Rudd came to government pledging to be an economic conservative, a term that was widely ridiculed when he launched his stimulus package. This spending allowed Turnbull perhaps his only effective attacks on debt, a theme Abbott will be sure to run on. But Rudd can claim those were extraordinary circumstances, and with a good faith effort on debt, some wise reform in the area of tax, and a couple of symbolic acts (revisiting parallel imports would be an example) he could convince the economic liberals that he shares their values. (His articles here on neo-liberalism havn’t helped, but can be ignored)

Along with the campaign to entice them, Labor is going to try and put the fear in those who have liberal views on both economic and social fronts. Socially Labor will argue that Abbott unlike Howard is not just conservative, but regressive. They’ll raise the concern he may restrict access to abortions, re-introduce no-fault divorce, punish the gays etc. It’s going to be ugly, but could be effective. Economically, note that while Abbott is going to run on tax, debt and ‘freedom’, he isn’t an economic liberal like Costello or Howard. It’s a late adopted faith for him, and his books and speeches are full of reticence about such reforms. Abbott is very much in the mould of a big-government conservative as more perceptive economic liberals like Andrew Norton have noticed. Carefully appealed to we could see those who consider themselves liberals seeing Labor as the only viable party.

Foreign Policy: No PM has come to the job as aware of foreign policy issues as Rudd since Whitlam, but Rudd hasn’t yet had a chance to use that strength to his electoral advantage. It’s like the six shooter strapped to his ankle as backup. But with Abbott having thwarted Rudd’s chance to go to Copenhagen with a deal, it may be pulled out early. Rudd will charge that Abbott wont be in line with international governments, and won’t be able to do advantageous deals with international governments across the ideological spectrum because of his position on climate change. Along a similar line over at The Interpreter there is the intriguing suggestion that the deniers problem with the CPRS is less about the environment than multilateral institutions, hence their revulsion to needing passage by the time of Copenhagen. Rudd can’t gain too much mileage from his multilateral credentials, but it can all fit a narrative of an Abbott government being uncomfortable with issues beyond the shores.
This will be even more potent attack in the context of SE-Asia given Rudd’s steady development of links and influence. Thanks to his strong popularity, and activism on the Asia-Pacific Community (which is starting to get support), Rudd will be able to argue that Abbott will be a foreign policy disaster in the region. He won’t exactly repeat Keating’s line on keating that Asian governments wont work with him, but he could come close.

Rudd also has the natural advantage of incumbency. When Labor won the election in 2007, the liberals were seen as the better party on national security by a 49-26 margin. By Feb 2009, that had essentially levelled. I havn’t seen a more recent poll, but expect the government to now be well ahead. There was always the faint air under Turnbull that the Liberals weren’t comfortable on foreign policy, from his slip of the tounge labeling of China as a friend, to Julie Bishop’s suggestion we should bow to china’s demand and not let in Rebiya Kadeer. Indeed staying just on China, there are also some odd claims in Abbott’s book Battlelines. In his very short section on foreign policy, he claims that in the case of conflict between China and Taiwan, Australia ought to side with Taiwan, “In Australia’s case this would not be choosing America over China, but democracy over dictatorship” (p 160). It may sound good to supporters to base your foreign policy on such ideological choices, but it would raise up the worst of the Bush/Neo-Con incompetent idealism. Remember Latham was very very careful to avoid talking about national security, but still lost badly on this score. Abbott’s lack of desire to talk about this issue is going to be noticed by the public who will interpret it as a sign of lacking competence. If Rudd is able to set the agenda, expect a lot of discussion about foreign policy come election time.

Things could easily change, but while Labor’s new adds are already reticent of 2007, i think the campaign this will mirror more will be 1996. Rudd will present an image of Labor as a party bold and open and willing to engage the world. An Australia on the make regionally and internationally, in a pair of hands whose already passed their first big test (gfc). Abbott may gain some early traction on taxes and welfare, but could easily scare voters with too much policy purity and it’s not likely to swing too many given slowly improving conditions (Rudd will be praying that was the last interest rate rise before the election). Instead he will be seen more to represent a cultural howl against Labor that, inverse to 1996 can only work to Labors advantage, entrenching them as the mainstream party against a rump conservative party. Abbott could be a very attractive leader, but it’s hard to see how he gets that 35% core support to go much higher.

What will the Abbott Opposition look like?

tony_abbott2 By 1 vote in the party room Tony Abbott has defeated Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberal Party. So what can we expect from his time as opposition leader?

Federalism: In his book Abbott makes a strong case that federalism is broken, that the conservative position ought to be to do something, and that the incompetence and irrelevance of the states leaves no choice but to place health and education (amongst others) under Commonwealth control. Whilst stepping back from his earlier call to get rid of the states, Abbott suggests that if a Government can pass a bill in both houses twice, separated by 6 months, then it should be able to override the states, in the way it can with the territories currently. This move would be tough to sell for a referendum, but if proposed Labor would be fools not to jump at the chance. Equally, an Abbott opposition offers by far the best chance for a Rudd/Gillard Government to really deliver an era of ‘New Federalism’. And by that I mean Centralisation.

Health: Abbott as the former health minister is deeply tied to the Howard governments approach. While his support for private schools may limit his support for centralisation in Education, under Howard Abbott regularly argued for a federal government take over of the system, and was the key proponent by the last-minute takeover of the Mercy Community hospital in Tasmania. Abbott also supports the idea of a paid maternity leave (though seems to prefer a Baby Bonus style one off handout). Roxon got the better of Abbott on health in 2007 so if her re-design of the system is strong, this should be a issue Labor would love to talk about, without it being a major vote changer.
Abbott may try to tie such discussions to the issue of Indigenous health & living standards in general, an issue he shows genuine concern for. His policy prescriptions are likely to be of the paternalistic variety (with a dash of Pearson entrepreneurialism thrown in), however it could demonstrate to voters a more emotive side to him than previously recognised. Not necessarily huge vote winner, but could soften up some voters to him.

Abortion: While Abbott has a rather extreme image to much of the public, he would be able to gain immediate credit and re-newed attention simply by making clear his actual views of abortion. While he disagree’s with the principle, he see’s draws a clear line between efforts to reduce australias 75’000+ abortions a year and efforts to re-criminalise it. Equally, he seems to recognize that his own past (a child out of wedlock, reputation as a ladies man), mean that he doesn’t have a good basis for being a moraliser. His views are most clearly set out in his 2004 speech “The Ethical Responsibilities of a Christian Politician”. This is still an issue that has great potential to get Abbott in trouble, but he isn’t the extremist he is often made out to be. He’s more like a Bill Clinton, who thinks abortion should be ‘Safe, Legal, and rare’. A pretty hard statement to disagree with. The rhetoric may frighten some on the left, but that over-reaction could if anything help Abbott with the mainstream.

Welfare: In welfare, the difference between Abbott’s conservative and liberal instincts is clearly apparent. As a Conservative, Abbott recognises the cost of raising families and the benefit of stable incomes, proposing to add significant extra levels of support (such as a guaranteed minimum income) and removal of almost all means tests due to the hideous marginal tax rates that apply as incomes rise and welfare is taken away. Yet as a Liberal Abbott also worries that welfare distorts peoples principles, and for the poor drives them towards poor moral choices such as a life of ease on unemployment benefits. As such he seemingly endorses universal welfare for all but the poor, with untold and uncalculated costs accumulated to the federal government to provide for all this. If Rudd went hard on cutting middle class welfare he could trip up the contradiction between Abbott’s complaints about debt and his desire for expanded welfare. Likely instead he would race him to offer even bigger handouts.

Foreign Policy: The great unknown. Abbott touches on the issue very briefly in his book, but it’s the usual boilerplate stuff of supporting the US, taking the fight to the terrorists, and supporting the Howard Government’s great leap into East Timor. He’ll probably go along with the foreign policy direction of the Govt, take a few opportunistic pot-shots where possible, but otherwise leave it to his foreign minister. If he starts getting hit on the issue by the commentariat, expect him to retreat to nationalism and supporting increased defence funding to prove his strength in the area. If Abbott started getting closer in the polls to Rudd, expect a strong retaliation on the issue of who is better at handling international issues (and going with the consensus on climate change is relevant here). Abbott will have to hit the books to be taken seriously, and needs to hire a good foreign policy advisor as one of his first acts.

Climate Change: The only reason we are discussing the rise of an Abbott leadership is because he is the most recognisable face of the anti-CPRS movement inside the Liberals. Obviously his position is dependent on those outright deniers such as Minchin (Abbott seems to have taken just about every position on this issue), so he will seek a lengthy delay and more generous handouts for the CPRS. More important will be his ability to control the pro-ets senators such as Troeth, Humphries, Trood etc. Despite winning due to support from climate deniers, Abbott surely knows the electoral risk of the CPRS, so he may propose some alternate form (A carbon tax could be appealing) to placate the supporters and appear to be serious about the issue for the public. But have no doubt, he is willing to fight, and hard against Rudd’s CPRS. He already road tested a number of lines against it, so expect to hear the words “giant new tax on everything” consistently for the next 9 months.

Rhetoric and Strategy: While Abbott came to the leadership because of his opposition to the CPRS, he has a moderate view of the role of oppositions, writing in his book: “An oppositions job is to clarify its own thinking rather than actually to govern the country… What is the point of opposing legislation when it is likely to pass anyway….There’s much to be said for adopting the view that the government is generally entitled to get its legislation through, because thats what the people voted for” (Battlelines 2009 p53). Recognising the harm Beazley’s constant oppositionism did to him, and the harm Workchoices did to the Howard Government, i’d expect a Abbott opposition to voice constant complain, whilst generally stuttering that they will give the government the noose to hang itself.

Abbott’s not a bad speaker, he doesn’t mince words and uses plain language. It could appeal strongly compared to Rudd’s detailed linguistic specificity. He does have a slight stutter as he thinks about what to say, and I’ve yet to hear him give a really impressive or inspiring speech. He is best at press conferences, which is handy as that is where most of our political discussion comes from. He will make the occasional inarticulate gaffe, and say a lot of things that will drive segments of the left crazy, but his policies are likely to be pretty conventional. It’s not a bad act, similar to what Howard pulled. (Interesting the left rarely seems to do this, showing the rights rhetorical domination in recent decades). On that issue, as his first press conference as leader showed, a great rhetorical challenge for Abbott will be to claim the credit for what the Howard government did well, without being too tied to it, or looking like he is just advocating its return, as Labor will charge (it already is with its first -online- add “Dont Go Back”)

It will be easy to over-estimate the radicalness of Abbott as leader, but he will end up earning brownie points from the public for being more moderate than they were lead to believe. I doubt he can win, but he will be a tough leader to beat. Despite his years in the ministry, I have a feeling Australia doesn’t really know Abbott, or will at least give him a honest second look. So expect some volatility and change compared to this weeks polls. (When done here, you should follow that link to check Possum’s excellent breakdown of the post-split polls)

Abbott is a very committed, hard working and decent bloke. He spends a lot of his time helping charity/volunteer groups, he keeps himself fit and healthy, and he is passionate about public life and improving the country. Rudd in comparison could come off badly as a nerdy spin machine. That shouldn’t happen given the governments domination, but if Abbott can survive to face a second election he will be a real threat. I’m certainly look forward to this election. For all my political disagreements with Abbott, I rather like the guy. He’ll infuriate, he’ll make the Liberal Party a much more conservative beast, but he will be offering a clear and strongly believed alternative.

Liberalism in 21st Century Australia

Brandis_speech Thanks to the Australian, we have full access to Senator George Brandis’s excellent speech “We Believe: The Liberal Party and the liberal cause”, delivered at the 2009 Alfred Deakin Lecture in Melbourne on the 22nd October.

Though I urge you to go read the full speech, Brandis is perhaps at his best when he takes aim at the way liberalism was mishandled under John Howard:

John Howard did not see the Liberal Party as simply the custodian of the liberal cause. For Howard, it was as much a conservative party as a liberal party – indeed, with the passage of time, rather more the former than the latter….Now Deakin would never have said that, and Menzies never did. The “two traditions” theory was a specific contribution of John Howard’s. In diminishing the centrality of liberalism to the Liberal Party’s belief system, and balancing it against conservatism; in qualifying the Liberal Party’s commitment to the freedom of the individual as its core value, and weighing it against what he often called social cohesion, Howard made a profound departure from the tradition of Deakin and Menzies.

Brandis goes to great lengths to show the critical importance of liberalism to Deakin and Menzies. However, while philosophically he is right, these two men both made the same practical choice of binding their liberal instinct into a general anti-labor party that created Howard’s broad church approach. In many ways, both Brandis and Howard are right. By 1909 Deakin, wearied and bloodied after a decade leading the continent realised that his middle liberal way was being trampled by the adolescent labor party, and the aristocratic conservatives. His personal philosophy was much closer to Labor, but he could not abide their caucus control, and so chose to make peace with the conservatives and form a party ‘Fusion’ between the two anti-labor forces. This was a practical choice to ensure the survival of his MP’s, but sacrificing the dominant position of liberalism on the Anti-labor side to a more generic mix. Menzies likewise made a similar choice, knowing that a coalition was the only way to ensure they could keep Labor from power. It is this practical history that Howard claims informs the modern liberal party. Yet the Liberal party would be nothing if it was stripped of its liberal elements. Even Tony Abbott in his conservative manifesto ‘Battlelines’ can’t help himself from repeating many liberal ideas without seeming to notice the contradictions to his professed conservatism. Liberalism is the parties soul, it is as Brandis argues, the cause of its proud history

In every age, whenever liberalism and conservatism have come into contention, the victory of liberalism has enlarged the freedom of the individual, which later generations of conservatives have then joined with them in striving to defend. But every time, it was the liberals who were the animating spirit.

No fair analyst of the Liberal party could disagree with this claim. Menzies may have held onto power a long time in part due to conservative scaremongering, but winning power is not the same as using it, and Menzies books (Afternoon Light, Speech is of Time, Measure of the Years) all play up and look back favorably on his liberal actions, guiltily ignoring his more conservative indulgences* in the name of electoral success. Menzies is also an interesting liberal due to his rather Millian take on why freedom is important. Modern Liberals seem to see freedom as an end in itself, and while it is, Liberalism has a second reason for wanting as much individual freedom as possible. From the grandfather of Liberalism, J.S. Mill (again via Brandis’s speech)

“It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation

That is, freedom’s greatest reward is that it enables individuals to improve and develop themselves, to build their talents and skills, to flesh out and give style to their character. To become who they are, rather than who society might like them to be. It’s also a very powerful political message to the newest voting block: Gen-Y. As Possum Pollytics has detailed, Gen-Y is a quickly rising block that the Liberal party absolutely fails at marketing its message to. But if it was to recast its commitment to freedom as one based on allowing ambitious individuals, or creative individuals the space and opportunity to make of their own lives what they want (rather than being seen as just a stuffy desire to make life easier for businesses), then it could have great appeal to this group. Many of my friends, all solid labor voters looked anew at the party of Malcolm Turnbull when he took the leadership. They saw great appeal in his personal story of achievement, and waited to be given a reason to vote for him. Thus far, they havn’t seen anything like it, and are growing disillusioned. This is an argument Howard could never make, but Turnbull can. Freedom has always been re-defined by every era. In the 80’s it was to liberate societies from protectionism and welfare traps. Today it must be for individualism and towards human flourishing in our newly minted modern societies. This is not some new age spiritualism, it is an honest, humane and civillised approach to mankind, to quote Menzies who whilst Prime Minister wrote that:

“Without minds that are informed, toughened by exercise, broadened by enquiry and fearless in pursuing the truth wherever it may lead, we may never hope to have spirits untrammeled by blinding ignorance or distorting prejudice. And without free minds and free spirits our boasted civic freedoms becomes an empty shell” (Menzies 1958 page 218)

I want to end by quoting Hayek’s ‘why I am not a conservative’ which Brandis also quotes extensively. However while this line is used by Brandis and Hayek to attack conservatism, I think it is actually much more relevant for liberalism today:

…Let me … state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing.

I’ve often come to see Liberalism as akin to a shark, if it stops moving it suffocates. Liberalism today has been forced to become the defender of the status quo (or been taken in directions it is uncomfortable with as a tool of the wealthy and powerful), and in this backward looking, reactive stance it is an easy target. Until it can pivot onto a forward looking position, its calls for freedom will float past listeners ears unheard. While there is important work to be done reviving the history of liberalism, such as its importance to Deakin and Menzies and Australian history (i’ve always seen this country as a Republican-Liberal hybrid far more than the Libertarian-Liberalism that dominates the US, or the incremental Liberal-Traditionalism of the UK), its return to power is dependent upon a coherent, bold policy agenda. Such an agenda would need only 5-6 key policy changes. To be argued at every meeting, before every microphone, in every publication and household. It might look something like this

1. Reform welfare state – End churn of middle class welfare, significant cuts to tax cut, especially for poor.
2. Allow Euthanasia and full marriage equality.
3. End the war on drugs beginning with legalising marijuana and decriminalising use of others.
4. Make competition policy a priority. Break the clasp of the big end on town on the direction of economic liberalism.
5. Commit to transparent modern governance. Publish as much as possible online, have ombudsman to ensure population can see who gets what and when in every bill, every department, every budget handout.
6. Make ensuring privacy for individuals a key concern.

The exact nature or order of these policies is not important. What is important is having a clear, future driven platform to identify with modern liberalism in Australia. Liberals need to return to defining themselves, rather than as currently letting others define them (such as Prime Minister Rudd’s essay on Neoliberalism). Many elements will be contentious, some are 20+ years away from implementation, but the argument needs to be taken up and begun today. The clearer and shorter the case, the easier it will be to sell and settle into the minds of the voting public as an identifying feature. Only with such a clear image can it regain its rightful place as the “animating spirit” of modern societies, and lay claim to ownership of the 21st century as it has the 20th. The only way to prevent Liberalism sinking into status-quo stance inimical to conservatism is to give it a forward objective. Just as individuals are either on the up or the out, such a humanistic philosophy as liberalism must seek ever greater mountains to climb if it is to remain relevant. There are so many challenges still to be addressed.

* I don’t believe Menzies fits either a liberal or conservative approach, but unfortunately I can’t say why until i finish an academic paper I’m writing on the topic. Look for an announcement here in coming months about it. Sorry for being so cryptic, but I have to be until it’s published.

The Art and Science of Politics

One of the long heralded benefits of computers has been the suggestion that by its medium it will make us all writers. Most of the material we take in online is written, and most of the material we send out (such as email, IM’s and blogs) is also written. For reasons of slower than anticipated technology and workplace norms, videos are still rare and left for amusement by and large rather than as a means of communication. This trend it seems has also infused into our political leaders, who are punching the keys like never before to ensure their voice is heard. I’ve already blogged at length about Rudd’s first essay. But clearly so pleased was he with the act that he’s decided on a repeat performance. His shadow number Malcolm Turnbull clearly decided opinion pages were the place to be and has penned his own effort. Meanwhile the members of the former Howard Government who have slightly more time on their hand are pushing out their own book length efforts. Costello was first out of the gate, and is spruiking a new update (his second) to his book (did anyone tell him he’s not a blogger. As a buyer of a past edition surely i should get those chapters for free). Meanwhile Tony Abbott has just released his manifesto ‘Battlelines’ (review here) and we’re told John Howard is “writing like crazy” to get an autobiography out by November next year.

The academic Greg Melleuish however isn’t happy:

putting forward ideas about political matters is something that individuals who are not in power usually do. Ideas are a weapon of opposition, not government. They are meant to show what is wrong and how things can be improved.
To formulate ideas properly requires an amount of leisure that is denied to those who are involved in running something.

one must ask if writing essays on the state of the world is the appropriate thing for a leader of a country to be doing. There are times when politicians should be reflective and develop ideas that can be used to improve and reform the world.

The first is when one is out of office and reflecting on the reasons for being in that situation. The second is when one has left behind the world of politics and is able to ruminate on the significance of one’s time in office.

When a leader is in office, they should be doing things, trying to solve the problems the country is encountering. It is worrying when a leader seems to be more interested in writing essays than taking action.

This seems a slightly odd attack from a man who has just published a book ‘The Power of Ideas: Essays on Australian Politics & History’, but likely many, especially on the conservative side of politics would agree with him. Indeed even Tony Abbott writes in his own book ‘Governments have decisions to make; Oppositions have opinions to put forward’. Yet outside the fear that these “essays represent the ultimate triumph of words over things in politics” what we are seeing is perhaps a natural and important step in the political arms race between politicians in the media. When politicians such as Robert Menzies and John Curtin operated, politicians could command a packed hall of adults willing to come and hear them speak. After all, there was usually no TV, and radio could get tiring, so people went out and along with theatre and music would attend political meetings in their thousands. Newspapers reflected much of this interest devoting large sections of their pages to reporting (verbatim!) what had been said in Parliament the previous day.

With the rise of TV the crowds melted back to their warm homes & comfy couches, and the time available for political debate shortened. First 10 minutes, then 2 then 45 seconds and now somewhere between 5-7 seconds for a Prime Minister or Opposition Leader each night. Politicians naturally got better at providing short grabs and ‘spin’ for the journalists, and journalists got better at asking ‘gotch ya’ questions that tried to visibly trip up politicians, rather than draw out explanations from their for their policy or actions. This is the game played each and every day, and if you want to be a top journalist or politician you have to be very, very good at it. Many have interpreted it as showing our politicians and journalists don’t have the intellectual strength of previous generations, mistakenly blaming the messenger for a problem of medium. With TV’s style, nothing else was possible, and the short grabs the logical conclusion. Beyond having 4 screens going at once (along with tickers and the like scrolling by) it’s unlikely TV news will change that much, or grabs get any shorter (human speech & hearing speeds essentially prevent it).

But this is the age of computers, and right now you are engaging in a very different, and very ancient form of communication: writing & reading. Whilst l337 speak and Lolz proliferate in text messages and some teenagers communication more of us are writing and reading vastly more than we ever did before. We are becoming addicted to writing. The centuries old tradition of private diaries has exploded into Live Journals, Status Updates, and yes Blogs. Some like this explicitly designed for public viewing, revealing only snippets about the author, and blurring that line between private opinion and public communication. Our politicians too have had to respond, with more and more requests for interviews by email, with their speeches and comments in ready made form (ie sitting on their computer) for instant publication to the entire world, instead of having to be laboriously turned from hand written notes into something for public consumption. Indeed some of our more verbose politicians have even joined the blogging revolution (or at least Turnbull’s Dog has). That our politicians are now writing more and more for the public is a natural response to the opportunities the internet allows, and as a way to overcome the shrinking space that journalists give to politicians to communicate their views. In fact we should look for far far more of it, that is unless the media agree amongst themselves to no longer print politicians efforts. But politicians have counters there too, President Obama for instance does weekly Youtube addresses, reminiscent of FDR’s fireside chats. And once the media learn to counter those, the politicians will respond in kind. And so it goes…

But what about the claim that this is a distraction from the business of getting on with the job of politics? That Rudd should be ‘the decision maker’ rather than the prose prime minister. Is Rudd really abandoning the duty of leader for merely the image of leadership? Is all rhetoric a distraction from the actual hard work of running a country?
Certainly in a practical country such as Australia, government is about doing and achieving. In his collection of essays Melleuish writes that ‘In a modern democratic regime the desire of the mass is not so much to pursue the good as to escape the bad’. This he defines in contrast to the idealistic and heroic ideals of those who favour communist or fascist regimes with their utopian ideals of the perfect society. Yet is politics then just a science, a bread and butter effort to provide in as utilitarian a way possible the greatest happiness to the greatest number, with no other factors matter. Is the strength of a governing party simply a reflection of the economic well being of the people? Recent evidence would indicate it’s not. The Howard government fell in good economic times, the Rudd government continues to prosper as things turn sour. One man who keenly noticed the divide between this idea of politics as a science (with it’s implied precise present focused activity) and politics as an art (with it’s notions of leadership and future orientated direction) once wrote:

‘Politics is both a fine art and an inexact science. We have concentrated upon its scientific aspects – the measurement and estimation of economic trends, the organisation of finance, the devising of plans for social security, the discovery of what to do. We have neglected it as an art, the delineating and practice of how and when to do these things and above all, how to persuade a self-governing people to accept and loyally observe them. This neglect is of crucial importance, for I am prepared to assert that it is only if the art of politics succeeds that the science of politics will be efficiently studied and mastered. In short, the art is no less important than the science’

That man, was Sir Robert Menzies, who governed Australia for 16 years(1949-1966). Menzies too might be accused of having put off the big decisions during his time, of letting the country drift when it should have been active, active, active. But history and fading memories still recall it as golden era of Australian history when despite the challenges of communism, post-war recovery, migration and the break from the old white and British outpost into a modern Australian country became apparent, that the country held together, and through the writings and speeches of the leaders of that time we can see and come to understand how they held the continent and its people together as one nation and on one path.

Far from ridiculing political penmanship as a abandonment of their job, we should be demanding of our leaders ever more pieces of writing(dont worry you don’t have to read them all!). Getting them to set out their views, to make the case and refine their arguments so as to most effectively practice the art as well as the science of politics. In all times, but especially those of difficulty and struggle what most binds a community is the rhetoric of its leaders. Stressing the common values, defining and thereby giving us a handhold on the defining challenges. The depression was not an unbeatable monster, but a struggle with the fear inside all of us that the system would collapse. The defence of the UK from Nazism was not an impossible last stand, but a call to resistance and inner fortitude that made victory inevitable. The civil rights movement was not a change to American identity, but the very re-enforcement of it’s highest principles. In all these great contests it was the art of rhetoric that made the impossible possible, that brought the mountain top into reach, and gave us the strength as a community to soldier on, confident that the battle was small and our strength great.

No one would accuse Rudd or Turnbull of such eloquence, but contra-Melleuish they are participating in perhaps the greatest act of leadership possible: the communication between the elites and the public of their values and shared unity. With that, any challenge can be overcome.