Chasing the Norm

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

Tag: Joyce

Warning: Turbulence ahead

I’ve deliberately not been blogginig as much on domestic politics lately because it seems to me to have entered a swirling phase where clear outlines of either camps positions, strengths, weaknesses and direction are largely obscured. The reasons for these are many, the ‘inevitable’ ETS has collapsed, the GFC has finally passed having distracted the Rudd government from its agenda for its first 18 months, and most of all, Tony Abbott has taken over the leadership, giving the press gallery the long awaited contest they have been seeking.

Much like the early months of Mark Latham in 04 or Sarah Palin as VP candidate in the USA, Abbott’s election has given his base a 12 can injection of Red Bull, while the general public are still trying to work out what they think of the bloke. What passes for conventional wisdom in the press about Abbott is still largely based on snap reactions to him, rather than cultivated analysis of him as a leader. Take this missive from Laurie Oakes:
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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?