Chasing the Norm

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

Tag: Stupid

Corrupting one’s own figures

Via the Washington Monthy comes the news that the Heritage Foundation has substantially shifted the position of the USA in its Index of Economic Freedom. The USA is now only “mostly free”.

The Heritage Foundation’s latest world ranking of economic freedoms shows the U.S. falling farther than any other large economy in the world. The foundation says the TARP Program, the auto industry bailout and the stimulus package, among other factors, have caused in the country’s economy to go from “free” to “mostly free.” […]
Factors like business regulation, the labor market, monetary stability, property rights and corruption are used to determine the rankings.

Terry Miller, director of the Center of International Trade And Economics at the Heritage Foundation, says the U.S. ranking may continue to fall.”Certainly looking at the government policies that have been followed over the last year, since our last data cut off, I’m very concerned,” Miller told TPM, adding that health care reform was likely to further hurt our economic freedom.

Heres the top ten on the right for your quick viewing. But it’s an odd list. New Zealand, Canada and Australia all have significantly greater regulations in economic sectors (and weren’t we glad of that in 2008). Likewise all offer true universal healthcare delivery as well as insurance (as opposed to the USA’s just passed universal insurance) and it is hard to argue that property rights and the labor market are in general more regulated in the USA than in Australia.

While Government Spending must be seen as part of the mix, its weighting here seems to utterly distort the figures. You’d therefore have therefore to suspect some ideological politics is at work. The (Conservative) Heritage Foundation gets a 1-2 day headline downgrading the USA as ‘mostly free’ instead of ‘free’, but the long term effect of this is going to damage the credibility of the list. This type of index gets a lot of work in academic circles as a handy reference point, but that’s going to drop off once people start suspecting more than just world view, but domestic politics is interfering with the results. Hardly a worth while pay off.

Memo to Business: Hire better political advisors

From an article on the new NBN draft legislation:

“The talk in Canberra is that Telstra senses the government is on the ropes, and with an election coming it thinks now is the perfect time to play hardball.The closer we get to the election date the more desperate the government is likely to get and the better compensation handout it will consider.

The Rudd Government is on the ropes ? In what reality? Going by the Polls, Labor is at ahead a comfortable, 53-47% spread, while the markets have Labor at around $1.20 to the Libs $3.80 (ie around 75% odds on favourites), add in the honeymoons due to end for Abbott, that the public always give govts a 2nd term (at least since ww2) and that the government hasn’t yet switched to an election footing, you’re kidding yourself you think this government is “on the ropes”. And even if those numbers suggest to you Labor could lose, why would anyone in the government believe that giving in to Telstra would be good politics? Their original plan for an NBN and split Telstra was popular with both the public and the press, and the government’s already taken heat over being too close to business (utegate, Free-to-air tv handout, wasteful stimulus spending).
Read the full article »

Conservatives get their thinking caps on

Tony Abbott in this morning’s Australian:

TONY Abbott has told his Coalition colleagues not to shy away from intellectual debate ahead of a policy roundtable in Canberra this Friday hosted by the Liberal Party’s think tank, the Menzies Research Centre.
A string of thinkers and public figures, including Noel Pearson, Peter Cosgrove, Alan Dupont and Ian Harper, as well as the former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold, will take part in the meeting, convened at the Liberal leader’s request. He told the meeting “some of the smartest and deepest thinkers in Australia” would attend the meeting, while making a gibe at Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit, convened in April 2008. “This is going to be our own mini-summit, but there’s not going to be a thousand people who have come along to agree with each other,” he said.

One slight problem 4 of the 5 “smartest and deepest thinkers” mentioned, attended Rudd’s 2020 Summit. Oops.

This person votes – on your behalf

“The Prime Minister has obviously not been following the crisis in climate science: the junk science, the corruption, the collusion and the endemic lack of peer review. The member for Page talks about consensus. Think about consensus on religion here for a second. The consensus of trained experts is that a Christian god, in consensus terms, particularly in Australia, exists. So why do you reject that consensus?”

Dr Dennis Jensen: (Via Andrew Bolt)

Trained expert?

Wait … what ? First the Prime Minister is a rather devout Christian, and while the member for page, Janelle Saffin may be an atheist, she voted in the NSW parliament to keep the Lords Prayer a part of the standing orders.

But more importantly, Who are these “trained experts” ? Priests? As in a profession for whom a professed “faith” in god is the very requirement to become a member? That’s like claiming you’ll get a fair view of if politicians are honest by asking only politicians. And how on gods green earth might these “trained experts” have devined “particularly in Australia” that a christian god in fact exists? Is there some local evidence that particularly sways those down under? or perhaps some opposed evidence accepted abroad but rejected here?

Attempts to “prove” god exists generally died out in the 18th & 19th centuries, when enlightened figures (almost exclusively believers themselves) showed that it couldn’t be done, and ought not to be attempted, for reason’s grubby hands would simply sully the beauty of faith (questions like “could God microwave a burrito so hot he couldn’t eat it rather demean us all). Many like John Paul II still argued that faith and reason are not entirely incompatible, and of this there may be merit (if God exists he created reason ex post facto) but thats a long way from claiming mans reason can prove god.

“The fact is there is no such thing as consensus science. If there is a consensus, it is not science and if it is science it is not consensus—period. I will quote the late, great Michael Crichton on some of the history of consensus science and the damage that it can do:
In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever.
In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no.
In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no.”

Now this quote follows directly on from the one above. That’s important because Jensen is using it to show that science doesn’t hold all the answers and often important scientific claims face overwhelming objections. That’s very true. Only Jensen is citing cases from the rise of the scientific revolution, when the consensus was informed not by competing scientific data (at least as we would understand it), but was directly informed by over 1000 years of superstitiously informed witchery, derived from…. a consensus view of gods existence. And if science’s consensus should be inherently doubted as Jensen is implying, what approach will he take should his wife be taken by fever? Would he accept modern sciences consensus view or demand an alternate approach?

At least Jensen is doing one good public service, by spouting such nonsense despite having a PhD (in materials engineering on ceramics) he is proving you don’t need to be that bright to get a doctorate. That’s a useful service. That he was also an air traffic controller with this grasp of logic is much more worrying.
The Chaser’s CNNN ran a sketch in 2004 showing people of the street mis-interpreting and simply not-understanding the issues debated in modern politics, before bringing down a stamp “This person votes”. In light of Jensen’s comments, I think we need the resurrect the sketch with a new stamp “This person votes on your behalf”.

Facts are sometimes the easiest thing to burn: The Indian attacks and the media

I somewhat understand why the Indian media is so keen to play up the idea that Indians are victimised in Australia. The government is pissed at Rudd over Uranium/NPT, and its always popular to play the nationalist card. What I don’t understand is why the Australian media seems to be aiding them:

INDIA’S high commissioner, Sujatha Singh, will return to Delhi for talks next week amid rising diplomatic tension over attacks on Indian students in Australia. Mrs Singh made a stinging complaint to the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, over the attacks in Melbourne, labelling Victoria a state ”in denial” over the severity of the problem.
Word of the envoy’s return came after India’s External Affairs Minister, S. M. Krishna, issued a strong statement on the attacks, demanding they be “stopped forthwith”. Mrs Singh will travel to Delhi to explain her perspective on the violence, which threatens to seriously damage relations between the nations.

This sounds like a major diplomatic incident. Especially in an era of easy phone, electronic and video communication, recalling a diplomat to discuss a problem is a gesture heavy with meaning. Indeed my first thought on reading the story was ‘what has set off this new row’ that such a step would be made.

Only it turns out, Singh isn’t heading back because of the attacks, and this is all just routine: (From the same article a few paragraphs down)
Read the full article »

Blessed are the weaponmakers

By now I’m sure everyone has heard the row over biblical passages being enscribed on gun sights for US Troops. Why or how anyone whose read the New Testament could see warrant for putting them on military hardware is beyond me. Anyway, turns out the same manafacturer has been selling them to the Australian Defence Department. Locally, this is an easy mistake to fix, but the excuse given by the Defence Department is truely odd:

Defence Minister John Faulkner has ordered the Defence Department to remove references to biblical passages marked on gunsights being used by Australian troops in Afghanistan. References to New Testament verses were etched onto the gunsights by the American manufacturer, Trijicon, and the department says it was unaware of their meaning at the time of purchase.

Among the coded inscriptions on Trijicon gunsights are JN8:12, an apparent reference to John 8:12: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Another made reference to Psalms 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”.

They didn’t know what “The Lord is my light and salvation” meant? Or twig to why coded references were on their equipment and have someone with some cultural literacy? Obviously we want to keep religious education well away from our soldiers manuals, but surely at school the future generals and officers learnt from the bible. I may not be a christian, but I’ve certainly read the bible and have been meaning to pick up a copy again soon as a refresher. So much of our culture from great literature to daily conversation is peppered with metaphors, similies and analogies from the bible. You almost can’t be considered a literate or educated if you’ve never learnt anything of it.
Yet the Defence Department is really going with a lack of understanding as their justification?

Being a Bad Loser

In Obama’s inauguration speech there was a line that stood out:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

If one of the defining characteristics of adult hood is the ability to accept defeat and setback and carry on (such as in If by Kipling) then it seems clear that neither US political party has taken that step. Both the Republicans over the past year, and the Democrats over the past 24 hours are showing what bad losers they are.

I’ve never been one to decry hardball politics, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find in the post war period a group as mendacious and arrogant as the Republican party has been since the election loss in 2008. Abusing a rare senate rule, they have declared that Obama has no mandate for any legislation whatsoever, and not even entitled to most of his administration team. While still yet to account for any of the errors of their own period in power, they make demand after demand without the slightest idea of policy proposals to achieve these ends (& vetoing opponents policy that would help).

But just as you can be a bad loser by denying the loss ever happened, you can also be a bad loser by breaking down, and jumping into self-pity as the Democratic party seem to be doing. Democrats lost by just 100’000 votes in a special election, with a god awful candidate in a country of 300 million, and Obama & the democrats still poll above republicans nationally. The option to pass the health care bill is still there (but only by passing the senates bill), along with many measures to make life better for Americans (and show that Republicans are unwilling to aid doing so)
Yet they seem to be giving up, crawling into a ball and telling the people they “heard the message” that they should never do anything ever again, or stand for anything ever again.

Its remarkable really, even in the depths of the ALP’s crisis under Howard or the Liberals under Rudd we saw nothing like that level of arrogant or cowardly behaviour. Only Fraser’s scheming to dismiss Whitlam in 1975 somewhat fits for bad sportsmanship.

Since the 19th century, US political parties have depicted themselves as Elephants and Donkeys. Right now, the brainless Scarcrow and a cowardly Lion seem a better fit. Let’s hope these two listen to Obama’s message and grow up. (Speaking of which, the President himself strikes me as somewhat similar to The Wicked Witch as seen in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (novel behind the hit musical) I.e. possessed of a noticeably different skin colour & slightly grating demand for public morality, who eventually moves from a lack of understanding into being hated by the public without either side quite knowing why.

Doubting the citizens intelligence

I really like living in the ACT. It’s generally hassle free, safe, and cosmopolitan. Likewise the local government is smart, left wing and generally competent. But sometimes, (spurred on by the Greens) they pass legislation that seems to question the intelligence of local citizens, and cause hassles for retailers, for no good reason. If there’s a problem, governments all too often sees extra regulation as the solution. Two recent examples stand out.

As of January 1, free-range and cage eggs must be physically separated in stores, with clear markings, a change no supermarkets have yet to get around to making. As if like cigarettes many people were still unaware of the harm caused. Personally I always buy free range. It’s an easy moral choice, and the packs are generally easily labeled. Even if a particular brand isn’t too clear, I can easily choose another. Where free range eggs were pretty rare a decade ago, today it seems most egg brands are free range. If the government has a problem with battery hens, then it need to outlaw their sale. If not, adding burdens onto supermarkets to make the abundantly clear even more so helps no one.

[Turns out this next example is by the Federal Labor Government, my mistake] A second example (no online copy available) is the insistence that all cafes/resturant’s have a second menu for sundays/public holidays displaying the full price, rather than simply saying “10% surcharge on public holidays”.
This is part of legislation that tackles the often grossly misleading prices on cars and airline tickets, however it seems Cafes/Resturants are being caught up as well.
Again, few retailers have bothered following the legislation, with those doing so using ugly photocopies of their menus, and finding their staff are getting confused along with customers. While there’s a definite principle that everything you buy should be the labled price, a 10% charge notice for cafes at the bottom is not exactly duplicitous, or hard to figure out. Legislation of this type while honourable, also seems to be built on the presumption that consumers are unable to read the notice, calculate additional taxes or charges from the small print into their costs, or factor this in when they make purchases.

I don’t get Libertarians consuming worry about these issues. The link to ‘freedom’ is, despite their claims, so tangential as to be invisible. Most of the time this is pretty minor stuff, and if you only focus on the negatives you can lose sight of the critical importance of sensible regulations to an efficient, prosperous capital economy. But sometimes governments introduce regulations which seem to have no discernible benefit, hassle business and treat citizens like children unable to make decisions for themselves.

Doubting the wisdom of men who stick fireworks in their crotch

I’ve not paid much attention to Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the crotch bomber who tried to blow up a flight into Detroit if only because it was a failed attack. That men are out there in the thousands trying to kill civilians of all faiths and creed as part of an anti-modernist religious nihilism is one of the defining but also definable threats of the decade past. All of us over the last 9 years have at some point surely felt fearful of an attack on ourselves and those we love. Whether travelling or simply attending populated areas, the thought has surely creped in. This latest case is no more significant than any other. Only the sensational way in which he was stopped, American right wing demagoguery and a story starved press have caused his actions to be seen as significant. And just as looking deep into the abyss lets the abyss look into you, voices have sprung up in the US demanding that AbdulMutallab be tortured:

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of U.S. voters say waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques should be used to gain information from the terrorist who attempted to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 30% oppose the use of such techniques, and another 12% are not sure.

….The vast majority of Americans have it right: You don’t put an enemy combatant who just committed an act of war into the criminal-justice system — and you certainly don’t give him a lawyer and tell him, “You have the right to remain silent.” You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.

I suspect (hope) the poll’s wrong and that those surveyed didn’t already know he’s already singing to the FBI, but what’s most interesting is the last line, “tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks”. Why does anyone think this guy knows anything ?

If the attack had gone to plan AbdulMutallab would be dead today, so why then would Al Qaeda tell him about upcoming attacks? Why would they entrust or even let overhear, sensitive details to someone who was so smart that he was incapable of setting off the crudely made device, and so obvious even his father tried to turn him in? Western special force troops with a decade plus of training and field work are still not told what missions other units are undertaking or if any are operating in nearby battlefields, so why would this guy know anything? What part of ‘terrorist cells working in isolation’ have they not understood as described in the literally millions of articles, journals, books and other publicly available analysis about the threat we are facing?

Richard Reid the failed shoe bomber was caught in December 2001 in a similar way, similarly ridiculed, and sentenced in a civillian court, and is now in jail for life. No different step needs to be taken in this case. Only given that this boys only real achievement was to ensure he can probably never breed again, a future-darwin award and extended mockery are his real reward. Attacks like this will probably occur for the rest of our lives, the only way to deal with it is serious sober police work and humor. I suggest more efforts like those below the fold (NSFW). Happy 2010.

Read the full article »

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?

An ETS by dinner time

While we wait for the Liberal leadership saga to play out, just a quick reminder, that 7 Liberal Senators acting as a block could end this farce and pass the CPRS by dinner. Indeed the senate isn’t rising until 10pm, so they’ve even got time for some quick dutch courage before such an act. We are so used to party discipline being comprehensive, that even though the Liberal party is utterly divided on the issue, they still are voting as one, both to pass amendments from the McFarlane-Wong deal, and to delay the bill.

Just 7 senators walking into the chamber, with Labors knowledge could vote to roll all amendments into one, end the debate and vote on the final passage of the bill. Rather than worry about deals with Hockey or counting numbers with Abbott, Turnbull just needs to get the following people into the chamber – Birmingham, Simon, Brandis, the Hon George, Coonan, the Hon Helen , Humphries, Gary, Kroger, Helen, Payne, Marise , Ronaldson, the Hon Michael , Troeth, the Hon Judith, Trood, Russell,. It would be one of the most audacious acts in Australian political history, but hey, this is Malcolm Turnbull we are talking about, and he has a lot of free front bench positions to fill… Something to think about.

And just because I’ve been wanting to post this for a while : What possible reason does Joe Hockey have for taking the Liberal leadership job. He knew it was a dodgy deal last month, it is an even worse deal this month. He is being pressured by a lot of people worried about their own seats, to sacrifice his career for them. He needs to think strategically and in the long term interests of the party and his personal principles. Though only 44 if he takes the leadership and loses his career is effectively over in politics (unfair but thems the breaks). If Abbott takes over, and loses as expected (assuming Hockey can hold his own seat), then he will be unopposed in the leadership stakes, and be able to use the electoral drubbing as a mandate to sideline the climate deniers. He will have authority as one of the only former Howard Government ministers left (given that by then Turnbull & Abbott will be discredited or retired), and the time to re-establish the party as suits him.

But if he runs, he will be out of the job by this time next year, probably go down in history as a loser of Latham-esp proportions (without being responsible) and have a miserable time as the current divisions over Climate Change continue to play out. Even if he delay post Copenhagen (which is in 7 days), what will he do in January? February? March? These are the questions the government asks, all set to images of bushfires and dirty polluting coal plants. Indecisive or not across the details? Patsy to the deniers, or one himself? The Labor attack adds write themselves. To run now just sacrifices his talents and skills for no good reason. Don’t run Joe!

ETS: The Final Countdown – Todays Primer

Here is a quick primer for those of you unsure of what’s happening, or wanting to double check you’ve got the lay of the land down pat. I’ll also be live blogging the days events, so check back regularly to keep up to date.

3:25pm – It’s Over. No vote today.
Labor under Chris Evan’s passionately blames the libs ‘fillibuster’ argues “you have ratted on that agreement”. Cites 295 amendments, with only 34 dealt with. Labor must share some of the blame with its poorly organised chamber and inability to get supportive libs in chamber. Whinging about a ratted on agreement just looks week. This weekend is going to be ugly for all involved in the Liberal Party.

Liberal rebels have sent a letter asking for leadership spill Monday morning (suggestions might occur Tuesday instead), however notables such as Senator Minchin have not signed it.
Talk has now turned to how Labor responds, particularly if they call a Double Dissolution in response early next year. Rudd will have a trigger under section 57 of the Constitution if

the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree

If this happens twice, with a 3 month wait in between, then the Govt has it’s trigger. Deferral is not blocking or failure to pass, but could be left to lawyers. So whilst the test isn’t a full block, it’s also not clear a failure today will be enough for a DD. I’ll follow up on this in a post in a few days when some of the dust has settled.

1:50pm – The deal for Hockey to lead seems to be firming. However I have some doubt if that is the liberals desire, or the press’s. So the ugly side of twitter may be an increase of the press’s power to judge who is a valid candidate (as they universally and negatively did for Andrews). The Senate is finally getting around to debating the Govt-Opposition deal on the CPRS, but time is escaping, and no sign of any liberals willing to stand up and vote today. This sage may well go until monday lunchtime if not next few months…

12:15pm – Confusion if Bishop did or did not ask Turnbull to resign. Deal may be in works for Hockey leader, Dutton deputy. Abbott starting to waiver. May not have numbers, or be content to simply take Turnbull’s scalp and move up to Shadow Treasurer under Hockey. Who knows where this would leave ETS (prob delay to post Copenhagen, but who knows what then? & why would Hockey accept such a bad deal with the mal-contents emboldened)

11:30am – Deputy Julia Bishop has called on Turnbull to resign. Hockey is firming to run against Abbott on Monday. The Senate is crawling in pace. Not looking good for vote by 3:45pm (when Senate is due to rise).

History: Labor passed an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The Liberals demanded amendments, with Ian McFarlane(Lib) and Penny Wong(Lab) doing the negotiations. These included major new breaks for polluters and households. Details here. After a 10 hour meeting on tuesday, Turnbull claimed he had the support of a majority of the party. Many dissented, claiming he was in minority. Anger at being over-ruled, led to a vote on whether to change leadership, with Kevin Andrews running as the potential replacement. The Vote failed 48-35. Party members pledged to support the bill or hold their tounge. After Question Time on Thursday, two leading dissenters, Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin, both members of the shadow cabinet went to Turnbull and demanded the vote be held off until Copenhagen summit or they would resign. Turnbull refused, and about 10 members of the Liberal Party cabinet resigned, starting with Abbott. Late Thursday night, Turnbull gave a defiant press conference saying he would fight on and try to pass the legislation. The Govt capitalised on this, and has rushed the bill forward to be voted on by 3:45pm today (Friday 27th Nov). Tony Abbott (denier) has declared that he will challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership, with a vote due on Monday morning. Pressure has been applied to Joe Hockey(supporter) to also run. Most MP’s have gone home to their electorates, so are not in canberra to vote on the leadership right away.

The Numbers: To pass a bill you need 39 senators to support the bill
Labor: 32
Coalition: 37 (33 Liberals and 4 Nationals)
Independents: 2 (Xenephon and Fielding)
Greens: 5

Who else supports an ETS

Greens: The Greens opposed the CPRS strongly. Though the most active on the issue and with the strongest supporters, they see the bill as a sell out and refuse to support it. Likely they will continue to make perfect the enemy of the good and vote with the climate deniers against the bill. However, they could also choose to at least vote with labor on procedural issues almost ensuring a vote will occur. With their support the CPRS would be almost guaranteed, without it will be very tough.

Notionally the Liberal Party supports the bill. Malcolm Turnbull has made a very strong claim for it, and is risking his position to support it. This may be stubborn digging in, but it’s also very courageous & principled stuff. Claims have been made that “15 of 32” or “a majority” of liberal senators support the bill. Many have reservations about the nature of the bill, and the push to pass before Copenhagen (Dec7-18 2009) On a vote on tuesday to delay the bill until after Copenhagen only 12 Liberals voted for delay, leaving potentially 20 in support. Only 7 are needed to vote today to support the bill. Of those who seem most likely to vote yes are:

Birmingham, Simon – Senator for South Australia
Brandis, the Hon George – Senator for Queensland
Coonan, the Hon Helen – Senator for New South Wales
Humphries, Gary – Senator for Australian Capital Territory
Kroger, Helen – Senator for Victoria
Payne, Marise – Senator for New South Wales
Ronaldson, the Hon Michael – Senator for Victoria
Troeth, the Hon Judith – Senator for Victoria
Trood, Russell – Senator for Queensland

How does this bill get passed?
1) 7 Liberals vote with Labor to over-ride any procedural motions against and vote by 3:45pm today in favor. For liberals who support the ETS this is their best chance as they are still technically voting with the majority of the party. If on Monday Abbott wins a spill (as expected) then any vote they cast for the ETS would be against the will of the party leadership. Far more extreme pressure could be brought to bear. Passing an ETS today would also take all the wind out of the sails of the deniers (for it would become law with Labors support in the HOR), and so could also guarantee Turnbull’s continued leadership (protecting and indebting those who vote for an ETS today).

2) The Greens come down from the mountain and support Labor, with 1-2 Libs supporting it.

3) ?? (Ie anything could happen. Xenephon has been against it, but could change at last minute if Labor offered a big enough bribe (as they did on Murray-Darling legislation).

4) The bill fails today. Abbott takes over and official Liberal policy becomes to oppose the bill. Labor goes to an election (potential DD if CPRS bill is voted down), and wins additional senate seats. Pass legislation on their own or with greens support.

5) It doesn’t.

Who’s going to be Liberal Leader next week?
Good question.
Malcolm Turnbull: could only remain if he gets an ETS passed before Monday, pre-empting Abbott’s campaign to become leader so as to stop the legislation. He’s been very impressive these last few days, but has about 20% of remaining leader.
Tony Abbott: Most expected him to wait until post election loss. Spurred into action by ETS which he has claimed is just a policy issue, though now will challenge. Likely to win such a challenge on Monday (Turnbull had only a 7 vote buffer, against the non-starter Kevin Andrews. Likely Deputies include Julie Bishop (if she abandons Turnbull), Tony Smith, Andrew Robb, Joe Hockey
Joe Hockey: Supported Turnbull, but seen as next best Pro-ETS, moderate leader. Being pressured to take on Abbott on Monday. Like Abbott doesn’t want leadership before the election (loss). But may have little choice if Turnbull is abandoned/moderates want to stop Abbott.
Andrew Robb: Was considered a serious contender as a caretaker leader till the election. Unlikely now that Abbott has thrown his hat in the ring. Still too early after taking a break for depression to be a serious contender.
Kevin Andrews: …..Just Joking. On a day like this we all need a laugh.

I’ll update this as information comes in. If you have anything to add or challenge, please post a comment or email me could either be a fizzle, or the start of a fundamental re-alignment of Australian politics (with Turnbull type liberals leaving the party for Labor, and the Coalition becoming a far more conservative body). Keep refreshing that webpage, and of course follow me on twitter for all the latest. (Though i also highly recommend adding the following people (Annabel Crabb, David Speers, Samantha Maiden, Latika Bourke, James Massola)

A Government of One

Always a man apart

Always a man apart

I always enjoy those insider looks at how governments operate. Horse races and polls are one thing, but what truly matters is the individual personalities at play and systems of decision making. This however was not a good way for Lenore Taylor to begins her piece:

THE Prime Minister and his three most senior ministers form a kitchen cabinet that takes the key decisions.

During the Howard years, Australia was run by the 17 or so men and women in the cabinet. Under the Rudd government, it is effectively run by four.

Oh dear. Everyone can understand that a good way to make your point more significant is to make a comparison to show it’s uniqueness. Only in this case Taylor (or a sub-editor looking for a punchy start) is completely and utterly wrong. Weirdly the rest of the article seems to make the exact same point, but in these days where Howard is being exhumed by conservatives everywhere it’s worth re-iterating how wrong it is. Howard’s government, was literally Howard’s Government.

No one who lived & followed politics during the era would record the Howard era as a period of cabinet governance, indeed most people most of the time didn’t even know any ministers names beyond the PM & Treasurer, such was his dominance of the party (a problem they are still grappling with). This was a government that almost never leaked, such was the fear of the PM, and the lack of information flow even at the highest levels. Howard clearly accepted a role for ministerial discussion, but it was to aid his decision making, rather than as the source of decisions.

Howard bypassed the cabinet consistently with senior ministers meetings on key issues, such as the Expenditure Review Committee which set the budget and the new National Security Committee which bypassed cabinet entirely on all foreign policy and security issues. Howard also created the Cabinet Policy Unit (CPU) which ran from inside his office to ensure a lot of matters were left outside cabinet, or pre-organised to ensure speedy passage by cabinet. This is all documented in great detail in the 2006 book on Cabinet Governance “Cabinet government in Australia” by Patrick Weller, which should be in the bookshelves of all political reporters. (You can even get it on Google books. Taylor quotes Weller, but no one whose read the book could write such a sentance.

There is ample documentary evidence to show that though there may have been 17 men and women in the room, but only one vote actually counted. First of course is Costello, who’s memoirs are one unabated howl at being consistently and regularly overruled by the PM on economic and some social issues. Even with issues as big as the GST Costello records that Howard would get cabinet approval and then go make the changes he wanted later in his office. Indeed Costello happily said as much publicly whilst in office

“I can tell you as a Treasurer, there are many occasions when my policy views are not accepted but I always accept a Cabinet decision. There might even be occasions when a Prime Minister’s view is not accepted although it is very rare, if it ever happens

Some of the biggest decisions such as assisting the War on Terror and the Iraq war were made by the PM with cabinet approval a later formality. Indeed in his later years Howard thought nothing of spending $10b on the Murry-Darling without even mentioning it to cabinet.

Likewise there are numerous books out on how Howard governed, including ‘Power without responsibility’ by Anne Tiernan on the unprecedented use of ministerial advisors to short-sheet ministers and center power in the Prime Ministers Office, and ‘No, Prime Minister’ by James Walter and Paul Strangio, on the rise of presidential style leadership, culminating under Howard (though Rudd fits very well too). All are sober academic texts without any agenda but clearly document the centralisation of power within the hands of the Prime Minister. Equally Taylor could have (and should have) read her colleague Paul Kelly’s book March of Patriots which documents Howard’s many presidential style decisions.

Indeed, read on in Taylors article and you see her essential point is that Rudd runs his government much like Howard did. Only slightly more centralised, and with informal groupings made formal. As a nation we are surly the poorer for this, and I suspect given recent events, people insider government are recognizing that too. But this is not Rudd’s creation, and the full scope of changes under Howard will be felt for many years to come. So why start the article with such an utterly false opening that is effectively contradicted throughout the rest of the article? The only people who will read such an article are going to be political followers who would laugh at the absurdity of the line, and probably turn the page. Anyway, the whole thing is worth reading, just ignore the first two lines.

Republican blues

A little tip to the Pro-monarchists today: Don’t look so smug. It doesn’t look good, esp as the public already have doubts about any group endorsing a foreign countries leader, and led by people like Alan Jones, Tony Abbott, David Flint and John Howard. Not exactly the most popular or down to earth group of individuals in this country.
Today, as in 10 years ago, around 60% still support a republic. Which is rather an odd measurement, given the more pertinent question is how many support the status quo of the Queen remaining our head of state, a proposition I would wager to get less than 20% support. The monarchists may crow today, but they all know well that the only reason the republic referendum failed was due to a split within republican ranks over which model, either a minimalist retaining of the status quo (my preference) or a direct election model. It was clever politics by Howard, but as Malcolm Turnbull perfectly said ‘it broke the nation’s heart’.

As Bob Hawke has proposed, and I wager Rudd will follow, the best way to proceed from here is to wait for the queen to pass on, then make the change. It’s rather an odd measurement historically (representing neither a military victory, or significant date) but it’s practical and in keeping with the general style of Australian’s political evolution. No bitterness, but a quiet and dignified change as represents a tidying of our affairs and formalization of the current practice.

Which is the other reason the monarchists shouldn’t look smug, for the change they have so resisted is guaranteed to come. And instead of managing that change as a sensible conservative would, ensuring the best possible reform (ie maintaining the way the system runs and making only editing changes to the constitution) we now face the very real (and I think slightly worrying) possibility of moving to a directly elected president (who may come to challenge the PM on issues, and change the way our legislature and parties operate). The voices for such a model are out there and growing. The introduction of such a model will in all likely hood be the real result of the monarchists actions 10 years ago. So not only will they have only delayed instead of preventing change, they will allow a system many of them will find far more unpalatable, and which represents a possibly fundamental shift in Australian politics.

Not quite so clever an achievement now, don’t you think.

Still, a sad day for all republican supporters. I never saw the issue as one of independence (if you don’t think we are an independent country you have a real lack of understanding about our system or a persecution complex), but rather as a way of writing in law what is already in practice. Unlike the American’s we haven’t tried to immortalize our constitution writers or the document they created. Most Australians recognise that it needs to be regularly returned to and improved to ensure the constitution of this country still suits our purposes and need. That it protects the citizens, restricts and accurately describes the governments operation (ie there is no mention of the PM in the document), and establishes its responsibilities (the entire problem of federalism from inefficent hospitals, a lack of uniform laws, and destroyed cross border assets like the Murray-Darling is due to the constitution).

What’s the pay off?

Rudd is a very clever man. Sometimes however he seems to outsmart himself. Take this latest machiavellian ploy to put Costello on the board of the Future Fund:

Govt defends Costello appointment
The Australian government is not about playing politics when it comes to the appointment of former politicians to senior positions, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson says.

Former treasurer Peter Costello is the latest Howard government minister to have been appointed to a senior position by the Rudd government.

The government announced on Sunday that Mr Costello will head the board of the Future Fund from December 18.

But his appointment by the Labor government has sparked criticism from former prime minister Paul Keating, who labelled Mr Costello as “a policy bum of the first order who squandered 11 years of economic opportunity”.

“The prime minister’s goodie two-shoes approach of appointing former opponents of the Labor Party to important public jobs is no substitute for thoughtful and mature reflection as to the public requirement of those positions,” the former prime minister told AAP on Sunday.

The Howard government was rightly criticized for its arrogant politicization of many key postings. Many good institutions were damaged because of the quality and contempt in choice for office holders. To that extent, Rudd’s choice of people such as Robert Hill and Tim Fisher is a welcome return to sense, and decent political advantage. Nelson’s gig in the EU is just a pay off, but there’s enough of those in politics to not make much of a fuss over. But what is Rudd thinking appointing Peter Costello to the Future Fund board ? It’s a bad idea for three reasons:

1. Rudd & Co opposed the FF when it began and still see it as a mistake (or a “solution in search of a problem” as it was infamously dubbed). Given the fleeing of cash from the Govt’s reserves and their desire for big infrastructure developments, they want a FF with as small a media presence as possible. Appointing Costello to the board just gives it a much bigger presence for the media. It becomes a veritable institution, a junior cousin to the Reserve Bank when it comes to financial policy, and all headed by one of their chief economic opponents of the past 15 years. And he’s going to be on it’s board powerfully arguing for an economic vision that not only disagrees with the Govt, but will take pleasure in spiting it.

2. Costello may have signed all sorts of non-disclosure statements, but an ego his size will never prevent him from participating in the debate. As readers of his memoirs will know intimately, politics is personal for Costello. His smirk was never about getting policy up, but putting people down. He may won’t be the chief voice for the FF, but everything he says on economics (such as in his now regular SMH column) will be parsed for commentary on how the FF views Rudd’s government. One word about Telstra shares going down (which hurts the FF slightly) and the story will be ‘Costello slams Rudd for imperiling superannuation/debt/nations future/sunshine and rainbows/’ etc etc. Far from censoring him, it gives Costello a bigger microphone than if he was just another private merchant banker (witness how Bob Carr was regularly and unfairly slammed for his Macquarie Bank links whilst advocating removing tariffs on books)

3. The public isn’t impressed, or even paying attention. It may please the hearts of a few media folk who once had crushes on Costello, but it won’t shift a single vote in the seats Rudd needs to win, and want’s to steal from Turnbull’s enfeebled grasp. Worse, it is just going to put off a lot of labor supporting types, both in the party and out who keep wondering why their side is so weak all the time. There’s nothing wrong with putting your people in key positions. They are your people because they agree with you on the big issues and so can act as substitutes for you. Unless Rudd has figured out a way to clone himself to run every position in Govt, he needs supporters in the key positions to help push his agenda forward. Putting in people like Costello just means you face far far more roadblocks than you should have. And for no political pay off, today’s story isn’t worth anything (esp given the good economic news of this morning).

So its not good politics or economics. Why on earth bother then? I sure hope this wasn’t dangled in front of him to encourage a by-election that the Libs are sure to win in Higgins, which will help Turnbull innumerably. Likewise thank goodness Costello said yes. If he had been offered and said no (and leaked) it would look like the Govt was desperate for his help and had to go begging. Sometimes just playing a straight bat is the most sensible of all politics. Even on those times you pull off the big tricks, the pay off isn’t always worth it.