Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Turnbull's onion-flavoured bowls of shit

Newly sworn in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now faces an even bigger bowl of shit for him to eat than that given to Tony Abbott. His reaction so far does not give one confidence that he has the wherewithal to grab the spoon firmly and tuck in, as a strong leader must.

His first mistake was to agree to the demands of the Liberal right to maintain most of the Abbott policy agenda. This is what brought down Abbott, in that he made a bargain with the electorate in the last days before the last election to carry Julia Gillard's policies through, with the exception of the carbon tax (and yes, that includes Gillard's asylum seeker policy). Arguably, this is also what brought down Gillard in that she carried on the Kevin Rudd agenda. Rudd, for all his faults with implementation and governance, is the only politician in the post-Howard era to develop an original policy platform, and one which was so wildly popular that all other politicians of both sides have had no choice but to complete their introduction (albeit the Coalition deliberately sabotaged the NBN and NDIS).

Turnbull now has to trudge on defending the legacy of a deeply unpopular ex-PM and his deeply unpopular policy slate, with everyone knowing he strongly disagrees with much of it. There has been some talk about Turnbull as a different kind of a politician, but this will prove that he's just as capable of anyone else of lying and being unfaithful to his own views to serve the interests of factional power.

His other glaring mistake so far has been giving in to demands from the Nationals, principally to cede Barnaby Joyce the water portfolio, but also to lock in Abbott timeframes for the same sex marriage plebiscite (post-election) and tackling climate change (never). This is not a good start to his negotiations with the Senate, as Joyce will be a constant irritation to the Greens. If he can't even avoid selling his arse to Warren Truss, how can he expect to gain respect from the cross-benches?

Turnbull's major problem leading up to the next scheduled election in late 2016 is the state of the economy, which is teetering on recession at a most recent quarterly rate of 0.2% growth. I am sure that those 54 Liberal members did not think they were voting for an early election when they cast their ballots the other day. Nevertheless, an early election to capitalise on his honeymoon and avoid the seemingly inevitable economic slide over the next year might also give Turnbull a fresh mandate to stand up to the LNP factions. The longer he waits, the more shit he has to eat.

UPDATE: Lenore Taylor pours cold water on aspects of the Nationals bowl of shit. Which means it's diluted, I suppose, but still tastes nasty. The lock-in of the SSM and AGW policies is of most importance electorally.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The ultimate demise of Tony Abbott

After getting knocked off 54-44 by Malcolm Turnbull in a spill this evening, Tony Abbott ends his career as the shortest serving Prime Minister since Harold Holt. Andrew Elder leads the celebration.

As a Prime Minister, he was a victim of the malaise affecting both parties: that neither right nor left can claim any connection with their respective bases any more. Labor can't claim it's the voice of workers since the Hawke/Keating era of neoliberalism which put a lock on real wage increases; the Liberals can't claim they're the voice of business because their anti-Keynesian stewardship implements anti-economic policies which are ultimately poor results for demand which underpins growth for business.

Coming mere days after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of Labour in Britain, it is tempting to draw the conclusion when considering the concurrent rise of Syriza and Podemos - not to mention Bernie Sanders who is tipping Hillary Clinton to the left in the US Democratic primaries - that there is a resurgence of populist anti-inequality thinking among centre-left elites. This would most likely be too pollyannaish, as there's still a lot of power residing in the Blairite, Ruddeqsue, Clintonian centrist elites.

There is an argument that America was the first Western electorate to show the polarisation of the electorate with the centre unoccupied by anyone electable, which Europe has followed and the UK is only the last example. There are very few Blue Dog Democrats left, or centrist Republicans. Similarly, Blairites hold very little power in the current Labour Party.

From an domestic Australian perspective, nevertheless, I still have the capability to be cynical about this "victory" on behalf of the left. I still think the most likely scenario in the medium term is that Turnbull loses the next election, hopefully to Albanese or Plibersek. I shudder to think that NSW Right machine man Shorten will lead the ALP to the next meaningful clash. As an example, consider my old mate Paul J who has finally left the ALP after many years of service as a branch member, due ostensibly to asylum seeker policy but more broadly due to machine-based lack of democratic accountability.

Both sides of politics in Western countries should be facing their ultimate mortality because they have lost touch with their bases. When one or the other side is forced through electoral reality to face that weakness, democracy is the winner. I hope Labor is similarly shocked out of its ennui before the next election.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The coming Australian recession...?

I buried my prediction of the first Australian recession in decades in a post back in May, because I wasn't quite sure it would come to pass. Today, in the light of the most recent quarter having growth of a measly 0.2%, Fairfax runs an Ian Porter piece laying out the reasons for believing that the recession will come in the next year or two, which boils down to the delayed effect of the Abbott decision to cut off assistance for the car industry and its subsequent withdrawal from the Australian economy.

The timing is interesting electorally, because the process of up to 200,000 automotive workers losing their jobs is due to be completed in 2016/17, with a full Abbott term due to finish in November 2016. We are already in some hinky territory with the Chinese slowdown, albeit currency devaluation has solved a lot of problems for our exporters and there's probably more room to drop below the current ~70c.

The last budget was a cash splash so large that it caused many pundits to think it was priming the Keynesian pumps for an early election, yet the economy is barely escaping contraction as it is. Far from a budget emergency, now we have a growth emergency, which will be followed by an employment emergency. Hockey hasn't really got any more gears to shift up fiscally, so when the automotive fecal matter hits the Centrelink air circulation equipment, the job of stimulating the economy is going to fall to the RBA, which has only 200 base points to play with and would only be forced to burn them under great duress given the housing market is already hubba-bubba-double-trouble. Then we hit the zero lower bound, and we're cactus in a Mad Max Fury Road scenario.

This is playing out a bit like George W. Bush's last days, where all of his dud decisions culminated in a massive economic and political collapse. Just as Dubbya is now seen as a contender for the worst US President in history, Tony Abbott is shaping up to be the worst Australian Prime Minister in history if these doomsday detentes come to pass. All we could do was sit back and enjoy the hot licks from the Doof Warrior.