Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Iggy Azalea, straight outta Mullumbimby

Via the Herald-Sun today comes news of Iggy Azalea, the girl from Mullumbimby trying to become the next girl-next-door Britney Spears type but with a twangy voice like Nicki Minaj and the street message of M.I.A. She has the #2 song in America right now with Fancy, though she's a far cry from Wally de Backer. The video is boilerplate Spears, portraying female pop artist as desirable virginal cheerleader schoolgirl, but the music is more beat-heavy for the clubs as is the modern trend.

Should one pay any attention to the lyrics in such a song? Yes, because millions of girls will sing it to themselves and each other, reinforcing its message. That message is pretty standard rapper stuff about how hot she is, how she's in the "Murda Bizness" (!), how she's about to blow up as a star despite the haters, etc etc. The bridge is what caught my attention:
Trash the hotel
Let's get drunk on the mini bar
Make the phone call
Feels so good getting what I want
Yeah, keep on turning it up
Chandelier swinging, we don't give a fuck
Film star, yeah I'm deluxe
Classic, expensive, you don't get to touch
Now, I could easily imagine Iggy (or collaborator Charli XCX) writing that after getting put up at a plush hotel by their label Virgin/EMI like any other kid who just got signed by a major, and it's grist for the mill for a rapper to be boasting about living the glam lifestyle... but when it's an Aussie white girl singing it, it boggles the mind a bit.

As the rise of gangsta rap in the 1980s coincided with the excesses of the rich fuelled by Reagan-era profligacy, so this song is part of a confirmation of New Gilded Age conspicuous over-consumption. Azalea makes it explicit by referring to "bringing '88 back", when maximum air was in Reagan's bubble just before the '89 crash. I look forward to seeing whether she has anything of substance to say in future songs.

Democratic centrism in action

So George Brandis is allegedly going to water down the promised nobbling of s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, after pressure from Liberal MPs sitting in traditional Labor seats trumped the whining of Andrew Bolt:
The Attorney-General was forced by the cabinet in March to soften his original plans amid a welter of protest from Coalition MPs in marginal electorates, some of whom represent large ethnic communities.
It sounds like nothing will happen at least until the budget falderol is resolved, and maybe not even then. Clive Palmer hasn't announced which way his party would vote, but it would be very easy for him to side with the little guy (e.g. the Jewish lobby) as part of his pants-seat-flying platform of populist opportunism.

The tears of the wingnuts on this are delightful. The IPA has no meaningful constituency, as such, whereas ethnic communities are well represented at grassroots level. I would imagine a lot of those marginal seats are in suburban Sydney where there are geographically dense enclaves of ethnic populations - Chinese, Jewish, Vietnamese, Lebanese et cetera - who would all be telling their newly minted MPs that s18C protects them from the depredations of white wingnut wannabe wideboys. The latter demographic, tiny as it is, is well represented at Catallaxy where they are getting to that endlessly enjoyable stage (for me) of morose nihilism. I just love it when they realise, periodically, that all hope is lost and the world won't conform to their wacky internal realities.

Commenter Viva sums up the cognitive dissonance of wingnuttery:
You won’t cut the guy any slack even though he has to operate in an environment which has been totally unforgiving from the get go. You refuse to even consider the problems associated with culture change and the need to compromise and take a longer view. Your prescriptions must be followed to the letter right here, right now. The world just doesn’t work like that. You are surely all old and enough and ugly enough to have learnt that by now. Why haven’t you?
This is the sort of thing you would never see in America these days, with the shocking gerrymander in place for Congress ensuring very few representatives are from ethnically or demographically diverse electorates. Such pressure from the grass roots on marginal MPs is a triumph for the Australian Electoral Commission and the system which empowers it to ensure diversity in electoral zoning.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Clive Palmer as anti-road roadblock bloc

In a political climate where a man who led a state Liberal caucus five years ago can become a minister in a Labor government, things are getting a bit loose at the moment. Something that seems to have been ignored largely by the mainstream media is this Guardian piece yesterday on Clive Palmer stonewalling. The main story is about Labor denying an earlier Guardian report that they would support a freeze on family tax benefits, but I think the Palmer element is more compelling anyway.
The PUP’s leader, Clive Palmer, told Guardian Australia on Monday that he and his three senators had met over the weekend and resolved they would not negotiate in any way or even speak to the government about any budget measures.
“This is an attack on Australia’s way of life. Our party room resolved not to talk to the Liberal and National parties at all,” he said.
Asked whether a carte blanche refusal to negotiate was not an unusual tactic for a party holding balance-of-power votes in the Senate, he said: “Well we are unusual, we don’t like them, we don’t like this budget and we aren’t going to talk to them.”
The stance, if adhered to, would put in doubt any legislation the government sought to pass through the new Senate – which sits from 1 July – that was opposed by Labor and the Greens.
The media seem to be treating this as Clive-being-Clive, just another act in the circus. What if he held fast to this threat, not just on the budget but everything else he didn't like about the Liberal platform, which seems to be most of it? What if the PUP turned into another Tea Party, blocking everything they can to cause maximum pain for political elites? The Tea Party prevents a huge raft of legislation supported not only by Democrats but also the non-TP establishment faction of the Republican Party through the Hastert Rule, which nobbles majority rule in US Congress through a twisted interpretation of the rules of party discipline.

Assuming that the AMEP senator follows Clive's lead, a PUP bloc of four which votes no on everything means the Liberals can't get legislation through with the votes of the other minor parties. If the PUPs abstain, leaving 72 live votes, that means the government could still win with their 33 plus all four of Xenophon, DLP, LDP and Family First - though getting all four of those cats to agree on herd direction will be highly problematic.

Operationally, it would mean that the Liberals would have to turn to the Greens or Labor to pass their legislation through the Senate. As Taylor says, the Greens have a lot of problems with the road-centric vision of Keynesianism that the government is presenting, so they could be an anti-road roadblock bloc just as much as Palmer, for different reasons.

In some ways this would be a relief to Abbott, as he is clearly unsuited to negotiation with minor parties and is much more comfortable bashing Labor for not cheering his every exhalation. He might even welcome Washington-style gridlock for three years, because it would allow him to revert back to opposition leader mode. Local ACT businesses might be terrorised once again on a daily basis by the media press pack descending at sparrow fart to film Abbott unloading eggplants, filleting barramundi and punching pig carcasses, followed by rousing condemnations of This Illegitimate Pseudo-Government. The fact that his government might not achieve anything wouldn't concern him, as it was never destined to in its first term anyway.

The public repudiated both major parties, and empowered Palmer to keep the bastards from wrecking the joint. Clive saying no to Abbott would only be a continuation of the electorate saying no to Abbott via the polls. It's classic populism, and it works. That's democracy for you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Two cigars, a wink and a princess

Fairfax editorial bod Michael Short has a plea for the left today:
This is in reference to the stories about the scholarship awarded to Frances Abbott as broken by The Guardian, followed up with style by a leak from an insider to New Matilda, and now percolating as far as the Murdoch press. Fairfax's newsroom has reported the story normally, but its op-ed section ran a defence of young Abbott today, probably commissioned by Short since that is his job. (Short is editor of The Zone, which is separate to op-ed - my bad).

It is easy to chip Fairfax for not acknowledging the breakers of the story in its pieces (even namechecked its competitors), and it is also easy (and lazy) to conclude that Short's view has an element of sour grapes to it. Had their journos been tipped off but refused to print it as such was beneath them to score scoops on such tawdry material, as they did with the AWU stuff?

Nevertheless, there is a valid line of propriety that Short identifies, but I would argue that the difference between what the Prime Minister says and what he does is very much in the national interest at the moment. If Abbott is slashing university funding and asking students (and their parents) to fork out much higher fees on one hand, and accepting a meritless secret kickback from a rich donor for the higher education of his own child on the other hand... that is completely within the bounds of political conversation.

John Quiggin, Ross Gittins and Alan Kohler do fine work, but dry economic screeds don't cut through like vision of two ministers enjoying cigars at Parliament House after a long day of raising taxes, or a Prime Minister winking merrily as one of Howard's battlers pours out a sob story, or the PM's photogenic daughter being revealed as a member of a gilded aristocracy. In a country where it is now possible to become a knight once again, after more than 20 years since the move away from such trappings of imperial rule, the optics of the progeny of the leader being coddled like a princess by his political cronies are too powerful to ignore.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In defence of Clivezone populism

Australia's first Federal Cabinet in 1901
I confess that I never read Larvatus Prodeo from cover to cover, as many of its posts seemed boring to me with interminable series on subjects that didn't grab me. LP alumnus Mark Bahnisch's new blog is much more accessible, however, as in his budget posts like this one, which is of a piece with the Piping Shrike's thoughts on the matter. Both bloggers identify this budget as some sort of apotheosis of the failure of mainstream politics to engage with the public - the Shrike blames the loss of major party connection with their traditional bases, while Bahnisch concentrates on the psychopathy of the "political class". These are aspects of the same story: unaccountable elitism meeting electoral reality.

The opposite of elitism is populism, and this is the large empty space that Clive Palmer has decided to #occupy. As the Shrike argues, some of the noises out of the Palmer United Party have sounded left wing, and it's tempting for leftists to enjoy the carnie atmosphere of the 44th Parliament for reasons of schadenfreude, but he evidently thinks we should direct a jaundiced eye at such theatrics:
The real threat comes from those who have interests in taking advantage of the weakness of both sides. Clive Palmer has immediately focused on the weak point, the ideological nature of [the budget], and has been the only one refusing to give ground that the deficit is a problem in the first place. If Clive sounds rather left wing, however sincere/insincere, it indicates not only which way he sees the votes are going right now, but also how little difference there is between what passes for left-wing and what big business like Palmer’s actually wants – more spending to prop them up.
Threat is a strong word. Is Clive threatening, or dangerous, or other such weighted words of alarmism? Who does he threaten?

The last great populist in the Australian Parliament was Pauline Hansen, who was legitimately dangerous and threatening. Her isolationist Small Australia policies would have plunged the country into recession and led to a far less tolerant society. To the extent that the Howard administration adopted her platform - not to mention her long white fingers manipulating Rudd's asylum seeker policy - the nation is poorer for it, both economically and culturally.

As Bahnisch points out in a subsequent post, Palmer hails from not far away from Ipswich but has a different pedigree:
My strong suspicion is that Clive Palmer will equivocate over some of the Budget measures, thinking out loud to draw attention to PUP and to the impacts of the said measures, then end up voting against most of them. [...] Don’t forget that the anti-politician Palmer learnt his politics at the feet of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Now he was a cunning populist…
Palmer cut his teeth in the Liberal National Party and has now defined himself largely in opposition to it, which means he has more in common politically with Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. The latter two collaborated with the Gillard regime to make the 43rd Parliament one of the most productive in terms of passed legislation in national history. Palmer faces Abbott: a man with no mandate to call his own, representing much of what he is sworn to oppose, who has shown exactly zero skill in negotiating with anyone who is not on his side.

Palmer will become in July the effective leader of the opposition, an avatar empowered by Australia's founding fathers (as per my last post) to represent the voice of the people to veto an unpopular leader's peccadillo policies. Some may try to portray this as a period of craziness, and looking at the words coming out of Jacqui Lambie's mouth it is easy to come to that conclusion. However, the major parties and Abbott in particular only have themselves to blame for having to deal with someone like Clive through their abandonment of democratic responsibility, and Palmer's rise only underlines the greatness of the foresight of those founding fathers in allowing someone like him to stand up to political elites.

Just as the Tea Party wagged the GOP dog to bring gridlock to Washington DC by using constitutional protections against executive power to limit the activities of Barack Obama and force him to shrink the size of government, if what Bahnisch predicts does come to pass then Palmer will do much the same to Abbott by blocking most of his legislative agenda and preventing him from setting fire to the furniture. In the continued absence of the emergence of fascist superpowers from the Prime Minister, he will have to continue on with many of the Gillard era reforms, as the public wanted in the first place. Palmer's effect will be to hold Abbott to his promises, which were to support Labor's popular policies. Abbott will have to be content with keeping up spending levels but doing a really, really crap job of delivering outcomes.

That it took a billionaire to buy his way into Parliament to do this does not gainsay the power of his populism, nor lessen the impotence of the Prime Minister in protesting against the will of the people. Clive and his circus troupe will get more than a little loose, no doubt. Queensland under Joh was called Godzone, and now we are all living in Clivezone. The Australia that is created from this sudden reintroduction of democracy won't be so bad.

The Green & Gold Lantern Theory of the Prime Ministership

Ezra Klein details the Green Lantern Theory of the American presidency, something which the US Left uses constantly to bash Barack Obama. In short, the theory is that even though the US Constitution built in all sorts of safeguards against executive power including vetoes all over the place, filibusters, congressional conventions and other rules to stop the President shooting lightning bolts from his fingertips... if the President just closed his eyes and pointed his superhero equipment at the baddies they would be vanquished and all of the comic book theorists' pet policies would be enacted by magical Marvel fiat. Thus you have wailing like this Jesse Eisinger piece, attacking Obama from the left for not passing financial industry reform laws, as if that was going to be possible via a click of the fingers.

In Australia, the talk is similar when the Prime Minister can't get his agenda implemented, but mostly we talk about a democratic "mandate". For instance, Alan Moran has a whinge today about Tony Abbott's failure to bone the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and other green instruments of the Gillard administration, which were established through acts of Parliament and would require the consent of either the Greens or Clive Palmer for repeal bills to pass the Senate. His view is that the green industry has "sandbagged" the CEFC and other encouragers of environmental investments which the right dismisses as "green hedge funds". The comments are filled with utter stupidity, ranging from calls for Cyprus-style bank account confiscation to Thailand-style martial law.

If Tony Abbott has a mandate, it is to implement Labor's policies, at least for this term. That is the corner he boxed himself into by promising not to cut most of the Labor spending areas. He will have to deal with Palmer as the founding fathers intended back in 1901. There are good reasons why America, England and Australia have safeguards in their constitutions to give competing mandates to politicians in different chambers, and bestow veto powers upon them. The end result should be a centrist compromise, if both sides are willing to make concessions. This is not Russia where you can send Clive to the gulag, much as the right might wish. Abbott is not a superhero, and nor is he a supervillain. He will have to find common ground with at least one other member of humanity on this one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

-ghazi, straight from the khazi

Following on from yesterday's thoughts on the death of Joe McCarthy, I fully endorse the Balloon Juice idea of dropping the stale, tired "-gate" suffix and using the fresh, wired suffix "-ghazi" to entitle every new bullshit political scandal that comes along. Referencing Benghazi over Watergate only underlines how relatively pissweak are the confected outrages of the right these days. Thus:

  • Battghazi - the failed attempt to pin deaths in the home insulation program on Kevin Rudd;
  • Blewittghazi - the failed attempt to pin AWU corruption on Julia Gillard;
  • Ashbyghazi - the failed attempt to pin sexual harassment charges on Peter Slipper.

Of course, the ICAC investigation of the $3000 bottle of Grange that eventually brought down Barry O'Farrell was not Barryghazi and deserved the inevitable Grangegate moniker, because it actually did stand up to scrutiny and scored a killing blow on its intended target. The -ghazi suffix should be reserved for pseudo-scandals that never go anywhere. Which is a specialty of the right these days.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

McCarthy is dead.

Via Steve from Brisbane comes a link to a Fairfax piece on why the home insulation program royal commission has been a political flop. The yarn is full of unsourced quotes from Labor insiders, so its conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt, but there's a kernel of truth there.

As with the endless IRS and Benghazi inquiries in the American Congress, there is a point after which these witch hunts become tiresome and pointless. That point is usually when the prosecution runs out of new evidence and can't find anything that clinches the case, which has already happened in the case of the IRS and Benghazi situations, and already happened long ago with the HIP and with the union corruption royal commission that is also ongoing. The right can point to Fairfax, the ABC and other "left-leaning" outlets and how they fail to report the proceedings of these hearings as an abrogation of journalistic duties, but if there's nothing newsworthy to report, why should they be reported when they have devolved into grandstanding show trials for partisan consumption only?

The height of this practice of using politicians to prosecute for partisanship was of course in the McCarthy era, but it should really have run its course when the US Congress impeached Bill Clinton. In America, these Clayton's scandals are still ginned up to fuel wingnut money raising ventures through constant email bombardment and newsletter rants, despite a near complete lack of basis for ongoing investigation. In Australia, where thankfully we haven't seen the rise of a massive partisan political services industry, there doesn't seem to be much reason for wasting all this taxpayer money. Waste, though, has never actually worried this government when they are pursuing their selfish goals.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Peta Credlin can only dream of DD

The right is tying itself in knots trying to think its way out of Abbott Disappointment Syndrome. The latest lead balloon to be floated is the idea of a double dissolution to solve the upcoming intractability of a Clive Palmer controlled Senate, which Laura Tingle does her best not to laugh at.
Government ministers who have dealt with Clive Palmer for years believe what will drive his approach in the Senate will not be policy but opportunities that allow him to look like he is running things.
They see this as simply intolerable and say Abbott would rather go to a DD poll and lose some of his margin than be perceived as driven by Palmer, as Labor was perceived to be driven by the Greens after 2010.
Many people might have dismissed Abbott’s DD talk this week. Coalition staffers may have been gobsmacked to hear Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin declare that this was a budget she would take to an election. But this is really just the first shot across the bow of the Palmer juggernaut.
Some of his margin? With the polls at 47:53 the other way, that's a bold statement. That braggadocio is all very well for Peta to project, but she doesn't have a seat to lose. Coalition backbenchers can see the polls too, they all know their cushy positions would be on the line in a double dissolution election with an unpopular government. The 2014 budget was an ambit claim that will shortly meet electoral reality.

The current wingnut solution du jour is for Abbott to somehow become "retired", much in the manner of a Phildickian replicant, in favour of Morrison as a "strong man" to lead us like some barechested Putinesque roughrider into an authoritarian utopia. This is high comedy. Abbott has spent a lifetime in politics to reach this moment, why would he withdraw gracefully? His mentor John Howard had to have the prime ministership pried from his cold, dead electoral fingers.

No, Abbott will remain leader in the short term, and he will eat the shit sandwiches he was given, and will have to force down the ones he didn't need to eat but brought upon himself, like the brawl with the states that Tingle finishes her piece by detailing. So far the Abbott plan - in the face of being elected with a mandate to run all of his opponents' popular policies - seems to be to run his own plan anyway, and dare everyone else to try to stop him.

Unfortunately for Tony, there is one man who stands in his way, and his name is Clive. At this point, everything Tony does or doesn't do seems to benefit Clive. There are no options left that don't deliver Clive with a gift-wrapped prime ministerial arse. No wonder the wingnuts are in disarray. At least when Labor was in power, the conservatives and libertarians had a common enemy.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What the Dickens, Christopher Pyne?

The Australian polity is currently going through another spasm of the tired old cliche of "adult" government, but surely it has hit a nadir of stupidity with Christopher Pyne actually dropping the C-bomb in insulting the Opposition Leader at the dispatch box in federal Parliament.

Of course he denied it, but in the age of social media and instant video uploads it has been preserved for eternity. This, after Pyne spent an entire 7:30 interview last night trying in desperation to claim that federal-state relations were all about treating states like adults, which apparently means starving them of revenue like Oliver Twist and forcing them to ask for some more GST.

Without descending into metaphor, it can be said that Pyne is the most foolish federal politician in a generation. After completely bungling the Gonski rollback, he should have been kicked to the backbench where he could do less damage. But no, this is the South Australian Liberal Party where Pyne follows in a long line of privileged dilettante Liberal failures.

The meme of "adult" government is, quite literally, paternalistic, with all the negative connotations of that word. Public services are not a T-Bird, and Tony Abbott is not your daddy about to take it away. The Liberals in government have shown no maturity of thought or action to merit such self-praise.

Hippie-punching with the three card monte budget

The 2014 budget has been and gone, and the strategy from the government has been simple, albeit it seems to have fooled the craven mainstream media.The three-card monte is all about misdirection, and the media was an easy mark.

The con was to leak the deficit levy before the budget so that the media thought that was the central fight, only to water it down to the point where it doesn't fix the imaginary budget emergency problem it was supposed to address, and only when the budget hit was the true agenda unveiled. This agenda was not to "cut cut cut" as the hard right wanted, but to cut just enough to fund Abbott's pet projects in his role as a big government conservative who is interested in (a) benefiting his corporate mates by investing in roads for their trucks and (b) nudging the populace towards his Tory worldview of nuclear families and working poor by slashing benefits for single mothers and the young unemployed.

It will be interesting to see if Abbott's War On Youth has an effect on voting blocs, similar to how the ongoing war in America by the Republican Party on minorities has seen their vote in racial blocs other than white plummet to near-unrecoverable levels. Via Steve from Brisbane comes a link to the Whitlam Institute project Young People Imagining a New Democracy, which published an age bloc poll series for federal voting intentions last August based on Newspoll. The 2010 election was the last time that the 18-24 bloc preferred Labor with the gap opening out to a consistent five points for the Coalition in recent times, while the 50+ split stays at a solid 15-20 points. It appears the younger a demographic is, the more swing it shows in its vote depending on the issues of the day.

So why would the Liberals hippie-punch the young so hard? Probably because the mainstream media will reward them for it. The media is made up of 35-49s and 50+s who are in that $80,000-$150,000 bracket that Abbott "saved" from the depredations of the deficit levy, but very few of them would be hit by the changes to Newstart or family tax benefits at this stage of their lives. These are the Tory elites, collaborating with the government to minimise the electoral impact like any another special interest group.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Unicorn rainbows and the LDP budget

The Liberal Democratic Party released its alternative budget today in the Fin, amid about as much fanfare as the alternative Tea Party version of the annual State of the Union address and with as little impact. Among the highlights:

  • A ridiculous application of the discredited Laffer curve theory with the assumption that cutting the top marginal tax rate to 33% would mean only a $3B hit to government revenues but would add over 1% to GDP growth;
  • An unsupportable application of a flawed study by Andrew Leigh (since comprehensively debunked on scientific grounds) to claim that freezing the minimum wage would lead to the creation of 100,000 or more low-paid jobs;
  • A laughably bare assertion that the government can arbitrarily cut public sector wages by 10% without incident;
  • No modelling of the effects on domestic demand of such massive changes as adding the family home to the pension asset test, or reducing multi-billion dollar subsidies for education and R&D overnight, among other changes amounting to cutting public sector spending by 10%.

If anyone thought that the LDP was ready to govern with a coherent set of economic policies, think again. I have sympathy for the message of attacking rentseekers, but you can't assume away the removal of around 3% of domestic consumption and hope that magical pink unicorns will somehow descend from the nearest cloudbank to fart out enough demand rainbows to make up the inevitable shortfall in government revenue.

I realise this is just an intellectual exercise and it's better than most other minor parties are prepared to do, but if you're going to go to the trouble of preparing an actual Budget then you should show some semblance of connection with economic reality. There are ways to do these things without dropping the country into its first recession for over two decades.

The cost-benefit analysis of bitumen boondoggles

The right banged on and on about cost benefit analysis for the NBN and other big-ticket projects announced by Labor under Rudd and Gillard. In government, it seems they are going to break yet another promise with rank hypocrisy, by abandoning all thought of prudent infrastructure planning in favour of propping up Liberal premiers by funding their irresponsible bitumen boondoggles.
Doing precisely what [Productivity Commission chairman] Harris says politicians should not do, Abbott and the Victorian premier, Denis Napthine, have already announced that the commonwealth will be chipping in an additional $1.5bn to the second stage of the East West link. 
Abbott said the commonwealth's contribution depended on the Victorian government providing a business case for the second stage, but he was “confident it is a worthwhile investment”. He didn’t say how he could be so confident without a business case, or how likely it was he’d take back the cash if it didn’t pass muster. Presumably, not very.
Lenore Taylor does what a good journo should do, which is hold politicians to what they say - in this case, what Tony Abbott said in May 2012, reiterating an announcement from 2011:
There will be a published cost benefit analysis for any infrastructure project to which a Coalition government commits $100 million or more. 
As with most other Liberal incompetence it was plain to see before the election, as Anthony Albanese called it with his speech to the same set of suits during the 2013 campaign.
And despite this promise of  a “new approach”, the Federal Coalition is already failing to practice what it  preaches.
It has agreed it would take  the advice of Infrastructure Australia and only commit funds to projects with a  cost-benefit analysis.
Yet Tony Abbott has already  promised billions of dollars to projects not currently recommended by  Infrastructure Australia, well before any business case or cost-benefit analysis  has been conducted.
One wonders whether Judith Sloan will stick up for her Productivity Commission mates on this one.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Smokin' Joe swings for Keynesian fences

Laurie Oakes continues to be one of the better connected journos inside the Canberra bubble, and this piece is obviously a straight stenography job from Joe Hockey's mouth to your ears, probably dictated in between puffs at cigars with Mathias Cormann.
Looking his mate in the eye, the Treasurer said: "There is no way on God's earth I am going to ask pensioners to have a lesser increase in their pension while I'm giving your business $600,000 per employee. Forget it. It's over."
Then he walked out of the room. 
Mm hmm, as if anyone else could tell that mayo-lathered story to Laurie than the Treasurer himself. Later in the article, the obvious Hockey line is that the leak of the deficit levy was not done by those who thought up the policy as it came "before the ground had been properly prepared". The prosaic conclusion has to be that it was leaked by those in Cabinet wanting the electorate to fight back against it. Who are these people, what faction do they belong to, and who are they backing to replace the current leadership team? No bubble-embedded journo seems to know, or want to find out. This gambit by the shadowy anti-Hockey forces seems to have backfired in any case, since the latest ReachTel poll shows slugging the rich is strongly popular (53:32).

While the bubbling of the #leadershit pot is a bit of fun, the more weighty revelation in that piece is how strong Hockey is aiming to go with Keynesian stimulus spending, in the form of roadbuilding. Macroeconomists may say any stimulus is good stimulus at the lofty heights from which they see things, but one wonders about the usefulness of this form of stimulus compared to, say, actually building a third Sydney airport, or investing in public transport, or concentrating on saving lives by eliminating level crossings, or just throwing money from helicopters in the general direction of suburbia like Rudd did. Will these roads be to the benefit mostly of mining trucks driven for billionaires who are supposed to escape Labor's carbon and resource taxes?

When a rightwing leader starts talking about wanting to be known for transport infrastructure, my first thought is always about which rentseekers he is seeking to give a free ride on public money.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Aunty ABC vs Uncle Rupert in the Asian theatre

Old mate Duncan Riley - a former Liberal Party apparatchik, but I try not to hold that against him - blogs from Thailand about why he thinks the Abbott government's decision to bone the Australia Network is wrong.
The tl;dr version is that nearly everyone in South East Asia who has some form of pay TV has Australia Network.
Oh, and if you’ve never left Australia: you can walk around the worst slum in Bangkok and see each house with a pay tv dish.
I’m not going to pretend to understand the subtleties of “soft diplomacy” but I do have a degree that includes Marketing: The Australia Network must, at some level promote Australia in the region.
$270m roughly over 10 years or $27m a year isn't a lot of money to broadcast Australian TV shows and culture across Asia.
It really isn’t.
Of course the reason that Abbott is doing this is to appease his old mate Rupert Murdoch, who have had AN in their sights since Sky News lost a (questionably run) tender on the contract under Gillard. Murdoch has long sought to get footholds in Asian pay TV markets, and the AN has evidently been an easy option for Asian providers to get a bit of cheap English language content from the region without having to pay Murdoch for the privilege. Boning the AN would give Murdoch a much better negotiating position.

If there is anyone whom Tony Abbott owes big time for his seat in the big chair at Parliament House, it is Uncle Rupert. You only have to look at Terry McCrann's recent stuff defending the deficit levy, or the Daily Telegraph's blaring headline today attacking Howard's middle class welfare, to know how much in lockstep the News Ltd papers are with Cabinet messaging. (As an aside: I am perfectly fine with that... I have faith that the vast majority of the Australian public are smart enough to twig exactly what is going on, and adjust their reactions to News Ltd journalism accordingly, and all is well.)

The falderol over the debt levy - which, in its new watered-down form where it only kicks in at $150,000 earnings rather than the original $80,000, is in typical Abbott administration fashion a near-complete waste of time and effort for all concerned - hides a number of these sort of minor but still important pennies that are being pinched for reasons other than straight budget propriety. Look for more of these sops to special interests to dribble out in the days ahead, and the government's credibility to crumble as a result.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sinclair Davidson, professional kurdaitcha man

RMIT economics professor Sinclair Davidson got his head on 7.30 the other night, attacking the government from the right on its debt levy.
SINCLAIR DAVIDSON, ECONOMICS PROF., RMIT: My view is very similar to Milton Friedman's dictum that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary government program. So I think this temporary program, this temporary tax is going to be with us for quite some time.
SINCLAIR DAVIDSON: Without a doubt in my mind whatsoever, this is a broken promise. Mr Abbott promised before the election, he gave absolute assurances, that the tax burden would be lower under a Coalition Government than it was under the Labor Government.
This is his moment that Ms Gillard had when she stared down the camera and said, "There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead." This is exactly what Mr Abbott is doing.
Ms Gillard never survived from that moment and I think Mr Abbott faces that same problem. Politically it is a disaster for him.
SINCLAIR DAVIDSON: Politicians, who are the people who got us into this budget problem in the first place, should have the kind of incentives to get us out of this problem.
And, for example, you could have a rule whereby while the budget is in deficit that their salaries get cut by 50 per cent and they remain at that level until the budget is back into surplus.
SABRA LANE: In this season of speculation, that's one idea that can safely be ruled out.
SARAH FERGUSON: Sabra Lane reporting.
The first thing that strikes me in what he says is that there is not much economics content, an affliction that also cruels the works of Henry Ergas in The Australian, a fellow Catallaxian. For a bunch of economists, the Australo-Austrian School, or whatever they call themselves, seem to spend a lot of time talking politics and not enough talking straight economics. Perhaps that is because, as Steve from Brisbane details, when their minds do turn to economics they struggle to mount a solid argument.

Sinclair has been running a series of posts on Catallaxy Files running much the same line, similar to the series he ran after the carbon tax was introduced by Gillard Labor in July 2012 and drawing a direct connection between the two issues. If he wants kudos for messaging independence from the Liberal Party, here you go: let it be known that I have awarded you One Kudos Point.

Of course the game's made up and the points don't matter... the points are like Catallaxy Files itself. They talk a lot over there about useful idiots, a phrase popularised in wingnut circles by Ludwig von Mises to describe liberals who ran interference for Lenin and Stalin - but Sinclair is just as useful to Abbott right now as "proof" of the government's centrism. As long as we can still see the scary silhouettes of Davidson and Ergas through the Overton Window, it's in the right spot for a conservative party. Libertarians are the mystical boogeymen used by conservatives to scare liberals into compliance. Does Sinclair know that this is what he is doing on behalf of the centre right, or does he really believe in the extreme silliness he retails?

Speaking of magical thinking, the particularly stupid elements of the right have been openly hoping that the debt levy is some sort of ruse, a false flag operation which will be revealed on budget night to have been just a joke guys, had you going there, sucked you all in didn't I eh? Fairfax's Paul Sheehan has been (indirectly) fanning these flames with an unsourced and uncorroborated assertion on Twitter that the debt levy would be boned. He also pinned the lead balloon on Joe Hockey, setting up a potential fall guy if his prediction does come true but somehow figuring that Hockey will come out smelling like roses.
If this was Labor in government, the wolfpack in Canberra would already be barking for for a spill, Sky News and ABCNews24 would be on it round the clock with journo jerks circling each other for the scoop. But it's the Liberals, who get off scot free and leave Scott (Morrison) free to accumulate backroom numbers without significant scrutiny.

UPDATE: I note that Sheehan has deleted the above tweet implicating Hockey, but not the original one predicting that the debt levy would not proceed. Everyone else in the media is assuming it will go ahead.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What is good for the goose is good for the other goose

Fairfax has kicked off what will no doubt be a long series of reports on links between the Liberal Party and corporate lobbyists with an attack on Joe Hockey. After all, as the Piping Shrike has presciently pointed out, if Labor is going to be smashed on links with dodgy unionists all the way through its term in government, why shouldn't there also be pushback on the Liberals' functionally identical links with the business end of town when they assume high office?

While I agree with the Shrike's conclusion that Clive Palmer is the big winner in all of this as the major parties have no answer to charges that they have been captured to some extent by rentseekers and grubs, I think some further thought is required on the implications for the Australian polity. Palmer will be a populist, but what does that mean exactly? Will he target the Nationals' base and support a return to protectionism? How much of the Liberals' platform will he block? What will be the price he exacts out of Abbott... how much of his arse will Abbott have to sell? The longer the Abbott administration creaks on and the more that the polls go against the government, the more power Palmer accumulates in the forthcoming negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Kouk reckons rising inflation (2.8% annualised on latest figures) means we should already be seeing interest rate rises, and the RBA will be dragged into monetary action by the turn of the year. December is a common time for federal major party leadership spills in Australia (four of the last ten), and December 1 this year will mark five years since Abbott himself challenged Turnbull and won by a single vote.

The Sydney papers smell blood with ICAC just having boned a prominent NSW Liberal, and they are already tarring Hockey and Abbott with the brush of Eddie Obeid. Media pressure will grow as the new Senate sits, giving Palmer a rails run to insert whatever will get him more votes into the government agenda. A defection or two from the Nats would further destabilise the chaotic Senate.

It would not be surprising at all to see momentum for Scott Morrison build and build. A shift in leadership would mean a fresh start, and an opportunity to slough off the barnacles of Abbott's promises - specifically, his pet projects like PPL and Direct Action. The logic is inescapable for the Liberal back room, and they wouldn't care much about looking like Labor. Abbott has already done that for them.

Friday, May 2, 2014


The National Commission of Audit is a joke, a cartoon-level Young Liberal policy wishlist devised by a corporate loser and a rogue's gallery of superannuated Liberal hacks. It is a naked attempt to move the Overton window to the right by terrorising little old ladies, monotonous in its regularity in the first term of a conservative government and just as ineffectual. It makes the IPA's wishlist look coherent by comparison - at least the IPA are consistent in application of their narrow ideology.

As Gittins rightly points out, the hidden story here is how Abbott has boxed out the right wing of his party into meaningless make-work schemes, idly doodling their fantasy of a Putin-style dictatorship to implement a laissez-faire paradise, while the LNP gets on with the business of trying to convince a skeptical public that it is responsibly moving towards the centre. The right sees this bat-signal, and various factions are currently arguing amongst themselves about whether to join what they see as the Justice League, or defect to Solomon Grundy or whoever it is who heads up the LDP these days. Meanwhile, Clive "Call Me Lex" Palmer installs death rays inside his giant plastic dinosaur, and rubs his white-gloved hands with pantomime glee.