Posts Tagged ‘Australian politics’

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Fresh back from chucking umpteen bazillion dollars at Adelaide in a desperate attempt to shore up Coalition support in South Australia, where about four Coalition seats look very vulnerable to voter anger over the decline of the ship-building industry – Hey! Remember “We’ll build 12 subs in Adelaide” before the last election”? Guess that was a “non core promise. Also called “bullshit” – Tony Abbot was today in Geelong assertively announcing “Everything we do is focused on jobs and growth.”

“Everything we do”? A cheery message to a regional city that has seen it’s car manufacturing industry decimated and it’s ship-building in decline.

Sadly, this was also the day that saw the jobless rate “jump” – the ABC’s word, not mine – from 6% to 6.3%. Against expectations. And a major news item, unsurprisingly.

Could Abbott have chosen his chest-beating words more carefully? Assuredly.

Does he ever come into contact with the real world outside the Canberra bubble?

We wonder, frankly.

We’re with the kid at the front.

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abbottBefore he was even elected, we opined, publicly, that Tony Abbott would never make it to the next election. Or that if he did, he would never win it.

We tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to popularise the hashtag #onetermtony to encapsulate our point of view. Clearly we haven’t cracked working Twitter yet.

Our reasons were very straightforward. In our consideration, Abbott exhibited (and continues to display) the wrong skill set to be Prime Minister.

His “crash through or crash” style and belligerent University-debating-society arrogance is all wrong for leading a party, let alone a country. He was pitchforked into the job by Nick Minchin and others (by just one vote, remember) because of their visceral distaste for the much more electorally acceptable small-L liberalism of Malcom Turnbull. We said at the time, and we say it again: this was a gigantic strategic failure born of naked personal ambition, hubris and sheer political bastadry. And now it has entirely predictably come back to bite the Liberal Party in the butt, big time.

Be under no misapprehension, Dear Reader. As things stand, the Australian Labor Party is undeservedly coasting back into national power with a leader whose main role in the run up to the next election is to appear inoffensive. Policy development? None. Vision for the country? None. Hugs and smiles? Yup, plenty. The target is not just small, it’s miniscule.

Let us just revise the history of the last 18 months – Abbott won against the terminally wounded Gillard and the terminally incompetent Kevin Rudd. Through their own infighting and their catastrophic mishandling of various key policy imperatives, the ALP had made themselves virtually unelectable. Theoretically for a generation.

That they have now defeated a competent if un-inspirational Coalition Government in Victoria, look like they are at the very least competitive against a first-term LNP Government with a massive majority in Queensland, and currently seem a shoe-in for the next Federal election, is testament to the scale of the muddled, tone deaf yet vociferous incompetence of Abbott and many in his cabinet.

The chickens are coming home to roost so fast we shall all be eating them for breakfast for months to come. On Fairfax radio this morning a “through and through” Liberal voter on callback radio accused Abbott of being the “world’s worst salesman: in danger of handing the keys to the Lodge back to Labor”. Rarely can a Prime Minister have endured such a shellacking from one of his own in public.

Yet the caller, of course, had put his finger on exactly what’s wrong with Abbott. When you are Opposition Leader, you are an attack dog. You’re not selling anything, in reality, except the incompetence of the incumbent administration. When you are in power, you need to demonstrate you are LISTENING, not just spouting off. Abbott is inherently disinclined to listen.

HowardHe sees himself in the mould of his political mentor, John Howard, who paraded his “tough little Johnnie” status to considerable effect and turned himself into one of the most successful politicians in Australian history.

But Abbott lacks something Howard had in spades: the ability to not get in front of popular opinion, and to listen to the undercurrents in the electorate as well as what is actually said. For example, despite being both a social and fiscal conservative (or saying that he was), Howard (and his Treasurer Costello) actually maintained very high rates of taxation and social welfare, the latter aimed directly at the very Middle Class which Abbott is now seeking to soak to pay for un-necessary tax cuts for business and the uber-rich. Dumb.

But there are many other mis-steps that are down to Abbott personally. His office – led by the incredibly unpopular Peta Credlin – was highly effective in keeping the Coalition caucus on message (and largely, in fact, silent) while Abbott got himself elected. But the same unbridled disciplinarian approach in Government (which appeals to another side of Abbott’s nature, ever the proto-Roman-Catholic-seminarian) has antagonised Ministers and backbenchers alike. The most obvious mis-step being to enrage one of his rivals, Julie Bishop, by insisting on sending Andrew Robb as a right-wing minder to accompany her to the climate conference in Peru in case she should actually – gasp! – agree to do something to combat climate change. That’s not the sort of “direct action” on the problem that Australians expected.

Abbott’s record in Government on Medicare has been simply woeful, too.

The initial $7 co-payment idea was effectively (and accurately) seen as dreadfully

There are no votes in upsetting little old ladies. Or those who love them. Dumber.

There are no votes in upsetting little old ladies. Or those who love them. Stupid.

unfair to those who rely on bulk-billing medical practices to help them survive poverty and/or old age, and the illnesses associated with it. Frail little old ladies unable to pay to visit their Doctor was not a good look for a party which counts the majority of retirees amongst their supporters. Astoundingly stupid.

A more recent attempt to slap on a $20 fee on short consultations which was always doomed to fail in the Senate has simply added fuel to a still spluttering fire.

Why make such a mis-step for a second time, let alone the first time? Simple: crash through or crash, in action.

As the pro-Government Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph reported, Abbott defied Treasurer Joe Hockey and the former Health Minister Peter Dutton to impose the $20 cut to GP rebates before later backflipping on the policy he had demanded. In a highly damaging leak from the powerful expenditure review committee, senior ministers have confirmed they were told Mr Hockey and Mr Dutton opposed the move during a “heated’’ exchange with the Prime Minister. The warnings included concerns that rolling out new changes to GP consults in the lead up to the Queensland and NSW state election was “crazy’’. Doctors also immediately warned the changes would be passed on to patients, raising fears of even higher charges than the original co-payment.

But the Prime Minister instead insisted on changes including the $20 cut the Medicare rebate for short GP consults. These changes were developed by the Prime Minister’s Office and then costed by the Department of Finance and Health. Tony knows best. Although as the later reversal showed dramatically, it is clear he didn’t, fuelling both front and backbench dis-satisfaction.

Stung by a grassroots backlash to the policy by his own Liberal MPs, Mr Abbott formed the view that it must be dumped while “taking soundings’’ as he drank beers at the cricket on Thursday. These “soundings’ included a threat by senior MPs that they would go public in their opposition to the $20 rebate cut. Mr Abbott then discussed the problem with the new Health Minister Sussan Ley who was forced to disembark from a cruise ship to announce changes after they were rubber stamped by the leadership group on Thursday morning.

Tony Abbott defied Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton to impose “crazy” GP fee.

Abbott looked what he is: rather poor at running an effective collegiate Government.

It is also clear now that the Government is very likely going to fail to introduce “fee deregulation” (read: sell more degrees to overseas students at vastly inflated cost) for Universities, against trenchant opposition from both Universities and students.

The resulting budget chaos from this “tone deaf” policy failure is likely to run into the billions. But that’s not really the core of the problem for the Government. In households with teenage kids and young adults up and down the country, worried children asked their parents, “How will I ever be able to afford to get a degree?” Most of those parents, like members of the Government remembering with embarrassed affection their own free University education, shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and the Government inexorably dropped down yet another peg or two in their estimation.

It should be pretty simple. No one ever wins elections in Australia promising to hurt health and education. Government MPs are now pondering why Abbott appears to want to do both, spending what little political capital the Government began with (as most of the reason for voting for it was really not to vote Labor, after all) with reckless abandon.

Is there really a deficit problem? If there is, the Government has failed to make its case.

There’s a deficit, but is there really a deficit problem? If there is, then the Government has failed to make its case.

The other major issue for the Government is that it simply cannot persuade the people of either the need to tackle a “structural deficit”, nor the means to tackle it if they could even persuade people it exists.

Basically a structural deficit simply means that the country’s economic situation will continue to become more and more indebted as the years pass, because the Government is committed to paying out more money than it is collecting in taxes. You wouldn’t think that was too hard a case to argue, if it’s real. Perhaps stopping using the term “structural deficit” and using something simpler like “living on our national credit card” might be easier for people to grasp, but hey, we’re in the advertising business, what do we know, right?

cut-spendingThe Government’s solution to the situation has been to seek to savagely cut expenditure, mesmerised as they are by Costello’s previous performance in returning the budget to surplus. But unlike Costello’s performance, their cuts are being perceived as falling on the innocent and those least able to cope with them, which offends Aussie sensibilities, especially as people aren’t sure why they’re happening at all (see below).

Critically, their formula ignores the fact that Costello achieved his “economic miracle” based on a growing economy and consistently high overall taxation levels (whilst cutting personal tax, to ensure the Government’s popularity). The introduction of a Goods and Services tax at 10% made all the difference. Pumping up that tax is probably the long-term solution, but the move will be unpopular, and talking about increasing taxes is tough when you were elected on a rock solid promise not to do so. A little less hubris in the run up to the election would have gone a long way … but you can’t tell that to an attack dog.

But anyhow, and this is the crucial point, it is very easy to demonstrate (and Labor will increasingly do so in the run up to the next election) that Australia’s indebtedness is still very low by world standards, and like any household deciding its level of mortgage debt, we’re not really broke at all.

In fact, our mortgage, by world standards, is very small. We are – and feel – prosperous. If we want to splurge a bit, well, hell, why not?

Stop talking, just build it already ...

Stop talking, just build it already …

As the need to invest in national infrastructure is agreed by all sides of politics – we still have no train line to Doncaster in Melbourne, let alone to the bloody airport – the siren call to “keep spending and hang the deficit” seems to be more appealing than any desperation-stakes call to tighten our belts.

Put even more simply, it doesn’t feel like we have an economic crisis, so why are we acting like we do? Especially when the Government can apparently find umpteen billions for a more than fifty new fighter bombers which no-one can actually understand where or how we could even use them.

In other words, the most important job – by far, the, er, most important job – of a Prime Minister is to, er, well, sell the plans of the, er, Government, and, er, Tony Abbott has been, um, staggeringly unsuccessful and, er, unconvincing in doing so.

(Yes, he also has the most appalling public speaking manner, which only makes him appear yet more woeful. And he looks down when answering questions he doesn’t like, which makes him look shifty. One wonders why no-one has the guts to tell him.)

PUP Senator Glenn Lazarus, speaking of the latest debacle over University funding, remarked that you can only polish a turd for so long before the exercise becomes pointless.

It is clear that a significant part of the Liberal Party now hold the same view of their Leader. How long they will keep polishing is, of course, the question.

They could have just listened to us in the first place, of course. And before anyone gets swept up in the Julie Bishop love-in, rest assured that the party will return to Turnbull when they dump Abbott, because he has proven competence, his inoffensiveness will play well against Shorten, and remember, half the Parliamentary party wanted to keep him anyway.

Although he is very unpopular with the hard right, those MPs already eyeing losing their seats on current poll standings understand clearly that he has much broader appeal than any other potential Prime Minister with the general electorate.

If this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ...

If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then God didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …

Little wonder, then, that a quiet smile plays on his face most of the time.

Besides his huge personal wealth offering him an out anytime he tires of the Canberra game, it also recommends him to many on his side of politics as a “performer”.

His restraint in not agitating against the usurper Abbott in recent months has been remarkable to observe. This also demonstrates he possesses a strong strategic nous, and admirable patience.

He will need to take the top job on again with plenty of time to re-establish himself, but he has a little while yet before he has to move.

When he does, we suspect he will allow himself to be dragged kicking and screaming into the role, rather than being seen to assassinate his leader as he himself was assassinated. Unless, of course, assassinating him would prove electorally popular as well as a necessary lancing of the Abbott boil to save the deckchairs on the sinking ship. In which case, he will act decisively and with steel, which he possesses deep in his soul. For now, though, he will likely keep his powder dry. Not needing the job is a big part of his charm.

And after all, in the meantime, there’s the sheer fun of watching his replacement swing in the breeze, and revenge, as they say, is always a dish best eaten cold.

 

australian progressives

As a bit of an ironed-on old radical, I have long despaired of finding a political home in Australia to nestle in, to work for, or even to stand for. The Memsahib and I used to be very involved with the Australian Democrats, but they sadly degenerated into squabbling and ultimately irrelevance, which is a great sorrow. We have happy memories of being a speechwriter and campaign organiser for Janine Haines, the great work done by Sid Spindler and Janet Powell, (all now very sadly deceased) and the consistency, clarity and dignity of Lyn Allison.

Anyhow, I simply can’t join the Liberal Party, even though I have some time for identities on the left-wing of their party, which still includes some old “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” centrist types. Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago a very senior minister in the Liberal Government in Victoria almost begged me to join. But I am afraid the party is now comprehensively captured at all levels by the hard men of the neo-con Thatcherite Friedmanite right, and we wouldn’t last five minutes in it before being comprehensively squashed or expelled.

The Australian Labor Party is so right wing it could virtually replace the Liberal Party and no one would really notice the difference, except, perhaps for the trade union barony replacing the influence currently wielded by the top end of town, and as anyone who has dined in top restaurants or clubs around the country can attest, away from the confected antagonism of the bear pit of Parliament or the Murdoch press, there is nothing a good Trade Union leader likes as much as a generous and compliant Captain of Industry, and nothing the Captain of Industry likes as much as a supine and properly tamed Union Leader. Plus the sight of Labor seeking to out-do the Coalition on creating ever-more brutish asylum seeker policy, and caving in utterly on environmental protection, makes one throw up in one’s mouth just a little. Or a lot.

The Greens have their moments, but the leadership is weak and faintly ridiculous, and they are far too oppositionally-populist for my liking. They seem obsessed with trying to take over the news cycle with what are often ever more silly statements, and as a result they have undoubtedly plateaued in support, and they also seem very uncertain as to how to broaden their support base from its current inner-urban trendry core plus a few “doctor’s wives” thrown in. I am not passionately opposed to them, but I am not encouraged to join them, either.

As for the Palmer United Party, that is one pup I am not buying. I actually quite like Jackie Lambie’s complete lack of guile – it’s moderately refreshing even when I don’t agree with her views – but Clive Palmer just doesn’t ring true to me, as anything other than a rather maniacal ego for hire with more money than sense. You just can’t make up policy on the run month after month with no clear identification of where you sit on the political scale – somewhere to the right, but where exactly? – and no clearly enunciated suite of policies for the future. Pure populism is all very well – and there is still considerable scope for Palmer to wreak havoc in the next Federal Election, hurting the Liberals and Nationals especially – but it is a waning asset, and I suspect PUP will die out before long, and they won’t be much missed, either.

I am not going to join the Nats, basically because I am not especially interested in country or regional development (I’m not agin it in any way, it’s just not where my interests lie, you understand) and I am not a socially-conservative-agrarian-socialist-protectionist with no real interests other than clinging to relevance in Government and the seats gifted them by their Liberal brethren. No tick there. And I have been impressed with the Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm elected by accident in NSW – he’s been excellent and uncompromising so far on personal liberty – but their laissez faire libertarian-right economic policies belong on the toilet walls of a lunatic asylum. So no tick there, either.

Which is a long way round of saying “A plague on all your houses” and announcing that I am so fed up with both established right and left in Australian politics that I have decided to join a new party as a founding member. That way I avoid just vegging out and leaving it to the idiots, and I get to help form the policies and direction of the new party.

Could turn into nothing. Most new parties do. And if it does fizzle and bust, well, no harm done. But I like the way it talks about working outside the electoral cycle to promote new thinking as well as being an electoral alternative. There are many ways to influence events, and not all of them involve winning overall power at the ballot box.

Or it could turn into something I distrust or dislike, at which time I will leave.

So it’s a punt, but really, Dear Reader, what have we got to lose?

Join me?

https://www.australianprogressives.org.au/

 

progressive values

 

I would welcome comment, positive or negative. And polite.

Stephen Yolland
Melbourne October 2014

 

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

 

Bad news for Tony Abbott and the Coalition continues today with the publishing of another poll that shows just how dramatically the Liberal and National parties have slumped since 2013’s election.

The latest poll shows the Abbott government is now a full 10 points below its election-winning vote. This is way beyond mere “out of honeymoon” blues.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian on Tuesday, puts Labor ahead of the coalition 55-45 per cent in the two-party preferred vote, a further depressing drop of two points for the coalition since the previous poll two weeks ago.

Primary support for the coalition is also down two points to 35 per cent, from 37 per cent, while Labor is up one point to 37 per cent – two points ahead of the coalition. This result would have seemed impossible in the dark days when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were engaged in their death struggle. It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott goes down in history as the only man capable of breathing new life into the Labor corpse which seemed crucified, dead, buried, with multiple stakes through it’s heart and then cremated such a short while ago. That they are even competitive again so soon is startling.

It’s not all good news for Labor. Outflanked on the left, the Greens have also gained three points in the primary vote – up to 13 per cent.

Voter dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott has reached the highest level since he became prime minister, 62 per cent, and is his worst personal result since November 2012, The Australian reports. With his approval rating at 31 per cent, Mr Abbott’s net approval of minus 31 points is the worst for a prime minister since Julia Gillard scored minus 34 points just days before she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in June last year, when she was widely considered to be leading the Labor Party to certain disaster. It will not have escaped Liberal and National backbenchers that Abbott now appears to be doing the same.

 

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

 

Whether Abbott’s vast slump into extreme unpopularity will prove enough of a motive for the hard heads in the Liberal Party to replace him with the much more moderate Malcolm Turnbull remains to be seen. We have always been of the view, even before the last election, that Turnbull would be Prime Minister before Christmas 2014. Abbott is both simply too relentlessly self-satisfied and negative to play the role of Prime Minister, a job which requires the ability to reach across the aisle to independents and natural Labor supporters to build a centrists’ coalition.

Abbot is not a conservative. He is not a “one nation” Tory. He is a radical right winger – a born-again Thatcherite, his idol in his youth. As such, he was never going to sit well in power with the essentially small-C conservative Australian public. We are seeing the hubris of Nick Minchin and others on the hard right coming home to roost. They wanted their boy – they got him up by one vote – and now he is proving to be manifestly un-re-electable. A great opposition leader doth not a great prime minister necessarily make. They might have won less big had Turnbull remained at the helm (they might have won bigger, too), but they would have won more enduringly.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has also regained a 10-point lead as better Prime Minister that he took after the budget – on 44 per cent, with Mr Abbott on 34 per cent. We do not believe he is yet “popular” – he has neither the common working man’s touch of a Bob Hawke or the swaggering certainty of a Paul Keating. But he has hardly put a foot wrong yet, revealing that he has both a good “ear” and a smart brain. His meek persona also contrasts nicely with Abbott’s arrogance.

It is well-known that Shorten wishes to keep his powder somewhat dry, and not to “knee-jerk” to every mistake or missed step from the Coalition. Thus former federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan played Shorten’s stalking horse yesterday when said Liberal-National Party backbenchers were too gutless to speak out against the “savage cuts” in the budget, which he sees as reflected in the Newspoll. “If they had any decency, they’d be standing up in the party room and holding the LNP to the promises they made to the people of Australia at the last election but they’re not because they’re gutless,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “There’s no spine in the LNP backbench either at the state level or the federal level. They sit back and meekly accept the savage cuts … which are going to hurt the peace of mind and welfare of families right across Australia.” You can expect to hear a lot more of that as each and every Budget action wends its way trhough the legislative process.

To be fair, Swan was probably speaking from the heart, too. As a Labor backbencher during the early 1990s, Mr Swan led a revolt against the Keating government’s unpopular post-election budget that increased taxes.

Anyhow, the next few months will be interesting indeed. From being one of the most successful Opposition leaders the Liberals have produced in a long time, Abbott may well go down as their most unsuccessful Prime Minister. A recalcitrant Senate filled with newly hopeful Labor and Green representatives is now replaced with one with even greater complexity. At first blush, the new Senate looks like a more amenable one for Abbott. But appearances can be deceiving. Clive Palmer, for example, knows full well that supine agreement with the Government – any Government – would render his populist message irrelevant. There’s no point being “anti” the establishment and then joining it, as the Australian Democrats discovered over the GST, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Free Democrats in Germany can attest more recently.

We can therefore expect regular little eruptions of rebellion from Palmer and his mates, and watching his eye for publicity and gesture politics one can expect those rebellions to be on core issues, such as the politically smart agreement to scrap the unpopular carbon tax and return the dividend to ordinary voters as a reduction in household costs. And if they aren’t core issues, he will trumpet them as such, anyway. And every time he lays a glove on the Government, Abbott will not only look dumb, but weak. A terrible combination.

The essential problem that Abbott faces is that by manufacturing a financial crisis out of a structural deficit (which is not, after all, the same thing) he has critically reduced his room for manoeuvre. As a result, he is now stuck with slogging round the country telling everyone, basically, bad news, for at least the next 18 months.

He might even have pulled that off if his presentation, and that of his very lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey, had been less simultaneously preachily self-congratulatory and ham-fisted. But apart from his suddenly incoherent and uncertain delivery (has any senior politician anywhere in the world ever said “Er” so often?) he has also wedged himself by a serious of actions that were never going to get through the Senate, and which were guaranteed to appear mean and un-necessary.

The most obvious example is the GP co-payment, which looks and smacks like nothing more than soak the poor, and should never have been advanced in a month of Sundays. But once advanced, it was not “sold”, beyond a repeated mantra that this was somehow “for the good of the country”. Scores of worried little old ladies and the chronically ill duly queued up on talk-back radio stations of all political inclinations to tearfully ask what would become of them now they couldn’t afford to go to see their doctor. The message that the co-payment was theoretically designed to be capped at a maximum of $70 a year completely failed to cut through. Once again, the central Liberal Party message-meisters and their political puppets have been shown to be far less competent and aware than they are often painted.

Denis Napthine. If he's not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

Denis Napthine. If he’s not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

(A similar problem assails the Victorian Liberal and National Parties, where two years of good financial management and the resulting announcement of the biggest-ever infrastructure spending program in the State’s history – in any State’s history, actually – is being completely overwhelmed by the unpopularity of the Abbott Government. Liberal and National Party publicists seem at a loss to know how to punch their message through. (There’s a clue in this paragraph by the way, boys.) Meanwhile Denis Napthine despairs in his eyrie and Daniel Andrews hugs himself with glee, saying very little, cheerfully waiting to fall into office. But that’s another story.)

Those surrounding Abbott need to understand this: it’s one thing to drag down an unpopular Prime Minister in whom trust has been lost. It’s quite another to sell a swingeing austerity package that very few people think is needed in the first place.

They – and he – need to lift their game very fast, or yibbidah yibbidah, that’s all folks.

 

 

Repeat after me: You will like this.

Repeat after me: You … will … like … this.

 

Far from backing down over the howl of protest of the last few days at the floated “tax increase” ahead of the Budget, and in what is, in our opinion, an astonishing display of mule-headed tone-deaf bravado, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says voters will eventually thank him for trying to repair the budget bottom line, even if it includes breaking his very clear promise not to introduce new taxes.

But Mr Abbott says he knows people will be “disappointed” with some of his methods and is again refusing to rule out reports he will raise income taxes for those on higher wages.

Some Liberal MPs – closer, perhaps, than the PM to the Coalition’s overwhelmingly well-off blue-collar and middle-class backers, many of whom earn more than the mooted $80,000 threshold were the new income tax levy will kick in – are leading a backlash against the deficit levy with some even threatening to cross the floor in opposition to the move, if it is included in next Tuesday’s budget, as expected.

This, of course, would be something of a meaningless gesture, as it certainly will not be in large enough numbers to actually defeat the move. They would be better advised to try and “roll” the PM before it gets into the Budget bill. But given the locked-in support of the PM, the Finance Minister, and the Treasurer, this looks unlikely, too, meaning that the net sum effect will be “Libs split on new tax” headlines everywhere.

Abbott has obviously decided he can burn some of his political bank account and ride that out. We are not so sure. If the polls continue to turn relentlessly southward over the next few months we believe many of his backers, both in Parliament and in the wider party, will demonstrate long and accurate memories.

Potentially rebellious Liberal MPs say the new “levy” would breach the Coalition’s pre-election pledge not to introduce new taxes. They are, of course, absolutely right.

"Was that a core promise? Was it? Hmmm?"

“Was that a core promise? Was it? Hmmm?”

We cannot help but idly speculate who has been advising the Government on its post-election economic and political strategy, given that John Howard, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are all Sydney chums, and Howard and Abbott have historically been very close. In an eerie throwback to Howard tactics, the Prime Minister now says the Government’s “most fundamental commitment of all” was to “get Labor’s debt and deficit disaster under control” and that justifies changing tack from his pre-election commitments. This has strong echoes of John Howard’s much-derided “core and non-core promises”. We are surprised no-one in the mainstream media seems to have picked that up. Maybe today’s political pundits are just not old enough to remember.

For those who haven’t made a lifetime’s habit of watching Government, the Liberals have form. In 1996, the new Howard Government soon found that the previous Keating Labor Government had allegedly left them with an unexpected $7.6 billion “black hole” budget deficit. The new treasurer, Peter Costello, and Finance Minister, John Fahey worked at reducing Commonwealth expenditure. This involved reneging on a number of election commitments, which Howard defended as “non-core promises”. At the first Coalition government budget, the public service was “down-sized”, the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) was privatised, and cuts were made to all departments including with the exception of defence. (Readers will note that this budget, too, will be brought down against the backdrop of a massive $12.5 billion increase in defence spending on the new fighters from America.) Back in 1996, $8 billion in spending cuts were made over the government’s first two budgets.

But in the ultimate example of hubris this time round, Abbott says voters will eventually “thank” the Government if it meets its top promises. Is he right?

“I’m not going to deny for a second that there will be people who are disappointed,” Mr Abbott told Channel 9 this morning. “No-one likes difficult decisions, Governments don’t like taking difficult decisions, voters don’t like the consequences of difficult decisions.But you’ve just got to make hard decisions at times like this, and I think in the long run the voters will thank us for doing what is absolutely necessary if Labor’s debt and deficit disaster is to be tackled. I’m not going to comment on the detail of the budget, but I want to assure the people of Australia that this is a Government which is going to bring down a budget which is fair.”

In a week, and in following weeks, we’ll know if the country agrees with him. Our advice? Don’t hold your breath, Tony.

Those who ignore history are fated to repeat it. One option for tax reform (by which everyone of course always means “collecting more taxes, as painlessly as possible”) which is most definitely on the table in Australia is an increase in the rate of GST, or broadening the items it applies to, such as food.

Whilst we doubt we’ll see it in this Parliament, it is being constantly promoted by the business lobby, and could form a centrepiece of a “Give us the tools* to do the job” campaign by the Coalition at the next election. *Read: more money please.

Along with swingeing cuts, perhaps the most controversial of all of Howard’s economic reforms was pushing through a GST n the first place. In an early election dubbed a “referendum” on the move, on 3 October 1998, the Howard Government won a second term but with its March 1996 majority of 45 seats slashed to 12. Current Liberal MPs on smaller margins will be looking at that statistic with some alarm. The current Coalition majority is 30.

Back in 1998, exit polls had even predicted a government loss. Some smart marginal seat campaigning by the Liberals, and a phenomenon of Labor piling up votes in seats it was never going to lose, prevented that.

In the final wash up, a 4.6 percent swing away from the Government translated into a two-party preferred vote of 49.02 per cent for the Government to Kim Beazely’s Labor’s 50.98 per cent. (Leading to him being promptly installed as the most unlucky Labor leader ever.)

It’s worth remembering that one feature of an unpopular conservative government is that it tends to see a drift of inchoate disenfranchised protest voters to fringe parties on its own right. For more than a year in 1988, for example, the Libs had been leaking support to the far right, much as the Conservative Party in the UK are now to the UKIP, the result of which will be very decent levels of success for the appalling far right party at the upcoming council and European elections.

But despite One Nation winning almost 1 million votes and its 8.4 percent first preference vote being larger than the National Party’s, Pauline Hanson did not win her run for the House of Representatives seat of Blair. Howard was widely seen as having “seen off” One Nation.

Perhaps more accurately, given the inevitable drift back to him of their preferences, he had gambled and won that he could see them off “just enough” to retain power without being embarrassingly outflanked on the right.

But the runes don’t look as promising for today’s Coalition. In 2015 or 2015, Abbott will almost certainly face a much more cashed up and powerful populist force to his right in the Palmer United Party, and a force that appears definitely to eschew high-taxing Government. They will provide a much more natural (and less offensive) home for disaffected protest-minded “a plague on both your houses, but ‘specially yours, Tony” voters than One Nation ever did, or would have.

Here’s the thing: it is a long-term feature of Australian politics that Governments govern from the centre, and stray to their right or left at their peril. A combination of huge cuts and tax increases – especially as weapons against a “budget crisis” that few people either sense or understand – will mark Abbott’s cabinet as having shifted hard to the right.

That has its own dangers, but the murky future is made darker still when one factors in that when the next election comes, the Liberal National Coalition will not face a Labor Party weakened by continual bickering and top-level incompetence at the next election. Instead, they will face a photogenic and mild-mannered centrist leader with a good ear for popular soundbites who is very wisely keeping his powder dry at the moment – albeit a bit too dry, in our opinion. His “front and centre” deputies, Plibersek and Albanese, are generally very popular as well.

The current Government would well advised to remember that in the 21st century there are more “independents” than ever, and many fewer people consider themselves “ironed on” supporters of one party or another. As a result, we loan power to parties, not give it, and nowadays we have short memories and even shorter loyalties.

Howard successfully entrenched his position through endless handouts of welfare and tax cuts to the middle class, who quickly worked out that “they’d never had it so good”.

At its simplest, Abbot risks losing power and being condemned by history as a one-hit wonder if he attempts to skewer exactly the people he needs to keep him in the Lodge.

Those who care about such things should perhaps whisper in his ear: “Maybe we could do with a few less F-35s, Tony?”

"That's not an economy, Son. This is an economy."

“That’s not an economy, Son. This is an economy.”

We are constantly reminding our fellow Australians that we should be more generous with those in need in our own society, and with overseas aid (the growth in which has just been shamefully scaled back by the incoming government), and with those who seek asylum on our shores. And the most recent data confirms our view, and we will continue to make it.

But sometimes it does the soul good to revel in what’s going right. Which is why we note with interest that Australians are again judged to be the richest people in the world, by one measure at least. What’s more, we share it about more.

The median wealth of adult Australians now stands at $US219,505 ($A233,504) – the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest.

By the measure of average wealth, Australians fall back to second with $US402,578 per person, ranking behind the Swiss who were the world’s richest on $US513,000.

Credit Suisse chief investment strategist, Australia, David McDonald said the nation’s household wealth per adult grew by 2.6 per cent in the past year. That was slower than the global average of 4.9 per cent, but Australia still had the best distribution of wealth among developed nations.

There's a reasonable chance he or she is a millionaire, too.

Irritatingly for, well, just about everyone else in the world, there’s a reasonable chance he or she is a millionaire, too.

“Although we are up there at a high level of wealth per adult we’ve also got a better spread than a lot of the other developed countries including, obviously, the Swiss, but also places like the US,” Mr McDonald said.

The number of Australian millionaires increased by 38,000 to 1.123 million people.

The millionaire calculation includes the value of real estate and other assets less household debt.

If you get bored making money or playing on the beach, you can always go for a walk out back ...

If you get bored making money or playing on the beach, you can always go for a walk out back …

Australians were shown to have a much higher level of wealth held in property and non-financial assets – 58.5 per cent compared to the world average of 45 per cent and just 38 per cent in the US.

The US remains the millionaire capital of the world, with 13.2 million people topping the seven-figure mark and nearly 46,000 people in the ultra-high net worth $US50 million-plus category.

Australia has 2,059 ultra-high net worth individuals, 2.1 per cent of the global total.

While the Land Down Under has maintained its place at the top in median terms for three years running now, Credit Suisse reported that North America has regained its title as the wealthiest region in the world.

Rising house prices and stock markets fuelled a 12 per cent rise in North American wealth to $US78.9 trillion from mid-2012 to mid-2013, putting the region ahead of the Asia Pacific and Europe for the first time since before the global financial crisis.

Credit Suisse global head of research for private banking, Giles Keating, said Japan’s economic slump had dragged down the Asia-Pacific region.

“The fourth annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report shows an $US11 trillion rise in (global) wealth to $US241 trillion, with the US as the clear winner, overtaking Europe, while Asia Pacific fell back due to sharp depreciation of the yen,” Mr Keating said.

What do we think? Well, we think Australia has some marvellous natural advantages, not least, a tiny population by world standards, dotted around a massive continent, supported by staggering mineral and agricultural wealth.

All well and good. But it’s what Aussies have created with that money that impresses us. It is in the distribution of and the use made of that wealth that Australians really lead the world. You do not see the extremes of wealth in Australia the way you do in, say, Russia, America, or the UK.

Along the way, Aussies have created probably the world’s best and fairest healthcare system (even though we still complain about it volubly), a decent social safety net for most people (though some still fall through the cracks), the taxation system is reasonable and mostly progressive (even if it is held up in the air by an essentially regressive broad-based consumption tax, but that is now basically unavoidable if one wishes to combat the ‘black economy’), and entrepreneurial flair is encouraged and applauded.

Industrial disputation is at an all time low, inflation non-existent, unemployment persistently virtually non-existent, and at the root of all this is the obvious fact that the concept of a “fair go” – that calm, decency and fairness should still and always form the core of social planning – is seen in no way to contest the headspace devoted to entrepreneurship.

Aussie cities are essentially functional, safe and enticing, and culturally and sports-wise the country punches way above its weight, revelling in a rich and diverse contest of attractions, just as it also makes the most of the fragile natural beauty that sees it firmly ensconced as one of the eco-playgrounds of the world.

THE right to a "fair go" is the thing almost all Australians put at the top of their list when it comes to values. A survey in 2006 showed 91 per cent of people believe a fair go is important, with most listing the need for rights to welfare, housing and indigenous reconciliation to make the country fairer.

THE right to a “fair go” is the thing almost all Australians put at the top of their list when it comes to values.
A survey in 2006 showed 91 per cent of people believe a fair go is important, with most listing the need for rights to welfare, housing and indigenous reconciliation to make the country fairer.

Most of all, though, and despite all the financial success, Australia is truly a society where the value of one’s character is considered more important than the content of one’s property portfolio.

At the end of the day, the richest in society will sit down with the poorest and enjoy a glass of something cooling, and woe betide any fat cat who tries to pull rank.

And yet somehow, this affection for egalitarianism also somewhat miraculously translates into a society where plenty of people make pots of money, and enjoy spending it, too.

Australians have done something very right, for a very long time.

And whatever the political complexion of the Government, they essentially continue to do so.

When one views the chaos in Europe, and the stagnation of American civil discourse, it is very hard to resist crowing. Just a little.

Every country has its own demons, and no one solution fits all, or is necessarily easily transferable. And needless to say, self-congratulation can go too far – not everything in the Great Southern Land is perfect.

But in all seriousness, some countries could do a lot worse than take a close look at Australia’s modus operandi.

(Reporting from AAP and others)

refugees.jpg

They look dangerous. Let’s send them somewhere acceptably primitive and tropical so no more come.

In a rush to the darkest hole in the murky depths of the political gene pool, Australian Labor have now decreed that any refugee attempting to arrive by boat who are intercepted before reaching the shores of our vast, under-populated and incredibly wealthy country will never be allowed to settle here, but will, instead, be shipped off permanently to Papua New Guinea.

PNG is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Their residency there will be paid for by huge Australian aid grants – theoretically, that is: the PNG infrastructure is woefully inadequate for their existing population, and it is hard to see how they could possibly cope with an influx of thousands of Iranians, Afghanis and Sri Lankans – but the Australian electorate are not even permitted to know what the scale of this financial support might be, as opposed to the cost (or likely benefit, as shown by research paper after research paper), of settling any refugees in Australia.

This is a disgracefully mean-spirited and petty move from our Prime Minister, who so often parades his “Christian” virtue – what a hypocrite. What a nasty little power hungry goblin of a man he really is, to be sure. He has the moral compass of a gang leader trying to take over a rival’s turf – in this case, the ever-strident ratbaggery of Tony Abbott and his radical right cronies.

It is a timely moment for everyone interested in the quality of our governance to remember Martin Luther King’s famous remark:

“Everything Hitler did was legal.”

The “PNG solution” is legal.

It is also wickedly, shamefully and embarrassingly wrong: it is morally unsupportable.

And that it could be considered an aid to the slim prospects of Kevin Rudd being re-elected is a swingeing indictment of the priorities of the Australian electorate, and of the endless campaign of misinformation that has been waged by the Liberal-National Coalition both in and out of office.

A plague on both your houses.

That we are obliged, by law, to exhaust our ballot choices until we inevitably vote for one or the other of you is no longer tenable.

It is time – long overdue – that “None of the above/No further” was an available option on our Alternative Vote ballot papers. A reform that would see many seats left vacant after an election, I am sure. Just the wake up call the hacks in the Australian Government and Opposition – and the commentariat that lets them get away with such appalling policies – deserves and needs.

And while we’re about it, let’s nail two other pieces of public policy bullshit.

Bullshit #1

Would you risk this, would you risk your family, if you weren't utterly desperate?

Would you risk this, would you risk your family, if you weren’t utterly desperate?

This isn’t about stopping asylum seekers from drowning at sea.

If that was our motivation, we would simply send a few chartered cruise ships to Indonesia, scoop up all the refugees, and bring them to Australia safely.

This is because, despite Australia’s legal obligations, we don’t want these people here.

Despite our honourable tradition of welcoming refugees – and of them becoming leading citizens at all levels of our society – we have now officially decided to turn our backs on some of the poorest, weakest, most persecuted people on the planet.

Because remember, these are not “illegal immigrants”. They are not “economic migrants”. Because if they are found to be, then they are repatriated. These are displaced people, refugees.

Bullshit #2

Why do these people have to try and make their way to Australia?

Because Indonesia and Malaysia are not signatories to the UN Convention on Human Rights. They won’t give these people a “safe haven”. They lock them up. They marginalise them. They persecute them. They won’t let them work, raise a family, make their own way.

So they HAVE to keep going. So tell me, someone, why does Australia support the Governments of these countries with economic aid? Why do we not leverage this aid to insist that they take up their responsibilities too?

No, I am not arguing that Australia should not take up a larger share of the burden – we have the resources, and Lord knows we need the people. But the hypocrisy of the Indonesian and Malaysian leadership is nearly as breathtakingly sickening as that of the Milky Bar Kid and his acolytes in Canberra.

It is time for ordinary people in Australia to become righteously angry about this matter. Sadly, I suspect that apart from a laudable and vocal minority, they will focus their attention on the cricket.

Nope. Same old crap.

Nope. Same old same old.

I have written at length in the past on the essential tragic flaw in the on-going circus that is Kevin Rudd, which is basically, in my view, that he has a much higher opinion of himself than other people do.

With good contacts inside the Labor Party, I think the kindest thing I have ever heard said about him is “megalomaniac”.

The general public finds it difficult to appreciate that he is genuinely detested by many people whose support he needs – detested as too clever by half, too full of himself, and utterly selfish, not to mention seemingly devoid of the little personal courtesies that make up so much of what is required in leading any organisation, and a political party in particular, stacked full, as they are, with people who desperately want to be loved.

So what is the ultimate outcome of yesterday’s ALP chaos? Well, there are a number.

Greater love hath no man than he give up his friends for his life. – Jeremy Thorpe

Firstly, it is hard to over-estimate the level of betrayal and distress felt by those who campaigned for, publicly supported, and organised a ballot for Rudd to stand for the leadership. They report being “gutted” by his backdown.

The point about Crean publicly calling for a ballot for a man who he so publicly repudiated just a year ago was to allow Rudd to get past his previous commitment not to challenge a sitting leader. Let there be no doubt about this; Crean’s sudden exocet-like intervention in Labor’s leadership crisis was carefully co-ordinated with key Rudd backers, and obviously with Rudd’s knowledge, and implicit in the move was the assumption that Crean’s switch from Gillard would bring four or five votes with him, making the difference between just losing and victory for Rudd, especially as a couple of locked-in Rudd votes were overseas. This thing was on a knife-edge.

When it transpired that those votes possibly wouldn’t follow Crean – despite his desperately courageous intervention which was made, in his eyes, to prevent a debacle in September for the party he loves – Rudd was left looking at a small loss to Gillard.

And at that moment, with history watching, Rudd “bottled it”.

Despite not quite having the numbers he could (and perhaps should, depending on your point of view) have wounded Gillard fatally, and another ballot (in as little as a week, or ten days) would have delivered the leadership to him by acclamation, especially once his people had time to organise more thoroughly. In a Labor Party where the ferment rivals that of a good barrel of real ale left too long to bubble, no leader with Gillard’s poll ratings could possibly hold on with a majority of just a handful in caucus. Despite her famed Welsh stubborn-ness, events would have overtaken her.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

But Rudd chose, instead, (and instead, specifically, of facing the ego-bruising experience of being rejected by his caucus colleagues for a second time, albeit temporarily), to wrap himself in the fallacious argument that he wouldn’t stand again for leader unless backed by an overwhelming majority of the party room. That was never going to happen, of course, he knew it in advance. It was merely a feeble excuse for a crucial loss of nerve. With the smell of blood in the air and alarums various all around, Rudd exited the battlefield, leaving his allies to be slaughtered in his stead.

In refusing at the last hurdle, Rudd reveals himself to this writer, at least, as a rather prissy and self-absorbed egoist without the guts to pursue high office with adequate determination. As those around Caesar tried to plunge in their gladius’s, Rudd tip-toed away rather than get splashed with gore.

Fulminating on the sidelines, smirking quietly to himself as others thrash around, yes, he is up for that. But when a return to power genuinely beckoned, and with it the opportunity to at least ameliorate certain disaster for Labor at the next election, he fatally let down his supporters, many of whose careers are now publicly trashed and seriously damaged, perhaps terminally.

In this loss of nerve, one can see clearly the little boy Rudd, the “Well, if they won’t all play with me the way I want then I shall take my bat and ball and go home” Rudd. The hurt child that never quite grew up.

So the first outcome is this: Rudd supporters will not forgive him in a hurry, if ever. That obvious fact (and one can only imagine the recriminations afterwards) may be behind today’s prompt statement from Rudd that he will never stand for the leadership of the party again. Of course, no-one who has watched his behaviour over the years can give much credence to such an assurance. If the seals of office were waved under his nose again some nonsense about “the good of the party and the nation” would be cobbled together to allow him an intellectual excuse for running again. But in the meantime, brand Kevin is so tarnished as to be virtually un-burnishable. As Yoda would say, “Easy, it is, to give up the thing that no one wants to give you.”

So what the hell do we all do now?

More critically, the Australian people will be utterly dismayed. For reasons which are quite obvious – the fact that his original fall from power was seen by many as unnecessary and very poor form on behalf of the conspirators – and the fact that he clearly is clever and has a sense of purpose, curious though that sense may be – but most of all simply because he isn’t the fatally un-likeable Julia Gillard – Rudd retained the affection of many Labor supporters and non-aligned voters, and even some Liberals, especially those who dislike the rightward drift of their party. He straddles the centre ground of Australian politics in a manner which is always popular in this essentially small-c conservative nation.

Now he has betrayed not only his own supporters but all those in the country who are desperately distressed at the collapse of Labor as a viable vehicle for their aspirations and which is supposed to protect them from what looks like a highly ideologically-driven and – many suspect – brutally insensitive incoming Liberal-led Coalition.

Oh Lord, please help me keep my big mouth shut until September 15th. Amen.

If Howard was bad, they feel implicitly, then Abbott will be worse.

Despite his attempt to present a small target and to curb his wilder side, they perceive that he is Howard without the gravitas or the common touch, a nasty, gnashing, dyed-in-the-wool mis-truster of Government and the common people.

They see savage cuts coming, a return to workplace warfare, social conservatism, and all the baggage of class warfare resurrected again and aimed at those least able to defend themselves.

And above all, they know Gillard can’t beat him – after all, she’s failed to do so once already.

And against this prospect, Rudd chose to preserve his own sniffy dignity rather than chuck his hat into the ring after twelve months of making it perfectly clear to Blind Freddie he still believed in belonged in there.

Well, Kevin, Australians are not sophisticated political observers in the main – life is too wonderful, generally, to waste too much time pondering the goings on of the chattering political classes – but they can smell bullshit with dung-detectors that are as finely attuned as any in the democratic world. And they don’t like wimps.

The national character is, ferociously, to stand up for what you believe, even if you’re going to get a thumping. (One reason that Malcom Turnbull is so widely respected.)

Overnight, therefore, Rudd will have ruined his public standing, and again, probably, terminally. I expect to see that reflected in opinion polls within a day or so.

Goodbye, Labor, it was nice knowing you. At least sometimes.

The last and most obvious result from the non-ballot yesterday is that Labor has revealed it would much rather lose the next election, even catastrophically, and retreat to the Opposition benches than hold its collective nose and re-install Rudd. The ultimate conclusion to be drawn by observing the inwardly-focused bubble that is most of the ALP caucus is that they, too, lost courage at precisely the moment they needed to find some, and returned, instead, to their predilection for childish in-fighting and sophistry.

Such holier-than-though Kamikaze behaviour is more common on the left than it is on the right, which tends to be more focused on power and concomitantly less concerned with the close niceties of policy. (The recent furore over carbon trading that saw Turnbull axed was an aberration and more to do with factional infighting than anything else.)

Parties on the left often seem to emulate the suicidal tendencies of the People’s Front For Judea in the movie “Life of Brian”, where the ultimate goal is to dramatically eviscerate oneself as a noble gesture.

Some time back this mindset saw the demise of the Australian Democrats, and thus the inevitable rise of the much more “deep green” Greens, which has had a profound effect on the Australian body politic. Lord knows what the impact of this decision on the ALP itself may be in the long run, but some form of realignment on the left and centre is certain not beyond the bounds of possibility, especially give the ossified nature of the ALP organisation and its falling membership, and the lurch to the right of the Liberals in particular.

Actively mistrusted, even hated. I have never, in 35 years, heard it expressed so vehemently.

Let us call a spade a f****** shovel: in more than thirty five years of active involvement in left-centre politics, either as a participant or a writer, I have never experienced a mood in a country more toxic for the leadership of the Parliament than I now do with Gillard and Swan and their immediate coterie.

Ironically, it is not just the memory of the original Rudd knifing, unpopular as that was, nor is it the stumbling from embarrassing gaffe to gaffe that has characterised so much of this hamstrung Government, that has caused the complete loss of faith.

In fact, ” ordinary people” know the Government has tried to do some good things.

But there has been a comprehensive failure to sell those initiatives to the public.

And past all the spin doctors, the advisers, the apparatchiks and the offsiders, the ultimate responsibility lies with Gillard and Swan themselves, and especially with Gillard.

It is not enough to have advisers. One has to take their advice. Way back in the days of Gillard v Abbott Mk 1 we saw this uneasy arrangement with the apparent dumping of presentational advice that wasn’t working and the hilarious emergence of “real Julia”. Someone told her that was a good idea. Really.

To my eyes, Gillard has never really recovered from that moment onwards. Apparently untrusting of whatever advice is on offer (at least, by observing her behaviour), she has consistently refused to moderate her tedious, lecturing, uninspiring and downright boring delivery of everything she has to say, both inside and outside the Parliament.

Hers is a failure in many areas and at many levels: a failure to control her own party, a failure to see beyond her own intellectual priorities to respond to the desires of the country, instead choosing to do things she knows need doing, (and, yes, good on her), but then failing to understand that the country needs to be taken with her.

That’s why most of all hers is a failure to recognise that the Government’s primary weakness was and is her inability to articulate in an easy and engaging manner what she was trying to achieve.

having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

For anything other than complete political junkies, this is the enterainment equivalent of having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

I have watched pubs and living rooms erupt into bile every time she comes on the TV screen – “God I hate the way she talks”, “F***, she’s so boring!”, “What is she droning on about this time?”

And the trend has got steadily worse. When she finally allowed some genuine passion to show throw – over Abbott’s misogyny – she saw an immediate lift in her polling, and even murmurs of approval.

She became, momentarily, ” Prime Ministerial”.

But then she promptly returned to the tones of exactly what she is underneath whatever gloss her minders try and put on her, an overly self-confident lawyer trained to couch everything in terms stripped of any passion or colour, and delivered in a manner so downbeat one often wonders if someone should check her pulse.

Even Margaret Thatcher, unquestionably the most transformative post-war politician in any major Western democracy whatever one thought of her policies, took note of the image consultants, the voice trainers, and those who taught her the pace, tone, and mannerisms to deliver powerful public oratory. Gillard has never paused to do this, never lowered herself to that level, and she has led her party to the slaughterhouse as a result.

Ultimately, in failing to improve herself, Gillard has shown a fatal inability to lead.

Now, as the nominal head of a caucus stripped of key talents, a caucus half of whom now publicly believe she is the wrong person to do the job – all talk of “no opposition” and a decisive result is, of course, just so much cant – without a credible candidate to oppose her to take the party into the election, with a slavering Opposition dissolving into delight at the mess in front of them, with a public in disbelief at the antics of the last 48 hours, let us be in no doubt. Barring a miracle which no one expects, Labor is looking down the barrel of a massively awful election result.

How curious it must be, for those MPs sitting in seats with anything under about a 10% margin, to contemplate the near certainty of their defeat in September. How they will be scrambling for diplomatic postings, something nice at the UN of WHO, perhaps, a decent visiting Professorship at a reputable University, or a sinecure in some quasi-Government or policy job just beyond the clutches of the incoming Coalition.

Will they be focusing on their jobs as constituency MPs or Parliamentary officers between now and September? Will they hell. The rats aren’t just deserting a sinking ship, they’ve been off it and swimming to shore for some time. And everyone knows it.

The point.

For democracy to function, it requires at least two parties operating with vibrancy and determination, a genuine “contest of ideas”.

Even non-Labor people must look at the overall state of our body politic and wonder, sadly, “How the hell did it ever come to this?”

Because that is  the ultimate wash-up of the ballot-that-never-was. How the hell did our democracy ever become so dysfunctional and incompetent?

And that, Dear Reader, should concern everyone.

It seems voters are now very obviously tiring of Tony Abbott’s incessant negativity and macho attitudes. How long will the powers-that-be resist a move to the much more electorally acceptable Malcolm Turnbull? Our bet? As it always has been, before Xmas 2012 or soon after.

(Yahoo and others)

Labor’s attacks on Tony Abbott’s character – he’s been painted as a misogynist and a liar – appear to be taking its toll, with voter support for him at its lowest level since he became opposition leader three years ago.

The Australian’s latest Newspoll shows that less than one third of voters, 27 per cent, are satisfied with the way Mr Abbott is doing his job, and the highest number on record, 63 per cent, are dissatisfied with his performance.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard maintains her two-month lead over Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister, 46 per cent to 32 per cent.

Despite Mr Abbott’s troubles, the coalition continues to hold solid primary vote support, 43 per cent, up from 41 per cent two weeks ago, while Labor’s primary vote is unchanged on 36 per cent.

The Newspoll survey, taken over the weekend, shows the coalition holds a two-point lead over Labor – 51 per cent to 49 per cent – on a two-party-preferred basis using preference flows at the last election.

Ms Gillard and other female ministers have accused Mr Abbott of misogyny and sexist behaviour, while Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has accused him of lying.

Last Friday, while announcing that Australia was prepared to join a second Kyoto Protocol treaty to set new targets for cutting greenhouse gases, Mr Combet said everything that Mr Abbott had said about climate change was “complete bulls**t”.

Mr Abbott’s net satisfaction – the difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction – is the worst it has ever been at minus 36.

Ms Gillard’s personal support was virtually unchanged, with satisfaction on 37 per cent, up two points, and dissatisfaction on 52 per cent, giving her a net satisfaction rating of minus 15.

UPDATED

In  a Fairfax Nielsen poll published today (19 Nov) Mr Abbott’s approval eased one point to 36 per cent. His disapproval is steady at 60 per cent, although the Coalition maintains a winning margin on a two-party preferred basis.

His net approval is down a point to minus 24, a new personal low.

Voter approval for Prime Minister Julia Gillard remains steady on 47 per cent and, with her disapproval steady on 48 per cent, she has an unchanged net approval of minus one, markedly better, note, than the Newspoll above.

Ms Gillard maintains a nine-point lead over Mr Abbott in the preferred Prime Minister stakes at 51 per cent (up a point) to Mr Abbott’s 42 per cent (up two points) in the national poll of 1,400 people taken from Thursday to Saturday, after the announcement of a Royal Commission into Child Abuse.

Michael Moore

Rowdy, unashamed, unabashed, curmudgeonly, grumpy, trouble-making, not to mention resolutely overweight and ugly. My type of guy in other words.

 

It has long been my opinion, born of both commonsense and practical experience, that elections are actually won away from the flashing lights and razzamattaz of national media coverage and TV ads by legions of worker bees toiling away patiently on doorsteps, on the telephone, in cars giving lifts to voters, and with their neighbours and friends.

I arrive at this opinion from many years slogging round the streets for the Liberal Party in the UK – then a tiny outpost of insanity or sanity depending on your point of view – where we had no money but endless enthusiasm, no press support but brilliant organisation, and a ruthless obsession with getting our vote out.

Simon Hughes

My good friend Simon Hughes, first elected to Parliament in the Bermondsey by-election of 24 February 1983. Hughes won the seat with 57.7% of the vote.

That obsession was, more than anything else, the genesis of so many of those “unexpected” Liberal or Liberal-SDP victories in by-elections that no one saw coming – except, of course, those of us in the eye of the hurricane, who knew full well that our “ground game”  was infinitely superior and we were going to win. Seasoned campaigners like Trevor “Jones the Vote” from Liverpool and Peter Chegwyn – from seemingly everywhere – and many other unsung luminaries – rigidly marshalled their ranks of duffle-coated apparatchiks to deliver “shock” victory after shock victory, built on the back of superbly targeted local issues. In seats as diverse as Sutton and Cheam, Liverpool Edge Hill, Ripon, Isle of Ely, Croydon NE, Glasgow Hillhead, Bermondsey and Crosby these victories galvanised public opinion and kept a small party alive.

Years later in Australia, dismayed by the antiquated centralised campaigning I saw around me, I wrote a pamphlet on “Community Politics”  which in one form or another was enthusiastically taken up by the then Australian Democrats, and then later to a lesser extent by the Labor Party and the Greens, and even a few forward-thinking Conservative politicians as well.

Anyhow, opening my in-box this morning, I found an email from documentary film-maker Michael Moore.

He points unerringly to the manner in which President Obama will definitely gain re-election. As that, I firmly believe, will be good for America and for the world, I commend his remarks too you.

Now is the time for action, not words.

“I have a personal favor I’d like to ask each of you. We all know the election next Tuesday is going to be very close. But I’ve got an idea that could help put President Obama over the top.
I want you – yes, YOU, the person reading this right now – to get ONE of your fellow Americans who would not otherwise vote to show up at the polls and support Obama.
Here’s the math: there are upwards of five million of you seeing this, via email, on my website, on the Huffington Post and all over the internet. There are 1.2 million following me on Twitter. I’ve got almost 700,000 Facebook friends.
I want just one million of you to convince just ONE person each – one person who’s planning NOT to vote – to go to the polls and vote for Barack Obama. That’s it. And those million extra votes could make all the difference in what will be a very tight election – and it will save us from a tragic return to the Bush years.
Do you realize that there are 90 million people who are planning to NOT vote next Tuesday? That’s according to a poll conducted by USA Today. 90,000,000!! It’s a shocking number, isn’t it? In the old days we’d just label these people as apathetic or stupid. Not anymore. They don’t need our admonition – they need our empathy.
The non-voter today knows exactly what’s going on, and he or she wants no part of it. They are discouraged, disillusioned, and have almost lost hope that things will change. Many are jobless or working for peanuts. They’re angry, and we should tell them they have every right to be.
But here’s something else about them: despite everything, they haven’t utterly given up on politics. When USA Today asked the non-voters who they’d choose if they HAD to vote for someone in this election, 18% said they would vote for Romney – and 43% said they’d vote for Obama! That means there are nearly 40 million people who prefer Obama – AND THEY ARE NOT GOING TO VOTE.
The other question they were asked was, what would it take to get you to vote? 85% of the pro-Obama non-voters said they would go vote IF they thought the election was going to be really close and that their vote would actually make the difference.
This is, for all its frustrating logic, incredibly good news. So our job for the next six days is clear: We – you and me – have to bring a little over 1% of the 90 million non-voters to the polls. If we do we’ll send Romney packing back to New Hampshire/Massachusetts/California or wherever he’s going to build car elevators next.
The time to convince undecideds to vote for Obama is over. All it’s about now is whose supporters simply show up. The side that does the best job of literally dragging people out of their homes between 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM on Tuesday, November 6th is the side that wins.
Each of us knows Obama-supporting non-voters. They’re your cousin, your coworker, your friend from the choir at church. Identify just one of them (best of all if they’re in a swing state) and pledge to get them to the polls. You can try to convince them with all the good arguments as to why they should vote for the O (click here), but I think the best way to do this is to ask them personally, just this once, to do this for you. Not for the country. For you.
Then, once they’ve committed to vote, make a commitment to them: that you are not going to be silent after Tuesday, that you are going to keep fighting like hell (including, when need be, fighting Obama) every single day after the election for them, for you and for all of us.
So, that is your mission – YOURS, the person reading this right this second. Bring just one non-voter to the polls. Easy! Do it and be known as part of the group that defeated Mitt “Bush #3” Romney and gave Barack Obama another term – and another chance to do what we sent him there to do. “

Er … Wot he said.

Lee Iacocca

Lee Iacocca - Henry Ford simply didn't "like him" - that was enough.

Lido Anthony “Lee” Iacocca was famously head of both Ford and then Chrysler after he was fired by Henry Ford II – grandson of the founder of the company – despite being probably the most successful Ford executive of all time – with the simple words “I just don’t like you.”

At the time, the move shocked the automotive world and the world of commerce generally. It was widely seen as a foolish move by Ford. But I have a great deal of sympathy with the decision.

Life is just too short to spend time working with people you “just don’t like”.

At the heart of such antipathy always lays other factors – unspoken perhaps – such as incompatibility on personal, ethical or business values, lack of trust, lack of mutual respect, and so on. The stress that results from accommodating such deeply felt emotions is rarely, if ever, worth the effort, for either protagonist.

I have have left jobs, and resigned business rather than keep working on it, no matter how lucrative the position or contract, because of an essential loss of confidence in the key players. Not capriciously – I am no tantrum-throwing diva – but thoughtfully, having weighed my deeper feelings against all other factors. And I have never once regretted the decision.

In today’s caucus vote, Kevin Rudd finally discovered, crunchingly, what it is like when “people just don’t like you”.

Despite opinion polls showing he would be more likely to defeat the Liberals at the next election, and that he was hugely more popular with the general public than Prime Minister Gillard, he was not just defeated, he was roundly and thoroughly rejected. In the end, despite the Rudd camp’s spin, Gillard won the ballot 71 votes to 31.

In the news coverage of the last three days, cabinet minister after cabinet minister lined up to tell us, in excruciating and exhaustive detail, why Kevin Rudd was just one small step up from the anti-Christ. Either explicitly or by implication they branded him as dysfunctional, domineering, rude, non-consulting, mercurial, and borderline egomaniacal. As somebody has already tweeted to me, it’s a shame the Oscars don’t have a statuette for best soap opera, because The Public Murder of Kevin Rudd (Part Two) would have won hands down.

Rudd tears

Politicians love to be loved. It's a big mistake to forget that in a party-based system the love you need most is not the public's, but your colleagues'. The same is true in business. And families. If we can't keep the affection of those closest to us, then what everyone else thinks won't save us. Rudd is seen here after the leadership "coup" in 2010.

You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Perhaps.

It’s no doubt a hard lesson for Rudd to learn, because by all accounts he’s been avoiding learning it for his whole career. He was apparently widely disliked when he was an effective senior civil servant in Queensland. In a business not noted for shrinking violets, he was labelled as a pushy, self-aggrandising little oik long before the Labor caucus grudgingly turned to him as their best hope to overturn John Howard in ’07. They tolerated him, biting down on their bile. Then as soon as they thought things were going wrong they dumped him so fast, and so hard, that the public were shocked. But if the public had known how much they didn’t like him in the first place it would have come as no surprise at all.

Of course, admitting that would have been to admit that they had wrought a huge con on the Australian public at the election, so that wasn’t on.

As a result the public was left confused and resentful.

But Rudd should have been left in no doubt what he’d done wrong. Labor caucus members certainly knew. Instead, if we are to believe his public utterances, he chose to re-make reality in his head, (and so did his advisors), and interpret his overturning by Gillard as merely the result of factional brawling and the ambitions of so-called faceless men, and the perfidy of his deputy.

My old Mum would have said “there’s none so blind as those who will not see.”

(Incidentally, in retrospect, the 2007 election, which was then and is still now often widely referred to as a triumph for Rudd’s campaigning skills, would probably have been won by a drover’s dog with a Labor rosette – the punters were simply sick of Howard’s smug little face. But that’s a different discussion.)

This is the lesson. It’s not how smart you are. It’s how likeable you are.

Likeability

Likeability ... it's always there, shadowing us, and it determines our success.

The short story is that there comes a point at which you can’t keep alienating the people near you and then expect them to support you, no matter how competent you may be, (and no one denies that Rudd has talents), because when push comes to shove if we’re going to put our trust in someone it has to be someone, at gut level, that we like.

A Columbia University study by Melinda Tamkins shows that success in the workplace is guaranteed not by what or whom you know but by your popularity.

In her study, Tamkins found that, “popular workers were seen as trustworthy, motivated, serious, decisive and hardworking and were recommended for fast-track promotion and generous pay increases.

Their less-liked colleagues were perceived as arrogant, conniving and manipulative. Pay rises and promotions were ruled out regardless of their academic background or professional qualifications.” Ouch.

The Gallup organization has conducted a personality factor poll prior to every presidential election since 1960. Only one of three factors – issues, party affiliation, and likeability – has been a consistent prognosticator of the final election result.  Of course, the factor is likeability. (Note that Obama is effortlessly more likeable than any of the Republican candidates still standing, except perhaps Ron Paul, who is widely considered mildly nuts.)

Think none of this affects you because you’re not in business or politics? Nu-uh.

Doctors give more time to patients they like and less to those they don’t. According to a 1984 University of California study, there were significant differences in treatment, depending on the characteristics of the patient: the combination of likeable and competent was significant.  Patients perceived as likeable and competent would be encouraged significantly more often to telephone and to return more frequently for follow-up than would the patients who were either unlikable and competent or likeable and incompetent. The staff would educate the likeable patients significantly more often than they would the unlikable patients.”

In a survey of twenty-five hospital doctors initiated by Roy Meadow, a pediatrician at St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds, England, researchers studied what happens when both likeable and unlikable parents bring in children. Considering what you’ve already learned about likeability, it’s not surprising that children with likeable parents received better health care and were more likely to receive follow-up appointments.

I’m guessing the same can be said of schools.

Sooner or later, history shows us that the vast majority of disliked people come a cropper. Being liked is simply a pre-requisite for success, in all spheres of life. I am sure we can all think of contrary examples where fear, for example, was enough to keep the troops in check, but I am obviously speaking in broad brushtrokes here. In a future article, I will rehearse some of the components of likeability, because the good news is that they are skills that can be learned, not innate abilities.

We don’t just have to be grinning, amiable idiots all the time.

Readers will note that I isolate likeability as the key survival factor: I do not say “being agreed with”. We can disagree with people and still like them. In fact, the opposite is true: good governance, in business and politics, demands that we disagree with people when we genuinely perceive risk in their opinion or behaviour.

But the Labor caucus didn’t just disagree with Kevin Rudd – in fact, ironically, many of them may have agreed with his essential analysis, which is that Gillard cannot beat Tony Abbott – although in my view, the jury is still out on that, as I have lived long enough to know that if a week is a long time in politics then 18 months is a lifetime and a half. No, it was about much more than whether they agreed or disagreed with him.

These people, who take their opinions from having actually met the guy – worked with him, dined with him, drunk with him, walked with him, sat in cars with him – unfiltered through spin doctors and media appearances – actually loathed him so much that they would rather struggle on with the Government’s current level of performance than return to the smiling Milky Bar Kid, even if the cost was their own seat in Parliament.

Now that’s disliking someone.

A public suicide. Messy, sad, and ugly.

I never thought Kevin Rudd was ever going to beat Julia Gillard today – that was the genius of the Gillard camp in forcing his hand and bringing the spill on, by letting a rumour getting about that he was about to be sacked anyway – but it was almost as if, in the last few days, Rudd was intent on some sort of phyrric suicidal exit on his own terms.

He was determined to face down those who didn’t like him, by virtually ignoring them and appealing over their heads to the public. “Ring your local MP and tell him or her you want me back” he said (I paraphrase) instead of simply picking up the phone and calling the MPs concerned and having a good chat.

He was never going to get enough votes – he must have known that in advance, surely? – but he could have perhaps reserved his place in Labor history and even partially rehabilitated himself if he had gone down the road of “Mea culpa, I stuffed it up last time, how can I do it right for you this time?” and actually meant it.

Instead, by pressing the flesh in shopping malls and working the ever-hungry meeja for all it was worth, Rudd merely confirmed Labor MPs suspicions. He didn’t really think he’d made any mistakes at all, despite a few mealy-mouthed mumblings to that effect on TV. And he also he left an abiding impression: “this bloke doesn’t like me, need me, respect me, or want me. Righty ho, he can have that back, in spades. I’m voting for Gillard, even if that does mean I am a turkey voting for Christmas.”

As a serious political force in Australia, Rudd is now finished. There will be no Lazarus rising, not even Lazarus twitching. I expect to see him foisted on the international community in some major role – or at some serious policy wonk think tank – as soon as he can pull the levers of his impeccable overseas contacts, especially in America and China. The ALP will ease his way, glad to see the back of someone that they never really believed was one of their own. As Paul Keating once remarked, “He’s Labor, but not tribal Labor.” In the end, that’s what killed him: he just never really wanted to be one of the tribe, or was prepared to work at it, and they hated him for it.

Well, well. Moving on: Gillard will get a small bounce from her success today – in the last few days voters will have re-connected with her, grudgingly, with her guts, determination, refusal to get flustered, and inner steel.

All smiles - Gillard leaves the caucus meeting.

All smiles - Gillard leaves the caucus meeting. But what of tomorrow?

These are qualities we value in a Prime Minister, and Gillard, despite other failings, has them. But she now needs to learn Rudd’s lesson. She is widely disliked – mistrusted – and this time by the public. And they will be meeting in their very own caucus before too long. Many of Rudd’s criticisms of her will have rung true with people, even as they admire the way she stood up for herself. She has a tiny window of opportunity – which will start closing immediately – to radically re-make her government.

For example, she won’t – but she should – build on her new-found image of decisiveness by removing Wayne Swann as Treasurer, because although he is her ally and he is also technically competent he inspires no confidence whatsoever in the public in the second most important office in the land.

A dramatic, bold move would be to promote Swann’s mate Stephen Smith to Treasury – his quiet, serious demeanour goes over well and he has proven himself a highly effective Minister – and move Swann to Foreign Affairs, where he will still be in the inner circle, and can’t really do much damage, and where he already has good contacts to build on. Refresh, renew, revive. Show imagination. Show leadership.

Gillard

Can Gillard be saved from herself?

And most of all, she should employ new speechwriters, and professional speaking consultants, to utterly transform her dreadful, whining, monotonic delivery of both formal speeches and her performances in the Parliament.

It is always hard for pollies to hear this, (I speak from experience), but the public has long since gone past their gentle amusement at how staggeringly irritating her delivery is, to reach a point of genuine annoyance. Quite apart from any policy disagreements or trust issues, her flat, nasal tones, distractingly repetitive and unhelpful hand movements, lack of light and shade, and holier than thou seriousness make her genuinely disliked.

When the usual answer to the question “Would you have this person round for a beer and a sausage?” is derisive laughter, then you’re in real trouble. When you’re a politician, it’s terminal.

Frankly, I worry about the state of our public discourse in general. Because it’s not as though the other side are much better.

The widespread opinion amongst those I speak to – including Liberal supporters – is that Abbot is an unpleasant little blow-hard, transparently seizing any opportunity to personally denigrate the leaders of the Labor Party and to talk the country down. That this is a common mis-conception of the role of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is no excuse for the policy vacuum that the Coalition currently offers, and the apparent vacuum in the heads of most of its leaders. As I have said before, if Gillard does anything right at all in the next six months, expect to see Abbott replaced with Malcolm Turnbull, quick smart.

And the final wash up?

The ultimate question, I suppose, is this: in a country full of well-educated, intelligent, hard-working, charismatic people, why are we led by such donkeys? And when will we demand better of our leaders, rather than just grumble ineffectively about them? What is it that we are doing wrong, if, as I firmly believe, we get the politicians we deserve?

On May 17, 2007, when he was all of 83 years old, Iacocca published a book called Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, co-written with Catherine Whitney. An article with the same title, and same two co-authors, has recently been published. As we leave the circus of the last week behind us, there are wise words in it for all Australians to consider today. In the book, talking about the quality of Government in America at all levels, Iacocca wrote:

“Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.” Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!”