Posts Tagged ‘Joe Hockey’

abbott angry

There is a scenario that could see embattled Aussie Prime Minister Tony Abbott overturned as quickly as next week.

This weekend, the election in Queensland will be a disaster for the governing Liberals, or as they are in Queensland, the merged Liberal National Party. Such an outcome is hard to imagine, given their massive majority in Brisbane, but disaster it will be nevertheless, in this most reliably conservative of conservative Australian states.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

We think it unlikely that the LNP will lose Government, although it is possible. Labor needs to achieve a 12 per cent swing to gain 36 seats if it is to win a majority government and recent polls have put the party within striking distance. But we think the swing is likely to be nearer 8-10%, especially as we expect Newman to do marginally better than Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk in the leader’s debate in Brisbane at 1pm today.

In that case what will happen is their majority will be slashed and loads of their seats lost. And we expect their leader, Campbell Newman, to lose his seat, too. Already desperate right-wing constitutional nerds are taking to the airwaves to argue he can stay as leader even if he’s outside the Parliament, ignoring the obvious fact that his personal standing will have been effectively rubbished by such an outcome.

Given the scale of the debacle, the blame will inevitably be sheeted home to Abbott on analysis TV and all the major talk shows on radio, worsening the standing of a man who is now so noxiously unpopular that he was effectively banned from campaigning in Queensland during the election.

What will make the sting deep and enduring is that Palaszczuk’s campaign has focussed repeatedly on health and education – the very areas Abbott has been foolish enough to attack repeatedly at a Federal level. The contrast can hardly be more stark or more telling if the Queensland election plays out as we expect.

But amongst all this gloom, what is even worse is that Abbott is slated to talk to the influential National Press Club lunch on Monday immediately after all that sickening analysis.

abbott

“Eli eli, lama sabachthani?”

Never at his best when challenged publicly, there is no doubt that he will be embarrassedly umming and erring his way through a barrage of amused questions first of all keeping the “Why knight Prince Phillip?” hare running, (which he will seek, but fail, to deflect), but then, more importantly, questions seeking to pin the blame for the Victorian election, the Queensland election, and the Government’s low standing on him personally.

Speculation on his leadership will not be put to his ministers, as in the last few painful days, it will be put to him personally.

In response, he will seek to combattively state that, “Er, um, I will be taking our great party to the next election, I am focused on selling the Government’s successes”, and end up sounding, in other words, exactly like every other party leader has sounded just before they’re rolled. And reminding everyone that selling his Government’s “successes” is exactly – precisely – what he has failed to do.

There will be nowhere for him to hide from this grilling, (we could almost feel sorry for him if he had not brought this all down on his own head), and he will wilt under its blistering heat, looking ever more uncertain and strained as it wears on.

Journos in the audience will have been assisted by plentiful leaks and background briefings from anti-Abbott forces in his party room, manoeuvring to get their preferred replacement into a position where the crisis has become so awful as to prompt their immediate elevation to the top job.

If, by some miracle, Abbott performs strongly at the Press Club, the inevitable chippy-chippy-chop may be delayed a little, but we repeat our oft-stated opinion that his metaphorical decapitation is now inevitable. Indeed, as we stated before he won the last election, it always was going to be.

He just has the wrong skills to be PM – always did have – and he has not managed to curb those elements of his personality that make him so self-evidently unfitted for the role. The Liberal Party is infinitely more ruthless than its Labor opponents, even though that is not generally understood. They know any replacement – and it would take a miracle for them not to choose the country’s most popular politician in Malcolm Turnbull – will need time to settle the ship before the next election. They will not risk losing what should have been an unloseable election against the largely inoffensive but also un-inspirational policy-lite Bill Shorten.

Time marches on, but Abbott’s Prime Ministership will not. Like some awful, inevitable Shakesperian tragedy, he will pay the ultimate price for the hubris that saw him persuaded to stand against the infinitely smarter and more electorally appealing Turnbull in the first place.

And if Turnbull does take over, we don’t expect to see Hockey moved from the role of Treasurer, in which he has been an unmitigated disaster. One thing will save him. If he were moved, we think Julie Bishop will put her hand up for that role – a step too far for the mad-eyed Western Australian in our view – and she would fail in it just as Abbott has failed as PM. It’s one thing to blather on aggressively about how rotten Vlad Putin is for shooting Australians out of the sky. It’s quite another to steer the ship of state’s financial well-being. Nothing in her period of Opposition or in Government shows her up to such a task.

Turnbull will not risk her messing things up for him, so will be inclined to leave Hockey in place.

In which place, he will be told to smoke no cigars in public, to stop shooting from the lip about the poor driving less than the rest of us, and essentially to shut up and leave it all to Malcolm. You’ll hear a whole lot less about “structural deficit” under Turnbull and much vaguery about “good management”. The great irony of the Abbott experiment for him and his backers like Nick Minchin is that his failure will kill hard right economic solutions for a decade.

Australia will return quietly comfortably to “tax and spend”, and not even notice the difference. and all of Abbott and Hockey’s painful Thatcherite striving will be forgotten. Shakespearian indeed.

The one thing against Abbott being moved against next week, of course, is that Parliament is not sitting again till 9th February. Liberal MPs would have to be called back to gather specially for a party room spill. Such an outcome is rare, but not unknown. It could, though, just save his bacon. But not for long.

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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.

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?”

paul_keating

Somehow the wagging finger rarely irritated. The brain behind it was so impressive.

Ex Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating is a fascinating man.

Uncompromising, arrogant – and even aloof – certain of his own intellectual superiority, frequently hilariously funny, master of Despatch Box wit, he was responsible for some of the most major reforms in Australian political history, including opening the country to free trade, and ensuring all Australians have some sort of superannuation to fall back on in retirement.

When "intellectual" wasn't a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

When “intellectual” wasn’t a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

Not for nothing was one of his mentors former Labour hero Gough Whitlam.

They shared a love of fine things, were both uber-brainy dandys, and neither brooked much opposition.

They controlled their caucuses by diktat, but they were so patently the most impressive guys around that no one really minded all that much.

Keating once memorable christened John Howard "His Oiliness"

Keating once memorably christened Liberal Party leader John Howard “His Oiliness”

To remember how good Keating was, one really only has to admire the strong, internationally-engaged economic state of the nation that John Howard inherited from him.

And one only has to trawl some of his more famous quotations – usually insulting put-downs – that framed the debate for year after year.

It would be easy to dismiss them as mere vitriol, but they were much more than that. Keating had an ear for what ordinary “little” people thought, and the imagination to wrestle that into pithy quotes.

Try these:

On Opposition Leader and then Prime Minister John Howard:

  • “The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on”
  • “What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.”
  • “He’s wound up like a thousand day clock.”
  • (Of his 1986 leadership contest) “From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him.”
  • “He is the greatest job and investment destroyer since the bubonic plague.”
  • “But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.”
  • “I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot.”
  • “He has more hide than a team of elephants.”
  • “Come in sucker.”
Keating believed Peter Costello essentially "lacked ticker". He was right.

Keating believed Peter Costello essentially “lacked ticker”. He was right.

On Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello:

  • “The thing about poor old Costello is he is all tip and no iceberg.He can throw a punch across the parliament but the bloke he should be throwing a punch to is Howard, but of course he doesn’t have the ticker for it.”
  • “He has now been treasurer for 11 years. The old coconut (John Howard) is still there araldited to the seat.The Treasurer works on the smart quips but when it comes to staring down the prime minister in his office he always leaves disappointed.He never gets the sword out.”

Just because you were in the same party as Keating, that was never protection from his wrath.

Keating’s passions were French antique clocks, opera and piano concertos. The sports mad Labor cabinet didn’t stand a chance.

He could dish it to his own side, too.

Like this stoush with John Browne and Bob Hawke (who he memorably named “Old Jellyback” because of Keating’s perception of his preparedness to compromise on principle) when he was Treasurer:

  • “Now listen mate,” [to John Browne, Minister of Sport, who was proposing a 110 per cent tax deduction for contributions to a Sports Foundation] “you’re not getting 110 per cent. You can forget it.This is a fucking Boulevard Hotel special, this is.The trouble is we are dealing with a sports junkie here [gesturing towards Bob Hawke].I go out for a piss and they pull this one on me.Well that’s the last time I leave you two alone.From now on, I’m sticking to you two like shit to a blanket.”
Hewson famously lost "the unloseable election" to Keating with the schemozzle over their "Fightback" plan. The Liberal Party ever since is chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

Hewson famously lost “the unloseable election” to Keating with the schemozzle over the “Fightback” plan. The Liberal Party has ever since been chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

To then Leader of the Opposition John Hewson:

  • Hewson: [if you’re so sure of yourself] why don’t you call an election?Keating: Oh no, Hewson, don’t think you’re going to get out of it that easily mate. I’m going to do you slowly, son …” The relish with which Keating delivered the word “slowly” has passed into Australian political history …

And about him:

  • “Captain Zero”
  • “I did not insult the Honorable Member for Wentworth. I merely implied that he was like a lizard on a rock – not dead yet, but looking it.”
  • “[His performance] is like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”
WIlson "Iron Bar" Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

WIlson “Iron Bar” Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

Most memorably, Keating would fire up whenever confronted with the teasing of extreme right-wing MP Wilson Tuckey from the seat of O’Connor in WA.

Unparliamentary language? For sure. But rather wonderful nevertheless.

  • “You stupid foul-mouthed grub.”
  • “Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig!”
  • “You boxhead you wouldn’t know. You are flat out counting past ten.”
  • “You filthy, disgusting piece of criminal garbage!”

Anyhow, without demonstrating quite the same level of vituperative humour, Mr Keating has made a memorable intervention in the 2013 Federal Election to opine that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had steered the country through the “valley of economic death” in 2008-09 to be what no other country in the world has been.

“No recession, no great dip in employment,” Mr Keating said, launching the campaign of Labor minister Bill Shorten in his Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong on Friday, to rousing applause from party faithful.

“This is not like Europe. This is not like the United States. We’ve kept people in employment and given them real wages growth.”

Since 1991, real wages had increased 36 per cent and disposable incomes by 40 per cent, he said.

“This is the only country that has done this. It came from the policies of the Labor government. It didn’t come from the Tories. They know what they’re against. They never know what they’re for.”

Mr Keating credited Labor for creating equity in health, superannuation, education and now disability care.

“The others never do these things. They’re always mean. Mean little people,” he said.

“No imagination, no bigness and no heart. Just the natural cycle means every now and then they get another go.”

Mr Keating said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had to do more than offer slogans.

“Stop the boats, he says, we’ll get rid of the mining tax, and we’ll get rid of the carbon tax,” he said. “These slogans can never be an organising principle for the nation.”

Mr Keating accused the Liberals of walking away from accountability standards, saying they ignored former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello’s decision that treasury publish public accounts before an election.

“This is a very bad thing which is happening. Bad for the core integrity of the financial system, the way the country operates, bad for trust in the system.

“We’re facing a sort of flimflam opposition, one without standards.

“Even the previous conservative government accepted that standard but they’ve walked away from that.

“Cynical Joe Hockey says, ‘oh people are bored with numbers’. Really, Joe? They’re not bored with you are they?”

Except for his obligatory defence of Rudd, Gillard and, er, Rudd, Keating has nailed the Liberal’s essential intellectual vacuity, and he should be listened to. Sadly, the problem is that the alternative to Paul Keating is Kevin Rudd, and there is no cure for that.

Is there any doubt that Labor could win this election with Keating at the helm, instead of the Milky Bar Kid?

What as shame he seems to be thoroughly enjoying his retirement.