Sunday, 31 March 2013

Things Taint so Bad.


According to the Australian Liberal Party, the Australia economy is in the toilet. 

Trying to find any definitive economic statements from the LNP is always difficult. The coalition tends towards general fear-mongering, and the less data the better. Try reading Tony Abbot’s “Address to the 2012 Economic and Social Outlook Conference, Melbourne”. Yes, in this tedious and babbling speech Tones selectively quotes figures suggesting that Australia has slipped badly from the glorious days of the Howard Government. The trouble is that in all 3000 words of faulty comparisons, not a single word is spent acknowledging the devastating impact of the “Global Financial Crisis” (GFC). In Tony Abbott’s world the global economy stayed on an unswerving dead-straight line from the minute Howard was kicked out of office. The earth didn’t shake and entire countries didn’t fall into the monetary abyss. And, dear friends, Australia, somehow, didn’t weather the devastation under the sensible economic policies of a hated Labor government.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey appear to be under the delusion that they would have been able to maintain surpluses during the GFC and the country, as a consequence, would not have suffered crippling unemployment and runaway inflation. That would have been a neat trick. Lucky they never got a chance to try their arm.

So, once again, according to the Liberals, Australia needs a conservative government to bail the country out of the economic mess. There lies a problem for the Libs – Australia is doing very well economically, thank you very much. In fact, for our weight, we are kicking some serious economic arse.

While any party can claim pretty much anything they like – it is politics, after all - it is a useful exercise to test our economic credentials with the rest of the world. If Labor is screwing up, as claimed, this will soon show up in the numbers. After all, Labor have been calling the shots these past five years. If things are going badly, they need to claim some of the responsibility, but if things are going well, likewise they should get credit for doing a good job. Let’s look at the data, shall we?

Out of approximately 262 countries

· Australia ranks 13th in the world in GDP

· Australia’s purchasing power parity is 19th in the world.

· The Australian unemployment rate is the 151st lowest in the world. Lower than the United Kingdom (112th) the United States (104th) and France (96th).

· Australia’s tax revenue is 81st in the world at 33.5 cents in the dollar. The UK’s is 40.9.

· Australian public debt (% of GPD) is a low 26.9 compared with the UK (88.7) and the US (73.6). Yet all we hear from the conservatives is our runaway spending. Their claims are worse than stupid.

· The Australian budget revenues ranks 11th in the world.

· Our deficit? Australia is running a budget deficit of about -0.80. The United States is running -7.60 (the same as Greece) and the UK is around -7.70

· Australian inflation rate is in the vicinity of 2.2% whilst the UK is 2.8%.

· All this with Australia ranked 55 in population with the rest of the world (22.2 million)

Labor might be in a hell of a state politically, well, who could argue otherwise? But as economic managers they have done a heroic job which will only be acknowledged by historians, it seems.

When you stand in that little box in September and prepare to throw Labor out of office - as is your democratic right - consider just which bunch of ratbags you will be putting in their place. Think twice before you install the idiotic crew who were going to lock up the money and throw away the key even as the global economic tsunami hit our shores. If you are reading this and you still have a job, be thankful that Labor was in charge.

The numbers don’t lie – we are in pretty good shape.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Pretending Who We're Not

ABC Photo

If the portents are correct, we are about to elect Anthony John Abbott as Australia’s 28th Prime Minister.   Tony Abbott, the ‘Everyman’ who is a typical Aussie in every respect.  Of course, he is an Oxford-educated, Rhodes Scholar, a catholic ex-seminarian who also runs ultra-marathons.  Who can’t say that the average Aussie battler’s life experience doesn’t match TA’s exactly and in every particular?     On the other hand, Julia Gillard, the current non-occupant of the Lodge, her personal background is completely ordinary for an Aussie*.    Her family immigrated when she was a child and she went to school and university in Australia before getting a pedestrian job as a lawyer.  After which she took the obligatory Labor route of becoming a union hack and selling her soul to the factions.    When I think about it, neither party has anything even remotely close to the typical Australian’s personal life experience, but at least Gillard’s doesn’t look anywhere near as weird as Tones.  

When all’s said and done, the life of a politician is incredibly bizarre.   Have you not caught yourself wondering just why do they do it?  To me a politician’s life is a very vision of hell itself.  And it is not only a matter of self-flagellation, the politician’s life must be a joy for the whole family.  Not tucking the kids up into bed when they are little tackers, not reading them bedtime stories, and not really watching them grow up.   The kids arrive into this world and see their parents on TV as a substitute for the flesh and blood kind of mum or dad.  I’m not demonising them as parents, by this.  Plenty of kids do not see their kids enough, but parental politicians are a special case.  Imagine what it must be like to be ten year old and constantly hearing second-hand opinions about your parents from other kids.  And opinions that are none too nice?  No child would like this.  At least Gillard has spared her kids this pain by the simple expedient of not having any.    Whenever I hear about a politician talking about what’s best for the children of the nation, I can’t help but shake my head.  Think about your own kids before you concern yourself about mine.  Still, the kids seem to do alright, so perhaps it is not all that bad.  Still, I wonder?  

With Julia and Tones hitting Sydney’s Western suburbs this week I try to imagine what version of people they will portray.  In parliament it is all suits, meetings and professionalism as befitting leaders of a modern democracy.  When bestriding a construction site, it’s reflective vests and hardhats all round as they adopt the all-knowing engineer’s acumen, and nodding at open charts with the best of them.   At a community centre it is cups of tea with Gran as cameras catch the Pollie’s look of concern and understanding at the poor octogenarian’s lot.   At a kindergarten we all chuckle at how adroitly the friendly politician deals with the young’uns who are not at all inclined to cooperate with the press manager’s pleadings to engage with their masters.     

But at the Rooty Hill RSL – what approach will Tony and Julia adopt?   If there is one thing more unpredictable then a babe-in-arms, it is an average voter from a depressed electorate.  It could go either way; ordinary people can be galvanised in either direction.  They can be used and abused by the conservative right as in the way that Pauline Hansen did by convincing them that the 'darkies' were taking over the country.  Or, they can be used and abused by the left by promising them the world and then ignoring them and taking their rusted-on vote for granted.   It is a tricky thing pretending to be one of the underclass when the week before you were reassuring big corporations that none of your policies will impact upon their bottom line in the slightest.   Tony and Julia representing the battlers of Western Sydney, with salaries and other entitlements approaching, approximately, half a million per annum each.    My point being isn’t that they get paid too much, heavens no.  I wouldn’t take on the job for three times as much.  It’s just that they have as much true identification with the inhabitants of those electorates as Gina Rinehart has with the Builders Labourers Federation

So it goes.  And people think that Game of Thrones is a TV show.  

* Gillard maintains that she will not reside in the Lodge until she wins a popular election – fat chance, Jules.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Labor's Lack of Narrative

Screaming inside a vacuum.

The all-consuming political narrative in Australian politics this week has been that the Australian Labor Party doesn’t have a narrative. In short, the ALP is narrative-less. Or, to put it into French, Il n'a pas de rĂ©cit. It has no story.

Why the mainstream media should pounce upon this right now is a mystery? The blogosphere has been endlessly churning up this same ground since the last election. The very fact that Australia is going gangbusters on any economic measure you care to nominate and yet is about to be punished with the equivalent of an electrical chainsaw demonstrates that the ALP couldn’t sell a raincoat in a shitstorm.

The fascinating thing about this is how it came to be? How is it that Australia has survived the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and is sailing safely through to the other side with a Labor government at the helm, yet, apparently, has attracted so much hate?

There are a few obvious reasons of course, let’s get them out of the way.

Number One: The Prime Minister is a chick.

Now, gentle reader, you and I probably do not hold the theory that our PM is excessively weighed down by ovaries. I might even suggest that while she may be the most ovarian Prime Minister in Australian history, she still can do the job as good as any of her predecessors. Yet there is a certain element in the electorate that doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the notion of female PMs. In fact I’m sure that many still believe that the rot set in when we allowed women to vote. Julia Gillard has never been judged on her abilities alone. Am I exaggerating? Her clothes, her hair and even her glasses are all worthy of endless drivel (FFS). John Howard, on the other hand, was a short, rotund, balding, track-suited, oddity with glasses like ashtrays. And while all these physical features were occasionally noticed, it wasn’t the sum of the man. In print and TV he was loved or loathed for being, primarily, well, being John Winston Howard. JWH was to Australians, essentially, the personification of the very policies he inflicted upon the community. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a whinge about Gillard’s tone of voice I’d be a rich man. The ironic thing is we’ve suffered under more than 20 years of John Howard’s snivelly whine without anybody making a single comment about it. I won’t even bother going into the Gillard being “deliberately barren”, or a bitch, or that her father died of shame.

What’s the point? I just can’t remember a single male Prime Minister undergoing such personal invective as an everyday occurrence. I am old enough to remember the endless “hilarious” jokes about Margaret Whitlam by the conservative side of politics as well as the media of the day. Sexism can be pretty funny if you are not the one on the receiving end.

Secondly: This is the oddest Australian parliament in living memory.

By “odd” I don’t mean bad, nor do I mean dysfunctional. I pretty much mean “odd”. Because the Government has been operating outside the common experience in Australian politics, most of the commentariat have been completely driven batshit by very ordinary occurrences. The Gillard Government has had to negotiate with allied parties and independents, something that is relatively normal throughout the entire globe. For reasons known only to themselves, the mainstream Australian media has collectively lost their goo because of it. By my count, Australia is just one of 82 countries that have formed government by political parties cooperating with each other. In fact, Switzerland comprises a loose coalition of six different parties and Serbia has seven. Even Germany has three parties making up the Government. Why does the Australian media froth and bluster about a normal, yes, even boring, circumstance?

In the Australian experience, the Liberals have only ever once been in a position to govern in their own right. That was in 1975, following the Whitlam Dismissal and even then they decided to stay in coalition with the Nationals. Somehow, the Australian conservative coalition, which are really a loose combination of self-serving city and country ideologues, have successfully branded any alternative political coalition as evil and invalid. How does that work? Oh, by making yours a “formal coalition” means that a largely identical but informal alliance on the left is somehow against the natural order of democratic processes. So, one might ask if the Liberals and the Nationals are so rigidly lockstep in agreement, why not simply form one party as they did in Queensland’s with the Liberal National Party (LNP)? Blimey, can’t do that on a wider basis, even in Queensland it is only holding together with sticking plaster. Wider use would expose a very real regional and fractional bloodbath. To all those conservatives living outside the city, a distrust for the Liberals exists to a degree much greater than that of Labor. Even in Queensland it seems like they are just holding it together, and the State LNP is rocking from one scandal to the next only after a year in office.

Thirdly: The Labor Government’s voice is diluted.

One of the factors stemming from its admittedly odd Greens and Independent alliance is that Labor has had some enormous problems constructing a solid narrative. Every time the government opens its mouth a host of pipsqueaks manage to get equal airtime in order to tear it down. Independents who previously had an audience the size of a telephone booth now have the entire nation’s media clamouring for their valued input. When Rob Oakeshott finds an unattended microphone, for instance, he grips onto it with both hands and nothing short of a South American blowdart with particularly powerful anaesthetic tip is going to make him relinquish it. One expects the opposition to go the full judo chop, but not one’s own supporters (for want of a better word). On the other hand, John Howard could, and did, blather the most extraordinary rubbish and he was at least guaranteed a full set of the usual nodding coalition primates backing him up. The Labor-Greens-Independents alliance might allow legislation to go through but it does fog up the message quite a bit.

Fourthly: The mainstream media is in a mindless feeding frenzy.


Group think is not necessarily even a deliberate action in most cases (apart from the Australian, which is in a horrid class of its own) even News Limited are in the passenger’s seat of the New World Order. The media are living in a total digital world and are facing unprecedented pressures. It’s damn scary for them too. First of all the 24 news cycle. What the hell? Time was once that by 3:00 pm all the journalists in the country headed out to the pub as gazelles to the waterhole. It made the grubby profession of telling tales almost bearable. You submitted your copy to the subeditor waited for your mate to finish concocting the latest horoscope, and out the door you went. While you were drinking your beer events were unfolding that actually made the story you just submitted incorrect or irrelevant. Who cares, the great printing press would churn it out anyway ready for the breakfast tables of the nation. The morning updates on the radio might fill in the blanks. Or possibly, they might just read out a version of your very own stale information? News-copy 12 hours old was still pretty fresh if one didn’t give it too much of a sniff or view it under direct sunlight.

Now, with the Internet and the days of live data streaming we have to redefine the very concept of “old news”. Possibly anything more than 20 minutes is old in some circumstances? One thing for sure, the old days of submitting copy 15 hours before and having your consumers being satisfied with this same “news” is long gone.

The news cycle is a very hungry beast. It never stops eating. So grab your shovel and get to work.

You, yes you, the one with the ears. Now, first get a comment from the minister for whatsit. You got a comment? Good, what did he say? Nothing much, huh? Ok, put it out anyway, we are a bit light on. Now, go get a response from the opposition spokesperson for the same portfolio? He’s on holidays, damn. Alright, start phoning the backbench until you can get a sensible quote. Yes, I am well aware it might take all night. If that fails give Oakeshott a call, but don’t bother recording until he’s 45 minutes into it. Yes, just leave the receiver off the hook, he won’t know. I don’t care, get me something! Anything! As a last resort, take a slab of beer down to the Canberra Press Galley and write down the third word you hear. We’ll fix it up during editing.


How does a political party publish a strong narrative when the “news” is awash with the utterly trivial, the banal or the bizarre? Besides which, the media already have the government’s narrative all cooked and ready to eat – why confuse things? Let’s see, Kevin Rudd is about to step in any second now and take over. Also, carbon tax something or other.

Lastly: Labor is as much to blame as anyone else about its lack of narrative.

Sadly, Labor stopped trying to even have a narrative to tell, and it stopped it a long time ago. First of all, a political party which doesn’t hope to win power by default should get out there and have a real imagination. It should appeal to the heart, and it should believe in itself, particularly when the other side is bogged down in anti-climate change gobbledygook and right-wing ideology. Whitlam didn’t win government by expressing the virtue of correct economic leveraging. He stole government from those with little soul and imagination. Everybody can now argue how good or bad a premier Whitlam was but not even his worst enemies can deny the power of his vision and the Labor narrative he offered to the people.

Labor will probably lose the next election. Labor tried taking on the conservatives by becoming them. One of the reasons Tony Abbott has struggled with Labor is because are they not all that different, when all is said and done. Their Defence and Foreign policies are pretty much identical. Their Immigration policies are largely the same in their hideousness. Their Economic policies differ only in the degree of wonkyness. Either party can keep the gutted Labor Carbon Tax or they can ditch it, where is the real difference? Possibly the NBN is different, but while Labor’s proposed network might be sweet, it is never going to be a clarion call to arms. “We will always be the party to get you your porn faster than the Libs”. The two Education policies are pretty much the same in supporting the private sector at the expense of the public. Woo-Hoo, I’m inspired!

Frankly, if Labor is going to complain about their vision not being sufficiently heard, the first thing they should do is to Girl Up, and bloody get one.