Political posturing and policy paralysis


Craig Emerson thinks we are getting political posturing and policy paralysis in parliament right now, and that’s what we’ll continue to get in the 45th parliament unless attitudes and strategies change.

Emerson suggests that Malcolm Turnbull will be facing two oppositions in parliament, one across the aisle and one within (make that many):

    The more Mr Turnbull tries to appease the masters of hyper-partisanship in the Coalition’s extreme right by pursuing their lunar agenda and by slagging off at Labor and progressives in the broader community, the less productive will be the 45th parliament and his own prime ministership.

    If the prime minister is to avoid that miserable fate, he needs first to get over the circumstances of the close election result. Scare campaigns are unethical, he protests. But Mr Turnbull’s real gripe is that his own scare campaign about “Labor’s housing tax” crashing house prices didn’t work while Labor’s campaign on Medicare privatisation did.

Both Shorten and Turnbull need to show statesmanship, but the initiative really lies with Turnbull if the tone is to be changed.

Emerson says that if Turnbull’s budget team sat down with Shorten’s talented economic team – Chris Bowen, Jim Chalmers and Andrew Leigh – there may be surprising results.

As the matter stands Turnbull announced that they would table $6.5 billion worth of cuts which Labor included in its election costings and demanded that Labor support them sight unseen. Labor would never do that, nor should they, until the formal document is on the table.

Now that it’s there Labor says the detail doesn’t line up, the Government says it does. Here I’m going on what Tony Bourke and Christopher Pyne said on radio, neither of whom have budget responsibilities. But that’s what we’ve got – shouting across the gulf that divides to score political points.

Turnbull has raised the rhetoric, calling budget repair a “moral challenge”. His strategy seems to be to try to smoodge the crossbench in the Senate. However, he needs 9 out of 11, which means he’ll need both Xenophon and One Nation, who will want to do deals. I think he’ll soon get sick of that.

Last year business, trade unions and civil society groups came together in a National Reform Summit, organised by Emerson and others, in search of common policy ground. He says the statement released at last August showed the found plenty of it. But after a promising start under Turnbull’s prime ministership, the summit statement has been ignored in the lead-up to the election and since.

Emerson says some of the main players seem ready to fight another round. Last time they worked on productivity growth, workforce participation, fiscal policy, tax reform and retirement incomes policy, to which other items to be added now include infrastructure investment, the future of work and the alleviation of social disadvantage.

There’s plenty of work to do.

Meanwhile Ross Gittins thinks we worry too much about debt. He quotes Malcolm Turnbull tugging on the heartstrings of nice people everywhere:

    “We sing Advance Australia Fair,” he said, “but there’s nothing more unfair than saddling our children and our grandchildren with mountains of debt that we have created because our generation could not live within its means.

    “If we aren’t prepared to make the tough choices today – younger Australians, future generations, will be forced to pay back the debt through a combination of higher taxes and a lower quantity or diminished quality of government services. In short, through lower living standards than they would otherwise have enjoyed.”

    Sorry, but that’s not true. It’s roughly the opposite of the truth. And I don’t believe someone as smart as Turnbull actually believes it.

He says that according to the federal budget papers, the underlying cash deficit is expected to be $37 billion this financial year, roughly what we’ll spend on infrastructure.

The current game-playing includes a bunch of twenty senators want to change the Racial Discrimination Act. Specifically they want to be allowed to “insult” and “offend” people racially, using “sarcasm” and “tone”. Those last two, along with getting the facts wrong, is what brought Andrew Bolt undone in the courts. Otherwise, under the exemptions available as a journalist he could have gotten away with what he did.

Ewan Jones, a Liberal who lost his seat is not impressed. He told Tony Abbott, when it was raised in the last parliament, that Abbott needed to think of Ken Wyatt crossing the floor, with “all us white guys on one side and Ken sitting on the other.”


    Jones blasted his colleagues for launching an identity politics frolic when the government needed all MPs to knuckle down on the government’s policy agenda.

    “How many of these men from my party had their seats in jeopardy during the election? This is what gives me the shits,” Jones said.

Apparently the women are invisible.

Note: The image at the head of the post is from an article by Guy Rundle at Crikey (paywalled) entitled The end of two party politics, inspired by what happened in the Northern Territory, Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.

It’s complex, but I think he’s saying that a genuinely new politics will not emerge in Australia until we suffer the real pain of a recession.

21 thoughts on “Political posturing and policy paralysis”

  1. Turnbull seems to be determined to try and score points by trying to push Labor and other players into corners where he will try and blame his failures on them. All this will do is keep the voters restless. Problem for him is he seems to be a lousy attack dog.
    In terms of “budget repair” now is not the time for it.
    What is really needed is enough money printing. Under normal conditions this is considered risky because it tends to drive down the value of the currency and increase inflation. However, right now, our real problems include a currency that is valued to highly and low inflation.

  2. 1. I can’t see an “aisle” in the House of Reps.

    2. Posturing and antics make it onto the news. Politicians know this. Looking at you, Nick Xenophon. Looking at you, Bill Shorten, Tony A, Pauline, Jacquie, Derryn, ….. Plenty of blame to share around.

    3. So, “what is to be done?”

  3. There was a bit of cognitive dissonance in my head when I wrote “aisle”, but I thought I picked it up from an article. Possibly not. My bad.

    What’s to be done?

    I think it’s up to Turnbull to set the tone. He did this for the election when he ranted about “smashing” house prices.

    John D, you are probably right about time to repair the budget. The government is edging towards admitting there is a revenue problem, but won’t adopt Labor’s ideas on this score, simply because they come from Labor. Meanwhile

    cutting the dole – which is a princely $38 a day – and other welfare payments by $4.40 a week, while agreeing to tax cuts of $6 a week for people earning more than $87,000 a year.

    is not the way to go.

  4. 3. So, “what is to be done?”

    Well the deficit is $37 Bill, so confiscate the entire wealth of Australias top 3, do nothing, scum. That takes care of this year.
    Next years $37 Bill will need the next 7 Scum.
    Year after, next 25, then about 45, then ( getting thiner ) about 100. etc………
    Our Debt however remains steady at around $465 Bill, so the repayments would require confiscating another $12 Bill worth of scum wealth each year also.

    I’m sure they will stick around and wait their turn and not leave.

    Or, we could reduce spending by $ 37 Bill, keep it there, and it’s sorted.

  5. However, right now, our real problems include a currency that is valued to highly

    Um, so you want items imported to be more expensive to buy.

    and low inflation.

    And you want a Dollar earned yesterday to be worth less that it should be tomorrow.

    Can’t say that’s the answer to our Nations working poor living affordability issues.

  6. Jumpy:

    Um, so you want items imported to be more expensive to buy.

    and low inflation.

    And you want a Dollar earned yesterday to be worth less that it should be tomorrow.

    Glen Stevens said that the high $ value and low inflation were the big economic problems just before he retired.
    We need a lower dollar to help our businesses compete in the global economy. (It is OK for people like you who don’t have to compete against imports.)
    Low inflation indicates that the real purchasing power of customers for Australian goods and services is not growing which makes it harder to justify Australian capital expenditure.

  7. Jumpy, I’m not an economist, but I thought Ross Gittins views, as one of the more respected specialists in this area, were interesting.

    Both major parties had virtually identical plans of bring the budget into surplus in four years. You might recall this graph:

    Labor costings_1466928868150_600

    Labor had the stronger long term vision, with, I think, quite resposible revenue plans, fleecing those who could afford it. Of course there were some problems in the basic assumptions, which will now no doubt reveal themselves.

  8. John

    Low inflation indicates that the real purchasing power of customers for Australian goods and services is not growing which makes it harder to justify Australian capital expenditure.

    So you envy these Countries ?


    I think the likelihood of a surplus happening inside 10 years is vanishingly small. Even smaller are the chances that any surplus will be as much as $12Bill ( enough to service the Debt repayments ). In the event that this miracle occurs then anything over and above $12Bill being used to lower the Total Debt, and not spent on growing “needs”, is none. So the burden remains static or gets worse, never less.

  9. We’ll have to wait and see. I’d like Gittins to say more about how he sees debt servicing.

    Germany struck me as being a civilised place, so I thought I’d check them out.

    They have much more debt than we do, but it seems to be on a virtuous path!

    They have a much more civilised age pension system, I think about 70 to 75% of finishing salary, and free university for everyone since last year, even foreigners!

    Of course they pay more taxes than we do.

  10. I thought you might find that one for me, Jumpy.

    Here’s another list, I think the biggest economies and then in order of the size of debt to GDP, biggest first.

    I was thinking that companies listed on the stock exchange usually have between 30 and 60% debt to market capitalisation, which is often about the same as one year’s revenue. We’ve just entered that zone.

    I’d worry if our debt got beyond 70% of GDP. In that sense the US and the EU are well and truly loaded, and Japan is extraordinary.

    I’m not uncomfortable with the budget being brought back into balance in four years, but not through cutting to the bone. It needs to be sustainable, and provide a decent level of services. We certainly aren’t going to get that from the present government.

  11. Brian
    Nations can’t deduct debt repayments like a Company so your point is moot. If it were, most Nations would get a cheque in the mail.
    Inflation robs hard earned savings. 10% or 1% is still negative if its engineered by non market forces.

    Find some real arguments.

    Making you feel comfortable is not high on my list of things to do so nonsense, all be it rare from you, like that is unlikely but not unexpected.

  12. I notice Brian in your link some stunningly debt averse islamic Countries down the bottom. Real close to the conflicts over there. Any idea of the ” refugees ” they’re taking in ?
    My mail says bugger all.

  13. Jumpy, Jordan has 89% debt, and has heaps of refugees. Pakistan has 64% debt and considerable refugees. Turkey has low debt at 32% and probably has the most refugees right now.

    I can’t see any point in relating these things.

    Nations can’t deduct debt repayments like a Company so your point is moot.

    I’m mainly pointing out that we are inside the norm, but on the low side, so it’s not time to panic. Your ‘no debt’ dreaming is an extreme position.

    Costello/Howard nuked debt and neglected infrastructure. That was corrected to a large degree by Labor.

    As an example, it was almost impossible to travel between Ipswich and Brisbane by road. People of your ilk trying to get to work in new housing developments in the area would have spent a lot of time listening to the radio in their vehicles.

    Fixed now, courtesy of Mr Swan.

  14. Your ‘no debt’ dreaming is an extreme position.

    Maybe in your ” circles ” Brian, not mine.
    And if the Ipswich to Brisbane is not the National Highway, it’s none of the Federal Governments business, it lays at the feet of Beattie/Bligh.
    Swan was a blithering imbecile that purchased votes with borrowed money that will, in all likelihood, never be payed off.

  15. If Howard ( the dill ) had handed Costello the Leadership in 06, we can safely say we’d be in a better position today. No doubt.

  16. Jumpy, in the real world it doesn’t matter how the road is classified, Queensland would never have the money unless the whole tax system was reorganised with greater tax powers returned to the state. No doubt you would support that, but again you’d be dreaming.

  17. If returning income tax to the States, as originally constitutional, we would see much less of this wasteful overlap and accountability where it belongs. But the Left and media ( same ) poo pooed that idea.
    As for ” dreaming “, so many reforms have been dreams and not doable, but some happen if committed folk have the will and others are honest enough to not block them.

  18. Jumpy, I can’t see the Right yearning for the decentralisation of power.

    Yes, we need to dream. Val, I think said recently we need to imagine a different future, and I’m on board with that. My dreaming would be to have two levels of government, but it won’t happen in my lifetime.

  19. Don’t be so sure, Brian. Some of us thought the Berlin Wall was likely permanent.

    On stunts: Senator Lambie has been quoted in another place, comparing Senator Bernardi with a hypocritical prostitute. That was choice.

    But when you look at the replay, she’s reading the whole thing, and stumbling over it. Author?


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