Category Archives: Politics & Government

Climate Change Authority review

In late February the Climate Change Authority published a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review.

The full draft report (all 265 pages) is downloadable from the first link above. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all of it. Clive Hamilton at The Conversation has written an excellent overview. Continue reading Climate Change Authority review

The Qld Government’s People’s Budget Planner

I have just completed and submitted my views re what should be done about the Qld budget in the People’s Budget Planner.
The planner allows you to play with various ways of reducing the state budget using a mix of various tax increases, service cuts and asset sales alternatives.   If you get below the debt budget target it also allows you to spend the interest savings amongst a range of spending alternatives.
The government obviously hopes that playing with the budget planner will encourage people to support asset sales as a better way to bring the budget back to a sustainable level compared with cutting services or, shock horror, tax increases.
The planner does have some serious limitations.  For example, what you get when you click on more details is fairly skimpy.  For example, in the case of selling the ports business there is no indication of how much revenue will be lost and/or what effect this will have on costs to port users.  The details are a slightly extended explanation, what the sale will yield and a few examples of where this has already been done in Australia.
When it came to spending the interest saving there was nothing to give a feel for how much was already being spent in an area.  For example, if you allocated 10% of the total interest saving to improving bike infrastructure you may have been choosing a doubling of the existing budget or something that was barely worth the effort.
Despite its limitations, the planner is useful for helping people understand some of the budget choices and as a mechanism for allowing people to state their preferences.
The interesting thing from my point of view was that the planner showed that the budget could be balanced by simply increasing a range of taxes and charges while doing nothing else.   The planner is worth filling in and submitting if, like me, you think that taxes should be set at levels that allow governments to do their job properly. 

What Business Spectator thinks of our refugee policy

On Maundy Thursday, the Business Spectator lead story was this telling article on the Rudd/Abbott refugee policy by Rob Burgess.  The article starts with:

As many Australians prepare for a holiday marking the most important Christian festival of year, it’s worth remembering that Jesus of Nazareth began life as a refugee, taken to Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of male infants.  

The refugee family eventually went home, so there was no need to transfer the infant to an offshore detention facility – I mean, who’d even think of doing that?”

 And ends with:

While the nation spends a long weekend celebrating the life of the world’s most famous refugee, political leaders might take time to sniff the wind again and realise we’re standing out in our region for all the wrong reasons.

As Fraser sums it up: “Whatever else our refugee policy is, it isn’t Christian.”

In the middle there was a well argued article with useful supporting data that included:

“In years to come, people will look back at the Abbott Government’s practice of locking innocent children up on remote Pacific islands and shake their heads with disbelief,” said Hanson-Young on Wednesday.

It may not take years. Other nations, including key trading partners, are already shaking their heads at Australia’s offshore processing regime…….

” At this year’s human rights dialogue between China and Australia, vice-minister of foreign affairs Li Baodong said China had concerns “especially on the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, the right of the children of refugees in education and other rights … We have also asked about whether these refugees will be illegally repatriated to other countries….”

While the Greens have long used moral arguments to condemn Labor’s and the Coalition’s policy, economic and strategic concerns give added weight to opprobrium from our trading partners.

Recent history shows how quickly a latent dislike of Australia can become manifest – the fury on the streets of Indonesia during the recent phone-tapping scandal was fed by negative stereotypes of Australians that stretch back through the 20th century.

Not only are we remembered as the lucky country that ran the white Australia policy, but our political leaders of the past have (often unfairly) been seen as colonialists seeking to impose a Western order on peoples who, from their own domestic perspective, were throwing off the shackles of a colonial past.

Whatever the roots of our negative image within the region, Australia’s national interest lies in the paring away of stereotypes, not augmenting them with stories of babies flown to Pacific Island prisons.”

Think about how those who used to be excluded by the White Australia policy must see us now:  Here is a country getting all agitated about 18,111 protection visa applications from boat people in 2012/13 despite having a strong economy and an estimated 2013 net immigration of 234,000.  A country that claims to be all about a fair go but thinks its OK to send refugee children to concentration camps in breach of a refugee convention that Australia signed.  A country where both Abbott and Rudd are very public, white Christians being nasty to refugees who mostly aren’t Christian and who would have been blocked from entry under the white Australia policy.

Having an Attorney general who has stated that it is “OK to be a bigot” doesn’t help either.

Progress is being made whenever an important, Murdoch owned business blog is saying, in effect, that our refugee policy is not only non-Christian but also bad for business and our relationship with our neighbours.

Enjoy your Easter.

Appendix:  Refugee Council of Australia’s data on Australia’s refugee performance compared with the 10 best countries:

Graph for Australian self-interest through Asian eyes

Ending the age of entitlement


“there are no cuts to health, no cuts to education, pensions don’t change…”

That was Tony Abbott at the National Press Club just days before the last election, as reported by Peter Martin.

JOE TO SLASH AGED CASH

was the headline of Samantha Maiden’s Murdoch paper report in the Courier Mail on Sunday.

Budget pain to hit all: Hockey

That was the headline of Laura Tingle’s front page article in the AFR on Monday.

Treasurer Joe Hockey says no group will be safe from cuts in the May budget, as he braces voters for potential changes to the age pension and tighter asset tests.

Large numbers are cascading everywhere. Maiden’s article tells us that 94% of Australians over 70 qualify for either a pensioner concession card or a seniors health care card. Some 78% of the cost of scripts claimed under the PBS is going to concession card holders. Half of the $40 billion age pension bill goes to households with assets of more than $500,000. The $40 billion bill could rise to $70 billion over the next decade.

Labor increased the aged pension from 65 to 67 but that is to be phased in by 2023. The LNP are considering lifting the eligibility age to 70.

Another option is to include the family home in the assets test if it is worth more than $1 million.

Moreover, Hockey reckons the age pension indexation needs to be sustainable. Labor increased the rate and indexed it to average male earnings, which escalate faster than the CPI. Hockey appears to favour a return to the CPI.

Cutting the ‘seniors supplement’ (I get $500 taken off my tax because I’m old) has also been mentioned.

Justin Greber quotes the savings (paywalled) calculated by Stephen Anthony of Macroeconomics. Anthony reckons we need to cut the budget by about 1% of GDP or $16 billion. Overall he says:

the primary focus for the government should be in stemming middle- and upper-class welfare, with the most obvious savings in the aged and family benefits, drugs, industry assistance and removing overlaps between different levels of government.

As to the oldies, he says changing the indexation back to the CPI will save $900 million. Including the family home in the assets test will save $1.1 billion, while cutting the seniors supplement would garner a further $500 million. Peter Martin identifies a further $1.5 billion in carbon price compensation, so in all about $4 billion could be screwed out of the oldies.

Peter Martin also points out that the aged pension has increased by 25% since the indexation changed four and a half years ago, compared to the CPI of 13%.

There’s little doubt that rich old men could contribute a little more.

For context we need to note that the Australian budget is approaching $400 billion.

As a disclosure I’m modestly self-funded with no superannuation. I’d appreciate help with pharmaceuticals but get none other than the normal PBS. In this post I’m not arguing the merits or otherwise of any of the proposed changes. I do think, however, that we could consider paying a bit more tax.

Yet Peter Martin argues that tax increases are already included in the forward estimates because they don’t compensate for bracket creep. The CPI and bracket creep could make our incomes virtually flatline in real terms. He favours increasing the GST.

New Zealand increased the GST in two phases from 10 to 15% without stalling the economy or undue public concern. John Hewson says we are the champions in the OECD in tax concessions, including notoriously concessions to rich retirees and the fossil fuel industry. There are plenty of options available and Anthony stresses the problems are in the out years, not the next budget or two. There should be time for debate.

The Commission of Audit report is said to be available shortly as is a review of the welfare system.

My main worry in all this is that the poor and the vulnerable are going to be hit as well when there really is no need. Also there are sectors where we need to increase spending, such as skills, education including universities, research, innovation and smart industry development. Did everyone see the 4 Corners program on the hollowing out of sophisticated manufacture with the demise of the car industry? That at a time when the CSIRO prepares to cut another 300 jobs.

Meanwhile the Fairfax poll is now 48/52 in favour of Labor. There are some problems for Abbott in the regions, perhaps over foreign investment and trade policies. However, the Labor TPP surge is largely courtesy of a stunning increase in the Greens vote. 26% of 18-24 year-olds now favour the Greens. From 16-39 the LNP vote is lower than Labor, while within the margin for error. It’s the oldies that are keeping Abbott afloat. They don’t always vote in their own interest.

You can use this post as an open thread on politics.

Work categories and voting patterns

Roy Morgan have done some interesting research on voting patterns according to how we earn our living. This table shows the work categories most likely to vote for the three major parties:

Roy Morgan_4971_600

To me there is a vague shape of a class analysis, with workers voting Labor and bosses voting Liberal, but one has to be careful about the actual numbers. If Labor gets a first preference vote in the low 30s there is plenty of scope for workers to vote Liberal.

There is interesting detail in the accompanying text. Primary school teachers are split down the middle. With the Greens we have to remember that the vote is low. While social workers are the profession most likely to vote Green only 33% of them do so. I would be interested in how many vote Liberal.

It’s now well known that Green voters earn more on average than other voters. Clearly they have spent more years in education.

I’m wondering what you make of it all.

From hero to zero politically: Campbell Newman shows how

Doctors_1800187_670334396358324_809804344_n-250All during the 2013 election campaign Kevin Rudd warned voters that Abbott would “Cut, cut and cut to the bone” just as Campbell Newman had done in Queensland. Commentators have remarked on Abbott’s lack of a honeymoon period. Campbell Newman certainly had one, but has now spectacularly squandered his political capital in various ways.

Dominating headlines for weeks on end the doctors’ dispute seems to have become something of a tipping point. Mark at his new blog The New Social Democrat has published an excellent link-filled post Newman v the doctors: a political fight that is poisoning the LNP, originally published at Crikey.

Mark sees the changes proposed in doctors’ conditions as carrying a broader warning for Australian health policy:

The contracts, read in conjunction with changes to the Industrial Relations Act, deny salaried doctors unfair dismissal protections, control over work location and timing of shifts, and require doctors to take direction on appropriate medical care from hospital and health service administrators.

The suggestion is that, having failed to find private operators for public hospitals that could actually provide cheaper services, the government’s agenda is to substitute bureaucratic cost controls for clinical judgement. That’s something the federal policy shifts towards paying hospitals for the “efficient price” of a procedure encourages. (Emphasis added)

The ground is shifting politically:

None of this is a good look for a government that recently lost the Redcliffe byelection to Labor with a massive swing. Polling conducted by ReachTEL for the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation in Ashgrove (the Premier’s seat), Cairns, Ipswich West and Mundingburra shows massive public opposition and significant impacts on the LNP’s vote. Newman would easily lose his seat to the ALP on these numbers, and it could be reasonably inferred that the LNP’s majority would be in danger.

Readers may recall that in 2012 Anna Bligh spectacularly crashed and burned, losing 44 of 51 seats to be left with seven in an 89-member parliament. With a walloping majority “Can do” Campbell may do the impossible and become a one-term government. A tweet from Possum Commitatus quotes a ReachTEL poll which says that if an election were held now the LNP would lose 36 seats and government.

Newman has looked gone in his own seat for some time. If people think he’s not OK as leader let them ponder the alternatives!

Elsewhere Kiwi doctors stand in solidarity with their Qld colleagues and are being advised to stay well away.

The electorate is volatile. Abbott be warned!

WA Senate election result

Now to work!

You can follow the WA senate election results at the AEC tally room or I think preferably at the ABC. There is seat by seat counting at Antony Green’s Election Blog.

Poll Bludger is here.

At time of writing (just after midnight EST) it seems that about 25% of the vote has been counted. It’s looking like two seats for the Liberals, one for Labor, one for the Greens, one for the Palmer United Party and the final seat a tussle between Liberal and Labor, with Liberals the more likely.

I’m not sure exactly what this means for the final balance of power in the Senate, but I think it means that Abbott will have a choice of coming to terms with Labor and the Greens, or assembling a combination of “others” which must include PUP. If anyone knows, please share.

It looks as though Scott Ludlam will be elected comfortably, which is good to see.

Update: This morning Antony Green has Labor slightly ahead for the last seat with just over half the vote counted.

For Senate composition go here.

So for the LNP it’s a choice between needing 6/8 extras or 7/8. See also my comment here.

If a tree falls in the forest…

…does anybody hear?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past few days you will have heard/seen Joe Hockey say that the budget is in terrible shape and he’ll have to clean up Labor’s mess. You see it’s all Labor’s fault.

Chris Bowen has been saying that $20 billion of the $17 billion budget deterioration since Labor’s pre-election statement is due to Hockey’s own decisions, that Hockey is setting us up for swingeing cuts in the budget in May next year.

I think the $20 billion is across the forward estimates (four years) and the $17 billion is just this year – it’s confusing.

Anyway, the AFR provided this helpful graph, which was sourced from Treasury, but I can’t find there:

951e60a8-66d4-11e3-b959-55a7b594860c_MidYear-onlineV3_cropped_580

Laura Tingle says the budget has been mugged by the deteriorating economy as well as alarming spending blowouts. There is a need, she says, not to “crunch a soft economy facing a continuing decline in national income, yet in the medium term there is a need to profoundly re-engineer the budget – and voters’ expectations.”

Yet there is so far a complete lack of what she calls “fiscal rules” to measure Hockey’s performance. There are no yardsticks or performance indicators. The future is completely open. We await the National Commission of Audit and the Government response with some trepidation.

Bruce Cockburn’s song If a tree falls sees vast swathes of forest felled. Yet single trees falling also go unnoticed. What’s happened in Queensland in the last couple of years foreshadows what we can expect. Ben Eltham’s report on the massive cuts to small and medium arts organisations in Queensland, for example, warns of worrying reverberations through the entire national arts sector. Cuts of that kind may not impinge directly on my experience, but I feel the life blood is being sucked out of the place. Yet the Newman government are now telling us how worthwhile the whole exercise has been. They are very proud of themselves. Continue reading If a tree falls in the forest…

Analysing the polls

Dr Kevin Bonham has a post Abbott Fastest Ever To Lose Poll Lead with this helpful advance summary:

  • 1. Following the recent Newspoll, the new Abbott Government has lost the two-party preferred polling lead.
  • 2. This does not necessarily mean the government would lose an election if one was held now.
  • 3. The Abbott Government has lost the 2PP polling lead much faster than any other new government elected from Opposition in federal polling history.
  • 4. Tony Abbott has also recorded negative personal ratings much faster than any new PM elected from Opposition in federal polling history.
  • 5. While polling taken at this stage has very little if any predictive value, governments that have lost the lead very early in their terms have a historically greater risk of defeat at the next election.
  • 6. Bill Shorten’s polling as Opposition Leader appears good, but is nothing unusual by the standards of other Opposition Leaders at the same stages of their careers.
  • 7. Furthermore the strength or otherwise of an Opposition Leader’s personal polling after only two months in the job has no relationship with their success at later elections.

I’ll leave you to read the rest. Continue reading Analysing the polls

The General goes

holden21_275Abbott, Hockey et al would have you believe that GM have made a decision to cease manufacturing in Australia. Kim Carr and Jay Weatherall have been saying that GM were willing to continue and had specified exactly what was required. My recall is that Weatherall said they wanted the Government to chip in $130 million. Carr told Waleed Aly that the price was significantly less than $150 million. Carr said further that the hectoring and bullying by Hockey, Abbott and others clearly let GM know they were not wanted.

I think Carr is right. The Government wanted to make the decision look as though it was made by GM alone and to a degree they have succeeded.

Tim Colebatch, in a column written before the decision was announced (sadly, his last) was clear that the decision was made by Abbott. He thinks it could precipitate a recession. And:

car programs cost $400 million a year, nothing like the $3 billion a year for diesel fuel rebates to mining companies, or the $5 billion to subsidise negative gearing. The budgetary cost of losing this industry will dwarf the cost of keeping it.

Continue reading The General goes

Keating the maddie

Politicians come in three types – straight men, fixers and maddies. … I am certainly a maddie!

That or something like it was the grab used on radio to promote the final episode of the Keating interviews with Kerry O’Brien.

Keating_1346_1_keat_90

I was left wishing for more. I’d be interested in what he has to say about anything, but his comments on Labor since his time would have been especially interesting – even on Gillard/Rudd!

Laying the groundwork for the annual APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting will be an enduring achievement.

We were left with a haunting glimpse into the personal cost to Keating’s family life.

The earlier post is here.

I can still remember the fateful day on 2 March, 1996. I was mowing a lawn in Milton. There was daylight saving and by 5.20pm our time it was clear that an era had ended. Labor retained only 49 seats though the 2PP ended up 46.37/53.63. This time it was 46.51/53.49. The furniture disappears very quickly when you get into that zone!

Christopher’s Crisis

Pyne_vd-gonski-gone-pyne-275Christopher Pyne said he was expecting a warm reception from education ministers yesterday. Seems it was heated to the point of being downright explosive. According to The World Today, Tasmanian Education Minister, the Greens Nick McKim, says Mr Pyne had thrown a stick of dynamite into the discussions.

(Image via SMH.)

He also spoke of a “bombshell revelation that will rock the public education system to the core”.

Other ministers were similarly unimpressed. According to the AFR:

“All in all ministers are very disappointed,” Coalition NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, who chaired the ministerial meeting, said.

McKim again:

“Here’s a unity ticket for you right here – a Labor minister, a Greens minister, National ministers, Liberal Party ministers, sticking up and unified behind Australian schools and behind funding certainty for Australian schools”

Pyne said “no-one should assume they will get less money”. Seems the government school sectors in the states that signed up to Gonski deals with Labor are expecting exactly that. Pyne seems to be strongly implying that if extra funds are needed for the states that didn’t sign up or for other aspects of his new scheme then it will come from the government school sectors of those states that did sign up.

Adrian Piccoli, the NSW minister, points out that this means that everything that is done in schools in 2014 will have to be done on the assumption that it may not flow through to 2015. McKim says we have “Christopher’s Crisis” rather than a “Shorten Shambles”.

Barrie Cassidy says that the Government assumed that it has a store of goodwill. He warns that it doesn’t.

Geoff Kitney in the AFR asks What is going on with the Abbott government? Continue reading Christopher’s Crisis