May 07, 2008 | Graham

Nervous Nelson at the Brisbane Club

Laser pointers may be endangering more things than aeroplanes landing at Australia’s airports. Brendan Nelson might be another casualty with a jittery laser pointer in his hands showing just how nervous he was when addressing the Brisbane Club yesterday. This, coupled to the fact he uncharacteristically read the speech, apart from the parts so well-rehearsed that he appeared to recite them from heart, and a decision not to take questions at the end, indicate that he knows this budget will make, or break, him, and he’s desperately worried it’s the latter.
I found his speech interesting, but ultimately uncompelling from a political and intellectual point of view.
The public doesn’t want to see programs cut, so Nelson needs to find intellectually respectable reasons for agreeing with them. Not that the public will mind if he doesn’t, but the commentariat, who control his gateway to the public will. Neither Nelson, nor his Treasurer, have quite found the words to keep both constituencies happy.
I suspect that they are to be found in some variation on the theme that cutting government expenditure right now would be fighting the last battle. That rising food and fuel costs, coupled to the interest rate rises we have just had, and the credit rationing that is taking place as a result of the sub-prime crisis, mean that tomorrow’s inflation rate will be very much lower than yesterday’s.
In other words, Kevin Rudd’s government is a government of the past, whose only plan was how to get into government, not what to do once it was there.
The line that this is not a crisis opens him up to the scorn that Wayne Swan heaped on him this afternoon. Swan is another politician for whom this budget is make or break.
There are also other risks for him in the speech that he gave to the Brisbane Club. One is the perception that under the Liberals Work Choices would be BACK. Last time Australia was in similar economic circumstances was in the 1970s when inflation, partly caused by high petrol and money prices, was compounded by a wages break-out worse than anywhere else in the world. Nelson relives those days in his speeches at his peril. A wages break-out is one of the threats that we face courtesy of Labor’s ditching of sensible labour reform, but Nelson can’t say that. If there’s one thing blue-collar conservatives fear more than prices going up, it is losing their job or facing a pay cut.
Another problem in Nelson’s speech was his reliance on a graph going back to the 1950s relating terms of trade to inflation. The economic smarties will have a field day with that. It’s not immediately obvious how the prices we are paid for our exports directly relates to the CPI, and 1957 isn’t just another country, it’s almost a parallel universe as far as the economy is concerned. At that time we had a fixed dollar exchange rate and a heavily protected and much more regulated and centrally controlled economy. One can only think that the chart was chosen because it was the only indicator Nelson’s advisors could find which showed the Howard government’s inflation performance in a benign light.
If questions had been allowed I would have asked Doctor Nelson whether he ever regrets not losing the leadership battle to Malcolm Turnbull. I’m sure he would have had a form of words, but with the weight of a slight 9 percent approval rating obviously weighing heavily on him, who knows what he might have said?
Which is part of his problem at the moment. Whatever the question and whatever the issue, with Labor riding this high, there probably isn’t a right answer to any question, which would make anyone nervous.

Posted by Graham at 12:13 am | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Nice post Graham, and a nice piece of citizen journalism from a forum that no one in the MSM appears to have attended or reported on. I’d suggest that if Nelson can’t convince the Brisbane Club audience, he’s going to have endless trouble with the broader electorate.

    Comment by Jason — May 7, 2008 @ 8:38 am

  2. Thanks Jason. Actually the MSM were there. Dennis Atkins wrote this piece,23739,23656355-953,00.html, and I saw him in the distance.
    The Australian had the text,25197,23040467-024,00,00.html. The ABC, SMH and Age also reported on it. There were a couple of cameras there as well as at least one radio mike.
    But I didn’t recognise any economics correspodents, which was surprising. Maybe they were happy with the transcript.
    And you’re right. Not to take questions from a crowd likely to be as friendly as the Brisbane Club crowd was a little odd.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 7, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  3. I was listening today to an interview between Philip Clarke and Malcolm Turnbull today.Malcom has a calm and measured intellect.He had a logical answer for everyone of Philip’s questions,and did not try to sidestep any issues.
    There was no spin or any attempt to deflect blame as Wayne Swan constantly alludes to,in trying to blame the present inflation on the Howard Govt.
    So John Howard made OPEC put up the price of crude,and also invited Wollies and Westfarmers to do likewise.
    Brendan was just the pause for the Libs to find a new leader.
    There will soon come a point when Labor will have to stop the blame game and assume some responsibility.
    As Malcolm alluded to today,businesses in their panic during tough times often cut productive systems and are blind to waste.
    Wayne Swan wants to means test the baby bonus,yet how many rich people will actually be attracted to the notion of a once off $4000.00 payment.The cost of the bureaucracy in policing compliance will far outweigh any savings.
    This is where Kevin & Wayne just don’t get it.More bureaucracy and feel good 2020 summits,don’t surpass courageous decisions,based on common sense and good judgement.

    Comment by Arjay — May 8, 2008 @ 1:31 am

  4. Oops – I stand corrected. Apologies to the gentlemen of the press who were there.

    Comment by Jason — May 8, 2008 @ 8:43 am

  5. They were there, but I think they missed a lot.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 8, 2008 @ 9:38 am

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