December 30, 2014 | Graham

Looking for a magic bullet

It’s almost unimaginable that Tony Abbott should be in this much polling strife this early in his career, but today’s Australian shows him facing a wipeout in the southern states based on analysis of Newspoll this year.

The previous government was rejected because of its incompetence and dishonesty, but this government has been relatively competent and honest.

Their three big promises were to stop the boats, axe the tax and pay back the debt. They’ve performed on two and would be well on their way to three if the Labor opposition and the minor parties would let them implement their election promises.

Labor doesn’t seem to accept that it lost the last election decisively, and not through any sleight of hand, so it has done everything it can to thwart the government.

This includes the hypocrisy of describing measures they don’t like as broken promises, even when they aren’t, and then effectively breaking promises for the government even though they were clear government commitments in the election campaign.

An example of the first is the government’s decision not to fund Gonski beyond 4 years – a position clear in the election campaign. An example of the second is abolition of the Climate Change Authority – again clear.

So, what has gone wrong?

One answer is that the model for what worked has changed. It used to be thought that balancing budgets, paying down debt and gradually leveraging prosperity, at the same time being fairly socially conservative, a la John Howard, was the recipe for electoral success.

Kevin Rudd certainly thought so, running as John Howard lite. Labor’s subsequent performance would also tend to prove this thesis, neglecting this thesis and delivering resounding defeat.

But perhaps it is not so simple.

Certainly one OLO contributor thought that a more radical socialist (progressivist) model could work, and instanced Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City.

Certainly de Blasio won in a landslide, but as with Rudd, landslides are hard to hold on to. Latest polling shows de Blasio on 49% approval to 36% disapproval, this after winning the election 13 months ago by 72.2%.

de Blasio’s fall from grace is being attributed to his pro-black stance on the recent killings of police officers, and his disapproval is highest amongst white voters. But one would think that probably some of his policies, such as abruptly increasing the minimum wage is having repercussions as it would be putting a lot of stress on business.

While he appears to use a lot of rhetoric in common with Bill Shorten, when voters get to see it up-close they are not so keen. Not only that, but while his rhetoric is egalitarian, he is perceived to represent racial minorities rather than racial majorities. This is alienating the majority.

The truth is that there is no magic bullet, and that politics is more the province of interest than ideology. Ideologies are only tools to justify giving groups what they think they want or need, at least as far as many voters are concered.

The politician that can assemble the largest coalition of interests will win.

So perhaps Abbott’s problems are not with broken promises, imagined or not, or personality, or even so much basic messaging.

Perhaps it is that he hasn’t worked out who he has to appeal to in order to win elections.

Labor certainly has a better idea, although it does this by defining almost everyone as a victim. As de Blasio shows, it is possible to start running out of victims before you get to a majority.

It also means defining a fair proportion of your society as the oppressor, again, not necessarily a vote winning strategy.

Looking at the way votes are sloshing around in Australia it looks to me like the key to Abbott’s success in the next election is the same group that was the key to Howard’s victories – tradesmen, salesmen, retail workers, lower-end white collar workers, agriculturalists, stay at home mums etc all living in the outer suburbs and regional areas.

The non-Greens minor parties tend to be full of these sorts of voters, and some even lodge protest votes via the Greens.

Policies like the baby bonus were targeted squarely at them, and taking them away is bound to alienate them, as is, on the other hand,  paying a disproportionately generous parental leave allowance to wealthy inner suburban dwellers who want time-off from their six figure jobs to have a child.

These people are diminishing in numbers as efficiencies, expanding tertiary education and the compliance industry provide motivation, training and opportunity for their children to move into less onerous white collar positions in the city where the cultures are different.

Which means Abbott probably needs to find a new supplementary constituency to make up the numbers, which I suggest he might actually find amongst the young.

Labor’s failure to balance the books is perhaps the final indignity foisted on younger generations by the boomer generation that has managed Australia to its own benefit over the last 30 years or so.

The boomers expect to enjoy their retirement, paid for by kids now at university.

For these kids their HECS debt will be relatively trivial. It is handling their mum and dad’s government debt that will give them the greatest challenges.

So, before Joe Hockey and his colleagues sit down to work out how they will refashion their budget, they need to first work out who they would like to vote for them.

It might not be pure, but it is how politics works. You only get good policy by appealing to the groups that get a tangible benefit from it. It’s no magic bullet, but it’s basic.




Posted by Graham at 12:01 pm | Comments (20) |

December 09, 2014 | Graham

Reminds me of Medicare Gold

Tony Abbott really is beginning to look terminal. It’s not that he’s doing a bad job, it’s just that he’s doing a good job poorly. It’s not what he is doing it is how he is doing it.

One of the themes the Liberal Opposition ran before the last election was that it was time that adults were put back in charge. That resonated well with the last three governments which were probably the worst the country has ever seen.

And Abbott’s first gambit as an adult was to go strong and silent. It was certainly a contrast with the previous ADHD performances from Labor, but it left a vacuum which they were happy to fill. We didn’t hear from the government, so the Labor Opposition framed them.

Now he is opening his mouth more, and some of us are wishing he would go back to strong and silent as he demonstrates not adult cadences but the tin ear of Julia Gillard.

Take his backdown on the extravagant and silly Parental Leave Scheme. It is long overdue. The scheme was never more than a bribe to upper middle-class female voters who don’t like him. As a result it was far too generous to women earning $150,000 a year who could well afford to take time off to have a baby.

But in what universe does a backdown which includes providing funding for nannies make the situation any better?

The frame that Labor has put around the government is that it is only interested in the top 1% and that it hates the poor.  This is nonsense, but it appears to be sticking.

Images like Joe Hockey and Matthias Corman chomping on stogies provides visual confirmation of this, and if you needed a better verbal companion, what better than the idea that the government should fund nannies?

And if you want to paint the government as deluded and juvenile, what better example than a PM who grandiloquiently compares his polling to problems to those of giants of the last century like Reagan and Thatcher

It all reminds me of Julia Gillard’s proposed changes to Medicare, which she labelled Medicare Gold. It was a backdown on a policy that was meant to win an election, but in reality was a demonstration of how she just didn’t get politics.

Abbott seems to have the same problem. At a certain level he is very competent, but at the level that wins and loses elections, he doesn’t appear to.

Posted by Graham at 7:51 am | Comments (11) |
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December 03, 2014 | Ronda Jambe

Could the banks seize our cash? G20 sold us a pup

Since the Cypriots found that their cash actually belonged to someone else, I have been suspicious of the Australian bank guarantee scheme. This says up to $250,000 per person per institution is secure, without charge.

Do you remember the stunned interviews, just a few years ago, of small business owners and pensioners in Cyprus who found their money taken? But of course, that was just Cyprus, and could never happen to a rich, smart country like Australia. Right?

But given the economic surprises that are raining on our lucky little parade here and elsewhere, one would do well to exercise great caution before putting one’s faith in any government promises. Yes, Mr Abbott, I’m thinking about your slashing of our vital Aunty, after crossing your heart (and probably your fingers) before the election.

What is a promise after all, but a statement at a point in time? Things have moved on, said Mr A.

Our terms of trade have certainly moved on, and we are being served surprises on many fronts.

Today I read on the excellent site that the G20 meeting has agreed to precisely the possibility I headlined above. Here is the title and the link:

New G20 Rules: Cyprus-style Bail-ins to Hit Depositors AND Pensioners

The key point is ‘they rubber-stamped the Financial Stability Board’s “Adequacy of Loss-Absorbing Capacity of Global Systemically Important Banks in Resolution,” which completely changes the rules of banking’.

Such gobbledygook should sound ominous, as it allows the banks to use deposits to pay off derivative bets before honouring deposit holders.

If you dare to connect the dots of the coming storms, both meteorological and economic, you will note that falling commodity prices plus increasing militarism plus swelling populations with no employment prospects plus decreasing food capacity adds up to a no-win situation. But somebody has to pay, and it seems the world’s poor are first in line. The middle class, frugal or otherwise, comes next.

But we were all busy with the fun. Putin was a fair target, but perhaps we should have been shirtfronting our media to get the real story out. Clive Palmer said something similar the other day at the Canberra Press Club. Are we the real mugs?

I recommend to you again Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs Climate, and what I see as a companion book: Christian Parenti’s Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.

Not one to leave you feeling down, I offer you flowers and fruit from my garden, (and a not so subtle reference to a wonderful Matisse collage) My best crop of cherries so far.



Posted by Ronda Jambe at 10:57 am | Comments (26) |
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