return to letters list

Today’s Newspoll has completely baffled me: I had thought Labor’s primary vote would fall. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Opposition, and Abbott in particular, have failed by not putting forward alternative policies of some kind. To an extent Abbott has acknowledged this with his excellent article in today’s AFR, although this still seems a bit too general as to what the Coalition would do.

Last week my Quadrant Online article (now published in an international newsletter) suggested an alternative on climate change and something along those lines would be timely given rumours that the Coalition supports an attempt to negotiate emission reductions through a new Kyoto and that an international meeting to consider this is imminent. It would also help provide perspective on the latest nonsense on weather extremes being promulgated by the Climate Institute.

There is some comparison between Abbott’s position and that of Baillieu’s. Andrew Bolt rightly characterises the drop in Baillieu’s polling as reflecting a Premier “without a message”.

Meanwhile, what I characterise as Gillard’s “announcements/overseas visitors strategy” continues with the so-called Asian White Paper. As he so often does, Greg Sheridan has hit the nail on the head by describing that as “a fraud. On every level it is a con job”.

But even this Gillard strategy has not stopped more on the slush fund, where The Age has unearthed another challenge to Gillard’s description of her involvement. There are likely more to come – both announcements and challengers!

Des Moore

ALP vote rises after war on misogyny: Newspoll

Dennis Shanahan, Political editor, The Australian, October 29, 2012

The Australian's latest Newspoll shows Labor has made crucial gains over the last few weeks.

AFTER three weeks of hectic politicking dominated by a "gender war", the Gillard government has picked up voter support at the expense of the Coalition, putting the main parties dead even on a two-party-preferred basis.

Despite the personal nature of the head-to-head contest between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott over claims of sexism and misogyny, there has been little change for the personal support of the two leaders.

According to the latest Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian over the weekend, Labor's primary vote rose from 33 per cent to 36 per cent over the past three weeks, while the Coalition's support fell from 45 per cent to 41 per cent. The Greens remained unchanged on 10 per cent.

Based on preference flows at the last election, Labor and the Coalition are locked at 50-50.

While Labor made gains in the latest poll, which is seen as crucial for the Prime Minister's leadership going into the final two sitting weeks of parliament, satisfaction with Ms Gillard has remained virtually unchanged, falling from 36 per cent three weeks ago to 35 per cent on the weekend.

The Opposition Leader's personal support dropped from 33 per cent to 30 per cent and dissatisfaction rose three points to 58 per cent. Both leaders are essentially back to where they were halfway through last month.

Ms Gillard maintained her lead over Mr Abbott as the preferred prime minister after both leaders' support rose slightly, with Ms Gillard's up from 43 per cent to 45 per cent and Mr Abbott's up from 33 per cent to 34 per cent.

While Ms Gillard's personal ratings barely shifted, the rise in Labor's support will dampen speculation about Kevin Rudd making a leadership comeback, as well as intensify pressure on Mr Abbott to produce more Coalition policy.

Since the previous Newspoll survey three weeks ago, federal politics has grabbed headlines over a range of disputes between the government and opposition and several head-to-head confrontations between Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott.

Ms Gillard's speech accusing Mr Abbott of misogyny in parliament - in which she registered her opposition to Coalition moves to remove Peter Slipper as the Speaker, declared she would not be lectured on sexism "by this man" and undertook to criticise sexism and misogyny wherever she saw it - "went viral" on websites around the world.

The parliamentary furore was followed by Mr Slipper's resignation over sexist remarks and became a central issue in Labor's declaration of a "gender war".

Last week, police raided the home and office of former Labor MP, now independent, Craig Thomson, in relation to a criminal investigation into alleged misuse of union funds.

Wayne Swan released the mid-year economic forecast outlook in which the projected surplus for 2012-13 was further reduced and the Baby Bonus was cut.

As well, Labor was again caught up in bitter recrimination over the removal of Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010 after former Labor MP Maxine McKew released her book, which claimed Ms Gillard had been a "disloyal deputy", spreading damaging polling about Mr Rudd and planning the removal for some time.

Yesterday, Ms Gillard refused to answer questions about her role in Mr Rudd's demise as prime minister or the speculation in Ms McKew's book, simply saying she wanted to "focus" on the launch of the Asian white paper.

Mr Abbott said the Labor leadership was a "soap opera" and the ALP needed time in opposition to sort itself out. "I think the public are sick of this soap opera - it is a soap opera," Mr Abbott said.

"The Labor Party leadership is a soap opera and the only way to end the soap opera is to change the government to give the Labor Party a stint in opposition when they can sort this stuff out."

He continued to attack the mining tax, which he said had undermined investment confidence and failed to raise revenue.

"This is a lose-lose tax . . . it's an extraordinary achievement from this government," he said.

"I mean an absolute remarkable coup is bring in a confidence and investment-sapping tax that doesn't actually raise any revenue and only the geniuses that run this government could come up with such an extraordinary economic own-goal."

So-called surplus cannot survive on spin alone

AFR 29 Oct 2012, Tony Abbott

Last week’s mini-budget demonstrates that the government has a political strategy but not an economic one.

The obviously contrived surplus, the impact of the carbon tax on power prices and the failure of the mining tax to raise any revenue are signs of a government way out of its depth as an economic manager.

With a softer Chinese economy, the United States stagnant and Europe mired in recession, it’s more important than ever that Australia has an economic plan that delivers growth, jobs and lower taxes.

The current government simply doesn’t understand that, like families and businesses, countries too have to live within their means. Treasurer Wayne Swan constantly forecasts a surplus but will never deliver an honest one. What he has actually delivered is the four largest deficits in Australia’s history.

Without $5 billion in national broadband network spending moved off budget and $10 billion in forced dividends, changes to accounting treatment, and deferrals or bringing forwards of spending and revenue, there would be a $14 billion deficit for this year too.

Likewise in 2013-14, the government has only avoided an election year deficit by bringing forward company tax payments and keeping $8 billion of spending on the NBN and Clean Energy Finance Corporation off budget. Eventually, even this government will run out of one-off fiddles.

Labor’s economic failures are not the result of the global financial crisis. They’re the result of Labor’s addiction to spending and its chronic misunderstanding of the essentials for economic success.

Compare the record of the current government with that of its predecessor. In 2004-05, with unemployment at about 5 per cent, the Howard government delivered a budget surplus of 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product, despite terms of trade 40 per cent lower than last year when the Gillard government delivered a deficit of 3 per cent of GDP.

Each year, the government is now spending $90 billion more than the Howard government did in its last year of office. Labor has turned $70 billion of net Commonwealth assets into $150 billion of net Commonwealth debt, or almost $7000 for every man, woman and child. Even if it did deliver its claimed micro surplus, the government would still be spending up to $20 million a day on interest repayments far into the future.

The government says the nation is in better shape than Europe but that’s the wrong comparison. The right yardstick for judging Australia’s performance now should be our performance in the recent past. It’s also the best guide to the policies that are now needed to get our country back on track.

Under the next Coalition government, there will be no carbon tax. Australia doesn’t need a carbon tax that is acting like a reverse tariff hurting businesses and families without actually reducing our emissions. What’s more, there’s no particular challenge to getting rid of this legislation. What’s been passed by one Parliament can be repealed by the next.

Under the next Coalition government, there will be no mining tax. This is a lose-lose tax that has damaged confidence and investment without raising revenue.

There will be a billion dollars a year in red tape savings through a one-stop-shop environmental approval process and a requirement that agencies quantify the costs their compliance and reporting requirements impose on business.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (which delivered $6 billion a year in productivity improvements in that industry) will immediately be re-established and we will restore the workplace relations pendulum to the sensible centre.

Government spending will come down because we will end Labor’s waste, we won’t throw good money after bad on the NBN when faster broadband can more affordably and more swiftly be delivered through a competitive market.

We’ll stop the boats and save the $12 million that each illegal boat now costs.

Workforce participation will be higher through more work for the dole for unemployed people, more realistic expectations of people with disabilities and, at last, a fair-dinkum paid parental leave scheme that makes it easier for mothers to stay in the workforce.

There’ll be a root-and-branch review of competition laws to ensure that large and small businesses are competing on a level playing field.

There’ll be cranes over our cities and bulldozers working on big infrastructure projects such as WestConnex in Sydney and the East West Link in Melbourne that will be under way within 12 months of a change of government.

The public schools and hospitals that comprise about 5 per cent of GDP will be more productive because community controlled hospitals and independent public schools will be more efficient than ones run by bureaucrats.

Finally, there’ll be genuine engagement with Asia through restoring the Colombo Plan on a two-way-street basis and revitalising foreign language study in our schools.

Lower taxes, lower spending, higher productivity and closer engagement with Asia spells higher economic growth and that means, over time, greater prosperity for everyone. The Coalition has a plan for a stronger economy for a stronger Australia.

Tony Abbott is federal Opposition Leader.

The Australian Financial Review

Meaningless promises, replete with pure spin

Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor, The Australian, October 29, 2012

THE Gillard government white paper on Asia is a fraud. On every level, it is a con job. The government is having a lend of us. Its only admirable quality is its chutzpah.

No Australian government since that of Billy McMahon has done less to increase the level of Asian engagement it inherited when coming to office than the Gillard government.

Some of the white paper is conceptually confused and silly. Is there another nation in the world that so frequently tries to make out lists of the nations most important to it?

This pathetic and obsessive list making is a sign of a deep intellectual insecurity. It's also a sign of government failure.

Much of the paper itself, and many of Julia Gillard's statements regarding it, are banal recitations of the obvious. By golly, Asia will have a big middle class by 2025 and that middle class will have a lot of money to spend. We hope they spend it in Australia.

But beyond these windy cliches and vague generalisations, we are entitled to ask of this government: where's the beef, Jack? The answer is, there is no beef.

Much more important than what it says, is what the government does.

The white paper, and the Prime Minister herself, make much of the need for Asian education, and specifically for Asian languages.

Yet the Gillard government has overseen a catastrophic decline in Indonesian language study at school and university, to take one example. There are in absolute numbers fewer Year 12 students studying Indonesian today than there were in the last years of the White Australia policy.

Altogether a truly dismal 6 per cent of Year 12 students study an Asian language in Australia, and a vast number of these are ethnic Asian students studying their homeland tongue.

The Rudd and Gillard governments have progressively cut funding for Asian languages. And what is the white paper solution? The magic fool's gold of the National Broadband Network, for God's sake.

When Gillard was asked at her press conference why there was no funding for Asian language studies in the paper, she replied that there wouldn't need to be actual teachers at actual schools. Australian kids will get access to Asian languages through the NBN. If that is the case, why should we bother to have English, history or maths teachers at schools either?

The white paper is full of such meaningless promises and measureless metrics. One-third of corporate board members and senior public service leaders will have deep experience of Asia by 2025, it tells us. This will presumably mean introductory Chinese in infants' school, NBN chats with a high school in Tokyo and a holiday in Bali. It's as good a measure as any offered in the white paper.

The paper airily talks of new embassies in Mongolia and diplomatic missions in Thailand and eastern Indonesia. Any funding for that? Nope.

And what is the actual record? The last budget cut between 100 and 150 positions from the Foreign Affairs Department. We have the smallest diplomatic service of any G20 nation and one of the smallest, per capita, in the developed world.

Gillard and most of her ministers have a very poor pattern of travel throughout Southeast Asia. Our diplomatic resources are in shocking decline. Our consular workload has ballooned. We will now have to provide two dozen odd new positions to staff our meaningless presence on the UN Security Council, but with no serious new resources for DFAT. Our aid budget has exploded beyond $5 billion while our diplomatic network is strained beyond reason.

Why? Because every aid announcement gives the government a positive effect in the 24-hour news cycle. The hard slog of diplomacy gets no such dividend. So the hard slog is ignored. The fairy floss is everything.

The lame, bowdlerised section on regional security misses one vital reality. In 2009, the government, in a solemn commitment in a much more serious white paper, pledged to resource the Australian Defence Force, based on a deep understanding of the regional security outlook. It pledged a hard funding commitment to match that. What happened? This year's budget cut defence by 10 per cent, producing the lowest defence spend as a proportion of national wealth since 1938. You think the region didn't notice that?

This white paper is pure spin. It is an emperor whose nakedness is epic.

Gillard's account of union slush fund rejected

The Age, October 29, 2012, Mark Baker

A KEY former union accountant has undermined Julia Gillard's depiction of a slush fund she helped set up in 1992 as being a legitimate association needed to help finance union election campaigns.

Ms Gillard - then a salaried partner at law firm Slater & Gordon - gave extensive legal support to the establishment in Perth of the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association from which more than $400,000 was stolen by her then boyfriend.

She told a media conference in August that she understood the association's purpose was to gather money from payroll deductions and other fund-raising events ''where it would be transparent to people that the money was going to support their re-election campaign''.

After it was revealed in 1995 that the association had been corrupted by Ms Gillard's boyfriend and senior AWU official Bruce Wilson, she told senior partners at Slater & Gordon: ''Every union has what it refers to as an election fund, a slush fund … so that they can finance their next election campaign.''

But the man who was the West Australian branch accountant of the AWU at the time says the union already had an election fund and there was no precedent to establish such a formal legal entity as the Workplace Reform Association for such a purpose.

Russell Frearson said the association was operated in complete secrecy by Mr Wilson and his crony, AWU state secretary Ralph Blewitt, with a separate bank account and post box address.

Mr Frearson said neither he, other branch officials nor the AWU's auditors knew anything about the association until its operations were exposed in 1995. ''They kept it very close to their chests. No one knew what was going on,'' he told The Age.

Mr Frearson - an ally of Bruce Wilson who joined the state administrative team when he took control of the branch in 1991 - said the union already had a dedicated election fund in operation when the Workplace Reform Association was incorporated in June 1992.

''Once Bruce took over we had set up an election fund for officials and everyone was contributing $30 a week,'' he said.

Mr Blewitt confirmed in an interview last week that he had been involved in fraud during his time as AWU state secretary and said he was willing to assist any new police investigation of the matters if he were granted immunity from prosecution.

Ms Gillard has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. She says she had no knowledge of the operations of the association after it was formed and broke off her relationship with Bruce Wilson when the corruption was exposed.

The Age revealed two weeks ago that the association was only registered after Ms Gillard - who failed to advise senior partners about the work or open a formal file - vouched for its legitimacy to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission.

But the registration documents prepared on Ms Gillard's advice described the association's objectives as promoting workplace training and safety and made no reference to money-raising - prohibited for such bodies under the then WA Associations Incorporation Act.

The WA police fraud squad later discovered construction company Thiess had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars into the fund under a memorandum of understanding struck with Bruce Wilson two weeks before the association was incorporated.

They also discovered an initial invoice for $25,272 paid by Thiess to the association at the end of April 1992 - two months before it was incorporated.

Mr Frearson scoffed at suggestions union officials would openly set up a such formal association to support their re-election.

''If companies were making a contribution to an individual, you wouldn't go anywhere near the branch,'' he said.

''That sort of stuff you would expect to be kept separate from the ordinary running of the branch.''

Ted Baillieu is a premier without a message

Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun, October 29, 2012

Premier Ted Baillieu fails to tell voters the story of his government. Herald Sun

NO wonder Ted Baillieu is dying in the polls. Two years after taking office, he's still a man with no story.

Quick: think of three good things he has done.

Can't? Well, it's not that he hasn't done good, even if Newspoll shows the Coalition down to just 45 per cent against Labor's 55, after preferences.

It's just that you'd never know it.

Is it because he's shy and won't speak up?

A mutual friend had me meet Baillieu a few years ago; he was concerned I'd been too hard on the man without having met him.

If that was the aim, I left puzzled. Why had Baillieu come with his two main advisers, and said so little?

And that was the last I heard from him, even though I'm a rare conservative journalist who writes for the state's biggest-selling daily.

Here is a Liberal premier who has managed to not win over one conservative media figure, yet will never befriend those on the tribal Left. No one, then, takes Baillieu's side in a fight - even, it seems, Baillieu himself.

I think of that diffidence I saw when I note Baillieu's other more serious failures to speak and to commit.

There's that rising inflection in even his most declaratory statements, which means TV grabs seem to cut him off mid-sentence, as if he were about to say "on the other hand", or "but".

Even his choice of a new number plate slogan betrays his seeming fear of commitment.

Jeff Kennett used the number plates to promote his can-do message to a pole-axed state: "Victoria -- on the move".

But Baillieu? He has chosen: "Stay alert, stay alive". A road safety message, for heaven's sake.

As with slogans, so with presentation. Kennett never lost a chance to publicly explain what he was doing and why, but Baillieu fails to tell voters the story of his government.

That same curious hesitancy is also a damaging feature of how he governs.

Unlike former premier Steve Bracks, Baillieu has few strong ministers to back him up, but even those few - say Energy Minister Michael O'Brien or energetic Planning Minister Matthew Guy - can have their authority undermined by the premier's dithering even on appointments of their own staff.

The latest example of this dithering: a new secretary of the Justice Department is yet to be appointed, more than three months after the last quit.

Of course, voters pick more practical bones with Baillieu.

They see teachers on strike, and ads showing Baillieu appearing to make a broken promise about pay.

They see cuts to TAFE colleges, which they've probably never heard their apparently disengaged Premier explain.

There's the rising power and water bills, which Baillieu has not properly sheeted home to Labor's waste, green madness and crazy desalination plant.

Even the myki fiasco somehow seems as much a Liberal bungle as Labor's.

Again, Baillieu and his team just haven't told the stories - apart from a whopper to protect expenses-happy backbencher Geoff Shaw with the lewd hands.

They haven't seized teaching moments to explain what they are about.

Here's a contrast. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman decided his own story would be of cutting Labor's huge waste and crippling debt.

He commissioned former federal treasurer Peter Costello to go through the books and tell Queenslanders how deep in strife they were, and even cut funding for the Queensland Premier's Literary Award.

Sure, it saved peanuts - $225,000 - but the furious gabbling of the arts world ensured all Queenslanders heard this premier really did mean to save every cent.

Now, having slashed and burned - announcing a cut of 20,000 public service jobs - Newman is over the worst, with his ratings still sky-high and a credible story to tell.

But Baillieu? True, he did not inherit quite the mess that gave Newman and Kennett their mission.

Yet he refused to release his own audit of state finances, and in his first Budget spent more, rather than less.

Only in his second Budget did he belatedly announce 4200 job cuts and big savings - but none to make our own artists squawk the message.

Indeed, Baillieu has caved in to an arts/media/activist class that will always put the Liberals last.

He kept Labor's Charter of Human Rights, a danger to free speech. He has kept multiculturalism and the Koorie courts, pleasing professional tribalists.

He has simply given conservatives too little, without charming the Left.

Yet Baillieu has done good things, some of which might be news to you. The state's finances are strong, and there are no Liberal white elephants to match Labor's.

He hasn't bought off public sector unions with big wage rises, or wasted mega-millions on dying car companies and grasping green carpet-baggers.

His trade mission to India was smart, and defence of farmers' irrigation water from the Greens-wagged Gillard Government wise. Backing Grollo against an unlawful CFMEU blockade was a good change from his cave-in over the Baiada blockade, and he is cracking down on union militancy.

And Baillieu himself is a decent man. Trouble is, he's a nice man with no story to tell, or no confidence to tell it.

Carbon know-how an exportable asset, says white paper

SID MAHER, The Australian, October 29, 2012

JULIA Gillard's Asian white paper has predicted the introduction of carbon pricing in Australia will produce significant opportunities for manufacturers as they develop technologies that are deployed worldwide.

The white paper flags diplomatic efforts to integrate the carbon market with Asian markets. It also predicts components and energy management systems for solar and wind power could produce new markets in Asia.

It sets the goal of working within the region to support growing international carbon markets. It also commits the government to sharing market information with China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.

The report calls as well for the government to support the development of environmental accounting in the region.

Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the paper frequently mentions the risks of climate change to Australian and Asian prosperity but makes few new recommendations and mostly lacks the urgency to address the risks it identifies.

The paper was released as a report from the Climate Institute out today warns Australia will face significant human and economic costs because its infrastructure is poorly equipped to handle more frequent extreme weather events.

The report -- Coming Ready or Not: Managing Climate Risks to Australia's Infrastructure -- warns the electricity, financial services and road and rail sectors are underprepared for the potential disruption caused by extreme events sparked by climate change.

Mr Connor said Australia represented 2 per cent of the global re-insurance markets, but given extreme weather events such as floods and fires over the past five years, it had incurred 6 per cent of the losses.

The report found government policy was fragmented and the business response uneven.

"Some organisations understand and manage their exposure to climate risks but most infrastructure owners and operators are focused on maintaining their assets to standards based on historic climate settings that are today relics of the past. Unfortunately, laggards face no or little penalty, while early movers are hampered by fragmented information, and inappropriate and inconsistent regulation."

return to letters list