Why you should not go to war with the public #qldvotes

It wasn’t too long into the ABC coverage of the Queensland election on Saturday night that it became clear the Premier, Campbell Newman, had lost his seat of Ashgrove. It wasn’t too much later that it became clear that he had been on to something with his mantra that Ashgrove would go with government – though this was a coming to pass of his nightmare, ejected from his seat and Labor inching ever closer to forming government, a stunning reversal of the ALP disaster of 2012. For whatever reason, perhaps because no phone call came from the defeated Newman, Kate Jones, his predecessor and successor, didn’t appear on tv until quite late in the evening. In an emotional speech, a Labor legend in the making explained how her decision to contest again had been very personal – that it had been more about her real concerns about the quality of life her young children would enjoy and the urgings of everyday Ashgrove folk than any political ambition. Jones’ sincerity was palpable, and any cynics clearly don’t know, as do many in Brisbane Labor circles, how hard her decision to recontest had been. Jones pronounced a paean of praise to community, thanking her 500 something volunteers, articulating her vision of representing local values and needs, and promising to be worthy of the trust placed in her. This was emblematic of not just a grassroots campaign largely missed by the media, but of the need for the Labor party, flattened by its near demise in March 2012, to rebuild its links with communities and groups who were going to fight for their vision of a just state, no matter what the 7 MPs in the Parliamentary Labor Party did. That’s not to take anything away from the remarkable success of Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk, no doubt soon to be Queensland’s second woman Premier. It is to point to another story about how a government went to war with large numbers of its own citizens, and how they collectively said, “enough is enough”.

How did Campbell Newman get it so wrong? He wasn’t elected with much enthusiasm, perhaps, but, conversely, as I’ve argued in The Guardian, the former Brisbane Lord Mayor had reserves of experience and achievement to dwell on. Federal Liberal MP Jane Prentice, long a Council colleague of the defeated Premier, provided some insight on Saturday night. Newman, she suggested, was someone with a strong desire to serve, and a manager and engineer’s drive to put things right. The Premier had rarely faced serious opposition in Council, and had in fact co-existed relatively happily with a Labor majority in his first term, and worked closely with long term Labor Councillor David Hinchliffe as Deputy Mayor. In the realm of roads, rubbish bins and rates (not to mention tunnels), politics can be eclipsed by governance. Not so much when you’re running a state. Wayne Swan had what was obviously a very enjoyable time on the ABC election coverage batting the LNP’s tattered ideological balls for six all over the ground – and he was quite correct to say that Queenslanders despised privatisation, rejected austerity politics and a state seemingly uncaring about unemployment and their struggles, and were unfazed by horror stories about Labor “debt and deficit”. But more than this, and more than the combative personality and governing style I’ve targeted myself, any government that seems actively to alienate its citizens is on a hiding to electoral oblivion.

Overkill was a big part of the Newman years. The notorious VLAD laws (“Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment”), rushed through parliament after a shooting was followed in short order by a violent public brawl on the Gold Coast, threatened to strip electricians of their licences, imprisoned a female library worker for having a couple of beers at the pub with a couple of mates, and segued into the attack on the judiciary. Magistrates had a pesky habit of granting accused people bail, despite the imprecations and dire warnings uttered by the boy wonder of the Newman government, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie. To his eternal credit, Independent MP for Nicklin, Peter Wellington, hammered the government on the excesses of this legislation up hill and down dale as the Labor Party equivocated. Suddenly, the newly appointed Chief Magistrate, Tim Carmody, took into his own hands all bail hearings by alleged bikies. Carmody was elevated in quick succession to the Chief Justiceship vacated by the respected Paul De Jersey, anointed Governor. Then a war broke out with the judiciary. Solicitor-General Walter Sobronoff QC resigned, and blasted the government and the Attorney-General in the press. Bleijie was accused of leaking a conversation he had with the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Margaret McMurdo, herself the occupier of a position once held by Tony Fitzgerald. All hell then broke loose, with Peter Davis, President of the Bar Association resigning in protest, and a very public boycott of Carmody’s ceremonial installation by his fellow Justices.

If this wasn’t bad enough for the government, the war on the doctors was being fought simultaneously. Queensland Health and its administration or rather maladministration had been a running sore for the Bligh government, contributing mightily to its downfall with revelations that a “fake Tahitian prince” had embezzled millions while billions were thrown at IBM to try to recover a payroll system that failed to pay people correctly or on time. However, the public trusted the hospital system to a degree that might surprise, given the scandals surrounding surgeon Jayant Patel, “Doctor Death”. Peter Beattie had concluded an agreement with the salaried doctors in 2005, raising wages and attracting talented doctors from other states and overseas, as well as retaining many Queensland trained medicos in the hospitals. Newman’s managerialism here combined with LNP ideology to make a toxic blend – an insistence that all doctors sign individual contracts and placing pennies before patients under the rule of Ian Maynard, Newman’s hand-picked Director-General, an associate from his Council days. As often as the Premier and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg could rant about “interstate union thugs” and demonise individual doctors under parliamentary privilege, the “Keep Our Doctors” campaign had a counter, the phenomenal energy that hospital doctors put themselves into contacting their fellow citizens. Unable to demonise bikies successfully, the Newman government was on the way to a hiding in seeking to paint judges and surgeons as agents of chaos or subversion. It was literally incredible, and the government paid heavy electoral prices in by-elections in Redcliffe and Stafford, the latter won by maxillofacial surgeon Dr Anthony Lynham for Labor.

The Stafford by-election was caused by the resignation of sacked Assistant Health Minister, Dr Chris Davis, himself a well-respected former President of the AMA. Davis had come close to openly siding against his own government at one of the doctors’ Pineapple Meetings, speaking courageously just after the tragic and untimely death of his daughter. But that was not the issue he chose to resign on – it was the government’s emasculation of the Crime and Misconduct Commission. The Newman government, displeased by the investigation into its handpicked CMC Acting Chair, Dr Ken Levy, had spectacularly sacked the entire Parliamentary Committee charged with the body’s supervision, chaired by long term independent Liz Cunningham. Opposition to further changes had been one issue behind Davis’ sacking by Newman, and the changes to electoral donation laws, effectively enabling the LNP to escape accountability for many, was the last straw for the MP. Having subsequently announced his intention to join the Labor party, Davis resurfaced during the 2015 campaign in a series of powerful print and television advertisements attacking his former party on integrity issues, in one of which he described the LNP leadership as “sociopaths”.

All this needs to be read in context with the continuing attack and devaluation of public servants and the very concept of serving the public. The irascible Premier, prone to hyperbole in his parliamentary performances, had early claimed that he was taking out his “pooper scooper” to “clean up Anna Bligh’s mess” – code, it seemed, for sacking public servants en masse. School nurses went by the wayside, patients were told to bring their own towels and pyjamas to hospitals, essential medical clinics scrapped, waiting lists wished away by the creation of a “waiting list to get onto the waiting list”. The great god of surplus gobbled up much that was good, offered up as a living sacrifice of people’s livelihoods and sense of security. And respected figures, including Tony Fitzgerald himself, trashed by the thuggish Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, were constantly berated, attacked and denigrated. The switch to “Operation Boring”, and the mindless recitation of the adjective “strong” could not wipe clear the slate, and the memories persisted up to election day. Queenslanders prided themselves on having banished the hungry ghosts of the state’s dark past, and as Brisbane writer Andrew Stafford observes, the desire to get off the Joh merry-go-round again was palpable.

We won’t know for a few days whether Labor will form government in its own right, or may need to rely on Peter Wellington and the two KAP MPs, Rob Katter and Shane Knuth, in parliamentary confidence votes. Many Queenslanders, despite the dire warnings from the Premier that a hung parliament would usher in chaos, may feel quite comfortable with a government that needs to justify its decisions rationally and publicly, something the LNP was never keen on. What is certain is that we will not see again anything like the wild ride that was the short few years of the Campbell Newman administration. Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has sounded the right notes early on, not rushing to claim victory, but hastening slowly in a gesture of respect for the verdict of the voters, and thus embodying the trust that Queenslanders have again placed in a Labor party that had so let them down by 2012. We need neither to diminish her achievement, an achievement that was truly one of a rebuilt party harnessing community action and activist energy, nor fall victim to easy explanations, true though they may be, about electors’ volatility. Yes, the electorate is volatile. That’s clear. But why? The answer from Queensland is a resounding one – voters will not stand idly by and watch their public space diminished by seemingly mad and hubristic antics and nor will they stand for a disdain and contempt for integrity and accountability. Strong too, should be the sense, that voter want not just minimal public services, but rather value the institutions and the professions and vocations that hold society together. There is such a thing as a society, and Queensland has just demonstrated that. If politics – and the political class – reverts to business and usual, then the oblivion that sucked in both Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman in less than three years beckons.

It’s Annastacia or Chaos!

The LNP posted the ad above on Youtube 6 days ago. Strictly speaking it doesn’t make sense, since a “just vote one” for the government will have no impact on the exhaustion of preferences. But, as William Bowe observed in Crikey, obviously they’re trying to reach beyond their base and plant the idea in non-LNP voters’ minds. Good luck with that.

It’s been a bit of a surprise to me that the Premier’s potential loss of his own seat hasn’t made more of an impact on the campaign so far. Campbell Newman is very unpopular, but I can’t see a squabble between Tim Nicholls, Lawrence Springborg and who knows who else for the top job being either a choice Queenslanders would like to see, or an edifying way to embark on a new term.

The LNP may have played on Newman’s “outsider” status when he was anointed as Opposition Leader without a seat in Parliament, but the failure of any number of superannuated MPs to stand aside for him is now backfiring. While Newman’s “Strong Plan” for Ashgrove is a bigger porkbarrel than any of the others, the combination of his unpopularity, the LNP’s attacks on public servants and the environment and disdain for civil liberties and Kate Jones’ local record are all clearly posing the governing party huge problems in Ashgrove.

ReachTEL’s poll of the Premier’s electorate
, released tonight, has the race swinging towards Jones. She’s now at 54% of the 2PP vote to Newman’s 46.

It’s fair to conclude that the choice for “stability” now is the ALP. Isn’t the choice now Annastacia Palaszczuk or Chaos?

Can Labor win the Queensland election?

1332817047237I can’t see why not.

That’s despite the conventional wisdom that the deficit of seats is too much to make up. As I’ve said a number of times, Campbell Newman’s staggering victory in 2012 was a function of voter hatred of asset sales, combined with a belief that Anna Bligh had gone back on her word, compounded by Bligh’s failure to substantiate allegations about Newman’s finances and integrity. Lots more happened, including the massive distraction of the Kevin Rudd v. Julia Gillard leadership challenge which actually halted Queensland campaigning, and a campaign that was far too long anyway. But key to the scale of the win was the issue of trust. Labor was never likely to prevail (the accumulated grievances and scandals of 14 years in office should have been enough) but Bligh’s assault on Newman’s credibility blew what was left of hers out of the water.

I’m not sure anyone has argued that there was a wave of voter enthusiasm for Campbell Newman and the LNP. Rather, they did enough to convince voters that the antediluvian shenanigans of the National Party past had been put out to pasture, and that they would be an adult government restoring front line services and the state’s fiscal position. In the event, they were everything they had claimed not to be – combative, arbitrary, aggressive and focused far more on seemingly pointless political fights than the welfare of citizens.

Bob Katter said on the night of the 2012 election that Campbell Newman might well find the same wave of voter anger sweeping him away in 2015, and I think he’s close to being proved right. If Labor didn’t have much of a base to fall back on (and never forget that the Queensland ALP outperformed the NSW ALP in vote terms for a much smaller harvest of seats), the LNP can’t take Brisbane or regional city seats for granted. As Antony Green makes clear in his election preview, the foundations of ALP hegemony from Wayne Goss onward were laid down on capturing large majorities of Brisbane seats. Add a couple on the Gold Coast, some from the cities up the coast and the coalfields, some in and around Townsville and Cairns, Toowoomba North and Cook, and you have a Labor majority in the Legislative Assembly.

That’s more or less the map of Annastacia Palaszczuk’s campaign. Note also the intriguing trip to Charleville, and the concentration recently on Broadwater and Southport.

As the campaign enters its final week, the Premier has walked away from his manic performances of recent days, and his bizarre bikie smears, and gone straight back to the origins of Operation Boring – the robotic repetition of phrases like “strong team” and “strong plan”. It’s often difficult to divine the strategies of the LNP, simply because they appear to make no political sense far too much of the time, but it would be safe to assume that Newman’s been told that he has to get back on message, and that his unrestrained weirdness over recent days has just reminded voters of what they disliked so much about his first term.

Factor in, too, the combination of carrots and sticks in the privatisation bonanza, and campaign appearances in what should be safe LNP territory in Bundaberg and Charleville, and the constant warnings about a hung parliament.

Then go to Antony Green’s election calculator and check out the outcomes based on the statewide polls taken during the campaign. Ticking the ‘factor in retiring MPs’ box and one produces an LNP win, two point to ALP wins and two result in a hung parliament.

Yes, I know, patchy swings and all that.

But if you look at the predicted seat outcomes, I can actually see Labor winning most of the ones that come up on a uniform swing in the two polls that show the ALP with 45 and 46 seats respectively.

I know conventional wisdom is that the ALP can’t win, but I don’t see that myself.

LNP Logic

1781c071c6After a week spent railing against Labor for Alan Jones’ allegations about Stage 3 of the Acland Mine (before in tried and true Joh Bjelke style the Premier and his offsider in the Aukbra attempted to silence dissent through defamation acts), the punch drunk Premier of Queensland has now taken to challenging the ALP to prove they have not received donations from bikies, funneled through the CFMEU.

There’s a spectacular hypocrisy in suing someone for making allegations you say are wholly unsubstantiated and then turning around and doing so yourself. On top of the continued threats that promises will not be delivered if electors in particular seats don’t vote for the LNP (something Joh tried on in Mount Isa in 1977, to the horror of the then liberal Liberal Party), the Premier is starting to look like someone who not only doesn’t understand the basics of a liberal democracy but also simple logic.

Then we have the claim that a 99 year lease is not akin to a sale. The LNP likes to make an analogy between a long term commercial lease and a rental house. Leaving aside the fact that, as Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk pointed out in Friday’s People’s Forum, it might be your great granddaughter moving back into the house, house owners get rental income from their properties. The Queensland taxpayer will receive nothing once state assets go.

The new politics and the Victorian election

Victorian electionDaniel Andrews, the incoming Labor Premier of Victoria, proclaimed in his victory speech on Saturday night that Victorians had voted for a new politics, a politics free of negativity and division, a politics focused on “putting people first”.

For good measure, the Premier-elect repeated the message on Sunday morning.

The cynical might want to investigate the claim made on the election night ABC news panel by Liberal Minister Mary Wooldridge that Labor’s advertising had been 70% negative and 40% positive.

Whether or not those figures are accurate, Andrews is undoubtedly right.

Much ink has been spilled already, as if the result were a foregone conclusion, on whether the defeat of a first term Coalition government was a stunning and cataclysmic event. Psephologist Dr Kevin Bonham explains that the “single term theory” is just wrong. Seven first term state governments have been defeated since 1955, the last time it occurred in Victoria.

That, however, should be no comfort to Team Australia Captain Tony Abbott and his barnacle encrusted shipmates. Bonham says there is evidence for a federal impact on the state result, and Dennis Napthine and his strategists can’t have gone out of their way to avoid any more Prime Ministerial hugs for no reason.

There are other tea leaves to be read in the Victorian result, though: not just the dregs of an unpopular Prime Minister or a lacklustre state government.

Andrews appears to understand what Tony Abbott spectacularly fails to get – voters are disgusted by “rhetorical flourishes”, repulsed by lies about lies, and just want governments to do what they said they would do. Perhaps that’s why the Victorian Labor Party concentrated on a few key policy areas.

It’s not without interest that they focused in not just on education and health but also on public transport. The promise of a Royal Commission into Domestic Violence is also immensely significant, and shows, along with the promise to legalise medical marijuana, how much change there has been in social awareness in Australia over a short period of time.

Social liberalism is the new black, even as the Victorian Libs, just like many of their interstate counterparts, are being colonised by the Christian right.

It’s often said that state politics is not ideological, but this isn’t true.

Significant here is the way Andrews embraced the very same unions that the Coalition demonised, lauding teachers, nurses, ambos and firies as “respected professions”. Andrews promised effective public services, an end to wars against those who provide them, and more, spoke eloquently of the rights and dignity of those who work for the public good.

The Labor Party has drunk its share of neo-liberal kool aid over the years, but the assaults on the public sector, and more saliently, on the very idea of a public good by first term LNP governments in Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra have exposed the fundamentally social democratic values that have majority support among Australians.
This is not to argue that we live in a fair society, or a meritocracy, still less that social class and the cleavage between bosses and workers is of no material impact. It is to say that there are bedrock beliefs and habits of thought and action which will run any neo-Liberal ship onto the rocks.

Labor needs to recognise this, because its much touted army of doorknockers and phone-callers are mostly not signing up to campaign because of partisan attachment to the ALP, but rather because the ALP appears to be the vehicle for defending this particular set of Australian articles of faith. Or, appears to be so to some.

Hence, too, the breakthrough of The Greens into the lower house.

The Greens do have a unique demographic and a certain social base, that is not entirely the same as “disillusioned Labor left voters”. It’s far too simple to talk about “inner city elites”. The Labor left’s foundation was an alliance of university educated intellectuals and public service and manufacturing unions. The Greens are more likely to represent “knowledge workers”. There’s a reason why Greens functions have been known to debate the motion – “that Greens are more hipster than hippy.”

Ellen Sandell is the second lower house state MP elected to a non-proportional single member electorate, the first being Jamie Parker in Balmain in the 2011 New South Wales election. The fact that Parker faces a significant challenge from Verity Firth, and that Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek face no real challenge from Greens, does show that Sandell – and Adam Bandt – have no lien on these inner city seats.

The reality is that much rests on Sandell’s shoulders. Bandt was re-elected as much because he was a good MP as a good Greens MP. The new reality is that there’s a partisan contest for fluid voters in the inner city between Greens and ALP. It will continue to be a contest.

It’s here that The Greens do themselves no favours by recurrent talk of preference deals. Neither does Labor. It makes The Greens sound a lot like fully fledged members of the political class. It would be good if people devoted the same energy they expend on arguing about preference deals to campaigning for electoral reform which would empower and represent the preferences of voters and disempower the party strategists who make preference deals.

Party talk is not the same as talking to voters.

One more straw in the wind is the success of independent candidate Suzanna Sheed in Shepparton, and the close race that Labor’s Jaden Minton ran the Nationals in Morwell. Sheed, astonishingly, only threw her hat into the ring a month before the election. In an electorate no doubt disillusioned by the signal failure of Barnaby Joyce and crew to stand up for SPC workers, a smart Indi-style campaign has prevailed. Perhaps that’s why Deputy Premier Peter Ryan bemoaned – “social media is the problem”. In Morwell, Labor has almost captured a seat blighted by a coal mining company’s environmental and health disaster, a disaster to which the response of the state government was at best tardy.

Blogger Andrew Elder gets it right:

The social base on which the major parties were founded is wasting away. The initiative is with community-organising movements, which must necessarily be small-scale. There may come a revival of mass politics later this century, but it is hard to discern from this angle. The smart money is on independents and minor parties, with diminishing majors negotiating terms to enjoy office… This is the future, baby: thumping wins and inviolable mandates will be fewer and further between.

I think Daniel Andrews gets that, too.

He’s ridden a whirlwind into office, no matter how becalmed the surface of the campaign seemed.

Whether or not he does get it will become clear over the next little while. If there’s one thing voters in the age of the new politics is it’s unforgiving.

Post Budget, what happens now?

10402071_10152570891723132_1482661220937210708_nBack on the 13th of May, I wrote about the Budget:

The most important thing about this Budget is that it symbolises the brokenness of Australian politics. It’s a tipping point, a crisis moment for the political class.

In the week between the Budget’s delivery and the resumption of Parliament, things went from bad to worse for the Abbott government.

The polls were nightmarish, both Prime Minister Abbott and Treasurer Hockey had trouble understanding or communicating the impact of measures such as the GP co-payment and the HECS and higher education fee increases. Thousands marched in the streets. The commentariat launched attacks on whingers and bludgers, but University Vice-Chancellors, Liberal State Premiers and the President of the Australian Medical Association had joined the chorus of outrage. Even the Business Council of Australia thought the “Earn or Learn” cuts to the under 30s dole were too much.

Then the whole thing got swallowed up by #winkgate and #daughtergate.

Backbench MPs backgrounded withering criticism of the government’s political strategy to The Australian while News Limited columnists veered from asserting that the impact wasn’t too bad anyway to denouncing just about everyone for their purported selfishness. Tony Abbott oscillated between threats of a double dissolution and promises of second term tax cuts, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he hardly had the authority or credibility to enunciate either.

That failure, and the failure of the usual interest group/media/industrial complex suspects to weave their narrative of “fiscal reponsibility”, is demonstrated also by Labor’s decision to oppose the freeze on family benefits. Clearly, they’re calculating they can safely ignore the demand to “fix their own mess”.

Meanwhile, as if to confirm my suspicion that PUP is angling for a double dissolution, Clive Palmer pronounced:

Well we are unusual, we don’t like them, we don’t like this budget and we aren’t going to talk to them.

And the media rushed to leadership speculation.

Mr Denmore:

We saw this same panicky, existential attempt by the media to frame the debate in conventional, ‘objective’ terms quite starkly in the attempts earlier this year to downplay or completely ignore the significance of the March in March protests.  Any political expression that comes from outside the narrow Canberra-defined world of ‘politics’ is discounted as naive or wrong-headed or a throwback to a quaint 60s idealism.
It’s hard to escape the view that with the public losing faith in institutions, including the media itself, journalists are subconsciously fighting a rearguard action to seize back control of the narrative and cast it in a comfortable framework that suits them and the political classes they report on. In this, they are betraying the principles of their craft – representing the powerful to the public rather than the other way around.  Worse for them, they’re also missing the bigger story.

Tim Dunlop is absolutely right about what’s going on when he points out that “The Prime Minister has no authority”:

Howard took four full terms as prime minister to completely ruin his reputation for honesty. Abbott has done it in less than one full year. How could anyone be so clumsy?

The answer lies in authority.

Both inside and outside the party, Abbott draws on very shallow reservoirs of support. This in turn is related to the fact that the Coalition itself no longer connects with a significant “base”.

This is why our politics has become more and more an exercise in media management than in policy commitment. And that situation is made worse by the fact that the media itself has fractured beyond repair and thus mirrors the political sphere in its lack of authority.

Such a situation does not lend itself to long-term planning. It lends itself to short-term shock-and-awe tactics. When you sense the precariousness of your grip on power, you want to shake things up as quickly as possible, to try to alter the landscape radically while you can.

That’s why this budget feels like WorkChoices for everything.

Howard waited for three terms and a favourable Senate before he dared try anything like that. I sincerely doubt that Abbott, even on his best day, thinks he will last that long, and so there is no time to waste.

And he’s right about this:

Are we therefore heading for a hung parliament? I have no idea, but one thing you can be sure of is that if we are, the anti-politician/post-politics position that is likely to resonate powerfully in the electorate is all but owned by Clive Palmer.
Both Abbott and Shorten should be scared to death.

So, what does happen now?

I wonder which of the following scenarios is more plausible:

1. The Senate threatens to block many of the budget measures, negotiations are a farce, the Coalition continues to drop in the polls and casts around for a new leader. Perhaps someone who could jettison the Tony Abbott signature policies of Direct Action and PPL and save a bucket of money to fund backdowns on all the Budget nasties?

But who? Those close to the Coalition party room say Scott Morrison’s stocks are riding high (“he stopped the boats”)!

2. The Senate threatens to block many of the budget measures, negotiations are a farce, the Coalition continues to drop in the polls, and Tony Abbott calls a Double Dissolution election directed against pesky Greens and the obstructive Mr Palmer, asking “Who governs Australia?”.

3. The Senate rolls over, people realise that it’s important to support the fire brigade (or something), Tony Abbott is thanked by a grateful people for saving Australia from Debt and Deficit.

(3) seemed to be what the Government was trying to conjure up last week. This week, I’m not sure what their plan is, but no doubt for a little while, we’ll continue to hear about Toughness.

Clive Palmer angling for a double dissolution election?

4689010-3x4-700x933Clive Palmer’s negotiations with Christopher Pyne obviously didn’t go as well as the Minister for Education thought.

The government should set people free so they can help the country and not need to work in boring jobs because of their debt.

The PUP leader and Member for Fairfax has also put pen to paper for The Guardian:

The Abbott government’s first budget delivered for the lobbyists and donors of the Liberal party. The age of entitlement has arrived. But out in the western suburbs of Melbourne, in the Hunter Valley, in Western Australia and Queensland, in New South Wales and the Northern Australia and right across the nation, the people are moving. The 46% of voters that didn’t vote for Liberal or Labor in the Western Australian election may soon be 60%. The face of power and politics in Australia may be changing forever.

If tech companies long to disrupt markets, then perhaps Clive is inflicting a bit of “disruptive innovation” on the political sphere.

Katharine Murphy:

Voters are actually looking more closely at the anti-politician, the #resistance plutocrat Clive Palmer, who lists unpredictably between high parody and precision “truth” bombing. Palmer in this budget period has emerged as that character from Shakespeare who somehow, despite absolute randomness and exquisite incoherence in the delivery (or perhaps because of it), cuts through the chaos. He’s the character who manages to narrate the tragedy in ways the protagonists can’t because they are too busy spinning their wheels in the court intrigue and foul murther.

Those developments alone have got to be the very definition of interesting times.

The voting public in the post-budget washup appears to be sending Abbott a clarion message – they aren’t buying the Coalition’s version of national interest, made manifest in last Tuesday’s budget, nor are they buying Abbott’s latest outbreak of post-truth, post-fact dissembling.

In the hit to Abbott’s personal authority we see in the latest published opinion polls, voters are giving the thumbs down to the prime minister’s attempt to blame them for not listening adequately to his “mantras” before the election (which by his own admission he minimised and maximised, according to the audience) – rather than blaming himself for promising them hand on heart that he would deliver a world that he evidently had absolutely no intention of ever delivering.

Indeed.

But what to make of Clive Palmer’s negation of almost all the budget measures?

Labor, The Greens and PUP have all responded to Tony Abbott’s double dissolution threat by saying “bring it on!”. Twitter is thronging with #blocksupply talk. Antony Green is upset.

(Incidentally, there’s more than a little contradiction between The Greens’ campaign to #bustthebudget and their statements about what they may and may not vote for. It’s hard to square intimations that they will support fuel excise indexation with a call to “reject the 2014 Budget“.)

My strong suspicion is that Clive Palmer will equivocate over some of the Budget measures, thinking out loud to draw attention to PUP and to the impacts of the said measures, then end up voting against most of them.

The face of power and politics in Australia may be changing forever.

Sooner rather than later.

PUP has everything to gain and very little to lose from a double dissolution election. Labor and The Greens may be talking the talk, but I think Clive is walking the talk.

Don’t forget that the anti-politician Palmer learnt his politics at the feet of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Now he was a cunning populist…

Who’s Mr Abbott kidding?

Tony Abbott has been caught out claiming that the Howard government “took a big hit in the polls” after its first budget in 1996.

This is not true.

But you have to wonder what the “sales strategy” on the Budget is now all about?

Maybe the Prime Minister is trying to convince himself.

More likely, he’s talking to his own troops, who are probably in a state of considerable disarray and panic.

He’s certainly not talking to the voters.

Budget 2014: It’s the unfairness, stupid

RabbitHolesm-2
I had a quick interchange with Mumble blogger Peter Brent on Twitter last week. Brent, whose blog appears on The Australian‘s website, had been running with the line that the Budget was likely to be perceived as good for the economy, if not for individuals, and therefore would not cause the government ongoing political pain. This also appears to have been the Government’s thinking – we heard constantly that Peter Costello’s “axe and tax” Budget in 1996 was well received, and had turned out to be a net political plus for a government that discarded its “core promises” in order to do “fiscal repair”.

Well, times change.

I argued last week that the predicate for this “narrative” to resonate was a sense that the budget was in dire disrepair, and that this hadn’t been met – at least not to the required “crisis” perception. The polling from both Newspoll and Nielsen today bears my argument out, I think. In fact, I’m starting to question the truism that Labor was defeated primarily because of its perceived budgetary sins. It’s a convenient (perhaps the only) line for T. Abbott to run, but I’m not sure it’s true. I’m more convinced now that it was the cluster of factors around “trust” and the constant narcissistic infighting that did for the ALP.

You know, broken promises.

Brent has tried to find a few positives for the government in today’s piece, perhaps a little stung by the magnitude of the rejection of the Budget – including the indicator of whether it’s “good for the country”. I’m not particularly persuaded that the question about whether Labor could have done better is very meaningful. “Show us your policies”, intoned Abbott and Hockey to Shorten, strangely upset that he had followed Abbott’s own lead by using the Budget reply as the opportunity to make a political argument.

First, while Labor may have finally taken some skin off the Coalition and boosted its own primary vote, we need to contextualise this with the more important fact that voters are much less partisan than in the 1990s, and much more inclined to wish a pox on both houses. It’s the entire political class that’s held in contempt.

Piping Shrike is spot on:

In other words, the Budget is nasty without being tough, or effective. This worst of all possible worlds is brought out in the polling. The real problem for the government is not even the overwhelming majority of voters who think they will be worse off, but the unusual majority that think it will all have been for nothing to fix the economy.

This is unsettling for the government as if people don’t think it will be good for the economy, they must think there is only one other reason for the pain, it is “ideological”, which is a political stinker. Unfortunately this government has spent so much time with bogus culture war initiatives in the first few months that it is not a difficult conclusion to draw.

But nor can Labor take too much comfort from this. As polls show, voters think Labor would do worse. However, much Labor, or its leader, may be enjoying good polls, it’s reasonable to bet that that perception that Labor has no control over the economy will return to haunt it at the next election. The trouble for the Coalition in the immediate term is that voters are suspecting that they don’t have control either.

Secondly, I don’t actually think there’s much of an obligation to construct an “alternative” budget. Let the government be judged on what it does.

Let’s be clear, though, about the impact this Budget has had.

(And I know it’s a long time to the next election, etc, etc. But we have the most unpopular first term government we’ve ever seen, led by the most unpopular first time PM. And – as the press gallery endlessly repeated – Knights and Dames and the Right to Be a Bigot being the only things anyone has hitherto particularly noticed about this government – it would be judged on the Budget.)

In lunchrooms at my two workplaces since Tuesday night, I’ve been regaled by colleagues about the Budget, and heard colleagues regale others. I currently work in Business Schools, which are not, to put it mildly, citadels of Teh Academic Left. It’s the unfairness that’s getting everyone, particularly the cuts to young single parents and the Crazy of the Under 30s Dole Horror.

And that’s reflected in the polls.

Hence the apparent paradox of a very small majority agreeing that the Budget is good for the economy, but a much larger majority thinking it bad for the country.

The economy and the society are not the same, and people make the distinction.

Let’s put two things together.

Whether or not Labor is credible (or Bill Shorten is credible) as a mouthpiece for egalitarian values makes no difference if the Budget is seen by majorities to have offended those core Australian values. And it has, and it is.

And people are right to see no necessity in this Budget. Joe Hockey hasn’t actually slashed in a fiscal sense (although I’d like to see some modelling of the impact on effective demand of welfare cuts and diminished consumer confidence will probably also have an impact). Leaving aside the Horror Cuts to the States and a few other alleged “structural” measures (though these are also political suicide notes), the Budget pretty much follows Wayne Swan’s trajectory for the next few years, and in fact sees public spending going up.

Instead, the Government has charged down an ideological Rabbit Hole. “Lifters not Leaners”, “End of the Age of Entitlement”, “Get Off the Sofa”. They’ve mistaken the “base” of angry Bolt commenters and talk back radio callers for the Electorate, and to their great peril. The disarray of the LNP cheer squad, amusingly documented at Loon Pond, shows they haven’t even placated their own maddies.

Forget 1996. A better historical analogy, if one is needed, is Fightback! in 1993. Ideological flights of fancy, flying in the face of the core value of fairness, are electoral suicide notes.

Laura Tingle:

Just every so often in politics there is a moment when you can almost hear the tectonic plates shift, and they don’t necessarily come with elections.

We saw one of these in 2010 when it emerged that Kevin Rudd was dumping his commitment to an emissions trading scheme.

The Fairfax-Nielsen poll suggests the 2014 budget is proving another such moment when politics can be turned on its head.

It is not just the dramatic slump in the government’s primary and two-party preferred vote, or the fact that Labor is, for the first time, the major beneficiary of this slump. It is not just that voters – in spectacular, angry numbers – think the budget is both unfair and not good for the country.

It is not even that Tony Abbott’s barefaced refusal to confront the fact he is breaking promises has enraged voters in a way that makes his position with them unrecoverable.

It is the fact that this poll suggests Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey will have little choice but to go back and rethink the entire political and economic strategy on which this budget is built.

The thing is, I doubt they will.

Hockey channels Piketty

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There’s a fascinating little snippet here about the influence of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century on the Obama Administration and US Democrats. Obama’s poll ratings improve, it seems, when he mentions income inequality.

I haven’t read Piketty’s tome, and I don’t plan to discuss his theses unread, but I think it’s possible to suggest that its enthusiastic reception is related to the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, and in particular, to the politicisation of income inequality by the Occupy Movements.

The spectre of merchant bankers and captains of finance continuing to award themselves huge bonuses while simultaneously trashing global capitalism, and the propensity to believe that their very practices were nefarious and probably illegal, has haunted the public imagination ever since.

The image of the “Top 1%” has been disseminated perhaps far more widely than its progenitors would have imagined.

What’s stark about income inequality, and particularly the meretricious and often scandalous behaviour of the Top 1% (whose lack of restraint couldn’t be more different from the Protestant Ethic habits of the traditional WASP finance bourgeoisie), is the breaking down, indeed the shattering of the nexus between merit, effort and reward.

Pollies have not helped themselves by living the high life – think Tony Blair cruising the Mediterranean on billionaire’s yachts or the antics of lower rent UK MPs rorting allowances left, right and centre. All this is much more plainly visible than it once was. The veil has been torn away.

The social and behavioural sciences are pretty unanimous in emphasising that legitimacy attaches to an effort/reward nexus that satisfies moral demands for distributional and procedural fairness. This is well established in organisational psychology – put simply, if you see that your work is rewarded through a fair and transparent process that’s equitable to you and to others, you’ll be happier. But it is also a macro-sociological phenomenon.

Capitalist societies thrive on inequality. But they can still satisfy the criteria of distributional and procedural fairness if rewards appear open to those who deserve them, and crucially, if meritocracy is guaranteed.

The social democratic foundations of the Australian welfare and fiscal mix have at least promised this meritocracy, which is what enables people to look on inequality with some notion that it’s fair.

(Note that I am not arguing that Australia is a meritocracy or that we have distributional and procedural justice in the link between desert and income. I would not make that argument. I’m just saying what has until recently given the system some considerable degree of legitimacy is the perception that we do.)

If you kick those foundations out from under people, and if you blatantly reward the few at the expense of the many, you destroy the system’s legitimacy. And the first response will be anger.

So, Joe Hockey is stirring up the same passions that sell Thomas Piketty’s book.

And that’s why smoking that cigar was the single stupidest political act of the year.