Tony Abbott at the “Making Australia Right” book launch

[Making Australia Right] is an important book because of what it says about our collective state of mind. Many of the people who normally support Coalition governments aren’t happy.

They are publishing their own ways to “make Australia right” because, they think, the government is not up to it.

It’s a cri de coeur from people who think that Labor is moving to the green left and that the Coalition has become Labor lite.

A sense of disappointment and disillusionment pervades these essays: disappointment with the Abbott government and perhaps even despair about the Turnbull government; but what saves it from being a curmudgeon’s lament is the palpable sense, in every contribution, that our party and our country can be better.

To editor Jim Allan and to many of the other authors, the government has done much wrong; and what it’s done right hasn’t been right enough.

These criticisms aren’t always fair. Still, unless we heed the message from people who think that we have let them down, a book like this can become the thinking person’s justification for voting One Nation.

After all, the Making Australia Right authors are not the only ones who are disappointed and disillusioned.

At last year’s election, 24 per cent voted for minor parties and independents, 5 per cent spoiled their ballot papers and 9 per cent didn’t even turn up to vote. That’s nearly 40 per cent of the electorate that couldn’t bring themselves to vote for either of the two parties that have governed us for 100 years.

And it’s worse now. In Queensland, polls have the Coalition vote 8 percentage points down since the election and One Nation 12 percentage points up.

It’s easy enough to see why.

We have the world’s biggest reserves of energy — yet we have some of world’s highest power prices.

We have land in abundance — yet Sydney’s house prices are close to Hong Kong’s.

We have among the-world’s highest labour costs and heaviest regulatory burdens.

Of course, we’re agile and we’re innovative and we’re the world’s most successful immigrant society — but Kazakhstan, apparently, now outranks us in education achievement and we’re no longer the place where everyone wants to invest.

It’s true that to be an Australian — almost any Australian — is to have won the lottery of life but it won’t stay that way unless we lift our game.

And yes, there’s an opposition in denial about the problems it created when in office; there’s a populist senate; there’s a media that often mistakes insider gossip for serious journalism; and there’s a public that demands to enjoy things today but to put off paying for them.

Still, the government’s job is to face up to these challenges and to overcome them. It’s harder than ever but it still has to be done.

So here’s the big question: what should a sensible centre-right government be doing now?

All the contributors to Making Australia Right have useful things to say but perhaps the best description of the centre-right’s dilemma comes from Gary Johns who says:

The Right believes in less taxation and less government interference in people’s lives: in short, liberty. But in a world where more Australians vote for their money than work for it, and the constituency beholden to government for benefits and jobs is expanding, the constituency for winning votes with tax cuts and deregulation is diminishing.

“Selling stringency and insecurity” says Johns, “is not going to win elections”.

Rather, he says, “the Right have to advance a cultural debate in conjunction with the economic one.

The Right have to promote a discussion that has, at worst, no cost to the budget and builds a constituency. It is not a case of ‘bread and circuses’, of creating diversions, but of the necessity to build a constituency that trusts government to be less intrusive. It is a necessity to overcome the shameless bribery that all politicians indulge in, but especially the left”.

Johns says — and as a former Labor minister he should know what the left is up to — that “the pathway to a liberal society will be … to win constituencies without bribing them”. Yet, he says, “to achieve a … society … that is more liberal and governed by contract rather than by ideology will take a cultural revolution”.

In the long run, we do indeed need a conservative version of the left’s “long march through the institutions”. We do need to make it respectable again to be liberal on economic questions and conservative on social ones.

In the short run, though, we have to win the next election. That means finding policy that’s philosophically acceptable, economically responsible and politically saleable.

One of the most timely and important essays is Alan Moran’s on energy policy. He methodically exposes the disastrous muddle successive governments have created.

We are sleepwalking towards what the head of BlueScope said this week was an energy policy “catastrophe”.

My government reduced the renewable energy target from 28 per cent to 23 per cent. It wasn’t enough but it was a step in the right direction and it was the best we could get through the senate at the time.

Now, almost two years on, people are starting to wake up to our danger: due to the 24 hour statewide blackout in South Australia — where traffic lights went out, cash registers didn’t work, people were trapped in lifts and patients were sent home from hospital; and the power failures in other states, like the one that badly damaged the Alcoa smelter and jeopardised 10,000 jobs.

I’m all in favour of renewables, provided they’re economic and provided they don’t jeopardise security of supply; but, at the moment, we have a policy-driven disaster because you just can’t rely on renewable power.

In the absence of better storage, the renewable energy target should be called the intermittent energy target or the unreliable energy target because when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, the power won’t flow.

But it’s not Labor’s even more disastrous 50 per cent renewable target that’s caused the problem — it’s the existing renewable target which the government has no plans to change. Indeed, under the government’s plans, wind generation is supposed to double in the next three years at a capital cost to you the consumer of $10 billion.

The government is now talking about using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to subsidise a new coal-fired power station; creating, if you like, a base-load target to supplement the renewable target.

We subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic so now we are proposing to subsidise coal to keep the lights on. Go figure. Wouldn’t it be better to abolish subsidies for new renewable generation and let ordinary market forces do the rest?

Of course, that would trigger the mother-of-all-brawls in the senate, but what better way to let voters know that the Coalition wants your power bill down, while Labor wants it up?

The likelihood of defeat in the senate never stopped the Howard government trying to change the unfair dismissal laws. Over forty times we tried and failed and each attempt meant that we burnished our small business credentials and Labor damaged theirs.

We’ve got to face up to the damage being done by green schemes that seemed like a good idea at the time — and we’ve also got to face up to the damage that the senate is doing; how it’s making good government in this country almost impossible.

The senate sabotage of the 2014 budget was blamed on poor salesmanship but my successor’s difficulties with far less sweeping measures show that the problem is less the salesman than the system.

It’s almost impossible for the government of the day to have a senate majority in its own right because it’s almost impossible to get the 57 per cent of the vote needed to win four senators out of six in any state.

This doesn’t matter much for governments that want higher spending, more regulation and heavier taxes (at least on the so-called rich); the senate will always vote for those. But it matters a great deal for governments that want the reverse.

The cross bench is good at grievance but it’s never going to take responsibility for cutting spending, upsetting lobby groups, and reducing taxes on businesses and high income earners.

That’s why the senate has changed from a house of review to a house of rejection. The result is gridlock, not government, and — for our country’s sake — it can’t go on.

John Howard recognised this back in 2003. A government policy paper recommended changing section 57 of the constitution to allow legislation that’s been rejected twice in the senate three months apart to go to a joint sitting without the need for a double dissolution election.

The government didn’t proceed with this reform because it fluked four out of six senators in Queensland in 2004 and, for one term, more-or-less controlled the senate. But it’s now high time to reconsider the Howard proposal.

The government should consider taking this reform to the people simultaneously with the next election. Let’s make the next election about government versus gridlock. That way, if it’s carried, the government will be able to reduce spending, as well as to raise it; to cut taxes, as well as to increase them; and to limit the size of government, as well as to boost it.

That way, the next election will be about the kind of country that we want: one where the government tells you what it’s going to do and does it; or tells you what it’s going to do but doesn’t because the senate won’t let it.

The next election is winnable.

If we stop pandering to climate change theology and freeze the RET, we can take the pressure off power prices.

If we end the “big is best” thinking of the federal Treasury, and scaled back immigration (at least until housing starts and infrastructure have caught up), we can take the pressure off home prices.

If we take our own rhetoric about budget repair seriously and avoid all new spending and cut out all frivolous spending, we will start to get the deficit down.

If we refuse to be the ATM for the states, there might be finally be some micro-economic reform of our public education and public health systems.

If we stop funding the Human Rights Commission and leave protecting our liberties to the parliament, the courts and a free press where they belong, we might start to look like the defenders of western civilisation that we aspire to be.

And of course, we have to keep committed to secure borders, not give up on free trade agreements that give our exporters a fair go, and ensure that our armed forces are about protecting the country not just creating jobs in Adelaide.

In short, why not say to the people of Australia: we’ll cut the RET, to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration, to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission, to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending, to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the senate to have government, not gridlock?

Our challenge is to be worth voting for. It’s to win back the people who are giving up on us like the Making Australia Right authors.

It won’t be easy but it must be possible or our country is doomed to a Shorten government that will make a bad situation immeasurably worse.

In or out of government, political parties need a purpose. Our politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project.

What is worth striving for; how can we make a difference; and what must change if Australians individually and collectively are to come closer to our best selves?

That’s the challenge that our side of politics needs to ponder. There’s much work to be done but the authors of this book, quite rightly, are demanding that we come to grips with it — fast.

Making Australia Right is published by Connor Court.

Posted in Guest Post | 39 Comments

Resignation of Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour is one of the great tragedies of modern Australian business

Robert Gottliebsen used to be a fairly good journalist.  Occasionally he still is.  But writing just now about Ahmed Fahour’s resignation from Australia Post, one has to wonder whether Gottleibsen has completely lost the plot:

The resignation of Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour is one of the great tragedies of modern Australian business. It reflects badly on the Prime Minister who has clearly forgotten what’s required to dominate an industry in competition against global majors and then to extend that business internationally. That was what Ahmed Fahour was doing at Australia Post.

Really.  One of the great tragedies of modern Australian business?  Or does he mean one of the great tragedies of modern Australian public service?

And to suggest that the Prime Minister has clearly forgotten “what’s required to dominate an industry in competition against global majors and then to extend that business internationally“.  FMD!

The way Australia Post has dominated its industry is through a statutory monopoly and a HUGE subsidy from tax payers – historically through cash, and nowadays by not meeting its cost of capital.

Good grief Gottleibsen.

Let’s see how much Mr Fahour retires on courtesy of the defined benefit superannuation scheme that he kindly closed shortly after joining Australia Post.

Mr Fahour has earned about $23m from Australia Post since taking the top job in 2010, and he stands to collect more millions as a member of a defined benefits pension scheme, which Mr ­Fahour shut to new entrants in 2012.

Great tragedy.  Ha!

Australia Post in competition against global majors.  Fair dinkum!

Posted in Uncategorized | 79 Comments

2000AD is 40 years old.

Posted in 2000AD tragics | 19 Comments

Reality television

Salve. I admit I’m old. I’m getting close to my 15th century. I can’t understand the fascination with reality television. It monopolises television and water cooler conversations. To see a bunch of idiots cavort or behave abominably to pursue fame is apparently fascinating and amusing. Yes, I know Narcissus is closer to my time, but is 15 minutes so important? SBS thinks that having strangers strip down in front of each other is a scientific experiment – paid by taxpayers’ money of course. It’s almost as bad as SBS telling us we are racist.

I have not watched any reality television, but can’t escape its reach. News.com.au has been devalued to such an extent that reality tv seems to dominate its feed. I suppose that’s lazy journalism – by so-called journalists who have obtained a Bachelor of Journalism. Isn’t it odd that the quality of journalism has declined while the qualifications held by journalists has increased? Thucydides, H.L. Mencken, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Pulitzer, Hunter S. Thompson and many others never went to university. But what university qualified journalist today would compare to those greats?

Apparently the news of the day is that Steve Price wants to depart I’m a celebrity* because someone called Keira Maguire is being juvenile. I confess to not knowing Price nor Maguire, but surely participating in a reality television show is the essence of being juvenile? So I’m not sure what Price is complaining about. Presumably Maguire is seeking her 15 minutes just like Price. And both demonstrating that their skulls contain less than a nanogram of brain matter is entertaining to Australian television viewers. Who ever said that evolution is survival of the fittest?

No wonder the country is falling apart with people watching such crap. Democracy requires a populace with an ounce of intelligence. That’s why ant colonies are autocracies.

* It seems that the show is misnamed. It should be I’m not a celebrity.

Narcissus-Caravaggio (1594-96) edited.jpg

Caravaggio’s Narcissus

Posted in Uncategorized | 65 Comments

Shocking revelations from the public service

A headline in the Herald Sun caught my attention this afternoon:

Why Australia’s public sector is failing

As they say, Click bait. Anyway I clicked. Oh, the outrage, the horror of it all.

A former ATO staff member told news.com.au the stalemate was “a symptom of a greater problem” at an “incredibly poorly run” organisation where staff were “trapped under a pile of inept managers”.

Don’t we all know that feeling?

He said that while the negotiation of the enterprise agreement had been going on, top-level senior executive staff had received a pay increase.

Well, yes. That’s what happens when the rank and file drag the chain on negotiating a new enterprise agreement.

“The staff feel that the senior management do not support them, do not respect them, and do not deal honestly with them,” said the employee, who worked for the ATO for several years.

Just imagine how we taxpayers must feel.

“In addition to all of this, the voluntary redundancy process that was begun under [Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan] has been a shambles. It resulted in swathes of people who were about to retire essentially getting a golden handshake for doing so, as well as some of the best staff leaving, who could find other jobs.

Really? No! That what happens when you have a voluntary redundancy process. The smart people who can get better jobs take the packages and the deadbeats who can’t don’t.  If you want something different you need to have an involuntary (or at least targeted) redundancy process. I suspect the ATO has paid many of its better staff to leave the organisation and get jobs advising people on how to deal with the ATO and Australia’s extremely complicated tax system. Good. Money well spent.  This is a common complaint/criticism of voluntary redundancy packages – organisations get left with the deadwood.  (Mind you – I’m surprised to see that the ATO still has a expectation of retirement – how would anyone know that person x is about to retire. A benefit of VDPs is moving those people on.)

The article then got better.

While pay grade classifications are the same, salaries vary significantly between the 98 public service agencies in Australia. For example, an Executive Level 1 staff member at the Australian Office of Financial Management would be paid a starting salary of $118,644, while an employee of the same level at the Australian National Maritime Museum would receive $96,716.

Appalling – what will those neo-cons in Canberra think up next?  A museum curator earns less than someone at the Australian Office of Financial Management? The spirit of egalitarianism has died a cold and lonely death.

… and so on and so forth.

Must have been a slow news day.

Posted in Shut it down. Fire them all., Uncategorized | 25 Comments

But, but, but … peer review.

Dick Puddlecote draws our attention to a very amusing editorial in Tobacco Control.

Despite careful review and selection procedures, no journal can guarantee that everything published is accurate, or that all readers will agree with the authors’ interpretation of findings.

Really? So the peer review process at Tobacco Control does what exactly?

While the editors make decisions about what is and is not published in this forum, these decisions are made with expert advice and balancing many factors-–—including research quality, contributions to the field, innovation, international impact and policy relevance.

Let me interpret that:

While the editors make decisions about what is and is not published in this forum, these decisions are made with expert advice and balancing many factors-–—including research quality, contributions to the field, innovation, international impact and policy relevance conforming with our pre-conceived biases.

Moving along.

Recent comments posted on some personal blogs impugn the objectivity of Tobacco Control and its reviewers, questioning our motives and the veracity of peer review.

No! Shocking. Do these people have no shame? Oh, wait. Not just on blogs, but whole working papers too.

The whole editorial is the most amazing read – turns out it’s not the editors fault that the journal has poor and sloppy research articles; its the authors’ and the reviewers’ fault. Small wonder they can’t get reviewers.

Posted in Plain Packaging, Shut it down. Fire them all., Take Nanny down | 11 Comments

Kenneth Arrow 1921 – 2017

The famous post-war neo-classical economist Ken Arrow has passed away at the age of 95.

Update: Harry Clarke has a nice post dealing with Arrow’s contribution.

Posted in Economics and economy | 5 Comments

Wednesday Forum: January 22, 2017

Posted in Open Forum | 1,388 Comments

How much?

Another day and anther bunch of do-gooder tax-seeking statists arguing that a tax will make the world a wonderful and safe place. This time it is an obesity tax.

 WHEN two out of three Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese, it’s clear we have a problem.

Note the lack of a clear definition – actually any definition – of what constitutes “obesity”. Just that about 66 per cent of the population have it.

Luckily there is a cure. No. Not more exercise and less eating – but a tax.

We modelled the effects of adding a tax to foods based on saturated fat, salt and sugar content, adding a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and subsidising fruits and vegetables.

Of course you did.  It’s not that I’m opposed to modelling, but I do so prefer actual empirical analysis of real world situations. Like the introduction of the GST, for example.  Anyway – moving along – what did the modelling find?

We found that a carefully designed package of taxes and subsidies could have a clear health benefit for Australians — an extra 2.1 healthy years of life for every 100 Australians. The impact on household food expenditure would be less than 1 per cent.

It would also free as much as $3.4 billion in healthcare expenditure over the remaining life of all Australians alive in 2010.

Alright people – contain your excitement.

Note the unusual turn of phrase: “an extra 2.1 healthy years of life for every 100 Australians” and ” as much as $3.4 billion in healthcare expenditure over the remaining life of all Australians alive in 2010“.

So how many years of extra life is that? Hard to actually work out – is it 2.1 years per 100 Australians, like we have to share it? I’m happy to be corrected in the thread, but I reckon that is about one week each. Perhaps it is 23 million Australians divided by 100 and then multiplied by 2.1. If that is the calculation then the population will live in total (and in their model) for 483,000 years longer than before the tax. On average that still turns out to be a week each.

How much money are we saving? Now note – our do-gooder friends never ever say, “We could reduce the health budget by 3.4 billion per annum and cut taxes for those healthy eat less and exercise more types who are doing the right thing by the government.” Oh no. How I understand this statement is that they have used 2010 as their base year. There are a number of Australians alive in that year (say 23 million) and they all have a finite of years to live. So the model defines a total number of living years (maybe they call it years of life). So lets guesstimate that number: 23 million people by (say) 45 years. So that works out to 1,035,000,000 years of life in the model. The tax saves $3.4 billion over 1.035 billion years of life.  (If you don’t like the 45 year expected life span substitute another number).

In English – you are being asked to pay a tax that will, on average, save the health budget $3.29 over the remainder of your expected life. Not $3.29 per year, but over the remainder of your life.

Hardly seems worth it.

Update: Threadster Mundi reckons I have miscalculated – (s)he reckons it is $3.29 per year of life, so you would save the health budget $148.05 over your expected life time.  Still too hard to get excited.

Posted in Take Nanny down, Taxation | 128 Comments

Renewable Energy – Good for jobs, Good for Business

This morning Coca Cola announced the closure of its manufacturing plant in South Australia resulting in the loss of 200 jobs in the state with the highest rate of unemployment.

Always on the ball, South Australian Premier Weatherill recommitted the state to a 50 per cent renewable energy target the day prior.

Posted in Uncategorized | 65 Comments