Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Emperor With No Clothes

True to his word, Malcolm Turnbull has crossed the floor to vote with the government in favour of the Emmissions Trading Scheme. Independent member Rob Oakeshott also sat with the government and the bill was passed quickly. There is some irony to the fact that we have seen a rare sight in a politician actually doing exactly what he said he would do, even though it doesn’t seem to have won him many admirers. Whether it is because of genuine commitment or as some might suggest simply sheer bloody obstinacy is beside the point, as the gesture is virtually meaningless anyway. The bill would have passed without Malcolm, but his decision to stand apart from his own party probably means that there is no chance of him ever returning to the leadership.

Of course, the bill will now go to the Senate for a third time and is almost certain to be defeated for a third time, making Mr. Turnbull’s stand even more meaningless, but perhaps the grand dramatic gesture appeals to his sense of theatre. In that respect, comparisons with the Prime Minister are tempting, because Kevin Rudd also seems to have a propensity for the grand gesture, but without much substance behind it. Where Malcolm Turnbull might be seen as Don Quixote throwing himself into a futile battle which cannot be won, Kevin Rudd is increasingly looking like the Emperor with No Clothes, producing copious amounts of spin, but closer examination reveals that there is really not much of any substance there at all.

Despite all the bluster about triggering a double dissolution election, despite the repeated efforts to get the legislation passed in the Senate, there is very little chance that the government would take such a gamble when it is rejected yet again. That would involve actually DOING SOMETHING, rather than sitting around and just talking about it. More importantly, the government can no longer be certain that they would actually win. With Tony Abbott improving in the opinion polls, there is always the risk that going to the polls early could backfire badly for the government, while exercising a little patience could pay off for the government if the public starts to get tired of some of the opposition’s more buffoonish antics.

As for Malcolm Turnbull, there is still an outside chance that he could return to the Liberal Leadership if Tony Abbott fails, but the real question would be if he could be bothered wanting to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

General Alarm At Major Blunder Exposing Our Privates

Dateline 2020. The War between the United States Of Australia and the People’s Republic of China was one of the briefest in history. Australian soldiers defending against the invading Chinese were unable to make best use of their American built tanks and European helicopters, as the enemy were miraculously well informed as their every move. Army insiders claim that it was baffling how the enemy seemed to have intelligence so accurate that it was as if they were at the briefings in person. Then, in the limited skirmishes when Australian forces did actually engage the enemy, our men and women found themselves caught short as their combat fatigues began to mysteriously disintegrate. Department of Defence authorities were at a loss to explain this phenomenon, with a spokesman, Wing Commander Richard Puller explaining that the fabric was manufactured with a top secret technology making it impervious to Chinese bullets.

In urgent need of replacement uniforms, Australian soldiers were further distressed to learn that no new garments were available as supply lines from the manufacturer had been disrupted by hostilities. Defeated, demoralized, and damn near naked, the Australian Army had no choice but to surrender when their privates got entangled in their American body armour. It was only then that the awful truth became known. The war had been lost as a direct result of a lunatic decision back in 2010 to cut costs by importing the camouflage uniforms from a Chinese manufacturer.

The People’s Republic Of China is a country which may have severe deficiencies in the area of human rights and justice, but they do have a firm grasp of the concept of national security. When offered the opportunity to manufacture the top secret Australian combat uniforms the first thing they did was to absorb the secret technology for themselves. The second thing they did was to equip every Australian combat uniform with some very special features, including eavesdropping and transmitting devices the size of a bureaucrat’s nostril hair, along with nanotechnology devices to cut through the seams when activated by remote control. This meant that every soldier wearing a Chinese manufactured uniform was a walking talking listening device, transmitting every word back to the Chinese. And when the time came, the enemy only had to push a button and the uniforms all fell apart, leaving all of our Privates completely exposed.

If you think this editorial comment is silly, I promise you it is not anywhere near as silly as the insane idea of outsourcing the supply of essential military equipment to a foreign power which at best has very different political values to our own, and at worst could conceivably one day be an adversary. We all hope and pray that such a thing would never happen, but one of the best ways to make sure that it never happens is to practice some common sense in preserving our own national security, in both the military and the economic sense. Exporting jobs along with sensitive intellectual property, especially that associated with military capability, sets a new standard of stupidity.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Abbott Irons Out His (Policy) Briefs

It is a strange and bizarre universe when we have a Labor government proposing a capitalist market driven mechanism to combat climate change, in the form of an emissions trading scheme, while the Opposition has concocted a socialist action plan which relies on taxpayer funding to offer cash incentives for emissions reductions. In any other circumstances you could have expected it to the conservative side of politics that would have come up with a scheme which does the right thing for the environment by making sure that wealthy bankers and lawyers would get even wealthier. But since the government has already cornered that position, the only option open for a contrarian opposition leader is to go with the alternative approach.

Even more bizarre is the strangely splintered personality of an opposition leader who has just delivered a warm and fuzzy feminist friendly policy promise of a six month paid parental leave scheme, after making a series of observations which seem to indicate that he believes women should abstain from having sex before marriage, saving themselves for their future husbands, and then when they are married to the lord of the household they can expect to spend their life at the ironing board. Of course, while the sexual liberation brigade is aghast at these comments, the fact is that research shows the majority of house work is still done by the, ahem, lady of the house, so Tony Abbott’s remarks might not be nearly as offensive as some are attempting to suggest.

On balance, although it can be difficult sometimes to tell the difference between sensitive new age Tony Abbott and good old fashioned male chauvinist Tony Abbott, the one thing we can rely upon is that the opposition leader is an old school populist who is prepared to say and promise whatever people want to hear in order to get elected. He is politically incorrect enough to appeal to the majority of people who are sick and tired of calling a spade a manually operated manure spreading device, while conservative enough to settle the nerves of the nervous Nellies who believe that closing your eyes and wishing will make most problems go away. He is pragmatic enough to make promises that he knows he will have to change if he gets elected, slick enough to get away with it, and smart enough to know it.

You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ends up being Prime Minister one day.

Monday, February 8, 2010

All Thunder And No Flash

Stand by for another round of interest rate rises. No, the Reserve Bank hasn’t had an emergency meeting, and the official rate is holding steady for the moment. But the Federal Government has announced the end of its guarantee for bank borrowings. Introduced at the height of the Global Financial Crisis, the guarantee meant that Australia’s banks, building societies, and credit unions could borrow wholesale funds from overseas at the best possible rates thanks to the Federal Government’s Triple A credit rating. Now that the worst of the crisis appears to have passed, the government believes that the guarantee is no longer necessary and it will be discontinued at the end of March. The similar guarantee for state governments will cease at the end of December.

In making the announcement, the Treasurer Wayne Swan warned the banks not to use this decision as an excuse to increase interest rates independently of the Reserve Bank. He said, “If any major bank were to attribute some move above the Reserve Bank’s to this decision they would be wrong and would incur the wrath, not just of the Australian people, but of the Australian Government.” Just what the Australian Government might actually do about any such increase has been left to the imagination, but if past performance is any indication at all we can expect the banks to be flagellated with a limp lettuce.

The Australian Government, specifically the current one, has become very good at expressing its wrath, its concern, and its indignation about a good many things, but has yet to actually do very much about any of them. Expressing concern about rising petrol prices led to yet another inquiry, an abortive attempt to establish a website, and a lot of vocal condemnation. But motorists are still at the mercy of oil companies manipulating the petrol price cycle in convoluted ways that most of us don’t really understand. Expressing indignation about grocery prices led to, yep, another inquiry, another website which did actually get up and running briefly at great expense, and a lot of vocal condemnation. And yet we are still witnessing the effects of a duopoly controlling not only the grocery market but also much of the supply chain. Expressing anger at Japanese whaling in our Southern Ocean has resulted in threats of legal action, an excursion on the Oceanic Viking which observed nothing of any relevance, and lots of vocal condemnation.

On that basis, the banks have nothing to worry about. Next month, the chances are that the Reserve will increase official rates. When they do, don’t be surprised if the retail banks tack on a couple of extra basis points. They might say it is due to “international conditions” and they might even say that it is due to the removal of the guarantee, but the bottom line is that if their number crunchers come to the conclusion that they need to increase rates to protect their profit margins, then that’s exactly what they will do, whatever the official excuses or explanations. And there is nothing that Wayne Swan can or will do about it. The supposed “wrath” of the Australian Government has all too often turned out to be all thunder and no flash.