Breaking news: Barnaby Joyce backtracks on live cattle export/asylum seeker link.

Barnaby Joyce endeavoured to undo the damage of his comments last night:

“What I was saying is there’s a direct correlation between shutting down the live cattle trade…and asylum seekers (my comment).

“I’m not saying that this caused the Indonesians to start sending people across. I never suggested that.”

This is great because Barnaby is clearly trying to make a distinction between direct correlations and causation.


Not stupid, just confused.

 Unfortunately, I think he’s just confused rather than really understanding this distinction.

Nonetheless, the Indonesians have been typically quick to take offence. Former Indonesian former minister Dr Marty Natalegawa rejected the comments as as “shocking”. Dr Natalegawa responded strongly to Mr Joyce’s “patently false” remarks, telling Fairfax Media they represent “at best” an over-analysis of the subject.


“Worse still, it is shocking to suggest that the Indonesian government would risk the safety and lives of innocent asylum seekers in making the treacherous journey to Australia simply to make a point,” he said.



Barnaby Joyce’ remarks: Stupid in more ways than you might think

The trouble with having someone of Joyce’s limited intellectual capabilities as Deputy Prime Minister is that every time he appears in public he is likely to say something really stupid.

He obviously works on the assumption that bad publicity is better than no publicity and that some of his more outrageous statements will resonate with someone in the electorate. Instance: The Johnny Depp and the dogs  incident would have corralled the anti-Pirates of the Caribbean vote.

But he excelled himself last night at a regional leaders’ debate in Goulburn.

The Age reports that “Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has linked the 2011 suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia with a concurrent rise in the number asylum seeker boats that arrived in Australia.

Implying that the Indonesian government could have been responsible for dispatching asylum seekers to Australia, Mr Joyce said the decision to halt live exports was “disastrous”.

Might I remind you that when we closed down the live animal export industry, it was around about the same time that we started seeing a lot of people arriving in boats in Australia, he said.”


 Barnaby Joyce drops the ball again.

The first and least obvious stupidity is assuming events that are temporarily related are necessarily causally related. It may be the case, but there has to be evidence to support it and in this case Joyce probably has none.

The second stupidity is that relationships between Australia and Indonesia have been strained and diplomatic and political tit-for tat has been common. Joyce may well be right, but he has no evidence but in diplomacy it’s often not a good idea to state the obvious and certainly not the conjectural.

Nevertheless, evidence-based politics is not the name of the game in this election.

The third stupidity is the Deputy Prime Minister saying something like this in public. It is certainly not designed to help relationships with Indonesia. You can imagine that there is steam coming out of Julie Bishop’s ears this morning.  Comments like Joyce’s can undo months and even years of patient diplomacy. Bishop, probably our best Foreign Minister in living memory, knows well the need for patient diplomacy with Indonesia.


 Ever the diplomat, Julie Bishop mimes her response to Barnaby Joyce’s comments.

 And the third and enduring stupidity, which he will undoubtedly repeat, is being aggressively stupid in public.




The Liberals have changed their tactics

Once upon a time, the Liberal party had a very simple strategy for communicating to the public and political opponents: Keep it simple and shout, often and loudly.


 If there is a competition for one picture that sums up the reason for Tony Abbott’s demise, this one would have to be a strong contender.

 It is been a significant shift in tactics since Abbott exited (not, unfortunately, pursued by a bear). It is seen most frequently in the television interviews of Marius Corman, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison. The technique is to speak incredibly quickly and at length.

It’s baffling to understand why they would do this because it sends all the wrong messages. The speaker looks nervous and gives the impression they are reciting from memory and if they don’t get through the whole script I will forget what they were talking about. It’s a bad look for a politician.

Julie Bishop doesn’t do it. She is capable of articulating ideas clearly and succinctly. Unfortunately, when she has to explain the government jobs and growth policy, she does it so clearly that she makes it look ridiculous.


Julie Bishop is by far the best communicator in the Coalition

Perhaps it is better to speak quickly when explaining Coalition policy.

Here is Scott Morrison on 7.30 last night answering a question on taxation on superannuation earnings.

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, they were making 6.2 per cent. And the issue is: where the returns are will be based on asset allocation as much as anything else, which is what many fund managers and other advisers have said.

But the assumption is based on a 25-year average return of 3 per cent over inflation. Now, that is what Treasury has advised and that’s what those calculations are based on.

And that calculation puts the return at around four times – four times the earnings of the single-age pension. And the assets cut-off is more than double what the cut-off is for access to the aged pension.

So we think that’s a very reasonable mark to set, in terms of better targeting what are very generous superannuation concessions. So you can have a fund of up to $1.6 million in assets and you pay absolutely no tax on the earnings of that $1.6 million.


 Motormouth Scott Morrison pauses, uncharacteristically, for a breath 

He did all of this without taking a breath. It was pretty much incomprehensible even to those who are interested in listening to him.

Neither Morrison nor Corman are good communicators so it’s surprising that the Coalition is giving them so much airtime. No one would argue that Morrison was doing a better job of selling the Coalition budget than Joe Hockey did.

So here’s some advice to Scott Morrison. Speak slowly and loudly (and get a megaphone).


Are the Liberals beginning to think the unthinkable?

The Australian reports: “The Liberal Party is so demoralised by Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership that some in its upper echelons are now contemplating the previously unthinkable in the event of a shock election defeat: a return to Tony Abbott.

The pressing concern for Turnbull is the conservative revolt under way inside his own party. Many Liberal voters did not like the big spending, big taxing budget. They are seething over the retrospective changes to superannuation. They are appalled by suggestions the party would swap preferences with the Greens. And they are still smarting over the leadership coup.


 For many in the Liberal party, the ties say it all.

It has even sparked a new movement of disaffected Liberals who say they won’t vote for the party at all, or who may register a protest vote in the Senate by temporarily switching their allegiance to the Liberal Democrats led by David Leyonhjelm.”


David Leyonhjelm might get lucky

There is no doubt that there are people within the Liberal party who would like to see Tony Abbott returned as party leader. This is because they see him as the true custodian of the conservative values of the Liberal party.

It is quite possible that the Liberals are facing an internal crisis that has unfortunately surfaced during an election campaign. The election of Turnbull to the leadership  (and what appeared to be a certainty that he would lead the Liberals to election victory) meant that the influence of the conservative right within the party would be diminished for at least one and possibly two terms of government.

So the question for the right of the party is simple: Do we throw support behind Turnbull in the hope that he can win government and we can keep his left-when tendencies under control or do we undermine him and accept the fact that we will have at least one term of a Labor government?

The downside of supporting Turnbull is the emergence of a re-energise leader and a shift  towards the centre and away from the right. The upside of a Labor government, which may possibly be a minority government, is that the return of Tony Abbott as Opposition leader gives the Liberal party are very effective leader in opposition.

The fundamental flaw in this particular line of thinking is that Abbott is immensely unpopular in the electorate and his return as opposition leader would almost certainly see  Liberal party support go into what could be terminal decline.

Nonetheless, it is highly likely that the arguments within the party are being mounted in terms of a battle for the heart and soul of liberalism in Australia and some of the hard heads may just be taking a very long view.


Is The Age giving Malcolm Turnbull a fair shake of the sauce bottle?

Three headings in The Age this Sunday about Labor and Bill Shorten:

  • Election 2016: Bill Shorten’s $1b promise to keep medicine costs down.
  • ALP pledges to reverse foreign aid cuts.
  • Labor pledges gay rights watchdog.


 Bill Shorten pledging and promising

And this for Turnbull:

  • Turnbull clocks up 12,000km in vote chase.


 Malcolm Turnbull looking tired after 12,000 km on public transport

The heading for the Letters section read:

  • Turnbull casts aside dignified leadership.

Now it may be that Turnbull did nothing more interesting than travelling 12,000 km and made no significant policy announcements. But if he did, readers of The Age would be none the wiser.

This tends to highlight how reliant we are on the media to report the activities of politicians.  But it’s also not difficult to mount a case that this reporting is slanted. While Malcolm Turnbull is chasing votes, Bill Shorten is pledging and promising.

But it could also be argued that this is nothing compared to the egregious behaviour the Herald/Sun.


Why Labor will find it difficult to win this and any other federal election.

The national survey conducted from Tuesday May 17-19, reveals the election itself remains finely balanced with the Coalition only fractionally ahead according to preferences as cast at the last election in 2013.

Support for the Coalition is holding at 51-49, although when the 1497 respondents were asked who will receive their second preference at the ballot in July, the difference between the Coalition and Labor evaporated leaving it at 50-50.

There are two reasons why a Labor victory will be difficult.

 Reason 1: Unpopular leader

One of the key differences between the two parties is that, despite his declining popularity, Malcolm Turnbull remains massively more popular than Bill Shorten. When the Labor Party dumped Julie Gillard, it chose the wrong person. We will never know how much better Anthony Albanese would have performed in  this election but the indications were that he was more popular with the electorate that Shorten.


 Shorten is unlikely to become more popular with the electorate and this will remain a problem for Labor whether it is in government or not.

 Reasoning 2: The Coalition

We should not lose sight of the fact that the Turnbull government is made up of two parties, whereas the Opposition is made up of one. The Coalition’s massive advantage in terms of primary vote is based on a carefully crafted strategy to combine the votes of both the Liberal and National/Country parties. The strategy involves not fighting each other in specific seats and a very tight sharing of preferences.

If the Labor Party is to of the elected, it will do so on Green preferences. But not in its own right.   The combined primary vote of the Greens and Labor is 48%, well ahead of the Coalition’s 43%.


The Labor Party seems to be a war with the party it needs to form a coalition with. The inability to negotiate a deal with the Greens places Labour MPs in inner-city electorates, such as Anthony Albanese in Grayndler, at risk of losing their seats.


 So why not do a deal with the Greens? It seems a no-brainer.

The Green vote has been increasing slowly but steadily and remains to be seen whether it has plateaued at around 14%.  If the Green vote continues to rise, and it will rise expense of the Labor vote, then it may be impossible for the Labor Party to form government without the support of the Greens.

King’s School gets rugby training wrong. All Black training does not involve sheep

One of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious private schools is being investigated for animal cruelty after the ABC obtained videos of members of the school’s top rugby teams crash-tackling sheep in a farm paddock.

Click view the video.  It’s a pretty sickening sight.

The incident took place at a King’s old boy’s sheep farm in Orange. It has been condemned by farming and veterinary groups, but the school headmaster, Dr Tim Hawkes, has defended the incident, saying it was a rugby camp training exercise not dissimilar to shearing.

In one part of the video, one of the team players is seen holding one of the rams against a fence to keep from being involved in the brutality. One can only wonder how his actions will affect his selection chances.

The activity has attracted almost universal condemnation.

  • The NSW Farmer’s Association has also condemned the incident as dangerous and “plain stupid”.
  •  The Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) said it was very disappointed by the footage, which clearly demonstrated inappropriate and irresponsible handling of sheep.
  • RSPCA chief executive Steve Coleman told the ABC the footage was horrific and disgraceful.

Steve Coleman also made a rather more thoughtful point that there is a small step from brutality towards animals to brutality towards other human beings. One wonders whether King’s will now use slow fat kids for tackling practice for the 1st XV.




With Jobson Growth wilting under pressure, will Malcolm Turnbull now back new star Growthan Jobs?

The Age reports that:  “New employment figures show the labour market sank at the start of the election campaign, calling into question the government’s mantra of “jobs and growth” ahead of the release of the pre-election budget update expected on Friday.
Total hours worked have been sliding since January. Even among full-time employees, hours worked have been sliding since February.

tweedledum_tweedledee_poster-r629a227219fa41dfbc41efee5fe6da1b_idk_8byvr_512Jobson Growth and Growthan Jobs

The weaker employment news follows wage figures released on Wednesday showing the weakest growth in decades. Wages grew by just 2.1 per cent in the year to March, the lowest result in the survey’s 19-year history.”

One of the reasons that Australia is facing the prospect of deflation is that wage growth, which drives demand, is no longer driving the economy.


Wages growth really fell off the edge of a cliff  in 2013, the first year of the Abbott government.  The dilemma for voters at the coming federal election is that neither party has a coherent plan to address the problem.

The Keynesian solution would be for the government to take up the slack in terms of investment but this would require increased government borrowing and increasing the deficit is politically toxic. Nonetheless, many well-informed economists believe that Australia’s debt is not significant problem and there is enough leeway to stimulate the economy.


The stupidity of “these people will take Australian jobs”

Peter Dutton’s statement that “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that, and for many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it” has been widely quoted.

Three important points:

The first is that immigration is generally seen as one of the drivers of economic growth because it increases the population quicker than the birth rate will.  The trick is to make sure that immigrants become functioning members of our economic society.

The second is that asylum seekers languish on the dole because they are not allowed to get jobs and must live on subsistence government allowances rather than become function members of the economy. So the “languish on the dole idea” is a result of current government policy. It’s a pity that Peter Dutton doesn’t know this.

Refugee groups pointed to Treasury evidence that migrants, including refugees, added more to the economy than they cost it, even if there were initial costs associated with resettlement.
The third is that it is ironic that increased migrant intakes will take jobs from working Australians but the government funded intern program will not. This program subsidises employers for employing young people who work for a fraction of their unemployment benefit. Only the naive, the economically illiterate and the politically motivated would think otherwise.

Clearly this election is not going be a time where issues are discussed rationally. However, it does give us a foresight into the kinds of arguments we can expect to see supporting government policies if the Turnbull government is returned.

And with  Julie Bishop and now Malcolm Turnbull giving his full support to Dutton:

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has labelled Peter Dutton “outstanding” after his Immigration Minister drew fire for claiming an expanded humanitarian intake of refugees would see many “illiterate and innumerate” refugees living on welfare, and benefiting from Medicare while also taking Australian jobs.”

We have an excellent insight into the kind of government we’re going to get: another Abbott government just run by a nicer suit.

And clearly readers of The Age do not agree with the Peter Dutton.


Immigration Minister Peter Dutton attacks immigrants

The Age reports that “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in defending the government’s miserly refugee intake.”

“For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario.”


Asked about Mr Dutton’s specific comments on literacy and numeracy, Julie Bishop said: “The costs involved are also education costs – teaching people English because they speak another language.

Ms Bishop said the government’s plan to resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees had been costed at $700 million over four years, a significant amount of money.

Given the glacial pace of the resettlement of Syrian refugees (29 since the intake was announced in 2015), Australia has so far spent around $1.7m and that’s assuming that the 29 have been educated to a standard where they will be able to take jobs from Australians.

The ABC reports that Detention on Nauru and Manus Island cost taxpayers more than $1 billion in the 2014-15 financial year, the sixth year running that spending has gone over budget.

So it would be possible to provide quite adequate funding for the resettlement of large numbers of refugees by closing the detention centres.

As with much of the debate in this election, logic and evidence seem to have flown out the window here.  It’s an indictment on the education system and its funding, if the system is unable to teach migrants English or for that matter how to count. It will also be quite a long time before these migrants start taking significant numbers of Australian jobs.

We must not lose sight of the fact that Syrian refugees are, for the most part, escaping the destruction of their homes and cities, a large proportion of which has been done by aerial bombing by the Syrian air force or the air forces of America and its allies, including Australia.


 This is what a single RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet can drop on the Syrian town. Australia currently deploys two squadrons of these aircraft in the Middle East.

 It is time for our politicians, particularly Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop,to accept that Australia is partly responsible for the refugee crisis in Syria, not the largest part certainly, but then millions of people have been displaced and we’re accepting just 12,000 refugees so Australia is probably not yet  making a response proportionate to the damage that we have done.