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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Following on from my prediction that a Liberal victory in Victoria would spell trouble for Gillard:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/victorian-election-2010/ted-baillieu-to-resist-pm-julia-gillards-reforms/story-fn6wlyrv-1225962988491

And following on from my prediction that Gillard must find a new action plan for government:

http://www.smh.com.au/national/gillard-goes-for-it-declaring-2011-her-year-of-action-20101128-18cfi.html

And, to summarise the results for the Greens in the Victorian election:

It turns out the first preferences state-wide are almost identical to the first preferences state-wide in the last election. They did not win a single seat.

In the key lower house seats, the Greens improved on their prior performance but not by much.

In Melbourne, the seat the Greens were most likely to win, the Labor Party suffered an 8% swing against it (in first preferences). Only 3.7% of that swing went to the Greens. The Liberal Party, by comparison, got a 6% swing. Not a terribly impressive result considering all the media hype and the effort the Greens put into winning this seat.

Likewise, in Northcote the majority of the 5.6% swing against Labor went to the Liberals (4%) compared to the Greens (1.5%). They fared slightly better in Richmond, taking a 2% swing compared to the Liberal’s 2.1% swing.

In Brunswick, the Greens even suffered  had a 2.4% swing AGAINST them (compared to a 0.2% swing against the Liberals). This was due to two independents, including the Australian Sex Party who would naturally take candidates away from the Greens.

These were the four seats the Greens were most eager to win and they fared poorly in all of them. They stole primary votes from the Labor Party, sure, but that was to be expected in a state-wide drubbing where the Labor Party’s primary vote dropped in every electorate. In each and every seat, the Greens did not gain a higher swing than the Liberal Party in absolute terms.  And these are seats where the Liberal Party should be faring badly.

It all goes to show that there has not been a permanent structural shift in favour of the Greens. As I said before, all that has happened is that there is now a clear opportunity pathway that the Greens may seize but that can be a difficult path to follow and to stick to.

Sometimes, for us New South Welshmen with our excellent and prosperous government, our great Premier, Kristina Keneally with all her refreshing ideas and progressive reform agenda, it is difficult to acknowledge that there are other States within our Federation.

One such State is Victoria, a small to middling State to our south whose economy appears to run on boutique bars and something called ‘culture’. Victoria had a State election yesterday and the results are still too close to call. It appears overwhelmingly likely, however that the Liberals have won an outright majority government. The last I checked (and I can check no further, as the VEC website has been overwhelmed by traffic), the count was 44 seats to the Liberals who need 45 seats for an outright majority.

I haven’t been following the Victorian election at all, so I’m not aware of any of the details. It sounds like your dreary ordinary State campaign where each party makes boring pronouncements on transport, health and education which seem surprisingly similar to the other. Despite this, perhaps we New South Welshpersons must acknowledge that Victoria can have an impact upon our fair State.

Ramifications for NSW

There are two important results from the Victorian election I wanted to highlight. Firstly, the ramifications on the Gillard Federal Government and secondly, the ramifications for the Greens.

The Victorian Labor Party has been one of the strongest performing sections of the ALP. Unlike the belaboured NSW Government, the Victorian government has been performing reasonably well (as far as I can tell). Although, as a Labor Party, it is riven by internal factions and machine men, it is not as blighted as the NSW Labor Party which is famously incompetent and poll-driven.

Julia Gillard herself is from the Victorian branch and draws many of her supporters from the area. Victoria was one of the States which swung towards the ALP during the last Federal election. For the Victorian Labor government to lose is a blow to Gillard – but I do not want to overstate this point. It contributes to a weakness in Gillard’s internal support, but her position as leader of the Federal Party remains (as it always has) secured by her performance as PM and is only marginally affected by State affairs.

I want to distinguish those factors from what I am about to say next. Julia Gillard’s reform agenda depends crucially upon the Victorian State Government. Much of her agenda is not (exclusively) within the realm of  Commonwealth power. Her the National Curriculum, the NBN, Murray-Darling Basin reform, taxation reform, health, uniform regulatory reform etc etc. All these are Federal initiatives which will be implemented by the States or require State consent of some sort.

Because of some of the above factors, the Victorian government has been a leader in COAG, backing Julia Gillard on many of these reforms (notably excepting Murray-Darling Basin reform). Losing the Victorian government is a savage blow to Julia Gillard’s reform agenda because it will make it that much harder to implement. And when it is implemented,she will have to fight every step of the way. So although, policy-wise she may achieve everything she wanted, she will be denied favourable media coverage for achieving exactly the same things she would have been applauded for had a Labor Government been in power in Victoria.

And finding and being able to articulate a coherent vision for government will be essential to Gillard keeping her job. Many commentators (particularly those on the Right) are saying that Gillard has only another few months to display some sort of plan or vision in order to cement her reputation as a Prime Minister. Without the compliance of Victoria that all becomes quite a bit more difficult. And, with the looming loss of NSW and probably Queensland it seems as though the major States will be opposing the Federal Government later in her term. And, let us not forget, the special circumstances of the hung Parliament. Gillard must consistently remain a strong performer lest the independents or (as is far more likely) her Labor colleagues will quickly oust her from power.

Frustratingly for Gillard, perhaps she will have to find a reform agenda within one of the 39 heads of power granted to her by the Constitution. But not s 51(xxi) (marriage). That would never do.

No Green Victory

Despite much hype leading up to the Victorian election, the Greens did not far particularly well. And, despite what the Greens will say, it is not only because the Liberals did not grant them a preference deal. The Greens achieved a first preference vote of 10% – which is half their first preference vote in the Federal election. They achieved only a 0.6% swing in their favour from the last election (compared to a 0.9% swing in favour of the Democratic Labor Party). That is completely unaffected by the lack of a preference deal. According to the ABC website, they have not won any seats (though the votes are still being counted).

So it becomes clear that talk of a permanent structural shift away from a two-party dominated Parliament is wrong. The story (as always) is far more nuanced. There has been a structural shift in the political paradigm – there are now certain pressure points the Greens can push to gain votes, but it appears that it is harder to push those buttons than we first thought.

The extremely strong support for the federal Greens stems from a confluence of events in the factual matrix. Firstly, in the Federal sphere there are many more issues that are naturally Green issues. The issue of gay marriage, euthanasia, environmental protection, foreign policy (ie withdrawing from Iraq), an emissions trading system were all very strong  policy issues on which the Greens could campaign at a Federal level. (It might be worth briefly pointing out that under a strict Constitutional point of view, these issues did not always fall within Commonwealth power. My point is simply that they do, for whatever reason). Secondly, we had two major parties which had no positive agenda for the country. One had recently backstabbed its leader and backflipped on the greatest moral challenge of our generation. It was pressing an unconscionable line on migration. The other presented absolutely no policy alternatives beyond jingoistic slogans. Thirdly, the electorate didn’t know what a Greens balance of power looked like. The experience of third parties (especially the Democrats) shows that every time your primary vote creeps above 15% and you get actual influence your vote plummets once the electorate finds out how you will wield that influence.

Let us contrast that with the Victorian campaign. The Greens did not have any easy values-based policies to campaign on. In NSW, they might campaign on secular ethics classes but that’s about it. They can talk about campaign finance reform or other political ethics reforms, but that requires a great deal of nuance that is unsuited to the Greens’ campaign style. They can talk about environmental protection issues but that invariably loses as many votes as it gains (outside the Greens’ core constituency).

So what did the Greens end up campaigning on? Here’s a Greens campaign video that constitutes a good summary. Although, no doubt the policies would be more left-wing than the ALP or the Liberals, they didn’t sound too different from either party. It didn’t tap into the cache that the Greens have built up, except for a stronger emphasis on reducing carbon emissions. The Greens ended up campaigning on the bread and butter issues of health, education, water and of course, the environment. It makes the voter ask – why should we trust the Greens with these issues? Yes, you want to redirect $Xm to schools or roads, but where will you get the money from?

Turning to the second factor, the ALP and the Liberals both had policies. Yes, the Liberals ran a negative campaign, but it also put forward some policies (from what I gather). It wasn’t enough to inculcate the ‘pox on both your houses’ attitude created at the last Federal election.

Turning to the third factor, the horror of the 17 day interregnum at the start of the hung Parliament and the realisation that the Greens might actually gain influence probably swung many voters against the Greens. In fact, many of those self-same individuals who voted for Adam Bandt in the first place. I think a crucial factor was the Greens’ attempt to push legislation to directly regulate bank interest rates. The inner cities may be full of lefties, but they aren’t hippies. They tend to be youthful professionals who understand basic business concepts. Whatever you think of more bank regulation, direct regulation of interest rates is the dumbest way of achieving it. And, when the idea comes from the Greens, it raises the spectre of socialist ideology – which would deter as many yuppies as it attracts. Moreover, it was a departure from the softly-softly approach taken by the Greens in terms of their other initiatives. Will the Greens force a withdrawal from Iraq? No, we’ll have a one-day debate. Will the Greens legislate for gay marriage? No, we’ll just have a motion encouraging members to do it. Will the Greens legislate to regulate the banks? Yes, we will. And we will block any other attempts by the ALP or Liberals unless they accept our amendments.

What the Greens can do in NSW

So, given all the above, I don’t think its impossible for the Greens to make significant gains in future State and Federal elections. What it shows is that raising the Green vote is about managing perceptions. In this case, it is very much about maintaining the perception that the Greens are not cynical politicians (a fact the Greens readily grasp – as seen by the language they use during interviews). That must be matched by their actions in Parliament. They should only seek to influence, rather than forcibly negotiate for their bills. That brings them down to the level of gutter politics of the major parties. The Greens, in order to expand beyond their core constituency, must allow people to forget their radical past. That means, they should stay wisely silent on economic issues and continue to use the muted language they have employed in more recent times. They’re not pushing for gay marriage (or for equal rights etc) they’re removing discrimination from the Marriage Act. That difference in language is meaningful and somewhat less corny than calling it ‘marriage reform’ or something equally bland. Of course, when I say silent, I mean that they should obviously answer interview questions directly but in a way that will not garner media attention. It is possible, though difficult, since the focus will always be on the major parties and not on the Greens. They simply have to avoid saying anything controversial and the media will ignore them.

In terms of more specific things the Greens should do to perform strongly in the NSW election, they will need to pick up several key policies. Preferably these should be of a values nature, rather than substantive policy areas. Ethics classes. A Greens vision for parliamentary procedure reform (though, as I said, this can be a tricky area). A drug rehabilitation centre. Reform of prison sentencing so that it is more compassionate. The trick is to find policy areas that can wedge the ALP without losing votes yourself. Euthanasia laws, for instance, are unlikely to be  (strongly) opposed by progressives. On the other hand, sentencing reform might be opposed by (some) progressives and thus you run the risk of wedging yourself as well. A brilliant policy area is to find an area where homosexuals are significantly disadvantaged and use that. Or, perhaps even to try to legislate for State gay marriage (as George Williams has argued is possible).

The NSW Greens have the advantage of no longer having Lee Rhiannon on board. She is apparently, an awful woman, who constantly blocked any useful legislation in the upper house and also apparently one of those ex-communists who infest the NSW Greens in particular. The new leader, John Kaye, seems to be a much more presentable person and has a more nuanced approach. I think, with him in charge, the Greens can stand to make substantial gains.

PS: I have spoken in very cynical terms about the political strategies the Greens can employ to gain votes in the upcoming election. That is not to demean the Greens -> all politicians, whatever ideology or party, must be sufficiently cynical to gain votes. The question is whether, having won those votes, they use it to do good. The Greens, to their credit, are at least attempting to enact those policies they believe are good for Australia (whether you and I agree with that assessment is another matter entirely…)

As you probably know, there is a big controversy in the US over the Transport Security Agency’s plans to give every air passenger a choice between invasive X-Rays or a rather thorough grope.

Needless to say, I and most civil libertarians disagree with this plan, which is not only a massive invasion of individual rights, but an unnecessary and unhelpful to the increasing airline safety.

But that is rather expected. What is more interesting is the fact that many of my Republican friends (at least on Facebook) are rallying against this expansion of government. And not just the libertarian types either, but the bona fide conservatives as well. I find this particularly fascinating since the conservatives had never truly walked the walk when it came to individual rights and national security.

I guess we’re seeing some good out of the Tea Party at last. Perhaps we may even see sensible safety measures introduced rather than terribly invasive procedures which we have implemented just to feel safe. In Australia, we need to implement some of the measures from the Wheeler Report which still have yet to be adopted – mostly surrounding cargo security, an area which is completely untouched. We need to redact the more useless security measures imposed on passengers, like X-raying shoes and prohibitions on liquids.

Politics matters because of the ideas that animate it. And when you remove those ideas from politics, what you have is barbaric. Even if some ideas are barbaric…

Waleed Aly, I must say is one of my favourite commentators, along with Annabel Crabb. Co-incidentally, both had spoke in a group panel discussion on whether good ideas make bad politics during the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (from whence this quote comes).

http://www.themonthly.com.au/good-ideas-bad-politics-festival-dangerous-ideas-2812

This was a very interesting session and one of those awkward panels where I can somehow fully agree with each one of these dissentient and disagreeing voices.

I must say I disagree about the complete merger of both Labor and Liberal parties. The Liberal Party has never been a purely liberal party, but a fusion of the conservative and liberal philosophies. To say that Australia has been robbed of all the philosophical ideas which animate politics is to draw a bow too far. It is now the ALP, animated by classical liberal ideas of individual rights and by modern liberal ideas of human rights, which is the liberal party. It is the Liberal Party, with its broad church of churches which seeks to be the collectivist party, enforcing its own set of social values upon the nation.

And yes, he’s right to say that politics has become more about managerialism. But to focus on that is to the exclusion of those ideas, those philosophical ideas animating each of these debates. Take the mining tax for instance. Onthe one side, we have Wayne Swan proudly declaring that the mining tax will consolidate a thousand inefficient state taxes and be used to stabilise the economy. Though such ideas might have originated in classical liberal philosophy, they now have their roots in utilitarianism. Is that not a form of managerial collectivism? Just because the mechanism of collectivism is no longer the trade union, nor the focus of collectivism the worker, does not mean that the ALP does not believe in ‘a society’. Contrary to that, we have Tony Abbott defending the rights of companies to make a profit – pure individualist philosophy. As Margaret Thatcher declared, there is no society there is only a rich tapestry of individuals voluntarily caring for and loving other individuals.

Many people voted for the Greens on the theory that, despite their economic incompetence, they would never have the power to control Australia’s economic policies. They would target social issues like gay marriage and they would never try to go for tariffs or for economic re-regulation.

Wrong.

Just a few months after the election, the Greens have already gleefully seized upon one issue of crucial economic significance – bank reform legislation. At first, it seemed they were happy to simply support any legislation proposed by the Labor or Liberal parties but this article suggests a much stronger shift in the Green agenda.

‘‘The Greens plan to introduce legislation barring the banks from lifting interest rates beyond official rate rises for two years….

I put a direct challenge to Joe Hockey and to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to support the Greens in preventing the banks from doing it again,’’ he told the Nine Network today.

‘‘Sound and fury is not good enough. This is hurting people.

‘‘The government should be doing it as well. The Greens are now putting both the big parties on notice.

He said the Greens would amend any government bill or introduce its own legislation to impose a 24-month lid on bank interest rate increases

I have previously explained why banning interest rate rises is dangerously incompetent public policy. Private banks exist to distribute capital by pricing risk. They do that through interest rates – dividing capital between short term and long term uses, between business and residential loans (and other asset classes). To ban interest rate rises is essentially preventing the very rationale for allowing private banks to exist. And it does tremendous damages to the economy. Nimbleness in capital markets is the key factor which allows financial markets to survive global financial crises. It was only by floating the dollar and de-regulating and privatising the banks that the Keating Government staved off the Asian financial crisis.A heavily regulated banking system (as the Greens are proposing) could not have survived the GFC any more than a completely deregulated banking system (as in the US) could have survived. We need an intelligently regulated banking system, similar to what Australia has now.

The Greens’ latest salvo is desperately unhelpful. It speaks in the language of retribution

Senator Brown said taxpayers had backed the banks through the global financial crisis through government guarantees and were now reporting huge profits.

‘‘It’s time they gave something back to the average Australian,’’ he said.

Whilst I don’t disagree with making the banks repay the community, let’s first make sure that what we are doing does indeed help the community rather than making our financial system more fragile and less nimble.

The key to achieving both the goals of reining in bank super-profits and of ensuring strong economic growth is to ensure that the banking sector remains competitive by empowering the ACCC, by taking measures to strengthen smaller banks and remove barriers to entry. In other words, the intelligent measures being proposed by both the Liberal and Labor Parties.

I am deeply disappointed by the Greens on this issue. I had been considering voting for them in the NSW State election, but to even contemplate such grossly irresponsible legislation (and objectively irresponsible legislation) to win votes shows they are completely unfit to hold the balance of power. I guess my vote will have to go to the Democrats. Yay, what a productive vote that will be.

 

 

Last week, American heroes the Australian arm of the  Krispy Kreme Donuts  (not doughnuts, as foppish Englishmen might have it) franchise collapsed. This week, Baskin Robbins followed suit – on the day of the midterm elections in America of all days.

Shame, for shame. How deeply unAmerican.

I’m studying Real Property. I am so bored. At least with Equity, we would have excellent quips by judges to keep me going. Now, I’m struggling through dense and condensed sentences in Butt’s Land Law.

It’s one of those subjects where you keep peering to see how many more paragraphs you must churn through to reach the end of the topic, and how many topics you have left before you’ve finished the course. Urgh.