New entrants for this year’s ‘Sound Reasoning’ prize.

Three examples of sound analysis that I found in the most recent weekend’s Weekend Oz.

First, from Alan Kohler’s opinion piece, ‘Business leaders are having a go – at the government, but not at their business’:

It looks like the launch of HMAS Hobart in May was what stopped the Australian economy contracting in the June quarter.

Government spending contributed 0.7 per cent of the 0.2 per cent rise in GDP, and most of that resulted from a 41.5 per cent lift in defence spending, in turn largely coming from the first of the three-ship, $8.5 billion Air Warfare Destroyers project.

I hadn’t been paying close attention to the statistics, so I didn’t know this. Certainly the government wouldn’t have highlighted this! But even from this most basic analysis, succinctly described, I am able to conclude that our economy is indeed in trouble, as I have expected was the case for a while now.

Secondly, the always readable and usually reliable Terry McCrann, ‘It’s painfully apparent we are getting poorer’:

This reality [of intensifying national poverty] should change, add urgency and focus, to the national conversation on every subject and on every level, from the budget – tax reform and spending rationalisation – through industrial relations and the China free trade agreement and on to so-called “climate change”.

Take the last. While it was an exercise in mindless “feel-goodery” to pour money into ineffective and expensive things like so-called “renewable” energy, when we were getting $US180 a tonne for iron ore and similar figures for coal, enabling China and other places to turn it into carbon dioxide and steel, it was an indulgence we could sort-of afford. Even the gratuitous increase in power prices.

No longer. Cheap, reliable and abundant – and that means fossil fuel-based – energy is the basis of not just a modern economy but civilisation. To gratuitously undermine that triage at the best of times is stupid; to do so in to our very decidedly challenged future is criminal insanity.

When it can do nothing, absolutely nothing, to alter the climate. Apart from further the fatuity in front-end loading rapidly changing technology.

Imagine if we had installed all those inefficient solar panels. The waste would have been worse than “school halls”; it would have rivalled the Rudd-Conroy fibre broadband fantasy.

The bigger point is that we have run out of soft options; no-one is going to come riding to our rescue this time, not even a US60c Aussie. Redo the budget numbers on a sub-2 per cent growth trajectory and zero or more realistically negative growth in national incomes, and not even bracket creep is going to bring it anywhere near balance before 2025.

A nice, juicy piece of truth-telling made the more powerful for the quality of the analysis contained therein. Thank you Terry.

Thirdly, Chris Kenny’s ‘Revise, reset and refresh’ is a great read and top-shelf advice for the government, and especially the prime minister. It’s quite telling both that Kenny has been touted as a person who should be working in the PM’s office, and that his appointment has apparently been vetoed by the current chief-of-staff, who really ain’t much chop and around whom Kenny would run rings.

The piece is so good – almost a job application for chief strategist in the PM’s office – that I’ll transcribe it in full here:

Given nothing in politics is ever as good or as bad as it seems, you wouldn’t want to base your election forecasts on the current run of confected outrages and confused politicking.

Despite its inability to properly advocate its arguments or effectively prosecute Labor’s vulnerabilities, the Coalition still has the considerable strategic advantage of being on the right side of the crucial issues.

For all the superficial chaos in the media, voters will know the Coalition is in favour of secure borders, strong national security, budget repair and union accountability, as well as being opposed to a carbon tax, emissions trading scheme and other plans to increase power prices.

However poorly the government expresses itself, these positions are known and plausible, and will be brought into sharper relief as an election looms.

Labor, by contrast, is culpable on border protection, internally ambivalent on national security, in denial over the need for fiscal restraint and doing all it can to shield union corruption from scrutiny.

These are powerful and stark counterpoints and remain the reason – despite stubborn opinion polls – the government remains the bookies’ favourite to win the next election.

Still, for their own prospects, to provide that good government we keep hearing about, and for the sake of an effective polity that can achieve reform, Tony Abbott’s team must improve – and quickly.

Apart from accentuating the contrasts outlined above, the Coalition needs to make running repairs in three areas: communications, policy and personnel.

In the lead-up to this year’s budget and its immediate aftermath, the government seemed to realise the importance of strong and persistent advocacy.

Spooked by the empty chair leadership spill motion, Abbott and his frontline ministers hit the airwaves discussing options, spruiking reform and arguing their case.

This crowded out their critics, conveyed their messages and soothed much discontent.

When parliament broke up for the winter recess they stopped. It was obvious and looked lazy.

In politics you need to be relentlessly hungry for airtime because if you are not trying to set the agenda and fill the airwaves every day, you can be certain your opponents will.

The vacuum of the recess was filled by the entitlements scandal and the Dyson Heydon beat-up.

The government needs to re-discover its communications energy and learn to play from the front foot: don’t be defensive about Heydon, attack Labor’s transparent attempt to shield union corruption; don’t defend Bronwyn Bishop’s entitlements, attack Tony Burke’s hypocrisy; don’t drill down into who wrote which press release, hold Bill Shorten to account for accusing our police and border force personnel running a “quasi-police state”; don’t be defensive about economic growth; criticise Labor for jeopardising a crucial free trade deal.

No one can be persuaded by the government’s arguments if they are not hearing them.

On policy, the Coalition can better use its early achievements to set the tone for re-election. Border security has saved lives, reduced costs, opened places for more refugees and, importantly, restored the integrity of our immigration system.

Labor presents a huge risk of unpicking all that – again. On the mining and carbon tax repeals, likewise; the achievement underpins the threat of Labor reimposing them.

The government’s lack of success on fiscal repair shouldn’t scare it away from economic reform but convince it to take clear plans to the next election – seeking a mandate.

With papers under way on taxation and federation reform, there are a variety of options available.

Broadening and/or increasing the GST would be worthwhile if it eliminated some state taxes and funded income tax cuts. The tax and welfare treatment of the family home is also ripe for reform, although this is always seen as a political third rail.

Voters will be of a mind to respect honesty after being dudded by broken election promises after three elections in a row. In fact, given recent history, voters are unlikely to believe either party unless they pledge some unpalatable choices.

So a reasonable reform agenda will provide another sharp contrast with Labor, whose promise seems to be not to fix the budget.

And union corruption is a gift. The Registered Organisations Bill is already a double-dissolution trigger and the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill can provide another before Christmas. On the back of the royal commission, these are timely triggers that could frame an election around union accountability. The Coalition could argue for some labour market reform to generate jobs and union accountability to protect workers from corrupt practices; Labor would be stuck running a protection racket for big unions.

If higher education reform were added to the mix, there would be three worthwhile measures ready to be passed in a joint sitting if the Coalition were returned.

The government would have an agenda, powerful arguments and a good chance of success.

This brings us to personnel. One of the glaring problems with Abbott’s frontbench is that it looked tired the day it was sworn in.

My colleague Janey Albrechtsen has described it as a “fusty” gathering of “old (or older) white men”. This is tough but true. So a reshuffle is needed to refresh the team.

Andrew Robb has achieved more in one term than any other trade minister in recent decades. He should be rewarded with a diplomatic post where he could help cement this fine contribution.

Consideration should also be given to moving on Eric Abetz, Ian Macfarlane and Kevin Andrews for people with more energy. None has failed and all will feel miffed, given long and meritorious contributions.

But who could argue their departure would not provide the reinvigoration needed not only for political success but for the good of the country?

It is not as if there isn’t talent available to replace them – the irony and frustration of the present situation is that the Liberals have seldom had so much talent in their junior ministry and backbench ranks.

Women are still thin on the ground but promotions for Kelly O’Dwyer and Sarah Henderson at the very least would see them added to Julie Bishop, Sussan Ley, Michaelia Cash, Marise Payne and Fiona Nash as prominent female voices.

Nationals leader Warren Truss must be contemplating retirement but is expected to recontest the election – the alternative of having Barnaby Joyce line up as Abbott’s deputy prime minister is asking too much of the electorate. [Well, he’s brighter than Truss, and it would be entertaining, at least.]

A reshuffle of this order is a no-brainer. More women, more youth, more eagerness and more investment in the future would only enhance the government’s prospects. And, Jimi Hendrix fans, I know what you are thinking – Hey Joe. No, I hadn’t forgotten the Treasurer. A direct swap between Joe Hockey and Social Services Minister Scott Morrison might work to everyone’s benefit.

Those who dare to dream might even conjure a deal that puts Malcolm Turnbull into Treasury; along with a Kirribilli-style agreement that might stave off any looming leadership challenge and guarantee stability and progression into the future.

But Abbott is bound to stick with Hockey as Treasurer. And that will guarantee a degree of on-going internal fragility.

I’ll overlook the split infinitives in two of the three contributions, and place them in the running for the inaugural ‘Sound Analysis’ prize for this year.

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About Stebbing Heuer

A person interested in exploring human perception, reasoning, judgement and deciding, and in promoting clear, effective thinking and the making of good decisions.
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