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Wednesday, 20th August 2014

FOLLOWING THE LEADER

Treasury now says nearly 99 per cent of the budget's appropriations have already passed parliament, which belies the government's claims that tough measures – a GP co-payment, six months without unemployment benefits, pension cuts – are needed to get the budget back into surplus. But the GP co-payment won't go into general revenue, so the government now says it is necessary to send a "price signal". That can only mean that it wants to discourage people from seeing GPs, but that would likely mean patients are sicker – and more expensive to cure – when they engage with the health system. Similar confusion reigns across nearly all policy areas except "stopping the boats". Joe Hockey's desire to tax motorists more for their fuel clashes with the government's preference for roads ahead of public transport infrastructure. The government's desire for a budget surplus conflicts with its determination to reduce taxes, and its determination to punish jobseekers conflicts with all the evidence about what it takes to get people into work. And the Coalitin's rhetoric about Labor's "debt and deficit disaster" is challenged by the fact that Hockey is already a bigger-spending treasurer than Wayne Swan. A supposed "budget reboot" over the weekend culminated in a speech by Mathias Cormann yesterday during which he continued to pedal the same, discredited lines. He described talk of the budget's unfairness as "nonsense" but refused to engage with the evidence.

Barely a day goes by without a gaffe, backtrack, apology or clarification by one or more government ministers. Michael Gawenda suggests that the problem is at the top. He argues that Abbott has not successfully articulated a coherent political philosophy, let alone a consistent "tone and language" from which ministers can take their lead. In this sense Abbott's leadership is consistent with the confusing collection of half-formed thought-bubbles that was his book, Battlelines. His government has had a relative hiatus during August when the sharpest conflicts over the budget have receded, allowing the Coalition to claw back some of its public support on the back of Abbott's performance overseas. But Gawenda suggests Abbott's absence has intensified the lack of a clear direction within the cabinet.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Clive Palmer stands by China 'mongrels' insult

"The federal government has been forced to reassure Beijing that its relationship with Australia’s largest trading partner was still valued, but Clive Palmer remained unrepentant over his outburst in which he labelled the Chinese ‘mongrels’ and ‘bastards’." (Phillip Coorey and Tony Walker, Australian Financial Review)

Comment: Mr China no more (John Garnaut, Fairfax)

Palmer rules out delay for dole

"Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer says he would consider voting for a waiting period for young people to qualify for the dole, but only if it is no longer than 60 seconds." (Judith Ireland, Fairfax)

Analysis: Only one treasurer spent more than Swan (Rob Burgess, Business Spectator)

Labor would give rail its proper place: Albanese

"Shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese is already mapping out policy for a future Labor government, challenging in particular the priority Tony Abbott has given to roads and stipulating greater collaboration between levels of government." (Michelle Grattan, The Conversation)

Analysis: Ignore the gaffes, we're really car crazy (Greg Jericho, The Drum)

Not even cabinet knows the ‘real’ Abbott

"These past few weeks have been seriously weird. This is basically because Tony Abbott has been unable to offer up any coherent statement of what the main challenges facing his government – and the country – might be." (Michael Gawenda, Business Spectator)

Also: Tony Abbott is out of kilter on Scottish independence (Warwick McFadyen, Fairfax)

Manus guards charged over death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati

"Two former G4s guards have reportedly been arrested and charged with the murder of 23-year-old Reza Barati, an Iranian asylum seeker beaten to death during unrest inside the immigration detention centre on Manus Island." (Helen Davidson, The Guardian)

Comment: Freeing asylum seeker children from detention part of Scott Morrison's strategy to reintroduce temporary protection visas (Michael Gordon, The Age)