Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Joyce v MickMac
A transaction-cost-free non-spill


The non-spill by non-leader of the Nationals Barnaby Joyce on such a non-issue as building a new coal-fired power station somewhere in Queensland, which will not happen, does not deserve media coverage. Over and over, however, Joyce gets the attention anyway, simply by spouting so much nonsense that it demands to be reported. Joyce’s interview with RN Breakfast host Fran Kelly yesterday was so deranged that she had to ask him to calm down, and former Liberal senator Amanda Vanstone expressed concern for his mental health. It is harmless enough: Joyce could hardly damage the government’s prospects any further, given how terrible they are already.

Contra Paul Kelly in The Australian today [$], there is no Coalition unity left to sink – whether you think the Nationals and Liberals are married or otherwise. In fact here is one spill that might almost be transaction-cost free: who would mourn present leader Michael McCormack? Perhaps only Prime Minister Scott Morrison himself, who today dubbed his dynamic duo “ScoMo and MickMac”, in a lame throwback to the partnership between Robert Menzies and his longtime deputy, Country Party leader John “Black Jack” McEwen. Feeble doesn’t cover it.

Reality check on Barnaby Joyce. Last night at the Sydney launch of The Australia Institute economist Richard Denniss’s latest book, Dead Right, a farmer from the Liverpool Plains, Paul Nankivell, got up to ask a question, which for today’s purposes can be taken as a comment. Denniss had been arguing that the right have killed off neoliberalism by abandoning its central tenets – for example, by advocating big government when it suited them – and the coal spruikers like Joyce and his colleague Matt Canavan got plenty of dishonourable mentions. The Nankivells are prominent opponents of coal and coal seam gas fracking on Australia’s best farming country, and, by the way, live in Joyce’s electorate. Nankivell said the federal government’s last-ditch effort to boost coal before the election was a sideshow – Adani’s mine wasn’t going to happen; Shenhua wasn’t going to happen, Angus Taylor’s new coal-fired power stations weren’t going to happen.

“The most destructive thing Joyce has done is to water,” Nankivell said. “The Murray-Darling Basin [Authority] was a nascent organisation, put there in good faith between the states and the Labor government, and that was rorted, and rorted very efficiently,” he said. “It’s the most efficient thing he’s has ever done, brutally. Now, the cost to the economy of reparation is going to be a major problem for the incoming Labor government. Barnaby Joyce is playing both ends of the river off – he’s done the classic divide and conquer stuff – can you tell us how you see that playing out because water is the instrument of survival in the regions?” The gravity of what he was saying was abundantly clear to an inner-city audience. If or when a federal royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin is held, Joyce is on the hook.

Nobody seems to want Joyce back. The Nationals deputy leader, Bridget McKenzie, slammed him today, saying Australians were frustrated that the former deputy prime minister was “not focused on their needs and issues”. Even Keith Pitt, one of the prime movers behind the Queensland Nationals’ ill-timed push for new coal-fired power stations, today downplayed the prospect of a leadership spill that would reinstall Joyce. A leadership challenge two months from a federal election? Why not? Bob Hawke challenged Bill Hayden closer, and won. Go right ahead! As Dirty Harry might say, make our day.


“The detailed modelling underpinning the investment in the massive Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme confirms the worst fears of many in the industry: it will likely cause wholesale prices to rise in the medium to long term, it will sustain the business models of coal generators, and it will put a huge dent in the battery storage industry.”

Modelling indicates that the investment in the Snowy Hydro scheme is focused “more on protecting the future of the government-owned utility than it is about broader benefits to the market”.

“Unsurprisingly, [Labor’s finance spokesman Jim] Chalmers is very taken by the repeated references made by the governor of the Reserve Bank of the need for wages to grow more strongly. What Chalmers doesn’t realise is that the governor has a very weak grip on the economics of the labour market.”

Judith Sloan attacks Labor’s support for a living wage, and has a go at the Reserve Bank governor along the way.

The Number

The donations raised by activist group GetUp last financial year, which marked a 20 per cent jump, according to its published accounts.

The Policy

“One option regarding a regulatory overhaul could be the establishment of a special prosecutions unit if the Australian Securities and Investments Commission could not cope with an increased enforcement role as well as prosecuting companies and individuals for behaviour exposed by the banking royal commission.”

Phillip Coorey on Labor’s response to the banking royal commission, which includes an openness to consider “whether our regulators are capable of doing what we are asking of them”, as flagged by shadow minister for financial services Clare O’Neil today.

The list

“To look at Megan Donnell, you wouldn’t think this vibrant and cheerful 44-year-old Sydney woman is living a nightmare. But her children, Isla, 9, and Jude, 7, are afflicted with a terminal genetic illness known as Sanfilippo syndrome ... It’s impossible to fathom the depth of Donnell’s grief. What sustains her is her sense of mission. She is looking to gene therapy, a fantastical technology that after three decades of false starts is starting to produce miraculous results.” 


“In spite of regular reports of their impending demise, the Nats have hung on – indeed, in 2016 they were credited with saving the Coalition’s bacon. Thus it may well be that the latest reports of its demise have been exaggerated. But in the absence of any compelling leadership – the giants Earle Page, Arthur Fadden and Black Jack McEwen, as well as the trio of headkickers Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair and Peter Nixon – the situation is not good.” 


“State and federal politicians blame the drought. But the drought only started two years ago, not six. For Wilcannia residents this is a man-made disaster, and the lack of water coming down the Darling is a direct result of mismanagement and over-allocation upstream ... The crisis has united graziers and Indigenous communities in the region, and they agree on how things can be fixed.

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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