The Politics    Thursday, April 2, 2015

Yes, Headmaster

By Sean Kelly

Yes, Headmaster
Tony Abbott has a chat with Alan Jones

Well, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s a slow news day.

That’s not a surprise. It’s the last day before the Easter long weekend. Even our largely tin-eared politicians know better than to incur the wrath of people interrupted in the middle of a chocolate high. 

Still, the prime minister did find time for a chinwag with Alan Jones, radio host and self-appointed headmaster of the conservative school of thinking, who gave the PM a list of tasks he should be doing (including stripping Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard of their entitlements as just punishment for wrecking the economy).

In the middle of this lecture, which the PM took stoically, like an English boarding-school student enduring a caning he knows he deserves, Mr Abbott mentioned the GST.

He said that the government was open to considering changes, but only if all of the states and the Opposition got on board: “Bill Shorten is the man who controls the GST, effectively.”

This is remarkable. It might not seem remarkable, because the PM has said as much before. But just think for a moment about what it means.

It’s common for governments to announce policy and then, when they can’t get said policy through the Senate, to blame the Opposition leader. (Mind you, this excuse doesn’t usually work – voters expect their governments to get things done regardless of the barriers, a lesson learnt well by John Howard, who was prepared to do whatever it took to get the GST across the line.)

But on this matter, Tony Abbott is entirely outsourcing his policy-making to the Opposition, saying very clearly that the government will change its position depending on what Bill Shorten – a man Abbott spends much of his time deriding – decides to do.

Whatever you think about the GST, this is a clear failure of leadership. But it’s just one symptom of a much larger problem affecting all of us right now.

The next budget is being determined entirely by politics, rather than economics. It’s easy to forget from the outside, but as far as Tony Abbott is concerned he is in the midst of a constantly swirling leadership crisis, and will be until he has a good lead in the polls and keeps it for a sustained length of time.

That means that whether or not you think we’re facing a budget emergency, or need a fiscal stimulus, or have a structural deficit that must be addressed, this budget isn’t going to take account of any of those issues except by accident.

The only question Abbott is concerning himself with is: will this help me keep my job?

And that’s a real concern, because while Australia is doing well by international standards there are some genuine problems looming. Overnight, iron ore prices fell below $50, which could have a huge impact on the budget. The NAB quarterly consumer anxiety index has just found that, for the first time, consumers are more worried about government policy than they are about anything else, including cost-of-living and job security. So much for Australia being open for business.

But why am I going on and on? It’s nearly the long weekend. Let’s all do ourselves a favour and forget that politics exists for the next few days.

I forgot to mention on Tuesday the other battle facing Labor: the question of how much power unions have. Don’t worry, the unions didn’t forget. Also, Victorian party members will now have a 50% say in leadership elections. 

UK journalists covering the general election look miserable as hell on their buses.

Australian politics is tame. Cricket politics is where it’s at. ICC President Mustafa Kamal has quit his job after he wasn’t allowed to present the World Cup trophy. He said, mysteriously, “I'm sure people will find out why I have resigned and they will unearth the truth – who are these people, what are they doing and how they are running ICC.” The ICC responded with a sick burn, saying they weren’t even aware he’d quit.

And in anticipation of the extra reading time some of you will have over the coming days, here are some longer pieces (political but not Australian).

I’ve heard about this from my teacher friends, and I’m glad somebody has written about it – how Pinterest is revolutionising your child’s education. What it’s like to teach evolution at the University of Kentucky. Humane Norwegian prisons. Jonathan Franzen on whether climate change concerns are overshadowing conservation. Surveillance, loneliness and the online world. The tragic story of two young men who drowned in a corn grain silo, and what it says about working conditions (just an extract – you’ll have to pay for the whole story).


Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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