Jul 18, 2016

Chris Mitchell: Trust languishes down on animal farm

In the late 1980s the backbench of this newspaper was run by Piers Akerman, then deputy to editor in chief Les Hollings, and included Col Allan, Peter Blunden, Alan Howe and me.
We all went on to run our own newspapers, Col famously as editor in chief of The New York Post for 15 years. Col had a habit of asking the news desk and young reporters a question more news executives should ask: “Why is that a story?”
The rise of single issue lobby groups and their increasing influence on politics and the media makes this question more important now than ever. When the media privileges the views of such groups we invite the judgement of our readers and viewers.
Are we publishing these views because we personally support them and think they might improve the lives of our readers and listeners? Or are we just too lazy to generate our own news stories?
Anyone who listens to ABC radio weekend hourly news bulletins would suspect the latter. Often with a skeleton staff of young reporters and producers whose morning email inboxes will be full of press releases, too many Saturday and Sunday bulletins include stories about protests in favour of gay marriage, environmental causes and asylum seekers.
Think about animal rights activists who want to stop the greyhound racing industry. In the modern world, media consumers can Google the formal positions of Animals Australia or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. These groups have agendas beyond the humane treatment of animals. Some want to stop all horse racing and the eating of animal or fish products. PETA opposes the use of guide dogs for the blind, believing that giving an animal worth only for what it can do for humans is immoral.
Are these positions that would appeal to mainstream readers, viewers and listeners? Are they even morally defensible positions? Obviously thoughtful people do not support cruelty to greyhounds or, indeed, to Australian cattle in abattoirs in Indonesia. And of course it is the role of journalists to shine a light on improper, cruel or criminal behaviour.
But it is also important for journalists to ask why something advocated by an activist group is a genuine mainstream story.
Journalists should also ask another question, one some senior reporters at the ABC have been asking in private internal staff meetings. What if exposure of, say, cruelty to animals involves the publication of dubiously obtained secret footage? How can reporters be certain of footage provided by activists rather than shot by real journalists?
This newspaper sought to track down the supposed abattoir workers at the centre of the Indonesian live cattle export story in 2011. We spent many weeks on the story but the men in the Four Corners footage fled. We lost track of them in Aceh but they seem to have been known to the operators of a Jakarta-based animal activist website.
What does our own industry’s code of ethics say about secretly obtained interviews and covert footage? It provides that journalists “use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material”.
Four Corners would argue footage provided by Lyn White, of Animals Australia, was not shot by ABC journalists so the code does not apply and there was public interest in showing it. This seems to me an ethically ambiguous position for a network that ran hard on phone hacking by News Corp in the UK.
When our leading publicly funded current affairs program opens itself to secretly obtained footage of cruelty — no matter how compelling the footage — there are potential unintended consequences?
Think of the deaths of a million head of cattle in northern Australian drought conditions during the suspension of the live cattle trade. Think of the potential euthanasing of tens of thousands of greyhounds when the industry shuts in NSW next year. And what of the loss of livelihoods of people in the cattle and greyhound businesses? The progressive media was once more concerned with disadvantaged people than animals and the Left’s agenda was unambiguously about material welfare for the working classes.
Are some animal rights campaigns any more than vain moral posturing if the net effect is Australian cattle simply being replaced in Indonesian abattoirs by beasts raised in countries with lesser animal welfare standards?
Just in case readers think I am focusing too much on animal rights groups, it is just that greyhounds have been in the news. Let me describe my Friday news consumption on the NSW mid-north coast where I am without Foxtel.
All afternoon on ABC News 24 the Archibald Prize was discussed through the prism of gender equality. Same on radio, where the fact the finalists were half women was more important that the quality of the painting.
ABC 7.30 started, appropriately, with a report about the Nice terror attack. Item two concerned transgender schoolchildren in Shepparton. Item three was a piece about South Sudanese refugee basketballers in Brisbane. Lateline closed with a poll that showed 82 per cent of a self-selecting audience supported the end of the greyhound industry.
Lateline, like all ABC TV and radio programs I heard that day, was concerned to point out the Nice attacks had not been confirmed as terrorism. As if a truck full of weapons regularly mows down pedestrians along a two-kilometre stretch in Nice and drivers often die in police shootouts.
While on the terror question, why are ethnic community groups regularly given space or air time to spruik their views about the Islamophobia of Australian society? So while you are most likely to read stories about individuals radicalised by al-Qa’ida or ISIS in this newspaper, you are most likely to have heard such journalism described as Islamophobia on the national broadcaster or at Fairfax.
Why would such accusations be a story, as Col Allan might ask? Ordinary Australians know who is behind international terrorism. No wonder so many media consumers no longer trust journalists.

Jul 15, 2016

Up to 60 dead as truck rams into Bastille Day crowd in French city

French President Francois Hollande was en route to Paris for crisis talks, and US President Barack Obama was briefed on the situation.
Australian terrorism expert Greg Barton from Deakin University said the scale and "clear deliberate intent" indicated the attack was most likely the work of Islamic State terrorists.
"The logic of using a heavily laden truck at speed into a crowd where they can't run away, you can see how devastating the effect of it is," he told ABC News 24.
"And you can imagine cells in France talking among themselves of opportunities they had, what they had at hand, and it's no surprise they have come up with something like this."

Jul 13, 2016

Cory Bernardi gives the silent majority a voice online

Good on Cory Bernardi. The move by the South Australian senator to set up a home for those on the Centre-Right of politics in Australia is needed now more than ever. After an election that saw the Turnbull government barely scrape home, and more than a million voters chose an independent or micro-party in the Senate, conservatives have two choices.
Do nothing, remain complacent, trust in the righteousness of their cause, watch the centre-right landscape fracture further and hand the next election to an emboldened Left.
Or they can learn from the Left, unite around values, get clever about language, reclaim morality as their own and understand that left-wing activism can’t be defeated by sober words and rational speeches. It will be defeated only by right-wing activism that takes nothing for granted.
Immediately after the election, Bernardi made his disappointment with the Turnbull government’s campaign clear. “One of the quotes I read … was ‘the Liberals campaign like it’s a lawn bowls gathering whereas the Labor Party campaign like it’s a dogfight’.”
Enough of playing lawn bowls then. Last week Bernardi set up conservatives.org.au to take on not just Labor and its union paymasters but that other dog in the political fight, GetUp! Bernardi registered the name Australian Conservatives before the election and now he’s fighting back with a website to harness conservative activism.
Bernardi’s move is recognition that GetUp! has evolved into a major electoral force by manufacturing grievance politics faster and more efficiently than a tech factory in Shenzhen, China, churns out iPhones. Its brand has landed more of a punch than a Qantas ad. And as Pamela Williams revealed in The Weekend Australian, under boss Paul Oosting GetUp! has moved from an outpost of generic online grievances into carefully targeted countrywide campaigns.
It put a bullseye on conservative MPs with a voting record that offended GetUp! members. By organising political versions of Tupperware parties to encourage members to become involved in the election against specific MPs, using smart technology to allow members to pick up a phone in their home to ring swinging voters and boxing up beanies, placards, T-shirts and how-to-vote cards for volunteers, GetUp! turned online activism into ballot box results.
Losing his seat in Bass, Andrew Nikolic decried GetUp!’s involvement, the $500,000 it spent and the 90 activists it “imported” into Tasmania. “This is what dishonesty looks like,” the former Liberal MP said last week. Alas, it’s not dishonest to harness people to a cause and encourage them to campaign for their values. Getting angry at GetUp! is akin to getting angry at democracy.
Better to learn how GetUp! has become the political equivalent of dopamine, that chemical in the brain triggered by pleasant things such as eating chocolate, having sex, listening to beautiful music, winning at a game and even getting revenge. It has learned the art of using feel-good language to hijack morality. Hence free speech is replaced with “fair” speech, responsible fiscal policy is supplanted by undefinable “fairness”, political correctness becomes a civility issue rather than a stifling of thought, tax cuts are recast as “gifts”, wars are “illegal”, race-based laws become the answer to racial discrimination, rights for same-sex couples becomes a debate over “marriage equality” and so on. Every word is carefully chosen to kick off political dopamine.
Meanwhile, angry Liberals wonder why they are losing these debates. Bernardi isn’t getting angry, he’s getting even. He’s working to level democracy’s playing field to offer conservatives a place in the public square just as GetUp! does on the Left. Bernardi wants to unite Australian conservatives who have turned away from the Liberal Party as their natural home. He points to the 1.7 million voters who chose centre-right independents or micro-parties over the Liberal Party. He’s inviting people into an organisation under the rubric of values rather than diminishing party brand.
As he told The Australian: “We might not have the youthful, peach glow of GetUp! but we want to make a difference.”
What that difference will be is anyone’s guess. It may be the early beginnings of a new party that will break apart the Liberal Party. For the moment, it serves as a timely wake-up call to Malcolm Turnbull that the Liberal Party is at its strongest when it respects both the conservative and small-L liberal strands of its past and present.
As a conservative, John Howard was also a pragmatist who united those two constituent parts to remake a formidable Liberal Party. Howard may not have agreed with many from the small-L liberal “wets” in his party, be it on Iraq or border protection or the culture wars, but he listened, respected their views and, importantly, included them in the government’s inner sanctum of decision-making.
Can Turnbull prove that a progressive Liberal can equally unite and strengthen the party? Or will moral arrogance preclude him from doing so? Just as many on the Left cannot simply disagree with their political opponents — they must deride and revile them — the same is true of many on the more progressive side of the Liberal Party. Turnbull’s imminent ministerial reshuffle will be an early marker of his approach.
Including party conservatives is only a first step for the PM. Getting to know conservative voters, rather than thinking you know better than them, is his second task. Ignoring the reasons so many voters turned away from the government on July 2 won’t help him craft and sell policies, and it won’t secure stable government. It will deliver only more votes to Pauline Hanson and the motley crew of independents and micro-party populists in the Senate.
The forgotten people. The silent majority. These are not passing election pitches; these terms mean something. Bernardi’s call to arms is a potential turning point for homeless conservatives who believe in smaller government, greater individual freedom, the importance of Western culture, its traditions and values, lower taxes, and “plain old common sense”.
Want to support free speech in our great democracy? Then how about campaigning at the next election for a conservative MP or candidate who is a warrior for that cause? Don’t like retrospective superannuation laws that are simply aimed at slugging the rich rather than serious budget repair? Why not campaign for an MP or candidate who will fight against that policy? Believe in the morality of work as a measure of self-worth and respect, not just an economic imperative? Then get out and campaign for a person who can articulate that long-forgotten value. Tired of being called a homophobe for believing that marriage is an institution that for millennia (and as recently as 2004 both Labor and Liberals agreed) meant the union between a man and a woman? Then lend your support to elect a person who has the same values.
If the Liberal Party isn’t a broad enough church to include these voices, then it has more to fear than GetUp! Its own conservative base will tell the party of Menzies and Howard to get lost.

Jul 12, 2016

Big solar is leaving rooftop systems in the dust | Reuters

Solar power is on pace for the first time this year to contribute more new electricity to the grid than will any other form of energy – a feat driven more by economics than green mandates.
The cost of electricity from large-scale solar installations now is comparable to and sometimes cheaper than natural gas-fired power, even without incentives aimed at promoting environmentally friendly power, according to industry players and outside cost studies.
Buoyed by appeals to self reliance and environmental stewardship, as well as government subsidies, the early solar industry was dominated by rooftop panels that powered individual homes and businesses. But such small-scale installations are expensive, requiring hefty incentives to make them attractive to homeowners.
Today, large systems that sell directly to utilities dominate. They are expected to account for more than 70 percent of new solar added to the grid this year, according to industry research firm GTM Research.
The success of large-scale solar has raised questions about the wisdom of continuing incentives for rooftop installations, which remain far more expensive than most other forms of electricity.
Unsubsidized utility-scale solar power costs $50 to $70 per megawatt-hour (or 5 to 7 cents a kilowatt hour), compared with $52 to $78 for the most efficient type of gas plant, according to a 2015 study by investment bank Lazard.
Generating power from residential rooftop panels is far more expensive, ranging from $184 to $300 a MWh before subsidies, the report said.
“If you take a solar panel from someone's rooftop and put it in a field, the amount you would pay for that power drops precipitously," said Matt Freedman, an attorney with California ratepayer advocate The Utility Reform Network. "What's the magic of having it on the rooftop? It’s not clear."
Many trace the tipping point for utility-scale solar to a 2014 announcement by Austin Energy that it would buy power from a new 150 megawatt solar plant – enough to light and cool 30,000 homes - for 5 cents a kilowatt hour. At the time, it was a record low price for solar power. Since then, projects have brought the price below 4 cents a kWh.
The Austin Energy contract opened a market for big solar in sunny Southeastern states, Jim Hughes, chief executive of utility-scale solar developer First Solar told investors in April.
"The response has been, quite honestly, astonishing," Hughes told them. "The utility world suddenly sat up and took notice and said, I had no idea that's where the cost of solar stood."
Large-scale solar is taking off even in states without policies promoting green power.
Georgia, for example, was the sixth-largest U.S. solar market last year with very little rooftop solar.
“We don't need mandates," said Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission, who is widely credited with helping jumpstart the state's solar industry.
Utilities in states like North Carolina, Texas and Alabama also are building large-scale solar facilities because it makes financial sense.
"We are seeing large swaths of centralized utility scale solar be procured primarily because of how cost competitive it is," said Cory Honeyman, who follows the U.S. solar industry for market research firm GTM Research. "That's a different kind of narrative."
Rooftop installers like SolarCity enjoyed rapid growth thanks in part to a marketing message that peddles the romance and freedom of generating emissions-free power at home. And, for homeowners in states with favorable policies, rooftop panels can be a good investment, ultimately offering savings.
But the math only works in places with so-called "net metering" laws, which require utilities to buy the electricity rooftop panels generate at prices far above what they pay for centralized power.
To what extent governments and ratepayers should support rooftop solar is a matter of debate in several state legislatures and utility commissions.
Opponents argue that as more homeowners go solar, other ratepayers are left to shoulder the cost of maintaining the electrical grid, which solar owners still use when the sun isn't shining.
Advocates counter that the higher the concentration of rooftop solar systems in a neighborhood, the less a utility has to spend on distribution to shore up grid reliability.
Last year, at least 24 states reviewed or made decisions to study the value of rooftop solar, according to the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, which compiles a database of state renewable energy incentives. The studies aim to determine what benefits, if any, on-site solar delivers above the simple cost of power.
But there is little consensus. In Louisiana and California, for instance, studies commissioned by state regulators found that net metering policies resulted in higher costs for all ratepayers. Studies in Mississippi and Minnesota, on the other hand, found the policy provided a net benefit.
A major difference among the studies is whether they consider as part of the equation the environmental benefits of solar, which can be difficult to quantify.
“I'd put the value of solar in the eye of the beholder," said Brian Lips, who manages the incentives database for the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center.
Rooftop solar's dependence on incentives is a key reason investors have punished solar stocks in the last year.
Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) is seeking to take advantage of that weakness by buying rooftop installer SolarCity.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder and chief executive, also is the chairman of and largest shareholder in SolarCity. Musk has touted the benefits of bundling rooftop solar with home battery storage and electric cars in promoting the takeover.
But many of the electric vehicle maker’s shareholders are wary of a deal they see as risky.
And last year, hedge fund manager David Tepper sought to block SunEdison and TerraForm Power Inc's (TERP.O) acquisition of installer Vivint Solar Inc (VSLR.N) on his assessment that rooftop assets were inferior to solar power plants, which have long-term contracts with utilities.
In a bid to stay relevant, some rooftop solar companies are expanding their repertoire. In May, for instance, SolarCity introduced a set of services for utilities, including development of solar power plants, battery storage and other grid planning resources.

SunPower said in June it would it would offer solar systems with battery storage to 300 New York homeowners in what would serve as a "virtual power plant" to utility Con Edison

Stop the shouting: if we don’t tame Twitter, we’ll face mob rule

Schisms of hatred seem to be fracturing the political landscape wherever you look: the police versus the black community, Sunni v Shia, Wahhabism v the West, Trump v Hillary, Labour v itself, Brexiteers v Bremainers, climate “alarmists” v “deniers”. All are glaring at each other across cyber-chasms of flaming verbal magma.
This is not entirely new, of course. Binary disputes are the fuel of history: king or parliament, Right or Left. Yet it feels worse now than for a while. And there’s the cause of the problem: Twitter and Facebook. Social media is polarising discourse more painfully than before. It amplifies the personal and the extreme, heats up the echo chamber and gives wings to lies. Confirmation bias rules, preaching to the converted dominates, nuance vanishes and moderates stay silent.
I am a bit of a technological determinist about this. I think communications technologies can decide the political temperature. After decades in which they generally helped moderate discourse, outside autocracies, they are now inflaming it. When blogging was all the rage a decade ago, at least there was space for nuance. Now, opinions are boiled down to a single shout.
I use Twitter mainly to find and pass on links to articles and reports on topics that interest me. To do so, though, I have to wade through bitter feuds, walk past vicious ad-homs, jump over blatant embellishments and bump into absurd hyperbole. “I can’t even remember what it is like to go to bed not feeling homicidal with rage,” read one tweet on Friday, not from a Black Lives Matter activist or a relative of a Dallas policeman, but from a journalist upset about Brexit.
A Pew Research Centre project in America found that “polarised crowds on Twitter are not arguing. They are ignoring one another while pointing to different web resources and using different hashtags”. A group of Italian academics published a paper last year finding “selective exposure to content ... generates the formation of homogeneous clusters, ie, ‘echo chambers’ ”.
Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman Charlie Munger has said when you “start shouting the orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind”. Tech entrepreneur Jason Hreha says that we are “continuously confronted with political and societal outrages, but the personal nature of Facebook means that our emotional responses are on steroids”.
Not all of this is spontaneous: some is the result of deliberate, well-funded policy. The journalist Asra Nomani has chronicled how the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation set out to create an army of online trolls and “began trying to control the debate on Islam. This wider corps throws the label of ‘Islamophobe’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion ... The insults may look similar to internet trolling and vitriolic comments you can find on any blog or news site. But they’re more co-ordinated, frightening and persistent.”
Defenders of the orthodoxy on climate change use the same tactic. They have been caught urging each other to “send in the troops to hammer down” anything heretical and to “grow the team of crushers”. Facebook stands accused by an insider of consistently creating newsfeeds biased against conservative sources.
The world has been here before. When radio was new in the 1930s, it played a big part in the rise of dictators and the descent into war. “It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio,” said Joseph Goebbels in 1933. Radio was the ideal tool for propaganda.
A study by five social scientists, from Berlin, Barcelona, Moscow, Michigan and Paris, found the “relatively mild anti-Nazi slant in radio news between 1929 and 1932 was effective in substantially reducing the Nazi Party vote in three consecutive parliamentary elections. In 1933, Nazis took control over radio and began airing pro-Nazi propaganda; in just one month, this fully undid the effect of anti-Nazi radio of the previous four years”.
Radio played the same role in the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. Apaper in theQuarterly Journal of Economics by David Yanagizawa-Drott found that “the main radio station broadcasting anti-Tutsi propaganda during the Rwandan genocide significantly increased participation in the violence against Tutsis”.
During most of the 20th century, however, radio and television proved to be milder influences, excluding extremists and concentrating news and current affairs in the hands of moderate professionals, tied down by requirements for impartiality. Ed Murrow and David Frost — irritatingly self-important though they were — were hardly likely to encourage support for a Donald Trump or a Nigel Farage. Trump first gained fame on television too, but it is through social media he has repeatedly used shock to keep his name in the news. A bit like Clodius in ancient Rome, he has discovered how to ride an inflamed mob against the patricians to power.
Could hatreds fomented on social media lead to violence, even war? With the signing of the Colombian peace treaty, the western hemisphere is arguably without war for the first time in history. Yet after the events in Dallas last week, after Paris, Brussels, Orlando and Istanbul we may be entering a more dangerous age.
We need to find a way to tame Twitter, to fence in Facebook, to insist on net neutrality and revive moderation. To do so while respecting free speech and without handing government the power to propagandise and censor, will not be easy. But it must be attempted before the mutual shouting gets worse.

Jul 11, 2016

Daniel Andrews must condemn the CFMEU | afr.com

Labor's federal leader Bill Shorten seems to have found his voice over employer payments to the Australian Workers' Union under his leadership, and, in larger sums, under his successors.
But when will Victoria's Labor Premier Daniel Andrews find his voice over the mayhem inflicted on the Victorian construction industry by the rogue Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union?
The CFMEU's flagrant workplace abuses were laid bare at the weekend when the union agreed to pay $3.55 million to settle a longrunning Victorian court battle with developer Grocon over illegal blockades of the Myer Emporium project in 2012.
Another dispute with building products group Boral remains to be finalised. In a separate case, the Queensland branch of the union and five officials were ordered to pay $545,000 in fines for unlawful coercion and hooliganism at a Brisbane Grocon site.
But Victoria is the epicentre of CFMEU militancy now that the resources construction boom is waning in the west, and it is Victorian taxpayers who will foot the bill if the Andrews' government cannot manage its $22 billion transport building program with the efficiency that dealing with Shorten's AWU allowed the former Brumby Labor government to achieve on the Eastlink road project.
Eastlink was delivered on budget and five months ahead of schedule, in sharp contrast to the contemporaneous desalination project, where the usual suspects - the CFMEU and the Electrical Trades Union - ruled the roost and a financial train-wreck ensued.
Make no mistake - if  the Andrews government's transport building program falls victim to that kind of sandbagging, the next slate of projects will be another train-wreck and Victorian taxpayers will be big losers.
But Andrews - whose election campaign benefited from large CFMEU donations - has been strangely silent about the union's illegal activities in his home state.
One of his government's first actions was to abolish the Victorian Building Code which the former coalition government brought in to try and keep the rogue union on some sort of a leash. That is not the sort of leadership Victoria requires.
The premier needs to condemn unequivocally the habitual misconduct of the CFMEU in Victoria and explain to taxpayers how he plans to defend their interests against the union and its supporters when he comes to spend $22 billion of their money.
A chat to the current AWU leadership might be a good place to start.
As for Shorten, if he can continue speaking plainly and forcefully about his leadership of the AWU - as he started to do at the weekend - and get through the trade union royal commission hearings, the saga of AWU developer payments could in an odd way be the best thing that's happened to his leadership.
It seemed to snap him out of his robotic, straining-for-soundbites, interview style and back into something approximating straight-talk.
Daniel Andrews needs to experience the same kind of conversion. 

Jul 7, 2016

Labor brand is still toxic despite Malcolm Turnbull troubles | Herald Sun

ONE lesson from the election is that Malcolm Turnbull is a dud. But perhaps the more important lesson is that the Labor brand is absolutely toxic.

In an election where people deserted the “Turnbull Titanic” in droves, they did not flock straight to Bill Shorten and what might be described as the melting Labor iceberg.

Despite Shorten’s beaming face and exuberant claims of success, he succeeded in lifting Labor’s primary vote from its lowest-ever level in 2013 to its second lowest-ever level in 2016.

In 2013, just one-in-three voters — 33.4 per cent, to be precise — ticked Julia Gillard’s Labor first. Just let that sink in: two in three voted first for anyone but Labor.

As of last night, the first preference vote for Shorten’s Labor was running at all of 35.4 per cent; and the way postals tend to favour the Coalition that percentage will probably finish lower.

There will end up being very little advance on the depths of 2013. To all intents and purposes two in three voters will have still have ticked first anyone but Shorten and Labor.

Shorten’s first preference number will be significantly less than the 38 per cent Gillard scored in her 2010 dead-heat election and the levels that Labor scored when John Howard was at his most ascendant in 2001, thanks to 9/11 and the Tampa; and in 2004, thanks to Mark Latham’s handshake.

To make a further point that does not seem to have penetrated the collective “intelligence” of the Canberra press gallery: Shorten came very close to becoming prime minister with barely one in three voters actually ticking their first preference for that outcome.

This would have been thanks to our preferential voting system which essentially forces all voters — with the odd exception — to vote for either Labor or the Coalition, whatever their real preferences are; after of course forcing them to vote in the first place.

Such an outcome — a Labor victory on just on 35 per cent of the first preference vote — would nevertheless have been extraordinary and on a par with the outcomes we see in multi-cornered elections in Britain under the first-past-the-post system.

Indeed, just a year ago the soon-to-be-departed David Cameron won a landslide victory with just 37 per cent of the vote. Thanks to UKIP and, even more, the Scottish Nationals.

Let’s put the Labor vote in its broader election context to well and truly bury the myth that the election was a resounding endorsement of either Shorten of Labor.

Turnbull ran an utterly abysmal campaign — as I suggested he would, when I wrote in April, that he was quite simply a dud.

He let Labor get off scot free on the big issues that had been so crucial to Tony Abbott’s landslide success in 2013 — in particular, the three dozen-plus of his team prepared to set the boats sailing again; and Shorten himself promising to bring back a carbon tax.

There was one absolutely golden advertisement that we should have seen five times a day, every day, and we didn’t see it even once. Shorten and Gillard both saying almost word-for-word that ... “there would be no carbon tax under a government I lead”.

Let’s assume the truth of the claim that Shorten had a brilliant campaign. Let’s assume that “Mediscare” sent voters flocking to Labor’s protective side — and yet, after all that Shorten only succeeded in lifting Labor’s primary vote by less than 2 per cent from its previous abysmal all-time low.

Now, political duds come and go. This one will be no different.

Yes, it is now clear that he will hang on to the prime ministership; he’ll win enough seats to cobble together the necessary 76 votes. And the lemmings he almost led over the cliff, otherwise known as his parliamentary colleagues, are too hapless, too lacking in both backbone and foresight, to force him out now.

But he will go; the only uncertainty is the timing and the circumstances. He is just too inept. His successor might also be a dud — often, you get a run of duds, But then, he could be a Howard.

A toxic brand is an altogether more fundamentally existential problem. In the 1990s, the rise of the Greens, took Labor below 40 per cent on first preferences, but it held in the high 30s through the darkest days of the early 2000s and then the Gillard years.

The fact that it hasn’t managed to scrape back above 35 per cent in what is claimed to be a very favourable political environment should be extremely worrying to those in Labor who can think strategically.

Before moving to bury the other great myth that has emerged from this election, let me note the truly extraordinary success of Kevin Rudd in 2007. And which makes even more bizarre the decision of the party to dump him in 2010 over polls that showed him still a winner.

Surrounded by elections both before and after where Labor could not get out of the 30s, Rudd got Labor’s primary vote up to 43.4 per cent in 2007 — at a time when the economy was actually going gangbusters for Howard and his treasurer, Peter Costello.

That was the highest it had been since 1993, when Paul Keating sneaked back with 44.9 per cent of the primary vote, before the Greens had come along to snatch away Labor’s “Chardonnay socialists”.

This leads us to the second great myth of this election: that voters are so disenchanted with the major parties that they flocked to all ‘the thirds’.

No, they just didn’t. Some 77 per cent still voted for either of the two majors — Labor or the Coalition. And if you add in the Greens as a now permanent blight/fixture, the total goes to 87 per cent.

Even just sticking with the lower number; yes, the 23 per cent voting for ‘the thirds’ was up on 2013, but only up from 21 per cent.

Yes again, this has been rising steadily — from 18.4 per cent in 2010 and just 14.6 per cent in the Rudd swoon year 2007.

But we’ve been up at these levels before. In 2001, some 19.2 per cent voted for “the thirds” and, in 1998, it was 20.4 per cent.

Considering that the preference system gives every single voter the opportunity of a “free kick” to well and truly, well, kick the major parties, it is actually extraordinary that some eight in 10 are still giving them their first preference.


YES of course the Brexit vote is a “traumatic market event”. Both in its own right and in the context of the world as it is in July 2016.

But as I have been arguing it is important to understand it is not anything remotely like the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

That directly triggered real losses running into the hundreds of billions of dollars, right around the world.

Brexit only triggered valuation losses — and then, only the loss of some of the profits built by the rise and rise of share markets thanks to the major central banks.

Yes again, it causes particular issues for the British economy, its markets and its banks — and sends reverberations across the channel into Europe.

It could lead to an even bigger traumatic event — departures from the euro itself.

The two key things to watch are central banks overreacting to Brexit; and that in turn, setting markets up for an even bigger ultimate bust.

Siren song of personal popularity exacts a toll of treachery

Does Malcolm Turnbull’s penchant for personal popularity weaken him politically and, much more important, strategically as Prime Minister?

First a couple of early revisionist thoughts on interpreting this election result.

Liberals want to see it as a replay of 1998, when John Howard lost the two-party preferred vote to Kim Beazley, lost a lot of seats, but retained majority government.

If it should turn out that Turnbull is reduced to minority government, then the result is a re-run of 2010.

But the odds now favour a small Turnbull majority. This will make the election most resemble, statistically, 1990, when Bob Hawke lost the two-party preferred vote to Andrew Peacock, but just scraped home with 78 seats.

Hawke was a dead duck from that moment on and was replaced by Paul Keating the next year. That term was diabolical for Labor, which expected to lose in 1993 and was saved only because Keating had unique lethality as hunter/killer and in John Hewson faced an unusually vulnerable opposition leader.

A senior Labor figure put it to me quite clinically the other day that Turnbull’s best chance of surviving for three years is if he heads a minority government, though that would almost certainly produce a landslide Coalition loss at the next election. As a minority government, all the day-to-day pressure would be to accommodate the crossbenches, which would be populist and generally left of centre. The Liberal parliamentary party would be cowed by perennial crisis.

Whereas if Turnbull has a small majority, the day-to-day policy pressure will come from his party, which is deeply disgruntled with the government’s policy performance, mistreatment of the base and woeful election campaign.

This was evident in the very blunt comments of the Liberal member for Canning, Andrew Hastie, to his local newspaper. Hastie is surely a big face in the Liberals’ future. A former SAS soldier of the highest calibre, he won this time, he said, by junking all the talking points provided from the national campaign, which he found useless. Words like innovative and agile, which constituted so much of Turnbull and the campaign’s rhetoric, were meaningless in his electorate.

Like Liberals everywhere except apparently campaign headquarters, he experienced a lot of blowback over superannuation changes, was angry at the view of Liberal pollster Mark Textor that conservatives didn’t matter because they had nowhere else to go and any alienation on their part would be more than compensated by an increased vote in the centre, and he found the whole Coalition national campaign disconnected from ordinary voters.

That is a pretty telling indictment from a young, smart, ­energetic Liberal who actually increased his vote compared with the by-election in which he first won the seat.

Now back to this question of the PM’s love of personal popularity. It may be that Turnbull was somewhat seduced by the unreal, indeed euphoric, approval ratings he enjoyed when he first became PM. Or it may be that, like Kevin Rudd and numbers of other politicians, he just cannot bear to be unpopular in front of any audience he is speaking to.

But an unwillingness to say hard things in public is debilitating to a national leader in two ways politically, and in another way strategically.

First, politically, it means you choose not to make negative attacks on your opponents. Labor in contrast ran this campaign right back on its base strengths of health and education, and it ran big on attack. The Liberals ran a positive campaign but one that was essentially vapid, a corporate tax cut which wasn’t going to produce its economic benefits for 10 years, and its campaign refused to go negative on boats, likely electricity price rises under Labor’s new carbon tax, trade union corruption or anything else. And indeed it was a very presidential campaign, with all the images around Turnbull and the “Turnbull Coalition”, even though the Prime Minister did not enjoy positive personal approval ratings.

Being a political leader is a multi-skilled business. If you can’t do successful political attack, you simply won’t succeed.

The second big political disadvantage of never being able to say tough, disagreeable or sometimes even negative things is that the leader distances himself too much from his own tribe. Ultimately the nation must always come before the tribe, but a political leader must lead and own and care for his political tribe. He must show some loyalty to his political movement if he expects it to show loyalty to him and campaign for him.

There was an emblematic moment during the campaign when the PM was appearing on ABC’s Q&A. An audience member asked an outrageous question which equated conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s opposition to legalising same-sex marriage with the truly appalling homophobic attitudes expressed by some of the sheiks on the National Imams Council.

Turnbull did not explicitly endorse the odious, indeed contemptible, moral equivalence suggested in the question. But when asked if he had had equally tough conversations on these issues with his colleagues as he had with the sheiks, he answered emphatically: “Yes.”

Obviously Turnbull doesn’t much like Bernadi, but surely as the leader of the Liberal Party that was the moment for the PM to say he would not have his colleague’s views traduced in that fashion and that Bernadi had never said anything remotely equivalent to what was being implied. Is a moment’s applause in a Q&A studio really more important than defending your parliamentary colleagues against vilification?

And finally, if you won’t say anything tough to the electorate you cannot be an effective prime minister in national security or economics. The primary purpose of spending money on lethal, high-end, war-fighting armaments, that is to say the defence force, is because we live in a dangerous world. If you can’t talk about that danger, you can’t talk meaningfully about national security, as you may well need to.

Similarly, if your public schtick is that this is the best of all possible times in the best of all possible worlds, why should the electorate ever agree to the reduction of any government benefit at all?

Yet without such agreement budget consolidation, which is necessary for economic growth, is impossible.

We would all love to be popular, but popularity is a siren song that can all too easily lead to treachery and despair.

Jul 5, 2016

Goodbye Malcolm Turnbull and goodbye Triple-A | Daily Telegraph

MALCOLM Turnbull and our triple-A credit rating are both going to go. For both it’s only a question of timing.
Is there anyone on God’s Green Earth — and getting greener by the day, thanks to wonderful life-creating carbon dioxide — apart from Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull who thinks he has the slightest possible chance of survival?
The lemmings in the Liberal Party who allowed him to lead them over the electoral cliff should ask themselves this one simple question: if he’s not going to lead them to the next election, what’s the point of him remaining leader for another day, far less another month?
Indeed, if Turnbull himself can’t see that his continued leadership of the party is utterly untenable — he’s effectively announcing his unfitness to continue as that leader.
That’s to say, his refusal to tender his resignation as leader is really an instruction to the — true, pusillanimous and shell-shocked — survivors to sack him.
Alternatively, as I argued yesterday, the Nationals could make it ‘easy’ for the Liberals by declaring their refusal to serve in coalition with a Liberal party led by Turnbull.
Do they — both the Nationals and his, for want of a better term, fellow Liberals — seriously trust him with negotiating with the crossbenchers to from a minority government if the Coalition falls short, as seems likely, to get to 76 seats?
The double-dissolution election was entirely his choice — and won almost unanimous plaudits from the Canberra press gallery, demonstrating yet again its total inability to understand the most basic political dynamics, far less something as hideously complex as simple arithmetic.
Turnbull choose to call time on a Senate, which despite all its complications and difficulties, Tony Abbott had actually managed to do business with. Abbott had got the Senate to abolish both of Julia Gillard’s carbon and mining taxes.
What hasn’t been recognised in the Turnbull wreckage is that Turnbull hasn’t just destroyed that opportunity, he’s destroyed it for at least six years and arguably for ever.
The first thing the DD election, and so the halving of the number of votes needed to win a Senate seat, achieved was to elect even more crossbenchers and cost the Coalition at least two utterly crucial seats.
Previously the Coalition in government needed six of the eight crossbench senators to get legislation through. Now, if they do scrape back into government, they will need at least nine and possibly 10 to get anything through.
Even more disastrously, Labor and the Greens together will be only three or four votes short of a Senate majority. If we get a Labor government, it will be much, much easier for it to get its agenda through the Senate.
And especially, ominously and catastrophically, all those things that appeal to the Greens — especially utterly idiotic, equally pointless, economically destructive and hugely costly to consumers ‘action on climate change’. As indeed, we saw last time, with Gillard and her carbon tax.
The second, equally disastrous Senate legacy from Turnbull’s clever-dick ‘good idea at the time’ is that it’s the idiot’s gift that will keep on giving — to the crossbenchers.
The smaller quota is going to deliver six-year terms to Pauline Hanson, Jackie Lambie and two Xenophites at least.
This goes to the overriding critical point. The Senators are now locked in for either three or six years.
The House can be forced to another election, but the Senate can’t — unless there’s another DD. And that would be a great idea, I don’t think.
This is Turnbull’s most disastrous legacy. What’s the point of the Coalition either getting government now or winning at another election; it won’t be able to get anything of substance through the Senate.
Another election would be a bet to nothing for Labor. If it won, it would have a relatively friendly Senate — all thanks to Turnbull.
In their own interests and in the interests of the country, the Coalition members have to remove Turnbull from having any say in any of this; and they must do it immediately.
The obvious — and desirable alternative — is Abbott.
He proved himself as arguably the greatest opposition leader in our history, not only against the minority Gillard government, but against the Rudd and Gillard majority governments before the 2010 election.
And think about it: the Coalition actually needs such an effective ‘opposition leader’ again.
Either because they will be in opposition, once the last votes are counted and the dealing is done. Or because they will be in a form of opposition, balanced on a knife-edge in the lower house and facing a hostile and very mixed-up Senate.
So, to return to my key question: what exactly would be the point of keeping Turnbull propped up in the leadership, Weekend at Bernie’s style?
If you accept that he cannot continue for any serious length of time; and certainly not until and then through — are you kidding? — another election campaign; if it’s to be done, it’s best done right now.
On the second point, the Triple-A is a gone-gone-absolute goner. The credit rating agencies started twitching yesterday about the ‘political instability’ in the wake of the election — demonstrating they know as much about Australian politics as the press gallery.
So the next government might have difficulty sustaining Budget repair? What the hell do they think has changed?
Both sides had made it crystal clear they had absolutely no interest in serious Budget repair.
The ‘deficit reduction path’ in the Government’s Budget was an absolute joke; and the Opposition promised its deficits would be even bigger!
The Senate was always going to be difficult-to-impossible; it’s just more obviously so now.
When the credit downgrade comes, we will see an immediate sharp, negative, reaction — just like with the Brexit vote. Share prices, and especially those of the banks, will drop — maybe even plunge; so also will the Aussie dollar; interest rates will spike higher.
Then, again just like Brexit, things will quieten down and it will appear the downgrade was a non-event. And in the short-to-medium term it will be a non-event.
The whole global credit-rating system is askew because of all the trillions of dollars looking for either safety — going into ‘good’ government bonds — or some sort of yield — going into shares and property.
So Japan, which has the biggest government debt in the world, an even bigger political and fiscal mess than us, and is rated just AA, is borrowing 10-year money at negative rates. Even though we are triple-A and paying nearly (these days, a huge) 2 per cent.
In the short term it will seem that our downgrade hasn’t really mattered much. Longer term it will ultimately be devastating because of our huge — $1 trillion-plus — net foreign debt and our insatiable demand for more foreign money every year.
That’s when an anti-foreign investor Senate could suddenly take us right over the edge.