Mungo McCallum (no relation) has filed this blockbuster column filling in for Hillary who is flat out trying to win the Libs a third term.

However, if you want your Hillary fix, subscribers will have access to Hillary’s exclusive analysis of key marginal seats and all 150 spots up for grabs in the House of Representatives over the poll. If you want the real inside information, click here: https://subscribe.crikey.com.au

The campaign continues

I know after years in politics that it is a game in which one should never seek pity, but after this weekend, I feel the need to throw myself on Crikey readers for some comfort.

Despite years of campaigns, this weekend has seen a depressing low in my political involvement. Here I am, wanting to wind up the Liberal’s campaign highlighting the hilarious non-policy of Labor’s rollback, and the whole campaign goes on hold while staffers scour the Timor Sea looking for new boats to turn back, and most of the rest scour Shanghai looking for someone important to shake the Prime Minister’s hand. And we mean someone more important than Jean Chretian and Helen Clark, though not as slant-eyed as Jiang Zemin. So far all they have arranged for the cameras is a pat on the back from George when what we really needed was something a little less patronising. And a meeting with that Indonesian woman with the big bum (Amanda eat your heart out) would be useful, to tell her not to worry about what we say on talkback radio.

And amidst this new low in campaigning, I get ordered by Stephen Mayne to cover the election for the ACT’s toy parliament. I mean, Canberra is bad enough at the best of times, but in the middle of a Federal campaign it is like a ghost town. Even the high-class hookers leave town in search of better paying clients.

And to make it worse, the ACT Liberal Party seems to have the highest quota of Young Liberal hooray-Henrys in the country. They turned up in force to put on a particularly boorish chanting performance when the Liberal Chief Minister who succeeded Kate Carnell – no one remembers the name – turned up to concede that he hadn’t won, though he hadn’t lost, and that he hoped he would form an administration, unless he was unable to.

The Chief Minister is an honest man, and moderately good company and has received training to kick dogs and look tough. But only Barry Jones would be able to name the last head of government with a beard, and he has the advantage of being brilliant and also having a beard. For many in the electorate, the Liberal Chief Minister with the name no-one remembers was easily confused with the local Health Minister Michael Moore, an Independent (with a beard) brought into Cabinet by Carnell, who despite being seriously soft-left, was the toughest man in the Cabinet when standing up to public sector unions.

But having swatted up on the plane and going through my notes, I can at least make some worthwhile observations.

We’re all going on Osama holiday

Operation Token Presence is underway and our brave boys are off to tackle the towelheads. What a sight the departing troops will be. The Prime Minister will take the salute dockside at Garden Island as they board, resplendent in a hat with ostrich feathers. Julie Anthony or even Our Livvie can stand on a spectacular spot on North Head and sing “We’ll Meet Again” as they sail off. A sure fire vote winner for the PM, you say?

Well, he might get away with it as long as people don’t understand the security implications for Australia.

We don’t exactly have a huge defence force and the ADF is already busy in East Timor, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Bougainville.

If religious tension boils over in Indonesia and hits Timor and PNG, we’ll have problems and our great and powerful friends will be preoccupied.

Are we going to get a Home Guard, a bunch of dodderers with Lee-Enfield rifles led by, say, the local bank manager or suburban solicitor. Think about it and don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring, don’t panic!

Capital fellow?

John Howard offered an interesting reply when asked how Osama bin Laden should be punished if he ever faced a court: “I’m sure in the United States it ought to be death”.

So how does the PM stand on capital punishment here?

VIP

Given that no-one will talk to him, can anyone explain what the PM’s doing at APEC?

And the staffers have failed miserably in Shanghai. Instead of getting a photo-op of an important handshake, they let the Prime Minister put on an outfit that looked like a pair of geisha girl pyjamas.

That was it?

Drumroll, 05 yes, it’s Rollback! The moment you’ve been waiting for. The centrepiece of Labor’s campaign strategy. One hundred and ninety two count ’em extra cents a week for the battlers.

Well, with an announcement like that, I grabbed my tape recorder and headed off to Struggle Street. By the time I arrived scenes reminiscent of the end of World War II were already underway, but I interrupted the spontaneous dancing to grab these quotes from dinkum Aussies who have been doing it tough:

“Rollback’s a beauty, mate. I’ve done me sums and will be able to buy an extra packet of smokes once a month.”

“That’s nearly the cost of a bus ticket.”

“Almost two bucks a week! Wow! That means that I can go down to Burger King and get a Whopper with cheese once a fortnight.”

Most touching of all was this comment from an invalid pensioner: “If I’m lucky and find a couple of five cent pieces on the footpath during the week, with Rollback I’ll be able to go down the shops on Saturday to buy a Sydney Morning Herald and see how I should be living my life.”

Honey, I shrunk the surplus

You had to feel sorry for Peter Costello when he announced the revised surplus. Five hundred million is such an embarrassing figure, small change in government terms. The tax take was up by $600 mil, but since the Prime Minister panicked he’s blown $16 billion and completely trashed his economic management credentials.

The surplus result made John Hyde’s denunciation of the PM in the Australian on Wednesday more interesting. Sadly, The Oz have already whipped it off their website:

For those of tender years or fading memories, Hyde, after the saintly Bert Kelly, was Australia’s greatest parliamentary exponent of giving taxpayers value for their money, a practice sometimes called economic rationalism. He defended John Howard throughout the eighties but look what he had to say:

“THE dries dominated the political and public policy debates in the 1980s and much of the ’90s, but where are they today? Who in today’s Coalition Government or Labor Opposition, for that matter makes the case for the free-market reforms that have made the Australian economy internationally competitive?

“Tax and welfare reforms aside, during its last term the Howard Government has retreated from earlier market-oriented reforms. Bidding for the votes of interest groups, the Coalition has all but abandoned even mentioning the economic reform agenda. Sure, there are dries in the ministry the two Peters and the two Kemps. But where is the Prime Minister?

“John Howard claims credit for an economy that has weathered the global economic storm. Yet his share of that credit was accrued mainly when he, as Opposition leader from 1985 to 1989, gave crucial support to the Hawke-Keating economic rationalist agenda. Economic lags are often long and the strength of our economy owes much more to the deregulation and privatisations of the Hawke, Kennett and Greiner governments and to the Keating government’s competition policy than to the Howard Government’s initially excellent fiscal management.

“It is true that in recent years Howard has had to contend with Hansonite populism. But the phenomenon is not new. After all, he responded to the equally irresponsible Joh for Canberra push in 1987 by selling sensible economic policies. He promised to cut annual expenditure by $5 billion, raise the female pensionable age to 65, freeze public service numbers, abolish the 17.5 per cent leave loading, tighten pension eligibility, abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board and privatise.

“But since One Nation spooked the National Party and Jeff Kennett lost in Victoria, our Prime Minister has shown increasing signs of weakness. He has extended the tariff available to the car and textile industries. He ran away from a sensible tertiary education fees policy. He invested in railways and mines that could not raise their capital in the market. He bailed out part of Ansett and HIH policyholders. He subsidised the housing and the tourist industries.

“He has given in to the Nationals on wheat marketing and dairy industry support. He has retreated from competition policy. He has squandered most of the budget surplus. And he has ceased even trying to reform the labour market.

“With every day that passes, Howard looks more like Malcolm Fraser, 05”

Them’s fightin’ words!

John #2

Another political John rushed into print on Wednesday, this time Meg Lee’s old chief of staff, John Schumann. Here are a couple of quotes from his piece in the Age.

“Over the past three federal elections, from 1993 to 1998, the primary vote for minor parties and independents in the House of Representatives has risen from 10.8 per cent to 20 per cent. In the Senate, the vote has increased from 13.5 per cent to 25 per cent. This is not spin, this is fact, 05

“However, the closer we get to November 10, the more political journalists and commentators tend to report and comment on the views of the two contenders for the Treasury benches to the exclusion of the minor parties and independents, 05

“Therefore, an important question in this election campaign is whether voters will be fully apprised of these policy positions so that they can cast informed votes. If minor party and independent campaign coverage continues as it has thus far, the answer will be ‘no’, 05

“In this emerging polity, the fourth estate has to face a new and different set of responsibilities – but the obligation is also on the minor parties to put forward well-considered, clearly articulated and fully costed policies. Photo opportunities with celebrities and whingeing from the sidelines will not suffice.”

Ooooh!

Playing favourites?

More material comes pouring in from the dissident Dems discussion group ADEN Adult Democrats Email Network this time concentrating on the campaign strategy.

They claim the Democrats’ advertising campaign brief has been targeted at 18-40 year olds full stop. No-one else is expected to want to vote for the Democrats since people outside that demographic don’t know about Buffy and Angel, let alone Scandal’us.

Talk comes from New South Wales that Senator Vicki Bourne has been allocates zip in advertising money for her campaign in contrast to the $40,000 budget supposedly allocated to Natasha’s new acolyte, Jo Pride, who is running in the South Australian seat of Boothby.

John McLaren, candidate for the neighbouring seat of Mayo where Alexander Downer was taken to the wire but John Schumann last time has received less but Natasha has decreed that Boothby is the seat the Dems are going to win.

Oddly, too, it appears that there will be a lot of advertising in South Australia. Guess who’s up for re-election in that state?

Political junkie

An Australian Democrats Reps candidate in Victoria a regular heroin user? Surely not!

Carelessness

To lose one minister may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness and Christ knows what it’s like when the Premier goes too.

The South Australian Liberal Party has suffered two huge blows in the past fortnight. First Tourism Minister Joan Hall and Cabinet Secretary Graham Ingersen were forced to resign in disgrace Ingersen for the second time in just the one Parliamentary term. Now, Premier John Olsen has stepped down after an inquiry found he gave evidence to a previous investigation that was “misleading and inaccurate”, “dishonest” and had “no factual basis”.

Hall and Ingersen both whinged that the umpire was unfair when they went down, and Olsen was no different. Indeed, he even had advice from “a Sydney lawyer” that proved it. Funny way to promote your state, too. Indeed, Olsen’s sense of priority was made very clear the day before he was forced out, when he quoted Martin Luther King Jnr to a journalist: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands when things are comfortable and convenient but where he stands in times of controversy and challenge”. Yes indeed, Premier. The struggle for human rights is exactly the same as the struggle of someone who has been found to have been “misleading and inaccurate” and “dishonest” to desperately hang onto their job.

The turkeys vote for Christmas

The South Australian Parliamentary Liberal Party will meet on Monday morning to chose a new leader. There are four main contenders, the man Olsen overthrew, Dean Brown, Deputy Premier Robert Kerin, an amiable but none to bright former tractor salesman, Environment Minister Ian Evans, a scion of a long line of branch stackers from the Adelaide Hills with no discernable talent but an influential father, and the manic Water Resources Minister Mark Brindle.

Despite the farce that has been the Olsen government, Labor is still not polling convincingly in South Australia. If Dean Brown became leader, the minority Liberal Government would probably see the return of two former Libs from the crossbenches and stand a good chance of winning the next election. With this in mind, the Liberals are expected to choose Kerin.

Reports also suggest that two of the contenders have some interesting form. One reportedly takes a keen interesting in seeing how decriminalised prostitution works on visits to Victoria, while an entertaining stat dec has apparently done the rounds of Adelaide and Canberra on the curious disciplinary techniques another employed while a teacher.

(Editor’s note: Mungo gets a bit carried away sometimes so please don’t anyone believe a word of that last paragraph. It must be a joke.)

Working hard on the campaign

Sources say that South Australian Liberal Party director Jim Bonner had to call round federal MPs on Friday and tell them to stay out of the leadership crisis and concentrate on the election campaign. That didn’t seem to stop Nick Minchin, who was in with Olsen on Friday and reportedly doing numbers for Evans at the same time.

Well done Clare!

Three cheers for Clare Martin and the new Northern Territory government for abolishing mandatory sentencing as of this Monday.

Removing the right of judges and magistrates to take circumstances into account when sentencing individuals was always a gross miscarriage of justice. Locking people up doesn’t come cheaply, either and as the vast majority of the Territory’s budget comes from Commonwealth, we were paying for this repulsive policy.

ACT election colour

Canberra Liberals were finally glad to see the back of Trevor Kaine. Their first Leader in the local Assembly, he spent about eighteen months as Chief Minister after doing a deal with a bunch of independents that involved taking the fluoride out of the water supply and giving a job to an MP with links to people a little too close to the local Nazi Party.

Kaine was an old duffer, who would look more comfortable on a houndstooth jacket with leather patches on the elbows drinking sherry at some local club. He had that air of a former RAAF officer who late in life spent too long reliving old battles round the tea trolley while working in the public service.

He was deposed by Kate Carnell, and never reconciled himself to her sweeping victories in 1995 and 1998. After being dumped from the frontbench, he stomped off in a huff in 1998, formed his own party which he led brilliantly to defeat on Saturday night.

A First for the Greens

In my long experience, never before has Bob Brown attended a tallyroom without making a victory speech. But it happened on Saturday night.

Through most of the evening, his buzz-cut shadow Ben Oquist was seen peering over the shoulders of anyone working a computer screen to try and get figures, and then spending time in earnest conversation on his mobile.

Mid-evening saw locals interrupted on excited discussion of surplus to quota votes, the impact of loss by fraction and the advantages of using different transfer values by the sight of Oquist mustering Brown through the pack and out the back. Hillary sighed and waited for the inevitable victory speech, but to her astonishment, it never happened.

The Greens received about the same vote as in 1998 and 1995. As in 1998, the question is whether Shane Rattenbury can get up in the northern electorate of Ginnenderra.

Shane Rattenbury is everything John Howard has always wanted to be as a sportsman. Rattenbury never misses an opportunity to protest against polluting ships and chemical plants, or slip into his running shorts for the cameras. A part-time triathlete, he certainly looks better than the Prime Minister in shorts, and with his doe-eyes and carefully coiffured spiked blonde hair, must do well with the women’s vote. Mind you, blondes don’t always get on in politics. They seem to have difficulty being taken seriously. Just ask Natasha, Cheryl Kernot and Victorian Deputy Premier John Thwaites.

In 1998, Rattenbuty missed the final spot in his electorate to the charisma challenged local plod Dave Rugendyke, who has the worst handle bar moustache seen in politics since Jeff Bates. Then the Greens talked up how many votes were leaking from other tickets and would get Rattenbury up. This time, they were running round sprouting the same amazingly accurate scrutineer figures on preferences, explaining how Rattenbury will manage to pass the Democrat vote on preferences.

Labor and Liberal scrutineers think it all a load of tosh. Under the mad rotating ballot paper used in the ACT, scrutineering is a nightmare, so accurate figures exist only in a party secretaries dreams. As in 1998, we will have to wait to see how Rattenbury goes.

And the Greens? Their vote was unchanged, their sitting MP Kerrie Tucker was re-elected, but their vote went backwards against the Democrats in the other two electorates. No wonder Bob didn’t claim victory, though he was making stronger noises the next day while lambasting the Greens for doing a deal with Labor on preferences. As if the Greens have never done a deal with Labor! Perhaps they are just miffed Natasha got in first and damaged Green Senate chances in most states.

Avoid what Natasha’s on

But you have to wonder if Natasha has been overtaken by hubris. Going up by 2% in the ACT is hardly a stunning result. However, it does appear the electorate was looking for the pert-breasted one on the ballot paper. The Democrat vote was up, but spread around all the candidates on the ballot paper.

However, the Liberal’s might have some worries now with the Senate election. The ACT result saw the Liberal vote fall below the quota needed for Senate President Margaret Reid. The same happened in 1998, when Reid was dragged over the line by One Nation preferences, defeating Rick Farley’s attempt to win the seat for the Democrats. This time One Nation have said they will put the Liberals last, causing a few problems.

Which might create a problem for the Chief Minister whose name no one can remember. The last week of the campaign was dominated by speculation Reid would retire in the next term, creating an escape route from Territory politics for the Chief Minister. Everyone is denying the story, but as so often in politics, you suspect that where there is smoke there is fire.

Back to the Drawing Board

The big story of the election was the first use of electronic voting. Used mainly for pre-poll voting, there was much interest on how it would be accepted by voters.

Overall, not too badly it seems. But the cost of the process suggests it will mainly be used for Hare-Clark elections, and also specialist voting centres where votes in multiple electorates are taken.

However, there were a few problems with the counting. It seems they were still hacking code until quite late. Instead of everyone getting results at 6:05 pm, it was 7:15 before the suspense was broken.

Which was a bit unfortunate for Your ABC, which had decided to start radio coverage at 6:10 and TV at 6:30. Bob McMullen, Kate Carnell and even Antony Green tried their hardest to draw conclusion from the screens full of zero totals, but eventually had to give up and throw back to the newsroom.

They should have hauled in Malcolm Mackerras, who was haunting the tallyroom apparently at a loose end. He would have had no problem making a fearless prediction on the zero totals.

An end to political plods

Rugby league involves valuable skills, such as cross country bum-sniffing, and I have always understood Paul Osborne was elected to the ACT Assembly in 1995 for his a ability as a forward, a position that involves a lot of parting the buttocks and shoving the head up (Roy Slaven’s stunning description of a scrum) and also the flexibility needed to run bum-on at the defending players while throwing the ball backwards.

Indeed, Osborne made two important bum-on passes to win a premiership. Political observers have noted the same skills in his political repertoire.

With former Labor spin meister Richard Farmer manoeuvring in the background, Osborne tried to get former national Rugby League captain big Mal Meninga to run. The hope was to get him in to form a devastating front row with Osborne and the constable plod MP, Dave Rugendyke.

It all fell apart as Meninga, on radio trying to announce his intention to run, realised he couldn’t go through with it. Smart enough to realise he wasn’t that smart, Meninga pulled out of the race instead of announcing his nomination.

Well, Meninga has a name for more than just one or two passes. He was an ornament to the game, and Osborne did not come out of it too well, looking somewhat manipulative. After two terms, it finally dawned on a few voters that Osborne and Rugendyke weren’t great Liberal heroes, more conservative small ‘g’ god-botherers, more interested in forcing their family values down the electorate’s throats.

So the big result of the night was the defeat of both, their seats going to Labor, Greens and/or Democrats.

As Tasmanian experience has shown, famous sportsmen have the profile that helps get elected. But the end of Osborne and friends suggests we might have seen the end of big boofy blokes with a profile but policies unknown to the electorate.

From a Serbian cell to the Assembly

The Liberal’s big success was Steve Pratt. Having survived being jailed by the Serbs as a spy, he looks set to be elected to the new Assembly.

You wonder why he wants to do it. Perhaps he’s had enough excitement and is after a quiet life

Rum lot

Just how bent are the New South Wales police? Yet another corruption inquiry is pulling in bent coppers by the truckload, their grotesquely overpaid Commissioner is a political puppet and now the Rum Corps have dropped the story on Mark Latham’s run in with a cabdriver three months after it happened and right in the middle of an election campaign.

What a pack of scumbags.

De51ja vu

Guess who’s come up with a wacky new tax idea just in time for the election? That’s right Pauline.

Pauline wants to introduce an “e-tax” where all financial institution withdrawals are taxed at one percent to replace all other taxes.

Now, where have we heard about easy taxes before?

More crazy Queenslanders, 05

They start ’em young in the Queensland Liberal Party. Factionalism has got so bad in the local Young Libs that split tickets are being run in the student elections at the University of Queensland. This isn’t good at the best of times, but during an election campaign and given that the uni is handily located in the middle of the Ryan electorate it is particularly awkward.

One lot have decided to preference a bunch of trots over their Liberal rivals, and Labor young lions are having much delight in passing on their how to votes to the local media.

Fred dead right

Crikey, quite rightly, hasn’t been impressed by what Fred Hilmer’s done of late. Still, one of the handy things about running a media giant is that you can get published if you want. Last week Hilmer wrote a spirited defence of the only decent piece of work he’s done, national competition policy and it’s such a damned good read we might as well reproduce it in full in case you missed it.

Here hoping the Katters, Kellys and all the other whingers and rent-seekers from the free lunch movement take a look and see some facts, too.

“In these difficult times, as you phone friends and family overseas, have you noticed a little good news – overseas phone calls have become quite inexpensive? Similarly, as petrol prices rose and rose again, did you notice how stable your electricity and gas bills have been? And, as you speculate on these and other matters over a drink, have you noticed the wide variety of interstate products, from Cascade to Coopers, available at close to prices of local beers, compliments of lower freight costs throughout Australia?

There is a common thread to these anecdotes. It is competition policy. By almost any measure, Australia has become more competitive since national competition policy was formally adopted in 1994. Moreover, overall the results of competition and other reforms have been extremely positive. Economic growth has been at top levels internationally, job growth has been strong and inflation low.

Yet, as we move to an election, many people and interest groups are questioning whether competition policy is worthwhile. The more strident critics deny there is any good in the policy, even as they benefit from the lower prices and greater choices it delivers. These specialists in blame can’t or won’t engage in rational debate, so I put their views to one side.

More thoughtful commentators, however, wonder about the balance between the benefits and costs of competition policy. True, they say, prices have come down and choice for consumers has gone up in areas exposed to more competition, including phone calls, utilities, transport and some services. But, they ask, will the lower prices stick, and do other consequences such as job losses, especially in rural areas, and corporate failures such as Ansett and One.Tel negate the benefits?

These are proper questions, and they deserve proper answers. First, will lower prices stick? The answer is that prices will be lower and stay lower if a competitive environment is maintained. Look what happened to air fares when Ansett closed, and look what happened when Ansett was relaunched. No regulator will bring fares down faster or introduce more routes and service innovations than will occur as a result of the pressure that comes from a competitive market. Nor were regulators able to change practices and pricing in the electricity industry.

In competitive markets prices reflect the interplay of supply and demand. When there are shortages, prices rise, as happened with petrol. And when there is a surplus, prices fall, as happened to wool. However, when there is no competition, prices rise when the supplier’s costs go up, and the supplier has little incentive to keep costs down. And prices don’t often fall if the supplier’s costs go down. That has been the story of many Australian industries before competition policy – a one-way upward price ratchet – and it is why the policy is a necessary part of keeping Australia a low-inflation country.

Second, what about rural job losses and corporate failures? Attributing such outcomes to competition policy confuses cause and coincidence. Rural job losses and corporate failures also happened with the rise of the Internet, and the trend to healthier lifestyles – so why aren’t these blamed?

The Productivity Commission, in a report last year on the impact of competition policy on rural and regional Australia, concluded that competition policy has become a “scapegoat” in rural areas. The real problems being faced by the country include a long-term decline in commodity prices, technological innovation and changing consumer preferences. Many people want to move to the coast, depopulating some inland areas. Farming can be better carried out with large-scale equipment. None of this has anything to do with competition policy, and many rural areas are prospering as they attract new activities, from tourism to wine and horticulture.

Finally, what about corporate failures and competition policy? The answer is easy. The failures of Ansett, One.Tel and HIH are not the result of deregulation. They are the consequences of these firms’ inability to operate to the standards required by customers and investors. There are no guarantees against failures. Government enterprises fail, as do private ones, because the world is unpredictable, and some organisations and people will always underperform, even as others perform superbly.

Competitive markets, while not error-free, are generally far superior for consumers, employees and investors. Turning back the clock on competition policy won’t help rural areas or the employees of failing firms. In fact, it will make their situations worse – and what will they blame then?

Feedback to [email protected] or to [email protected] because Hillary may be too busy to read them.

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