The razor gang’s edge. The climate of uncertainty unsettling large parts of the federal public service is going to continue well past this May’s first Rudd budget. The cuts the Cabinet razor gang will reveal in the budget are planned to be merely an instalment as Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner outlined at the National Press Club yesterday. The second stage of the razor gang will be what the Finance Minister calls “an intensive program by program, agency by agency review of government spending and tax concessions, to be completed before the 2008-9 mid-year economic and fiscal outlook is released.” Behind that rather bland statement is a fear by many public servants that by year’s end they will no longer have a job.

Government works in circular ways. One lot of politicians join functions together in the name of efficiency and the next lot pull them apart in the name of letting managers manage. And so now the Labor Government is undoing the decentralisation that was a hallmark of the Howard Government style and recentralising them in a way that will bestow extra power in the hands of the Finance Department when it comes to purchasing goods and services. The accountants at Finance will soon have a much greater say in what other departments buy from whom in an effort to make savings in the $30 billion spent each year under Commonwealth contracts. Complaining loudest at the moment are computer companies who have had a wonderful last decade dealing with departments individually.

Howard’s modest farewell party. I look forward to regular reports on the eating and drinking habits of the Prime Minister now that the precedent has been set with the release under the Freedom of Information Act of the bill for John Howard’s farewell drinks at the Lodge with his deposed ministerial colleagues. Documents released to The Daily Telegraph show the final fling 28 November included $548.18 worth of alcohol, $406.80 for the nibbles and casual staff to serve it all costing taxpayers $156. Reads like quite a modest affair actually given that some 40 people shared in the largesse

The crusade continues. I wrote back in December how the Sydney Tele was following in the great tradition of yellow journalism with its Greenpeace inspired opposition to Japanese whaling. Well, the crusade continues with this picture of mother and daughter minke whales taking up all of today’s page one. The Labor Government has given tacit approval to the Tele’s foray into foreign affairs and sent a customs boat to Antarctic waters to obtain more such pictures to use in the propaganda war against the Japanese whalers. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith might soon be regretting that decision as the next step in the Greenpeace/Tele strategy is to directly intervene in Japanese domestic politics by taking Australia’s message to the Democratic Party of Japan in the hope that the major opposition party will make anti-whaling an election issue. The Japanese Government is unlikely to be amused at lobbyists supported by a foreign government intervening so blatantly to try and get it overthrown.

Cheers to McCain. Ronald Reagan used to have astrology as his guide and now there’s potential President John McCain who still carries the same coin he found – face up – on a street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the day in 2000 he won that state’s primary. He also keeps a lucky compass, a lucky feather and at times a lucky rock and, for added luck, wears his magical L.L. Bean rubber-soled dress shoes. Still, at least Senator McCain is no wowser. He once spent 14 hours straight playing craps in Las Vegas and while on an official trip to Estonia several years ago he and Hillary Clinton engaged in a vodka drinking contest. If Senator McCain should become President then perhaps Bob Hawke should become our Ambassador to the United States rather than Kim Beazley!

The Pick of This Morning’s Political Coverage

The Daily Reality Check. It is not that internet readers are uninterested in politics. It is just that they are more interested in American politics than our own. Sure there were a couple of appearances of the Opposition discussions on saying sorry to Aborigines and one about Government moves to make it cheaper to change banks in the top five stories on our top 10 internet news sites. But topping the list this morning were stories about Super Tuesday and choosing candidates for the US Presidential election. As proof that a picture is more powerful than a thousand words the most popular local story was the one in the Murdoch tabloids based around the dead mother and daughter whales. Pollies and their perks stories clearly still have appeal with details of John Howard’s farewell drinks actually beating references to Heath Ledger!

Peter Fray

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