Things are getting just plain weird with Brendan Nelson. Yesterday he declared the need for an economic statement from the Government (whatever that is), including the following peculiar reasoning:
Previous Labor Governments provided frequent economic statements, probably because they faced significant economic problems, including high inflation, unemployment and sluggish growth.
As Wayne Swan acidly noted in reply, there was an economic statement recently — in May, in fact — and Nelson hasn’t finished deciding whether he agrees with that one or not. Indeed, that’ll be the subject of this week’s Senate activity.
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He might’ve noted that the mid-year economic forecasts aren’t that far away either.
I looked for Malcolm Turnbull’s views on the desirability of an economic statement but found nothing. I contacted his office, but they didn’t respond before deadline. Turnbull’s office is quite good at avoiding embarrassing Nelson when the latter wanders off the reservation. Which is nice.
I imagine it’s not clear at all to most voters what the Opposition is opposing and what it’s not from the Budget. I get paid to follow politics and I’m not entirely sure that they oppose and what they support. And apparently they themselves aren’t sure whether they oppose or support removing the condensate tax concession.
There’s a widely-held view that the Opposition is damaging its economic credentials by blocking tax increases. Maybe it will, amongst those paying attention, but that excludes 90% of voters. The bigger problem is the lack of coherence from the Opposition on what they’re doing. That’s what seeps through and shapes deeply-held views about political parties. We bagged the Government for lacking a narrative but the Opposition doesn’t have one either — more a jumble of non sequiturs and contradictions and half-beginnings, frequently written in capitals when Nelson lets his emotions rip.
I mean, the Liberals say they’re the party of low taxes. But if so, why not support the change to the Medicare surcharge threshold? If they’re the party of economic responsibility, why are they blocking measures that will increase the surplus and refusing to say where funding for their 5c a litre excise reduction will come from? If they’re against the alcopop tax why have a summit on binge drinking? Each and any of these positions is perfectly justifiable — but not all at once. Especially not when you have Nelson arguing for those positions.
The Government itself is not above non sequiturs. Ask them about anything to do with getting Green or Independent support in the Senate and the answer is invariably “it’s the Liberals’ fault.”
Will they negotiate with Nick Xenopohon on Fuelwatch? “The Liberals should be supporting it.”
Will they horse-trade with Steve Fielding over his legislative agenda? “The Liberals hold the key to passing bills.”
How about the Greens? “No it’s the Liberals.”
What’s the capital of Ecuador? “The Liberals.”
However annoying, it’s part of a plan to keep the focus on the Opposition. Nelson’s call for an economic statement is an effort to shift the focus back to the Government, but everyone knows he’s wasting his time. All the focus is on him and won’t move until his colleagues move him out of his job.
The Government went into the winter recess slightly dispirited. It was under pressure on fuel and grocery prices. Its big poll lead was starting to return to earth. Rudd’s honeymoon was ending for about the tenth time. Now it returns with the Coalition in disarray, Nelson politically dead and yet still lurching about, a Senate freed from Coalition control and an interest rate fall around the corner.
I predicted Nelson wouldn’t make it to tomorrow’s Question Time. I was wrong, but I don’t reckon he’ll be with us much longer.