A risky Liberal strategy. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull had better hope the minor parties in the Senate go along with the Labor Government’s economic stimulus plan, for if perchance it is defeated, there is a very high probability he will end up paying with his own leadership job. Australians might not yet grasp the magnitude of the economic crisis confronting the world but they will surely begin to do when the unemployment number starts growing. If the minor parties go along with the decision by the Coalition not to support the government’s plan it will be Malcolm Turnbull who ends up carrying the public odium.

A practical difficulty. If there is one employment category that is sure to be in demand this year it is building project managers. A shortage of skilled staff in state government public services will be a major impediment to the infrastructure construction plans of the Rudd Government. It is one thing for federal politicians to say something can be done and quite another for it to actually happen. Education Departments around the country just do not have the people to handle the workload. The temptation to cut corners and begin building work without the proper planning and subsequent supervision of contractors would be avoided by a Government not wanting to have a scandal or two on its record come the next election.

One thumbs up for the first economic stimulus. The retail sales figures out this morning will have come as a huge relief to Labor. There has been widespread skepticism about whether the bonus payments back in December were actually spent by people or just used to pay off debt. It is now clear that a vast number of the recipients did their duty and went shopping as the government intended.

The seasonally adjusted estimate from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is that total retail sales increased by 3.8% in December — the largest monthly seasonally adjusted percentage increase since August 2000 following the introduction of the GST. The December rise followed increases of 0.4% in November and 1.0% in October 2008. In original terms, Australian turnover increased by 29.0% in December 2008 compared with November 2008. Chains and other large retailers (which are completely enumerated) increased by 34.0% while the estimate for ‘smaller’ retailers increased by 20.1%. Australian turnover increased by 5.7% in December 2008 compared with December 2007. Chains and other large retailers increased by 8.7% while the estimate for ‘smaller’ retailers increased by 0.3%.

In seasonally adjusted terms, all industries had an increase in December 2008, with Food retailing (+1.4%), Department stores (+8.3%), Clothing and soft good retailing (+5.8%), Household good retailing (+9.9%), Other retailing (+2.6%) and Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (+1.7%). There was also an increase in every state in seasonally adjusted terms, all with New South Wales (+4.9%), Victoria (+3.9%), Queensland (+3.2%), South Australia (+2.4%), Western Australia (+2.8%), Tasmania (+4.2%), Northern Territory (+4.8%) and Australian Capital Territory (+3.0%).

Keeping politics in perspective. They know how to keep politics in perspective up there in the Northern Territory. This morning’s NT News front page:

Death in Darfur. Darfur is not Gaza and the Sudanese army are not Jewish so what is happening in Darfur this week will have escaped most Australians. Our newspapers don’t consider the likelihood of another African blood bath newsworthy. Yet another horror there looks like being with a correspondent for The New Republic reporting this morning:

Are we hours away from yet another bloodbath in Darfur? Sudan’s army appears set to launch an attack on Muhajeria, a rebel-held town in South Darfur whose civilian population approaches 50,000. Indeed, as of today, bombing attacks on the outskirts of Muhajeria have already begun. And so the fate of tens of thousands of Darfuri civilians rests with the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping operation, which presently has about 200 personnel deployed in Muhajeria. Wire reports indicate that some 5,000 civilians have fled to the peacekeepers’ base in search of security. Sudan’s government has forcefully asked the peacekeepers to leave. So far, the UN is saying its troops will stay. But will they stand their ground once the fighting starts? And even if they stay, will they prove willing to use force to protect civilians–something UN peacekeepers have historically been extremely reluctant to do?

Peter Fray

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