Getting us ready for the giant asterisk. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey is getting in early with his pre-election propaganda. This morning he was on the telly with talk of the commission of experts he will appoint on taking over the real job in charge of the nation’s finances. Their job will be to find the waste and mismanagement that will enable a Liberal-National government to fulfil its promise of a budget surplus while still offering some policy bribes to voters.

Jovial Joe would have us believe that the task will be an easy one but he is surely attempting one of the greatest cons ever dreamed up by a politician.

No joy in the trade figures. Some troubling signs for the economy in the downward trend in Australia’s trade figures. Lower prices for iron ore and coal are taking the edge off the benefits of a booming mining industry

The Australian Bureau of Statistics this morning gave this rather gloomy summary of what happened in January to help produce a deficit of $673m in the balance on goods and services, a turnaround of $1,998m on the surplus in December 2011 with the trend surplus of $373m in January 2012 being a fall of $371m on the December surplus.

 

  • Iron ore lump fell $414m (27%), with quantities down 25% and unit values down 3%. Exports to China fell $218m (24%), with quantities down 24%. Exports to Japan fell $132m (34%), with quantities down 26% and unit values down 10%.
  • Iron ore fines fell $831m (22%), with quantities down 20% and unit values down 2%. Exports to China fell $709m (25%), with quantities down 23% and unit values down 2%. Exports to Republic of Korea, down $65m (20%), with quantities down 9% and unit values down 12%.
  • Hard coking coal rose $42m (2%), with quantities up 4% and unit values down 2%. Exports to China rose $61m (23%), with quantities up 14% and unit values up 8%. Exports to Taiwan rose $57m (92%), with quantities up 113% and unit values down 10%. Partly offsetting these rises was exports to Japan which fell $72m (11%), with quantities down 10% and unit values down 2%.
  • Semi-soft coal fell $78m (9%), with quantities down 7% and unit values down 2%. Exports to China fell $108m (49%), with quantities down 48% and unit values down 2%.
  • Thermal coal fell $235m (14%), with quantities down 12% and unit values down 2%. Exports to China fell $145m (51%), with quantities down 45% and unit values down 11%.

A vote losing defence minister. Stephen Smith deserves the description “courageous” for his refusal to back down on the comments he made last year about the Commandant of the Australian Defence Foirce Academy. It is not common for defence ministers to stand up to the military brass as he has done, especially in public as on this occasion.

But there will be a downside for this display of courage. The men in uniform are clearly angered by what they see as an unwelcome civilian intervention in a matter of military discipline. I expect many of them to register their disapproval at the ballot box.

Peter Fray

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