Jan 31, 2013

Gillard’s speech — the other 3500 words

In the media's obsession over the election date, the unusual, downbeat nature of the Prime Minister's speech yesterday has been overlooked. It reveals something of the year ahead.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

So: will Julia Gillard’s naming the election day pay off? Will it backfire on her by abandoning the advantages of incumbency? How will voters react? Has it wrongfooted Tony "I’m not taking questions" Abbott? Will it shore up the PM’s position within the party? Will it provide certainty for business, or will the provision of a certain election date create, in John Hewson’s words, "massive uncertainty"? What about Yom Kippur? Is the Prime Minister anti-Semitic? (But wait it’s OK, the Jews are fine with the date!) And those glasses … what image is the Prime Minister seeking to convey with those glasses? What is the meaning? Who's winning? Who's losing?! Gillard’s narrowing of the election date from a period of a few weeks between August and October to September 14 has deprived many political journalists of a solid chunk of their column inches for the first half of the year. It’s also deprived them and their editors and producers of one of the set pieces of the political calendar, the Yarralumla stakeout and the "we’re off" pieces surrounding the commencement of the campaign. The morning of August 12 will now be a rather quiet one, as the PM's car turns down Dunrossil Drive and heads to the Governor-General's residence. Quite a bit of that, however, has been hastily brought forward into today’s press. The result is press coverage almost entirely focused on an election date. The other ~3500 words from the PM yesterday have sunk without trace, which is a shame because it was one of the more unusual speeches given by a major party leader in a while, and an unusually downbeat one for a Prime Minister heading into an election year. Gillard’s broad point was that voters are unhappy, industry is struggling, we need to plan for the peaking of the mining investment boom and transition back to a more traditional economic environment and governments have bugger-all money to do much about it, so there'll be cuts to programs to fund the important stuff of the Gonski and NDIS reforms. It was the PM’s opening tour d’horizon that most intrigued. Rather than the usual boilerplate about cost-of-living pressures, Gillard acknowledged inflation and interest rates were low, but spoke of flat house prices and super returns, a high household savings rate, the challenge of an ageing population and long commuting times. The venerable phrase about the punters "doing it tough" got a run, but it was a far more accurate assessment of the economic condition of many Australians than we usually get from politicians anxious to pander to voters' self-delusion. It was not entirely devoid of cheap rhetoric, of course. Gillard admitted that Australia has low crime rates compared internationally but that "some communities are understandably concerned about crime and cohesion" -- a statement that, in the mouth of Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison, would have drawn accusations of dogwhistling. And odd how federal Labor only discovers state issues like electricity prices or law and order when it’s a conservative government involved. Gillard offered little comfort on the impact of the high dollar. It hasn’t fallen despite the sorts of pressures -- falling terms of trade -- that have traditionally driven it down, she noted. And it might not even fall when the mining investment peak arrives and passes. We might be stuck with it, and have to deal with it. Accordingly, the government "must focus on increasing skills, building a national culture of innovation, rolling out the national broadband network, investing in infrastructure, improving regulation and leveraging our proximity to and knowledge of a rising Asia into a competitive advantage". They’re the five pillars of Labor's economic policy.
"The speech lacked substance in terms of policy detail, but it presented an unadorned and mostly accurate picture of the government's key policy challenges ..."
Tony Abbott has five pillars, too, but they’re five pillars of the economy -- mining, agriculture, manufacturing, services, and what he used to called the "knowledge economy" but which he’s rebadged as "education and research", possibly because "knowledge economy" sounded too intellectual, or possibly because it just reminded people of Kim Beazley’s ill-fated Knowledge Nation. In fact many politicians, from Barack Obama on down, have pillars, three, four, five, however many can create an impression of solidity and substance. Gillard was also straightforward about the fiscal difficulties facing governments, reeling off a number of domestic and international reasons why, as she noted, "even compared to what was forecast once the worst of the global financial crisis had passed, annual revenue is tens of billions of dollars below what was expected". The Coalition line, of course, is that the government simply wastes money and that is the reason why it has been unable to return to surplus. If that were true, the Coalition’s own fiscal task would be straightforward, there being billions of lazy dollars in wasteful spending just waiting to be scooped up by Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb once they’re in government. Strangely, that’s not quite how opposition sources portray the fiscal task currently engaged in by Joe Hockey. That led the PM to talking about the need for significant "structural savings" in order to pay for Gonski and NDIS. But we’re none the wiser about the nature of these "structural savings". In a speech light on boasting, Gillard discussed Labor’s "record of cutting wasteful programs". It’s fair to say Labor has made a fair start on cutting back middle-class welfare, but no more than that. In some budgets, it has promised The Texas Chainsaw Massacre only to deliver the fiscal version of an Ed Wood film, in which tax rises masqueraded as spending cuts. Still, for a government facing an election and trailing by anything from two to six points, "new structural savings" are a big call, albeit one tempered by the fact that the fiscal task is to identify savings that will accumulate as years go by, rather than ones that deliver a one-off saving right away. The speech lacked substance in terms of policy detail, but it presented an unadorned and mostly accurate picture of the government's key policy challenges and how it wants to address them. Tony Abbott's speech to the National Press Club today may also lack policy detail, but if he is prepared to offer a similar approach to the PM, that would be a good start in ensuring at least politicians are focusing on policy, even if the media isn't.

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32 thoughts on “Gillard’s speech — the other 3500 words

  1. Jimmy

    The speech lacked substance in terms of policy detail, but it presented an unadorned and mostly accurate picture of the government’s key policy challenges and how it wants to address them.
    Tony Abbott’s speech to the National Press Club today may also lack policy detail, but if he is prepared to offer a similar approach to the PM, that would be a good start in ensuring at least politicians are focusing on policy, even if the media isn’t.”

    Judging from this report of Abbott’s speech I think Craig Emerson is correct.

    “You want less pressure on your cost of living, you want more job security, you want our border under control and you want leader you can trust…our plans for a better Australia are our response to you.”
    ” The carbon tax will go so power prices will fall,” he said.
    “The boats will stop because what’s been done before will be done again.”

    “Mr Abbott is putting image first and policy last,” Dr Emerson said.

  2. Ruprecht

    “And odd how federal Labor only discovers state issues like electricity prices or law and order when it’s a conservative government involved.”

    To be fair, I think the Fed govt got sick of State govts blaming the carbon scheme for electiricty price rises. Dunno why the PM waded in on law n order though. Maybe to make the point that crime rates are actually low — something you don’t hear from the state tabloids.

  3. Bill Hilliger

    How dare she [Julia Gillard] She has deprived the media their editors and producers of the political calendar Yarralumla stakeout and the “we’re off” pieces surrounding the commencement of the campaign. I believe that can only be good for the media especially for the almost broke ch9, think of the money they will save. Also no ad nausaeum speculation in the media. What will they fill their miserable news grabs and news papers with in the next 8 months. No ongoing speculation as the Australian people already know. We can now look forward to an Abbott/Pell government and a swift return to the 1950’s. Can’t wait.

  4. Mike Flanagan

    Yes Bernard; Honesty, forthrightness and focus are rare commodities in our politicians today.
    Our Prime Minister has displayed, over the past two years an aptitude to approach the nation and its’ challenges with all three, whilst the challenger treats each of them in a cavalier manner and only when his personal ambition maybe in conflict with his stated position will he admit his falsehoods.
    There have been many instances where Mr Abbott and his cohorts have shown elements of these attributes but they have all been when he has been caught out by an astute journalist, or to resolve obvious conflicts in his previous statements.

  5. Jimmy

    Bill Hilliger – Judging by the Herald Sun’s front page today they are taking it personally.

    Mike Flanagan – Well Said!!

  6. geomac62

    How is it that the media have already decided that we will have 7/8 month election campaign ? On their logic the day after a Victorian election we have a four year election campaign because we know the date . Abbott has been doing election type stunts since the last election even to the point of going to the same place twice on one occasion .
    I saw the last bit of questions on ABC , Abbotts press gallery speech , no answer to L. Tingles question about fleeing hard questions . Turning heel and scurrying off got no answer but instead he raised the quantity of interviews , doorstops he has done . Quantity not quality and no hard or for that matter soft questions that have no scripted answer . I only tune in for the questions not the speech and that goes for both leaders . The speech is usually summarised in a few sentences by journos attending . A hour hour of Abbott blathering on is too much , not a masochist .

  7. Jimmy

    Follow the logic of this – “He said finding the money without a carbon tax would be a difficult task, but “we won’t shirk the hard decisions”.
    This included the dumping of Labor’s schoolkids bonus “because it’s a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education”.
    “When this government claims that it’s attacking `middle class welfare’, it’s just attacking the middle class because the family tax benefit and the private health insurance rebate are tax justice for famil ies, not handouts,” Mr Abbott said.”

    SO the shcool kids bonus (which goes to people who get the family tax benefit part A) is just a cash splash but winding back means testing so higher income famil ies get the FTB and private health rebate is “tax justice”

    REally looking after the battler there Tony.

  8. Holden Back

    Watch the LOTO’s National Press Club Speech: if you can’t stomach it all, watch it with the sound down until his dodging Laura Tingle’s question. She has what I’d describe as an elephantine look – she’ll never forget his blithe dismissal of the need to answer questions at Canberra press conferences.

  9. drmick

    He has been squealing like a spoilt child for two years. This has been the longest dummy spit in history.
    If his effort today is his best game, then he is the best thing going for labour. Keep it up. As the leader of the highest taxing former government ever, and the government that aided and abetted the GFC and now denies it occurred, he has absolutely no credibility.
    His rave about Thompson was a perfect example. Thompson has been charged but not convicted. Unlike assby; he is yet to have his day in court and be given the opportunity to prove his innocence. Abot not only has him doing hard time, but has the PM in the same cell.
    Can you Imagine this bloke fixing anything? especially when he helped break it?

  10. Julia

    Agree drmick. It also seems Tony may have overstepped the mark again with claiming the PM has been ‘running a protection racket’ for Craig Thompson. The man just gets so over-exicted he forgets to engage his brain before putting his mouth into gear. He needs to get smacked down with a defamation suit. Oh yeh, that’s right he already has been several times.

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