Why develop policy when you can just say “no”

By Leith van Onselen

Fairfax has produced an interesting article on the phoenix-like rise of Labor leader, Bill Shorten, who has risen from obscurity to preferred Prime Minister in just one year:

Shorten has been propelled to a winning position more by Abbott’s betrayals than by any genius the Labor leader has demonstrated…

What does he really stand for? What are his core values and where, pray tell, are the detailed policies that express them?..

He really has not had to do anything difficult yet – certainly nothing as complex as balance a budget, thus creating new classes of losers in the process…

Self-evidently, Shorten’s practice of giving as little ground to the government as possible while keeping his own powder dry is learned behaviour. It worked brilliantly for Abbott…

The article highlights a key problem with modern politics: that it is easier to oppose all attempts at reform than actually offer an alternative policy prescription. We saw Tony Abbott play the role of “Dr No” to perfection, and now we are seeing Bill Shorten do likewise.

Politics has increasingly become a tribal game to be won, rather than a platform to build a legacy for the nation. In turn, political positions, daily messages, and slogans are developed through constant polling, especially focus group responses, rather than via evidenced-based policy formulation and debate.

I pin much of the blame on the internet and modern technology, which has spawned the 24-hour news cycle. This has driven politicians to spend much more time and effort “massaging” their message and responding to the latest media attack, rather than just getting on with the job and developing sound policy.

It also means that any attempt at genuine reform faces constant attack from vested interests and opposition political parties, likely resulting in many of the reforms being either watered down or abandoned altogether, in favour of populism.

It’s a diabolical situation that quickly needs fixing if Australia is to successfully navigate the ending of the once-in-a-century mining boom and the ageing population.

One potential positive is that the stasis at the two party level opens the door to minor parties, who can take the policy initiative. Business Spectator’s Rob Burgess, has taken this line today:

Consider, then, the possibilities with a hot topic such as superannuation tax concession. A scared Coalition and Labor could refuse to act on Murray’s advice [to unwind super concessions]…

That leaves the door wide open for [a minor party] to tell younger voters that they are paying too much tax, while wealthier Australians are using the super system to ensure their children inherit more.

It won’t be a hard sell…

Indeed. Young people, in particular, are crying out for genuine political representation, and there is a unique opportunity emerging for a new party to emerge on the back of Australia’s disaffected youth.

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  1. This will be like the John Howard small target strategy (successful for him in 1996) which was copied unsuccessfully by Kim Beazley.

    Sure he can replicate the Dr No (and this seems to be what he is doing) but I would have thought ALParatchik types less likely to cling in a disciplined manner to the ‘no’ line without reasoning just for the pursuit of power than the Torynuffs. Ultimately Shorten has to sell something of substance which prompts people to vote for him.

    • Look, Shorten is a boring little homunculus but perhaps that’s what we need, a person who accepts what scientists say without big-noting himself with risible opinions that make Oz a global laughing stock, someone who does not take his marching orders from a malevolent and sociopathic press baron whose only interest is his own enrichment, someone who will just get the fucking job done without all the polemic and grandstanding.

      Remember when 1TT decided to stop Aussie women having access to RU486 (the abortion drug) just because he felt, for religious reasons, that it was wrong? We need someone who is not like that to lead the country. Someone who is the opposite of that.

      It’s pretty simple really. 🙄

      • Frederic Bastiat

        R2M…you sound just like the people that wanted Howard out in 07 and so turned to a fellow called Rudd – who turned out to be one of the biggest douce bags in Austrralian political history.

        Shorten has to be more than “not Tony” to be a alternative PM…otherwise Democracy truly is a sham and our two party system is a fcken joke!

      • I’ll take anyone over Tony right now. I don’t think Shorten has any screaming defect, not one that’s been made public anyway.

        Whereas we knew before we elected 1TT that he was a total moron.

    • Gunna, I have just been going through the overall loss in value of stocks on the ASX. The indices dont represent the carnage which has occurred to most stocks on the exchange in the last 12 weeks. This extraordinary loss of value will soon turn into a major crisis for the Govt, and people will be looking for answers as to where has the money gone and where are the jobs in 2015.WW

      • “The indices dont represent the carnage which has occurred to most stocks on the exchange in the last 12 weeks.”

        If that’s true, how are the indices constructed to not represent and be driven by the value of the individual stocks.

        Or were you just in the wrong stocks – so easy to do!!

      • Because the index is weighted 90% towards banks. The market capitalisation of a handful of companies (the top 8, really) is absolutely massive compared to the remaining stocks.

    • Any sniff of leadership tension within LNP ranks, and it will take a heavy duty scandal or complete ALP implosion to derail Shorten. Both of which are certainly possible, but I wouldn’t want to have to rely on their occurrence to keep my job.

    • Shorten deserves the Dr No moniker more than Abbott.

      What did Abbott oppose:

      Mining tax
      Carbon tax

      All Budgets were passed as were Gonski NDIS etc. Gillard bragged of passing thousands of pieces of Legislation.

      What does Shorten oppose:

      All savings measures
      Everything else

      Anyone who read the AFR expose on Shorten last year was left in no doubt here was a man without core beliefs, highly ambitious, reed in the wind personality. One whose former staff recalled indecision and chaos and who had TShirts printed We Survived Bill ( to paraphrase) upon his move to higher station.

      • Shorten deserves the Dr No moniker more than Abbott.

        But TestosterTone was the first…..

        What did Abbott oppose:

        Mining tax
        Carbon tax

        an appropriate address of Australia’s economic issues and budget straightjacket
        an appropriate address of Australia’s role in addressing global warming
        an appropriate address of discussion about Australian immigration policy and the place of refugees within it.

        You could have added

        an apropriate address of Australian education (Gonski)
        an appropriate address of Australian IT platforms (NBN)

        Anyone who read the AFR expose on Shorten last year was left in no doubt here was a man without core beliefs, highly ambitious, reed in the wind personality

        Yep. But anyone who has lived through a generation of TestosterTone as a public figure [let alone a year as testosterTone PM] could have been left in no doubt the man is an A class dullard without the mental acuity to respond to a fast changing world or Australia’s position in it, with a moral bigotry streak reflective of the 1930s, leading a team composed largely of misogynistic ideologues with a penchant for beating up single mothers, the sick or refugees, and a blind spot when it comes to outlays on babyboomers and the property speculating types contained therein.

        In short, just the kind of guy to prompt a punting nation to double up on a ‘ditch the PM and see what comes up’ kind of sentiment when it hasnt come up all that well after they rolled the dice last time round

        ……which isnt to say I dont have significant doubt about Shorten, just that I am 100% certain that TestosterTone isnt the man to lead anyone anywhere

      • Anyone who read the AFR expose on Shorten last year was left in no doubt here was a man without core beliefs, highly ambitious, reed in the wind personality.

        In short . . . the type of political agent who rises to positions of power under a system which embodies adverse selection!!

        To quote Rousseau, the problem is to:

        “. . . enquire whether, taking men such as they are, and such laws as they may be made, it is not possible to establish some just and certain rule for the administration of the civil order.”

        Taking men such as they are, having them compete for a Monopoly on Power will ensure that those who compete the hardest are those who place the highest value on the exercise of power.

        If one supports a system of administration which adversely selects such people, then it makes little sense to complain about the outcomes.

  2. Yes, the phenomenon is a complete means-ends inversion. Good policy is displaced.

    As a aside, I liked AFR Laura Tingle’s description yesterday of the current distribution of super tax concessions as “unconscionable”. People who understand how super tax concessions work know they are patently a rip off.

    I was absolutely shocked by a line in the AFR editorial yesterday which noted that a drop in super tax concessions may be justified to rein in the deficit.

    Whatever is this world coming to.

  3. The problem lies in the system: the corrupt system of “elective government” which – as I have tried to explain many times, and will go on explaining – adversely selects the least suitable political agents.

    The idea that some wonderful “new party” will come along and fix everything is politically naive.

    Any such party would immediately be captured.

    The system needs to be changed to give The People a genuine democratic voice.

    It is, after all, their country . . . . isn’t it??

    • Maybe that was wishful thinking e.g.

      ‘If only our pollies spurned the 24 hr news cycle, they might have time for policy development”

      • “An Opposition party’s main day-to-day task is always to mount an effective critique of the government … The next Liberal government won’t need to assume office with specific policies on all topics down to the last detail. Too much detail can easily give the government material for a scare campaign.””

        — Tony Abbott in Battlelines

  4. I cannot ever remember an opposition leader putting out detailed policies this early in the electoral cycle.

    Fairfax is just being silly by suggesting he should at this time.

    Perhaps they are just trying out their political story bots. I cannot imagine an experienced political journo writing this unless their tongue were firmly in their cheek.

    In twelve months’ time, well that would be another matter.

    • Respectfully, emess, I think party policy should always be there, up-to-date as well as evolving to meet changing circumstances.

      Politician’s core duty should be policy, not politicking. Then we might get sensible debate rather than soap.

      • Actually, I agree with you cp in terms of what should happen.

        Yet mig’s correction above shows that when a leader of the opposition actually did that, he got clobbered.

        So, while I agree with your sentiments, asking for policy release now is just a pipe dream. It won’t happen because we, the voters, not only don’t reward it, we actively punish it. This is now two the point where any opposition leader who tried it would ipso facto be incompetent.

        Probatis laudatur et alget.

      • Classic Elitist response . . . . Blame The People!!

        1. Political agents demand a Monopoly on Power.

        2. The People are dismissed as being too stupid to be allowed to make important decisions (for their country no less).

        3. Everything goes pear-shaped because corrupt politicians are more interested in holding on to power at all costs and helping the rent-seekers who sponsor them.

        And the response???

        4. It was all the fault of The People!!!

        Why then is the world’s most democratic country also one of the world’s most efficiently run countries?

        People don’t mind voting taxes upon themselves. Look at how the Swiss voted in a referendum to increase VAT to cover the cost of disability insurance. (Even then it’s the third lowest rate in the OECD, along with a Federal income tax rate of just 11.5%, and a maximum cantonal tax rate of 18%.)

        What People don’t like is voting for taxes that are going to be squandered by corrupt politicians.

        And to prevent that, it is necessary to have genuine democratic control over politicians.

      • migtronixMEMBER

        @emess this is why regard the loss of Dr Hewson as Prime Minister such a pity; not for the man himself, or the silly Italian car (H’s Ferrari) vs Italian suits (K’s attire) “optics”, or even for the limp-wristed Keating admin that followed — its because politics became ever more frivolous and opaque — where indeed almost nothing was ever disclosed to the public well ahead of time. I think Beazly was the other one when told everyone he’d get rid of GST.

        Its all awful I really don’t even care any more…

  5. If/When the young realise that spiralling government expenses for things like Gonski, NDIS, Family Payments, $1,000,000,000 a month interest bill on debt, some generous tax concessions like NG, expanding public sector peopled with oldies, etc will primarily be funded by themselves and corporates they might just be the toughest Budget masters yet seen.

    Taxpayer funded profligacy be gone!

    • They’re not just being left with debt, the health of thier environment is also being squandered. Debt can and be written off (although not without significant pain), but environmental degradation is going to be much harder and costly to address.

      Maybe it’s time to start taxing all pollution and environmental damage to both raise revenue and protect the productive capacity of the environment for future generations. Or do we only care about future generations when it suits our ideological bent and doesn’t hurt us in the short to medium term?

    • No because we aren’t biggoted shrills. We’ve traveled. We’ve seen the world. We appreciate the level of safety and equality we have because of our socialist policies.

      We’ve walked the streets of South East Asia and seen the pretty jails they live in. Bars on the windows, stakes on the walls.

      We’ve seen the massive inequity, unbelievably spectacular shopping centers, not far from horribly poor slums.

      We don’t want that. We can see how caring for each other creates a stronger and safer community. We’ve seen how education can lift us up and make us more than we were.

      I’ve never understood you. And I never will. All I can do is pity you. Not in a spiteful pity as you might respond, but a pity of sadness. That you can’t understand. That you are lost in your own selfishness and can’t see the forest of humanity for the tree of self-interest.

      • Thanks Jwonga.

        A delightfully innocent response. The Phuket Moon Party package tour has obviously had great impact, leaving you with a deep understanding not only of the embedded poverty of third world nations but the Ecstasy driven warmth of sharing with peers.

        At some future point you may also observe generous taxpayer provided benefits like welfare, education, health services and societal infrastructure require a degree of national prosperity…

        …prosperity not to be squandered on middle class merriment and mendacious policy.

        I’ve been places the Kathmandu Kitted fear to tread – poverty is not what it’s cracked up to be. Give me prosperity any day.

    • 3d,

      If you can’t see the value in investment in education, and having such investment based on serious studies such as Gonski, perhaps a site with an evidence based economic thrust isn’t for you.

      As for NDIS, perhaps you might like to propose something better. The whole point of the NDIS is not whether we can afford the scheme. It is merely a matter of who pays. At the moment, that cost is paid for by carers and those with disabilities to a great degree. The NDIS merely spreads an existing cost amongst a wider base.

    • Taxpayer funded profligacy be gone! *

      * Except the $2.6 billion fuel excise rebate for mining companies.

  6. “It worked brilliantly for Abbott…”

    It did, and more recently and on a smaller scale it worked brilliantly for Daniel Andrews. There was no compelling reason for Victorians to vote out a one term Liberal government or vote in the Labor Party. There was no crisis; there were no scandals; the Liberal government was not old and tired.

    But Andrews played the opposition game to perfection, just by keeping his head down for three years and making vacuous statements for the fourth year. Yes, he was helped in the end by Abbott’s unpopularity, but Labor was in front in the polls in Victoria from the middle of last year.

    • Three things killed Victorian LNP.
      1. Knifing Ted
      2. Secretive EW link pork barreling
      3. Tony poisoning the LNP brand.

      Two of the three are entirely self inflicted.

  7. Why not agree to a bipartisan fix of the dysfunctional FIRB, Bill?

    Nah we would rather call those asking to have the law enforced, racist.


  8. I’d rather they drag Paul Keating out of the retirement home then see Shorten become PM. Shorten just a political opportunist willing to perform coupe de grace to get his way to leadership. The man has no loyalty.

    • Keating was the genius who brought Australia onto the great NeoClassical economics bandwagon. A LOT of our current problems are caused by that stupidity.
      Probably if it hadn’t been him whoever else was in power would have done the same, as happened in most countries at the time. But unless he has recanted his mainstream economic flog membership he is the last thing we need.

      [There were some good reforms, sure, but part of an economics package form the school which brought a lot of disaster over the last 30 years and largely responsible for the necissity of this Blog.]

  9. 3d, you really must stop telling porkies. Abbott opposed the means testing of the private health insurance rebate and cutting back the baby bonus. He said that these modest attempts to pull back middle class welfare were “an attack on families”.

    Now that he has a job that involves more than simple sloganeering, he is finding it difficult when he gets back what he dished out in opposition.

    Well, as Malcom Fraser once said, life wasn’t meant to be easy.

  10. Abbott has destroyed Abbott and teh corruption in the NSW Liberals has shown them to be stupid as well as corrupt (having seen what ICAC did to Labor, they were still corrupt).

    And NSW corruption stuck to the Federal Libs through their role in washing illegal donation and through the stupidity, incompetence or corruption of Sinodinos who even after being told of the problems at AWH by a major investor did nothing.

    In my opinion based on events at AWH as reported in the mainstream press his inaction in AWH proves Sinodinos unfit to be a director of a company or to hold any Ministerial portfolio, maybe even unfit to hold any public office

    We need a Federal ICAC.