In recent Commentaries I have referred to a number of deficiencies in the Budget which have either not been referred to in the main media, including even in The Australian, or have only been given limited attention. Despite this even The Australian has not published four letters I submitted on what I believe are serious analytical deficiencies, and the AFR often couldn’t decide whether to have a letters page. The Age almost automatically refuses to publish anyone deemed to be right of centre.
I mention here only that, after dropping pursuit of the $14.7 bn proposed cuts blocked by the Senate, the government itself has now added $5bn from policy decisions to expenditure in 2017-18 and 2018-19; the real increase in estimated expenditure in each of those years is 2.3% compared with Treasurer Morrison’s claim that a 2.0 per cent real growth had been achieved; and by contrast with the underlying cash balance of a deficit of $29.4bn, I drew attention to John Stone’s article in Spectator pointing out that the more comprehensive headline cash balance of a deficit of $48.4bn is almost $20bn higher.
Latest reports about the debate on the budget suggest that significantly higher deficits are likely to emerge either from opposition in the Senate (see More Senate Opposition to Budget) or because economic forecasts fall short (see attached Sloan on Treasury & Forecasts). One wonders what effect this might have on polling, but it seems unlikely to be favourable. Yet Turnbull is unlikely to be in a position to threaten an early election if the Senate refuses to pass major measures in this budget.
Trump in Saudi Arabia
Trump’s phrasing, and the wide concern about the accuracy of his statements and the changes of his mind, make it difficult to assess his public statements. But account also needs to be taken of the exaggerated criticisms of him in Washington DC, where a very high proportion of the population (91%) of the District of Columbia voted for Clinton (beats Canberra!), as well as evidence that his political opponents are trying to create a situation in which an impeachment would be attempted. This helps undermine his credibility as President, which is also adversely affected by widespread media antagonism to him, including in Australia.
It will take some considerable time, and a much improved handling of the Presidency by Trump himself, to overcome this. But as Andrew Bolt’s article on the sacking of FBI head Comey (see Bolt on Comey) suggests, there are signs that more complete and favourable situations will emerge. Bolt points out that “Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who worked for Democratic president Bill Clinton and is so respected by both sides of politics that the Senate confirmed his nomination by 94 votes to 6” … “cited a long list of former attorneys-general and deputy attorneys-general from both sides of politics, as far back as the Ford administration, who had condemned Comey”. Even Eric Holder, Obama’s deputy attorney-general, agreed Comey had “violated longstanding Justice Department policies and traditions”. Bolt concludes that “as fake news goes, this one’s on steroids”.
Trump’s decision to make his first overseas visit to the Middle East rather than Europe can be seen as simply reflecting his view that previous approaches to the handling of policy should be radically changed. But it also suggests a view that the Middle East problem is the most important facing the US and the Western World. His 7 page address in SA to the Arabic Islamic American Summit (see Trump Speech to Arab Summit) is totally different to the texts he had been sending out in Washington – and totally different to the one which Obama gave in Cairo soon after he became President. What’s more it seriously addressed the Islamist problem in front of leaders of countries who are Muslims, but with one important exception viz Iran.
Important points made in the address include
- There is “one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history’s great test –to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism”.
- The deadliest toll from terrorism “has been exacted on the innocent people of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations”.
- ”The true toll of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many other, must be counted not only in the number of dead”.
- ”This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it”.
- “A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH”.
Some will see the address as overly optimistic and unlikely to result in meaningful cooperation. But whether realised or not it signals a fundamental change in US foreign policy compared with Obama. This was reflected on his arrival in Israel, when Netanyahu said to Trump during a joint press conference “I want to tell you how much we appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.” Netanyahu added that for once it gave him hope for the future. This is a totally different attitude to the one Trump is receiving in Washington but will have work to do when he returns.