Weekend Australian ran an article by former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, in which, contrary to his usual practice with articles written for the Wall St Journal, he states no outright opinions and suggests no answers because it was “an especially chaotic and jam-packed week” (see attached Rove Asks What is Happening in the US). I have much the same feeling about developments in Australia as well as in the US, both of which leave some important questions outstanding.
The Weekend Australian ran as the lead report an interview by Paul Kelly with former Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, who is now Chairman of the National Bank. Henry said that more needs to be done to reduce the budget deficit instead of talking about it (see Ken Henry on Budget Deficit). This provided an opportunity to point out that the “times have changed” since Henry was the TS and advised Rudd to go for broke: indeed the advice to Rudd was, at best, highly questionable if not wrong (see my letter below). The Australian is to be congratulated for continuing its helpful advocacy today partly through publishing a swag of supporting letters and partly by having its Canberra Bureau Chief, Phillip Hudson, pen a separate article (see Everyone to blame for our budget spiral of hopelessness). Hudson points out that one of the problems is that “ Neither Labor or the Coalition, on their current trajectory, promise a surplus before the next election. Morrison hopes for one in 2020-21. Labor went to the last election with a plan that would leave the budget $16bn worse off over the next four years before making everything tickety-boo within a decade. These scenarios are based on Australia continuing on its growth path of the past 25 years. What happens if something goes wrong?”
As the end of the first year of Turnbull’s Prime Ministerialism draws nigh, assessments of his performance are appearing in the media from various quarters. The Weekend Australian’s lead article reports former Treasurer Peter Costello as not directly criticising Turnbull but as calling on the Liberal Party to “explain better its agenda, motivations and priorities” and to “smash the high-tax cheer squad”. The AFR has even published a survey of the views of 50 people regarding his achievements and, in the range from A to F, has awarded him only a D+ (see attached Results Turnbull’s AFR Survey). In fact, almost all commentators in the media (including journalists themselves) have reservations about Turnbull’s contribution to the political debate and to where Australia is or should be heading. While they tend to focus on how he has been performing recently against Shorten or on specific issues, rather than the longer term and broader perspective, this suggests that there may not be a ready recovery of Turnbull’s personal polling in the current session of Parliament. This despite Shorten’s poor handling of the contradiction of Labor’s foreign policy in statements made by Shadow Minister Senator Dastyari.
Can there be any question that the G20 meeting in China was not “a success”? The length of the communiqué (7000 words!) and the policies approved might seem to establish it was (see G20 Communiqué). Indeed, it is difficult to find anything missing from the endorsed policies. But one wonders how the discussion of them by 20 leaders could possibly have been covered in the two days and whether any of those endorsed policies will replace those currently being implemented at home. All the more so given that there were numerous important bilaterals on the sidelines.
With the imminent resumption of Parliament some warming-up is occurring. In The AustralianFinance Minister Cormann is reported as making new claims that the Coalition has already made large budget savings ($221bn over 10 years locked in) and that more could be made with Labor support. It appears Cormann refers to possible savings additional to those proposed by Turnbull to implement a miniscule $6.5 billion in budget savings said to have been agreed by Labor. But why hasn’t the Coalition detailed some possible additional savings?