Karma Chameleon

It seems ages since I wrote about The Egging Of Scott Morrison. Time goes slower when you’re bored, they say, and the election campaign hasn’t really got any more interesting than that in the days since the egging. We had a rather lacklustre debate between Morrison and Shorten last Wednesday. Both leaders were clearly buggered and Morrison the more so because he is carrying the can for the Coalition as a whole. That would be hard enough if the Coalition had any policy other than the annoyingly nonsensical “the budget is back in surplus”. But they don’t seem to have any policy other than “we will all go to hell in a hand basket if you vote for Labor.” I reckon that Shorten was just the better of the two at that third leaders’ debate but that was only on the basis that he answered the last question which was something along the lines of “what is your vision of what Australia will look like in 2030?” Morrison trotted out a list of things that he would do whereas Shorten answered the question.

On the other hand Morrison is a past master at trotting out a number. My goodness the man can recall a statistic. The trouble with statistics as someone (allegedly Benjamin Disraeli) pointed out there are lies, damn lies and statistics. The problem for the punters is that they don’t know what’s a statistic and what’s a made-up number. It is this reliance on bullshit that is alienating voters. I read a piece in the Guardian on Sunday about voter apathy in Bass and Braddon, two marginal Tasmanian electorates. It’s no wonder they’re apathetic because no one is providing clarity. Clarity is not about simply saying that you will make the world a better place. Any world with coal in its near- to mid-term future is unlikely to be a better place. Clarity is not about the statistics that Morrison trots out. Clarity is not about reform. Clarity is about communicating a vision. And frankly, Shorten is doing better than Morrison on clarity. But “better” is a relative term: he’s not a lot better. Neither of the main parties seems to have communications advisers that know much about communications.

Clarity translates into how you vote and the dictionary we need to use for that translation is a local dictionary. Everything I hear, and that may not be a lot, suggests that the idea of parachuting someone into Gilmore was not a good one. Warren Mundine is not going to win Gilmore: he will not probably come anywhere close. Our friends at The Poll Bludger agree. They’re predicting that Fiona Phillips will win Gilmore and that Labor will have 81 seats in the next parliament to the Coalition’s 64, with the “others” on 6.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, we had the absolute delight yesterday of the Liberal Party election launch. I am not sure what the advantage might be of waiting until less than a week before the election to hold this event. It supports my view that both parties’ marketing and communications people are lacking in capability. In the event the launch was something and nothing probably aimed more at the party faithful than at the electorate. I found the American-inspired “he’s my son”, “he’s my husband”, and “he’s our dad” things to be pretty sick-making. Does that really win votes? Surely not.

There was, of course, the announcement that the Coalition, should it win, will introduce a scheme to help first-time homebuyers buy their house. This is apparently based on a similar theme in New Zealand and it brings into play a government agency that no one had ever heard of until now. This agency is called the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) and its website tells me that it “is a key part of the Australian Government’s Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability plan, announced in the 2017-2018 Federal Budget.” That’s the 2017-2018 Federal Budget by the way, not the one we had a few weeks ago. So, they kept pretty quiet about this.

This agency is governed by the excitingly-named National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Investment Mandate Direction 2018. I looked at this document and I rather wish I hadn’t. It says (Division 2, paragraph 18) that it is to “provide loans to registered community housing providers at the lowest cost and most appropriate tenor possible.” So, not to individual punters so they will need to change it but I doubt that is hard. It’s not clear to me how first time home buyers will benefit from this fund. Will they get an interest-only loan? What will be the rate of interest? Given the public service’s woeful record on processing anything that involves giving money away, (the NDIS springs to mind), will it be worth the pain and heartache of applying? Who knows.

Under the New Zealand scheme someone “may be able to get government help to buy your first home if you're a KiwiSaver member, want to buy a house that Housing New Zealand owns, or are Māori and want to live on your ancestral land.” The scheme lets you “withdraw your KiwiSaver savings to put towards buying your first home if you‘ve belonged to your KiwiSaver scheme for at least 3 years. You can withdraw your savings, but you must leave at least $1,000 in your KiwiSaver account.” I am not quite sure how the Coalition’s ideas would be “based on” this. I am not sure that they are sure. Tax would be a more effective instrument to help home buyers: give them a tax break on the repayments of the first few thousand of their mortgage. Shorten at least understands that the tax system is a productivity instrument.

More interesting is that the Coalition seems to have compromised the Morrison message that Labor is fiscally irresponsible. His boss having claimed that “the budget is back in surplus”, a phrase that has no meaning whatsoever, our man Frydenberg has conceded that the Coalition has done no modelling on this wonderful housing idea. Why ever not? It wouldn’t be hard. It strikes me that this is an afterthought. Realising that they had nothing to say, some bright spark in some darkly-lit backroom came up with this whacky idea.

In many ways I feel for first-time home-buyers. After all I have four children of home-buying age. But in my grumpier moments I wonder how the hell we managed when the mortgage interest rate was 17%. We did manage. Heaven knows how.

So, by the time you read this there will be but a few days left to go before it will all be over. That’s enough time, of course, for someone to drop (as the English say so eloquently) a bollock. Perhaps they will, but probably not. Assuming there are no dropped bollocks, I will be going with Fiona Phillips. It is, I think, time for a party with something that at least approaches a vision. Sure, they’re compromised on climate change but the Greens are weak on economic vision. After a lifetime of being a blue person I am changing colour. I leave it to you decide what sort of chameleon you might be. But I cannot trust the Coalition on climate change. That lump of coal in Morrison’s hands haunts my dreams. Post script

Above: Posters in line abreast at Tuross. Two candidates are MIA. How did Grant Schultz get to be in the centre? And does the National’s Katrina Hodgkinson know she is to the left of Labor’s Fiona Phillips? Not answering a question is, of course, a qualifying criterion for being a politician. When I was part of the corporate world we would sometime criticise people for dribbling out of both sides of their mouth. We meant of course that they were talking nonsensically, illogically or both. I was delighted to hear this exchange on the ABC’s Q&A last night. Tanya Plibersek was asked a question about Newstart by a young woman. Plibersek could have given a decent answer that didn’t include committing to a rise. The fact that she could not is poor thinking on the Labo rParty’s comms people. Here’s the extract (the transcription is mine): Questioner: Could you live on $39 a day and can you commit to an immediate raise to the rate of Newstart? Tanya: I ... I couldn’t live on $39 a day ...er ... I accept that it is really difficult and the reason we’re doing a review of Newstart is because we understand that people ... er ... are not just living in poverty but it’s preventing them getting out of poverty by getting a job it’s hard to afford the public transport or you know a new shirt to wear to your job interview and it’s not just Labor that says this it’s not just you it’s a number of business organisations that have acknowledged this but we need to be methodical we can’t just pluck a number out of the air we need to be methodical about how we determine ... er ... both the amount that ... er ... Newstart should be the impact on the budget how we afford it I know it’s frustrating for people who like ... Jones: It sounds like you’e saying it will go up we just can’t tell you now by how much ... Tanya: Well I think there’s ...Jones: Is that what you’re saying? Tanya: I think there’s a broad acknowledgement that it’s an inadequate ... er ... it’s an inadequate payment and it’s not just ... Jones: But if you can’t live on it then it must go up isn’t that right? Tanya: Well, well, we ... the ... I, I don’t know how to say it more clearly. There is an acknowledgement across the community business that it is an inadequate payment, that it ... Jones: I’ll go back to questioner. She’s got her hand up, so perhaps she would want a clarification. Questioner: So, I’m 26 years old. Newstart hasn’t raised since I was one year old. I understand the need for a review because I think welfare reform is really important we basically need to overhaul the whole system but why not raise it by 10, 20, 50 dollars a fortnight in the meantime?Like, $20 a fortnight: 5 meals for someone on Newstart. Tanya: Yeah. Erm ... I ... I can’t ... erm ... I ... can’t give you a better answer than we have tobe methodical about it ... Jones: Are you saying that you can’t argue with the logic that it does need to go up and you acknowledge that ... Tanya: I agree that it would be very very difficult to live on Newstart. Absolutely.I am assuming that what she now rather wished she had said would be something along the lines of “yes, we agree that Newstart needs to go up. We need to determine by how much and that’s why we’ve said we will review it. That review will look at Newstart alongside other benefits that 40% of Newstart recipients receive. We’ll finish that review by 31 December 2019 and will introduce legislation by 30 March 2020. If we can do it quicker then we will.” If anyone in the corporate world had come out with the poorly expressed and evasive comments made by Tanya, then they would be shown the door.I am afraid that I am persuaded that today’s politicians are not as bright as yesterday’s.

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