Taking the partisanship out of power

Policy, like politics, is the art of the possible. And it’s possible to get bipartisan agreement on a policy to achieve the elusive trilogy of electricity affordability, reliability and sustainability. But it will require an end to the hyper-partisanship that has destroyed previous, worthy efforts, such as the previous government’s emissions trading scheme. The only workable policy surviving a decade of climate wars is the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). 

Read More

End the bipartisan slagging consensus in Canberra

Divisive public discourse and the dumbing down of policy debates into abusive slogans are dragging our nation backwards. They are not unique to Australia. It’s as if we are methodically working our way through the Donald Trump’s playbook. Every week the President of the United States and leader of the free world tweets hatred: “Shady James Comey”, “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer”, and his old favourite, “Crooked Hillary Clinton.” Really, is this truly making America great again? 

Read More

Not every business failure is the banks' fault

Okay, now it’s getting ridiculous. The Banking Royal Commission has exposed some appalling behaviour by the banks, but not every poor decision of a customer is the bank’s fault. If an elderly parent goes guarantor for a loan there can be consequences if the loan is not repaid. That’s what going guarantor entails. If a couple on a modest income borrows a million dollars to buy properties and can’t service the loan, what is the bank supposed to do – say it’s alright, keep the money?

Read More

Why the live sheep trade is at death's door

Most Australians have been appalled by the cruelty shown to sheep on not one but five voyages from Fremantle to the Middle East. Yet these were not isolated incidents. Countless sheep have perished over several decades, but only occasionally has incriminating footage emerged. To his credit, new agriculture minister, David Littleproud, has ordered a review into the standards applying to such shipments. But how independent is the minister’s review?

Read More

Labor stuck in middle of two maddies: the Greens and the Coalition

The world has gone mad. Or at least Australia’s centre-right political parties and the Greens have gone mad. In scrambling to the right and the left in an effort to resolve their leadership tensions, the non-Labor parties are vacating the centre, where elections are won. Bill Shorten can position Labor as the party of the centre by demonstrating fiscal discipline, reassuring the electorate that Labor can manage the nation’s books. On this the election result will swing.

Read More

What would Bob Hawke and Paul Keating do?

In grappling with Australia’s contemporary economic policy challenges, asking ‘what would Hawke and Keating do?’ should do no harm and might do some good. The modern methods of policy development seem so distantly removed from the successes of the 1980s and early 1990s. Fortunately, the recently aired two-part ABC documentary on the Hawke years offers some insights. Hopefully, so do my memoirs, The Boy from Baradine, relating my experience as an economic adviser in the Hawke office during the transformative economic reform period 1986-1990.

Read More

The risks of The Great Unwinding and normalisation of interest rates

By definition, the global financial crisis and the great crash of 2009 were disorderly. Monetary authorities around the world deployed unprecedented measures to stimulate devastated economies, including cutting interest rates so far that they turned negative and injecting staggering amounts of liquidity through quantitative easing. Now, more than a decade after the crisis struck, the same authorities are beginning to unwind the stimulus. But will "The Great Unwinding" be orderly, or will it be disorderly, like the crisis it was designed to resolve?

Read More

The question mark that hangs over TPP

The government’s insistence that Labor immediately endorse the Trans-Pacific Partnership minus the United States (TPP11), without knowing what’s in it, is an early reminder that politics will again dominate policy this year. Opposition leader Bill Shorten and shadow trade minister Jason Clare have suggested the pared-down agreement be subjected to Productivity Commission economic modelling. Treasurer Morrison has dismissed this idea as absurd. Yet he gleefully brandished BIS Shrapnel modelling he claimed was of the opposition’s negative gearing policy when, in fact, it had been conducted months before the policy’s release and on a different set of assumptions. In the treasurer’s world, consistency is the sign of a small mind.

Read More

Does Minister Josh Frydenberg dream of electric cars?

Putting increased take-up of electric vehicles in Australia on the same level of disruption as the introduction of the iPhone, as Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg did on the weekend, is head-turning and welcome, but it needs to be backed by proactive government policies. High on the list should be support for the installation of fast-charging stations and an exemption of electric vehicles from the luxury car tax. As cost-effective carbon abatement policies, they should go straight to the pool room, to borrow a phrase from The Castle.

Read More

Reformers face election hurdles

Get ready for lots of elections in 2018 – several by-elections, two state elections and, in all likelihood, a federal election. In election years, politicians go crazy, exaggerating even more wildly than usual, accusing their opponents of all manner of crimes and misdemeanours. With a large number of political careers on the line, all government policy thinking will be directed towards one goal – re-election. 

Read More

The politics beats policy every time

Judging by the recent pronouncements of federal ministers, politics seems set to dominate over policy again next year. If the government gets its way, the two by-elections of late-2017 will be followed by five more in the first half of 2018, four involving Labor MPs and the other an independent. The government will use its restored parliamentary majority to refer the five to the High Court while blocking the referral of any more of its own who remain under a citizenship cloud.

Read More

Same-sex marriage vote shows we need more free debates in Parliament

Last week’s civil debate in the Senate on same-sex marriage gives good people great heart that the Parliament can be better than it has been for most of the last seven years and much of its time since Federation. Rising above partisanship is easier said than done and, on issues on which the major parties have deeply different philosophies, it isn’t even desirable. But on matters where common ground could be found, it is time for a more collegiate approach to restore people’s faith in our democracy.

Read More

Time to look at what's achievable

As the Turnbull government struggles with the citizenship fiasco, with more byelections in prospect for early 2018, and a looming party-room brawl over how to protect religious freedoms in the same-sex marriage legislation, now is the time to fill the policy vacuum by identifying a viable economic reform program for the new year.

Read More

Time for the Coalition to govern, not go on political witch-hunts

Scoring political points against rivals is no substitute for governing. Yet this is the priority in Canberra: to try to damage opposition leader Bill Shorten. At a time when retail sales are feeble, wages growth is flat and private investment is faltering, the economic imperative should be to instil confidence through strong and decisive leadership. Instead, as if hooked on poker machines with a guaranteed losing result, the Turnbull government just can’t give up playing the game.

Read More

When public trust in governments collapses, reforms get much harder

On Tuesday the treasurer will release a Productivity Commission report on the need for further economic reform. Judging from the terms of reference, the report will propose a new effort at federal-state reform. Yet public trust in our institutions – government, business and even non-governmental organisations – is collapsing. Any chance of a new round of socially desirable economic reform will rest on rebuilding the public's trust in our institutions.

Read More