It’s Time for Turnbull

They say Abbott has a habit of setting low expectations and then exceeding them, and indeed we’ve witnessed this many times. So late last year when things were looking rather grim for the government I thought the stage had been set. Abbott had carefully lowered himself to sea level and with the announced “reset” would ascend to the lofty peaks of longevity. Instead he jumped into a ravine and ended up somewhere near the earth’s core. It was his time to prove that he could change, but from that point on he couldn’t put a foot right. Whether it was the GP co-payment debacle, GST distractions during the QLD election campaign or the ridiculous appointment of Prince Phillip as a knight, he made poor judgement calls at the very time he needed to make sound ones.

On the question of who should replace him, Malcolm is the best option. Julie has performed spectacularly and I hope one day is Prime Minister, but the risks at this stage are too high. She is untested as leader and any missteps of a replacement leader will be too damaging long-term. There is an understandable reluctance to return to Malcolm. His previous stint as leader included the overreach and poor judgement of the Godwin Gretch affair and finished with his removal over a carbon price. But the question is, has he learned from his mistakes? All signs point to yes. He is certainly smart enough to have done so. And his experience in parliament has more than doubled since 2009, after being first elected in 2004. He has performed admirably as Minister for Communications.

But most importantly he has, unlike the deposed Rudd, kept his leadership ambitions in check since his toppling. There have been no talks of destabilisation associated with his name. There have been times when he must have been tempted, after the party’s narrow loss in 2010 and when Rudd was eventually returned as Labor leader. But he stayed cool and resisted.

Is Turnbull the right person to lead the party? With the current state of politics I think the time is better than ever. As brutally shown in Queensland, people no longer give a party at least 2 terms. If they’re not happy with them, they vote them out of office as easily as they vote someone off an island or out of a house. Perhaps the willingness of parties to do this themselves over recent years has devalued the office of leader, but whatever the reasons it’s now abundantly clear that if they public don’t like someone, they’ll vote them out. There are no second chances, and little respect seems to be given to leaders who stick to their guns in defiance of short term public opinion. And in that environment, a leader from the centre seems to be the best chance to keep people on side. Perhaps they won’t achieve as much for their base as a more ideologically driven leader, but if they stay in office longer they will achieve more in that time than a 1-term idiological alternative. From a Liberal point of view, if the budget takes longer to return to surplus under Turnbull, it’s better than being plunged even more dramatically into the red under a Labor government.

It’s a new political world. We’ll soon see if the Liberals can adapt.


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Picking a winner

Barring any last minute disasters, it looks like Tony Abbott will be PM by Sunday. Whether the swing is big or small will depend on whether undecided voters are fearful of giving Abbott a large majority, the goal of Labor’s recent scare campaign. Or whether they choose to “pick a winner” and feel that they have contributed to a change of government. At this stage I’m predicting it will be the latter and that the swing will be larger than expected on the day.

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Return of the ex: dealing with Rudd reimagined

If you’ve known someone who has gone through a messy break-up only to get back together with the person some time later then you’ve seen our current political situation play out before.

The public began to turn on Rudd in 2010 but before they had the chance to complete the process and vote him out of office, his own party removed him from power.

We are currently in the early stages of the rekindled relationship. And despite all of Rudd’s failings as well as the failings of the ALP in general, the public as polled are infatuated all over again with Kevin.

Despite this, the Liberals have been relatively quiet. There are fears that if they don’t start attacking Rudd hard he may ride his current wave of popularity all the way to another election win.

Returning to the relationship analogy. No matter how bad the original relationship was, if a friend comes to you to announce that they’re back together with their ex, the worst thing to do is immediately launch into an attack on their partner. While those early feelings of infatuation are present your friend will almost certainly ignore anything negative you have to say about their partner, no matter how logical. Or worse, they will turn against you so that when the time does come when they’re ready to listen to sensible advice you will be out of the trusted zone of people they respect and listen to.

The best strategy is to wait until the early lusty feelings have started to subside. By this time the old cracks will be starting to show again. They will begin to remember all the reasons why the relationship didn’t work out the first time. And most importantly, they will be ready to listen to valid criticism from others.

It is no surprise that Rudd’s polls have improved during these early days. But already we’ve seen glimpses of the Rudd of old. People don’t change that much. As this starts to sink in it will be time for the Liberals to press home the reminders of what came before. And I suspect they’ll find a public ready to listen.

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Cool it, temperature records are there to be broken

It’s the time of year in Australia when we have the usual suspects crowing about the breaking of temperature records being proof of man-made global warming.

Let’s have a quick look at how ridiculous this is.

No one disputes that since the last ice age the world has generally been getting warmer. Let’s pretend that this increase had happened at a steady rate, like this:

If this were the case, every year would break every previous year’s temperature records.

Obviously the increase isn’t as uniform as that, but the fact is that in a warming world, temperature records will be broken whether man has anything to do with it or not.

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WorkChoices forever

Imagine this scenario. After losing the 2007 election in large part because of the WorkChoices policy, the Liberal party manages to block the removal of this unpopular policy. How would the Liberals fare at subsequent elections?

Now fast forward after the next election. If Labor suffers a resounding defeat as it looks like they will, and this is in large part because of the carbon tax, will Labor really block its removal? Will they leave it there as a constant reminder that they can’t be trusted to keep promises?

I suspect people will quickly forget the % increase in their entitlements because of the compensation. But they’ll notice the itemised carbon tax amount every time they get an energy bill. And Labor MPs will happily leave it there? Their fridge magnets may as well say “think of me every time you pay a power bill.” It won’t happen.

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The Rogue That Damaged Gillard

Early this week Julia Gillard was dealt a potentially deadly blow. Some in her party would have suspected it, but to others it must have been quite a shock.

No, we’re not talking about the comments made by a brutally honest Kevin Rudd about the events of last year. We’re speaking of the latest Newspoll figures.

To understand why this poll could prove to be so devastating, we have to go back 4 weeks. Julia Gillard had recently announced her backflip on a carbon tax. And all polls were showing a large drop in support for her government (Newspoll was showing ALP: 46, LNP: 54).

It is reasonable to attribute a large part of this loss to voters with cost of living pressures who worry that a carbon tax will see them lose money, or even their jobs. These are the swinging voters that were convinced to support Gillard after her declaration just prior to the election that she would not introduce a carbon tax.

Two weeks after Labor’s terrible Newspoll, and after admitting to and explaining her backflip, the next Newspoll showed a large turnaround. Labor were back in front (ALP: 51, LNP: 49). Had the tide turned for Labor? Was their carbon tax message finally getting through to the swinging voters whose support they require?

Two days later a rally was held against the carbon tax. Most of the people who attended were concerned citizens who were, for various reasons, against the tax. As with all protest movements, a few more extreme types turned up as well.

And here is where Gillard made her fatal mistake. Perhaps emboldened by the recent Newspoll, she made an attempt to lock moderate people in behind her, and paint anyone who stood against her as an extremist. So Gillard and her government went on the attack against the protesters, calling them everything from misfits to oddballs, and one even suggesting the Ku Klux Klan would have fit in.

Perhaps if the Newspoll really did reflect a change in support for the carbon tax this tactic might have worked. But what if this poll was a rogue? What if there was no great move within the electorate towards supporting a carbon tax. In that case, the effect of demonising the protesters was to demonise all the swinging voters concerned about the tax. And these are voters whose support Gillard desperately needs. Rather than locking them in behind her, she may in fact have locked herself out.

The Newspoll released overnight on Monday showed the worst result for Labor in many years (ALP: 45, LNP: 55). That adds weight to the theory that the poll 2 weeks ago was a rogue. That could mean big trouble for Gillard. And that’s before we even start thinking about Kevin.

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Push vs. Pull – The True Statistics

When discussing asylum seekers it is important to have an accurate understanding of the statistics. A search for statistics on push vs. pull factors brings up the following Crikey blog post:

A graph from this post is frequently cited to show that the number of boat arrivals in Australia is mainly caused by worldwide factors and not government policy.

The problem, however, is that this graph is based on factual errors and fudged statistics. Furthermore it was created before the data for 2009-2010 was available, and therefore it does not contain the only 2 complete years since the Rudd government changed the policies in the second half of 2008.

Documented below are the errors in the original graph, data added for the 2009-2010 period as well as a graph showing the raw data.

Inaccurate 2002 data

The author first provides their original graph showing rankings of worldwide numbers vs. Australian numbers:

The author then fudges the 2002 figures so that the data point fits more easily into their graph. But their new figures are based on factual errors.

Factual error 1 “(The Pacific Solution) did reduce numbers – by redefining parts of Australia as not actually being Australia. Any boat people that happened to land were conveniently excluded from the statistics by an act of definition.”

This assumption is incorrect. The Parliamentary Library document below states, “Data from 2001–02 onwards includes arrivals at both excised and non‐excised places.”

Factual error 2 “Yet we know that SIEV(s) 5,7,11 and 12 in 2002 attempted to make the journey and were returned to Indonesia while SIEV(s) 4,6 and 10 actually sank. That was in very late 2001 through late 2002.”

The suggestion that some of these SIEV(s) attempted to make the journey in 2002 is false. As reported to the senate committee, they arrived between 7 September 2001 and 16 December 2001. So to increase the 2002 figure to include these asylum seekers is not valid. The report asserts that “Twelve Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels (SIEVs) were intercepted by the RAN under the auspices of Operation Relex.[1521] SIEV 1 arrived on 7 September 2001 and the last illegal entry vessel, SIEV 12, arrived on 16 December 2001.”

Further proof comes from the table below that lists the boats on which the “Pacific Solution” asylum seekers arrived. All boats listed arrived in 2001. This confirms that it is inaccurate to assert that these asylum seekers arrived in 2002. They were in detention in 2002, but they arrived on boats in 2001.

Interestingly this was pointed out to the author by someone in the comments of the original post. Unfortunately the author didn’t take the point seriously enough to investigate and find that their figures were incorrect.

Numbers at Nauru and Manus 16 April 2002

MV Tampa & SIEV 1 525
SIEV 2 & SIEV 3 271
SIEV6, SIEV 9 & SIEV10 359
Total Nauru 1155
SIEV 4 216
Transferred from Christmas Island 26-27 January 140
Total Manus 356
Total 1511

MV Tampa and SIEV(s) 1-12 arrived in 2001.

So 2002 is the outlier suggested in the original graph, and as such cannot be fudged to fit the graph as the author has attempted to do.

Recent data

We now have more data to place into the original graph as the complete statistics for 2009 and 2010 are available.

Let’s superimpose the 2009 data onto the graph. We can see that in 2009 there is a significant imbalance between the worldwide number and Australian boat arrivals. It ranks as only the 4th year internationally, yet the 13th year for Australian boat arrivals:

Now let’s look to the data for 2010. In 2010 Australia recorded the highest ever number of arrivals by boat.

The UNHCR has released complete data for 2010 which ranks it as the 4th lowest year worldwide (moving 2009 to the 5th lowest).

As shown below, 2010 falls well outside the expected range in the graph. Clearly something significant happened just before 2009-2010 to produce these results, as it did in 2001 to produce the 2002 result. And in both cases it was a change in government policy.

Graphing the raw data

The choice of graph selected by the author is deceptive. By ranking the data instead of presenting the raw figures, the author is able to hide the significant drop and rise at the times of policy changes. Below is a graph showing the raw data, and while there is a good correlation between the worldwide number and the Australian number, there are years where there are dramatic changes to the Australian number and only minor changes to the worldwide number:

Worldwide vs. Australian Asylum Seekers (raw data)

Note the significant effect of policy change. When John Howard announced in 2001 that Australia was getting tougher, the numbers dropped significantly. When Kevin Rudd announced in 2008 that Australia was getting softer, the numbers jumped significantly and continue to rise. Also note the low numbers during the time of the Howard government Pacific Solution policy, when the worldwide number was ~300,000-600,000.

In addition see that the worldwide numbers from 2008-2010 decreased, while the Australian number went from 161 people to 6535 (a 40 fold increase). What this tells us is that while push factors have an effect on numbers in Australia, pull factors in the form of government policy have a much more pronounced effect.


Worldwide 2010 figures (UNHCR Jan-Dec 2010):

Australian 2010 figures:

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