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Tag Archives: Gillard

Forging the Wrong Leaders

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“We are not the Labor party.”  Amongst the leadership tensions of the past few weeks in the ruling Coalition government, Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to have adopted this as a mantra of sorts, an incantation to ward off the attacks of his foes both inside and outside of his own party. A return to the internecine warfare of 2010 and 2013, he argues, would make the Liberal party as bad as their predecessors. He speaks as if there is something qualitatively different between the parties and the way they go about their operation, as if the Liberal and Labor parties have entirely different and incompatible DNAs.

Whilst the spill motion may have failed, the simple fact that the motion was raised shows that this is manifestly untrue.

Labor has not been slow to join in the chorus of jibes, directly quoting back invective initially directed at Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd by Abbott and his fellows. There is no shortage of material to use. Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and others were incessant in their criticism of Labor’s leadership woes, all at the instigation of the consummate attack dog who now finds the tables turned. The rich irony is that leadership battles are only unpalatable because Tony Abbott made them so. They are not new to Australian politics.

Admittedly, leadership changes at the Federal level are rarer than in State politics. Additionally, many Prime Ministers step down “gracefully” before the inevitable push.  It is not until Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – and the unedifying return to Rudd – that replacement of a sitting Prime Minister by force became somewhat common. However, the attempt by Liberal backbenchers to push a spill motion and depose Tony Abbott shows that leadership battles are not restricted to one side of politics. They are caused by something deeper – a malaise in politics.

“To lose one Prime Minister may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.” (With apologies to Oscar Wilde.)

Deposing (or attempting to depose) a sitting, first-term Prime Minister is, admittedly rare – at least, until recent years. So how is it that we’ve come to this?

Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007 with a sweeping majority and the hopes and aspirations of Australians behind him. Less than three years later he was pushed from office, a broken, tearful man. What forces wrought the triumphant visionary of Kevin 07 into the chaotic, vindictive morass he became?

The issue at the heart of Kevin Rudd’s downfall was his inability to govern. Rudd was a great communicator, an idealist, a visionary and a fantastic politician for elections. In government, however, he proved lacking in the skills and attributes required of a Prime Minister. This came about, essentially, because elections and governments require very distinct skill-sets. What makes a great leader during an election campaign does not make a wonderful leader in power. Unfortunately, the reverse is also often true: great leaders may be let down by their inability to win elections.

Our modern democracy revolves around elections. They are the fixed points at which the people can have their say. It has been argued that Australia is a democracy for a month or so every three years, after which it becomes an effective oligarchy. There is some truth to this.

Increasingly, however, the three years between elections are conducted with an unremitting focus on the next election. Oppositions have this easy: they spend their years in the political wilderness with nothing but the next election to think about. Government is a harder job. Making decisions in the greater good, aware that every action will have detractors, will be attacked by the opposition and by the media, requires courage. Making decisions aimed solely at bolstering the government’s reputation at the next election is easier.

During elections, enormous sums of money are spent on revealing and promoting policy, on attacking political opponents, and on strategising the message. How much do you reveal? How long can you keep your best offerings hidden, in order to best capture public approval whilst restricting the other party’s opportunity to respond? All is done with an eye on the prize – the all-important twelve hours when the electoral booths are open.

Elections are replete with unreasonable expectations, with impossible promises, and unfortunately often, dirty tactics. Throw a partisan media into the mixture and an election becomes so much froth and noise, a lot of the detail can be obscured.

But then the election is over. The winning party is expected to segue into governing. Suddenly there is no money for advertising. The messaging takes a back seat: governing is a long game. In governing, there is limited value to continuing to attack the other side. Even a party which had the media’s partisan support during the election can find, all too soon, that it becomes hostile. Sudden attention is paid to detail. Promises were made during the campaign, but when it comes to execution, any number of headwinds interfere: from the quality of the public service to unexpected financial setbacks. Changing circumstances require flexibility, but promises and public expectations are not flexible.
In the public’s view, the choice has been made. The election is over: it is time to make good on the promises. And woe betide a party that cannot deliver on its promises, the next time elections come around.

Promises are the currency of elections

Campaigning requires a particular skillset of a political party and its leaders. Leaders must bring inspiration and vision. An election from opposition can be carried on criticism of the government, but only insofar as plans can be proposed to address the identified shortcomings. Attacking your opponents will get you only so far; a party needs to explain what it would do differently. The universal truth of electoral campaigns is promises.
Kevin Rudd was a great campaigner. He brought vision and grand plans. His rhetoric inspired the young and the old alike in an idea of what Australia could be. He promised changes that would be difficult, but he made them sound easy, and he had obvious commitment to his cause. Kevin 07 was a whirlwind of hope, and with a strong team behind him, he made his promises sound convincing.

Unfortunately, Kevin Rudd proved to be terrible at governing. The essential qualities of a government leader are the ability to negotiate, persistence to follow-through on projects, focus on detail, delegation and empowerment of your team, and detailed planning. These were not Kevin Rudd’s strengths. In eternal search for polling approval, Rudd lacked the ability to push projects through to completion against critical media campaigns and public resistance. His inability to delegate power and responsibility was also a detriment. In an election, the leader’s visibility and personality are critical to success. But Australia is too large and complex for a single leader, however frenetic, to manage. Kevin Rudd and his centralisation became a bottleneck, and Labor was unable to effectively execute on its promises.

Kevin Rudd was a great “wartime leader” but a mediocre peacetime one. When he was deposed in favour of Julia Gillard, the priority was to regain some momentum on the projects that had stalled. Fulfilling at least some of the promises that won the 2007 election would go some way to address the electors’ buyer’s remorse. Such was Gillard’s success in a short period of time that she won Labor another term of office.

Gillard was amazing at the things that Rudd was not. Negotiation and persistence were the hallmarks of the Gillard administration. With Gillard’s direct intervention and follow-through, outstanding issues got resolved. Promises made at the previous election, sabotaged by poor planning and policy backdowns, were resolved in short order – perhaps with suboptimal outcomes, but enough to get them off the table.

Gillard was a very successful peacetime leader and history will likely judge her kindly. However, she was let down in the face of Tony Abbott’s incessant campaigning by a poor communication style. Gillard was not seen as a great campaigner. A last-minute return to the Great Campaigner, Kevin Rudd, in late 2013 was insufficient to address the extended election campaign Tony Abbott had run from the moment he ascended to the Liberal leadership.

Uncomfortable parallels

Tony Abbott was also a great campaigner. His approach was different to Rudd’s; he brought no grand plans or vision to the table. Instead his approach was to sow discontent wherever possible, and his pitch was for a return to the Good Old Days of prosperity under Howard. His messaging was consistent and strident and believable. With no grand plans to propose, details of execution were not required. Tony Abbott ran a three-year election campaign leading up to his election in 2013. The primary promise of Tony Abbott’s Coalition was to “Not be Labor” – a message he is still pushing today, over a year after taking government.

Abbott’s success on the campaign trail has not carried through to success as Prime Minister. Tony Abbott and his cabinet repeatedly point to their grand successes – the mining tax, the “carbon tax”, and three free trade agreements. Regardless of whether you consider these outcomes to be successes, unstated are the Attacks on Everyone of the 2014 budget, the ideological attack on industrial relations, the Captain’s Picks, or the reliance of the Coalition on a model of Australia’s prosperity (mining and export) that is rapidly coming to an end. Not described is the government’s lack of a plan for developing the country into a nation of the 21st century – nor the failure of the government to progress its plans to forge the country into the preeminent example of a 20th century country. Not mentioned is the changing circumstance which is the belated acceptance of the rest of the world that Climate Change is an existential issue demanding action.

Like Rudd, Abbott is also a centraliser. The inability to entrust his Ministers with management of their own offices, let alone their own portfolios, has led to internal dissatisfaction – just like Kevin Rudd. The inability of the Abbott government – with its hard right-wing policies and its head-kicker parliamentary supremos – leads to an inability to negotiate in good faith with their political opponents, which leads to legislation languishing in the Senate. In turn, this leads to further deterioration of the budget. This government seems to know only one way to respond to a budget problem, but this approach does not have the approval of the people the government is elected to serve, nor the Senate which protects them.

The skills and attributes that brought Tony Abbott to government are not the skills and attributes needed to effectively govern this country. This is the malaise of our democracy. The focus on winning government means that leaders are forged who can win elections but not lead the country.

The enormous political cost of changing from Rudd to Gillard, and back to Rudd, led to Rudd introducing new rules to the Labor party around leadership contention. This was good politics. It is not, necessarily, good government, if it serves to protect the interests of an incompetent or unsatisfactory Prime Minister. Such rules, ironically, would serve to protect Tony Abbott, and a similar set of requirements have been proposed for the Coalition that would further endanger Australia’s ability to unseat a leader who can campaign but not govern.

Where to from here?

History shows us that Tony Abbott is unlikely to survive as Prime Minister to the next election – unless the Coalition follows Labor’s lead and institutes new rules to prevent the unseating of a Prime Minister. If Tony Abbott is unseated, perhaps as a result of another poor Captain’s Call or a further string of poor polls and State election results, who would be expected to replace him? And would Abbott be replaced by a good governor – or a great campaigner?

Amongst the ideologues and right-wing extremists, the climate deniers and the silver spoon born-to-rule set, who on the Coalition’s side can be the great governor Australia needs? Malcolm Turnbull looks like the most likely candidate for the top job (despite the particular loathing which some of his Coalition colleagues reserve for him). Can Malcolm Turnbull the Despised become the negotiator, the facilitator, and the project lead that the Coalition so desperately needs?

 

Cage Match: Abbott the Destroyer and “Hulk” Hockey vs The Rest of the World

 

From a very young age, I was always cynical about the wrestling on TV. It seemed to me that it was so obviously contrived.

I mean, you’d have the tag matches where some wrestler with a name like Dead Eye Vampire would be winning, but he’d continue pounding his defenceless opponent, Mighty Freaky, while ignoring the opponent’s partner who’d entered the ring after a tag that Dead Eye somehow missed seeing. Cries of “Look behind you” were ignored, in the style of a pantomime. How could anyone not realise that the tag had taken place and that a new opponent was moving in from behing?

Ridiculous!

But the past few months have made me wonder. It seems that the Liberal Party are behaving exactly like they’re performing for the Late Night Wrestling. Actually, make that the past four years, but recent events just clinch it.

We have the Liberal Party doing as much as it can to stir up the viewers. Appointments of ex-politicians like Nick Minchin, Peter Costello, and Sophie Mirabella are one thing, but appointing Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission is a move clearly designed to get the audience stamping their feet and booing.

Their manager lurks in the background pulling the strings, while the members of Team Liberal and Team National shout out provocations like the referee sucks, and everyone is biased against us. The ABC, for example.

Queen Zodiac even stirred up some of his own supporters by claiming that he didn’t say what the video clearly showed him saying. (Don’t blame me, I used a site called “Pro Wrestling Name Generator”. I typed in Christopher Pyne, and that’s what it came up with. Honestly!) Then, he told everyone that they were stupid and didn’t understand what he said.

More boos!

“Hulk” Hockey called on GMH to put up or shut up! They promptly shut up shop and left. He then proceeds to claim that everything he does is because of Irksome Pounder (Rudd) and Garrulous Doom (Gillard)

And Team Liberal and Team National keep jumping in the ring to put the boot into Irksome and Garrulous.

But here’s the thing that reminds me of the wrestling.

They seem oblivious to the fact that these two are no longer in the ring, that there are new opponents circling. Sure, there’s been a little bit of trash talk with Bill Shorten’s name, but that’s not what the public want to see.

They don’t want Abbott and company to bang on about how good they are and how bad their opponents were. They don’t want a repeat of last week’s match with an invisible opponent. They want the fresh bout with the new opponent, Major Souljacker (Shorten).

Actually, I suspect what the public really want is for the Government to start behaving like a government, and to stop the theatre. If Souljacker starts to sneak up, I doubt there’ll be many calls of “Look behind you”!

doommajor irksome

And The Winner Is …

This is emphatically not an election campaign about policy.  Labor’s are mostly already in place and the Coalition doesn’t have any “big ticket” policies that aren’t frankly a total joke or are heartily rejected by conservative commentators and party members alike.   Nor is this campaign about political philosophy or ideology.

It is well-nigh impossible to mount a meaningful argument in contemporary Australia regarding the ideological differences between Labor and the Coalition.  The seismic shift to the political right in this country has all but guaranteed its impossibility.  It was once a chasm, but it’s been bridged in what is really a quite remarkable feat of political engineering.

Nor again has this vote soliciting boot-sale been about facts.  Of course, truth and facts are always one of the first casualties in any political election campaign, but this one seems especially unconcerned with them. Indeed facts are an impediment to most political strategies.

One might suggest, however, that the plethora of media “fact checking” mechanisms belies this assertion, but I’m happy to dismiss such things as little more than media stunts.

Perhaps the only persons who are seriously interested in facts are the Labor supporters who’ve been reduced to wretched despair over the almost complete disregard for them.

There may well be some more moderate members and supporters of the Coalition who also bemoan this facet of the campaign and of the unseemly nature of modern Australian political discourse and debate, but if they exist, they’re not saying much.  Or they’re saying it in places I don’t tend to visit.

No, this campaign has been about one thing and one thing only, and thus far it is completely triumphal – the winner is Prejudice.

Mind you, it cheated a little bit and got an early start.  Prejudice was the major cultural force in Australia well before the election was even called.   It had its pre-selection victory in the Seat of Sovereignty when it saw off our first female Prime Minister.  I believe in some places it’s still doing a victory lap.

There was nothing of fact or policy or ideology in any moment of that unwholesome dynamic.  It was all about Prejudice and pettiness of mind.  It was also about fear, which is the primary fuel of Prejudice.  Fear of the new (a woman), the different (an atheist), the unconventional (unwed and childless).  Gillard was all those things, but worse, she also knew how to be successful.  There can be only one form of response to something like that when it’s feared and it isn’t reasoned argument.

By the time the election was called the cultural dry rot had well and truly set in and bits of our Nation’s political, intellectual and moral integrity had already become flaky.   We could not, for example, tell the difference between an actual carbon tax and an industry-based static carbon price, even though they are economically distinct things.  We could barely tell the difference between a $100 leg of lamb and the Loch Ness Monster.  The mantra of Prejudice was well and truly established and just about set in the Public’s DNA:  Labor Brand Tarnished.  Never mind that the slogan doesn’t actually mean anything.  The great thing about slogans is they don’t have to.

So, why has Prejudice become the front-runner for electoral success in this election?  Well, the first thing Prejudice has going for it is that it’s awfully vocal; it tends to shout a lot, though often with the aid of visual and auditory devices.

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It simply never goes unheard.  Its voice may be annoying but it resonates like the piercing call of a Pallid Cuckoo cutting through a still, dark night.  You just can’t shut it the hell up and no amount of wishing and hoping can make it so.  The second and perhaps most significant trait Prejudice has in its favour is that it’s remarkably contagious.  It’s a sort of lickety-split Leprosy.  You don’t know it’s affecting you till one day your brain falls out.

This election campaign began life with an already deeply afflicted populace.  Its colic was congenital.  But it was to become a near piffle pandemic.  This is what happens when certain members of the public refuse to immunize themselves with facts and information.  They spread their jaundice germs all over the place and infect otherwise innocent bystanders, who subsequently become subject to feverish bouts of irrationality and rancid rodomontade.  If you combine the two main facets of Prejudice in their purist, most virulent form you end up with something like Radio Shock Jock Alan Jones.

Another important reason that Prejudice tends to prevail so effortlessly, is precisely because it is so effortless.  It requires and expresses a minimum of thought whilst at the same time engendering the feeling of absolute genius in the one who evinces it.  It doesn’t require facts, nor consistency, nor logic, nor integrity, decency, humility, reason, literacy, education or a driver’s license or even an 18 plus card.  Hell, Prejudice even has anonymity on its side.  No wonder it’s so damned popular!

I’m not going to indulge in a repetition of the oft’ repeated observations about who and what has spread this insidious disease throughout our neighbourhoods, and we must remember they are our neighbourhoods.  But I will observe that it’s difficult to avoid the flu when significant social forces are happy to cough in your face and feed you a daily dose of bacilli for breakfast.

It’s simply my hope that sometime between now and September 7, even as late as polling day itself, people will wake from the delirium of this distemper and have just enough moments of lucidity to see things for what they are and to consider what they are about to do.  I hope we don’t allow Prejudice to prevail in this election.  The damage it has already done to our social fabric is serious enough, but if Louie makes it to the Lodge and finds there’s no Mortein, he’ll have a field day.

Careless whispers nothing to dance about

In my years of being old enough to know what an election campaign is, I cannot recall one so inundated with media tales of what unnamed persons have to say.

The number of stories quoting unnamed Party sources, primarily on Labor’s side of the political coin has been nothing short of staggering – nameless “ministers”, “senior party officials”, “party heavyweights”,  “senior sources”, “powerbrokers”, “spokespersons” and the rest of that particular journalistic nomenclature.

It’s been incredible.  For my part, I’ve been deeply cynical and skeptical about it.  It was much easier to believe that a biased media was just making stuff up.  Mind you, in truth, there’s no way to show they are.

Then came the Gillard leadership spill of June 2013, about which there had been whispers aplenty.

On top of that, we’ve come to learn that Kevin Rudd has a weaker bladder than Julian Assange.  The journalists were seemingly vindicated.

But that leaves me, as a Labor supporter, with a terrible reality to face: Labor personnel are actively undermining their own party.  It beggars belief but it seems to be the only alternative to media mendacity.

Has the relationship between Labor and journalists become too cozy, too personal, too endowed with self-interest and ambition to be tolerable?  Or is Labor just politically inept?

Of course, the relationship between politicians and the media is a complex and important one, but I can’t help but think it’s become something corrosive to our political culture and especially dangerous to Labor.

Generally speaking, Journalists are supposed to report the news, not be part of it.

Brisbane’s Courier Mail ran a story today posing the question of whether it would have been better for Labor to have gone into the election campaign with Julia Gillard.

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Courier Mail Website

Now, the story is pure, tabloid schlock, and goes so far as to use a manipulative photo taken from the funeral of Joan Child (Australia’s first female Federal Speaker), presumably just so they could slip in the Slipper.

It’s not the first time that the Courier Mail, or News Limited generally, have disrespected this sombre occasion in their opinion pieces.  But the interesting and pertinent thing about the story is that it contains multiple quotes from unnamed Ministers and “powerbrokers”.

Just two months since the Labor Party dramatically switched its leader, some senior members of the Government are now complaining that Ms Gillard would have performed better than Mr Rudd.

 

The minister said Ms Gillard would have slowly improved Labor’s vote, while under Mr Rudd it soared and then plummeted.

 

“One of the questions that will be asked is would Gillard have met Rudd on the way down? In the end, we’ll never know,” the source said.

 

“She made mistakes, no doubt, and she made mistakes under pressure. But she was much cooler under pressure and she coped with a greater intensity.”

If based on recent history, we’re forced to accept that these quotes are real, one has to wonder out loud: what the hell is going on?

Why would senior Party figures be speaking to members of the Murdoch press in such a fashion at a time when Labor is busily pushing the idea that News Limited is out to get them?

Why would they be saying things to journalists that they know will result in damaging “news” stories?  Are they mad?  I simply cannot fathom it.

I invite readers to offer their speculations and theories.  Heaven knows I could use a theory that doesn’t have me catching flies, mouth agape.

Accurate predictions for election result, Melbourne Cup and the stock market

Image by thevarguy.com

Image by thevarguy.com

More than 90% of everything is predictable; most predictions are wrong.

How do I reconcile those two things. Well, quite simply, people don’t bother to make predictions about the predictable things, and if they do, the prediction won’t get much oxygen. If I predict that Monday will be followed by Tuesday, then no-one’s really going to be interested. Nor, when I tell people that this years Melbourne Cup will be run on the first Tuesday in November and won be a jockey riding a horse, is anyone likely to contact me for my amazing prognostications.

To raise interest, predictions have to be outrageous and unexpected, which is why they’re so often wrong. If I predict that Turnbull will challenge Abbott for the leadership, then people will want to know when and what basis I have for my belief. Unless, of course, I say something like next Thursday week at 3pm. And happen to be right.

Philip Tetlock did a study on expert prediction, and, apart from finding that they were little better than a monkey with a dartboard, he concluded that he could divide them into “foxes” and “hedgehogs”. The “hedgehogs” were good at one thing, and they knew they were right. Their predictions tended to be specific and clear. (“The GFC is far from over – the market will crash again in 2011, 2012 at the latest.”) The “foxes” were able to consider a number of things and couched their predictions in generalities and qualifers. They could take into account a number of possible scenarios, using “if/then” phrases.

An example of a “hedgehog” would be someone like Andrew Bolt or Tim Flannery. (Some of Flannery’s statements are far too specific and don’t help in the attempt to educate the general public on the difference between weather and climate.) I can’t think of a good example of a “fox” because generally they don’t get much air time. They don’t make for good headlines, so who wants to talk to them?Might as well talk to me about my prediction for the Melbourne Cup. (“Don’t forget I told you that it would be on a Tuesday and won by a horse.”)

The only trouble is that the “foxes” are the ones who actually frame the discussion in terms of intelligent questions. And they have more success in their actual predictions than the “hedgehogs”. The interesting thing is that success doesn’t seem to matter. People who get things wrong over and over again are still asked for their thoughts in the media.

How is this possible? Well, it’s easy to explain away why you were wrong. You can say that your timing was out, but that what you predict will still happen. (“I know I said 2012 for the stock market crash, but because of the way Obama has propped up the economy, he’s delayed the inevitable.”) Or you can cling to the part of your prediction that was correct. (“I know that I said that the Cup would be won by an imported horse, well, the winner’s sire was imported, so I was on the right track.”)

So, I’m tempted to go out on a limb here and to be a “hedgehog” and say that Labor has this election in the bag now. Rudd’s return will throw Abbott out of stride, and the pressure will get to him, leading to some Liberals speculating privately about whether it’s too late to go back to Turnbull. Of course, I don’t actually believe that, but it’d sound more impressive than what I actually think will happen. I think Abbott may well be rattled. He’s been cruising to a victory, but the latest polls make it close. And, just like a sporting team that’s given up a large lead, they often try to hang on, change their strategy and end up choking, there’s a genuine possibility that Abbott will repeat his: “Of course, I read the report” fiasco.

But I’m more circumspect than that. I’m going to predict – with certainity – that what happens now is uncertain. There are so many variables going into the election that only a “hedgehog” would try to call it. Rudd has taken the wind out of the sails of the simplistic “Juliar” campaigners. No-one will accuse him of lying, in spite of his promise not to challenge. But he does come with his own baggage. And if you go on any social media, you’ll be able to find disaffected Gillard supporters who swear that they won’t vote Labor now. What happens when it becomes a choice between Rudd and Abbott, or when they actually consider voting for the Opposition candidate in their electorate is anyone’s guess. If the Liberals actually start trying to articulate their policies, will it turn voters off? If they try to attack Rudd, in the same way they attacked Gillard, will it just make them look negative? Will Katter’s party affect how the Liberals go in Queensland? Will Palmer have any effect? Could it be another hung Parliament with Abbott having to negotiate with Katter?

Like I said, only a “hedgehog” would be definite about the coming months.

As for the Melbourne Cup, that’s easy – take Bart’s horse and the French one with your grandmother’s tip for the trifecta!

 

“Thinking, Fast and Slow”

“Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound.”

 “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman

In “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman talks about System 1 and System 2 thinking. Wikipedia describes them thus:

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious

System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious”

Kahneman goes on to make the point that often human beings make decisions quickly, then rather than thinking carefully about a hasty judgement, they use their System 2 thinking to justify their System 1 judgement. For example, Tony Abbott announces a policy to improve Aboriginal Health Services in remote areas. Instinctively, someone anti-Abbott says that it won’t work. After that, rather than look at the individual components of the policy, the support it has amongst indigenous leaders or any arguments for the merits of the scheme, the person’s System 2 thinking will keep finding ways to support the initial System 1 reaction.

This partially explains the Gillard Government’s inability to gain traction, and to receive support in areas where people would actually support the idea itself. It’s not totally about the inability of the Government to “sell its message”, or even the MSM’s bias. Of course, it doesn’t help when the first time people hear a proposal that it’s framed in negative terms, or that headline portrays a change in policy as a “broken promise” or a “backdown”.

Kahneman also talks about the “sunk costs fallacy”.  Again from Wikipedia, “In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a retrospective (past) cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with prospective costs, which are future costs that may be incurred or changed if an action is taken.” In simple terms, once you’ve invested time, money or energy into a course of action, it’s hard to simply say that’s it, I’m going to do something else. Rather than admit the car we’ve bought is a “lemon” and spending another couple of thousand getting something fixed, we might be best to just leave it where it is, and put that money towards taxis. Similarly, governments are reluctant to say, for example, that the ticketing system they’ve spent a billion developing is inefficient and that it’d be cheaper to make public transport free and pay people to ask for donations to keep the system running.

I can’t help but think about the notion of sunk costs in relation to coming election. As I suggested in a previous blog, some people seem to see elections solely in terms and winning and losing. It’s probably symptomatic of being one of the major parties. Smaller parties like the DLP, the Democrats and the Greens have always been more concerned with what they can achieve before and after elections because they know the won’t form government.

Both Liberal and Labor should be aware that they won’t keep winning elections. The issue for them shouldn’t be what will win the election, but what will they be able to achieve. How can they – in terms of the “sunk cost fallacy” – stop the other side undoing what they’ve done?

Should Gillard be twisting and turning in the hope of winning a few votes here and there, or should she accept that staying true to the things Labor want to achieve is the better way to go. They’ve let the Liberals set the agenda on asylum seeker policy only to find themselves unpopular with both sides of the debate.

The quote from “Thinking, Fast and Slow” at the top of the page talks about framing, and, of course, if Gillard has made any mistake, it’s been that they’ve allowed other people to frame the debate in the wrong terms. By constantly moving the focus forward to the next election, the question issue becomes about how to ensure a win, not about how to make best use of their time in government. When the dust settles, will Labor be saying we grabbed a few votes here and there with populist policies? Or will the say that in these six years, we managed to set in motion many things that Tony couldn’t unwind.

To take one example – most schools were happy with the money “wasted” on their school halls. Not even the Liberals have a policy of to knock them down.

Poll woes for Julia Gillard – the solution, possibly the final solution!

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The polls don’t look good for Julia Gillard (image from heraldsun.com.au)

Newspoll is suggesting that the Julia Gillard Labor Government is heading for a thumping. It seems hopeless, and there is speculation that it may start a fresh round of leadership speculation.

Ok, I guess I should nail my colours to the mast here and say that I’ve never really been a whole-hearted Julia Gillard supporter. I always thought that her voice was too nasal and that her hairstyle so unlike previous leaders, so I doubted that she’d ever become PM, but she somehow managed to get there, and slowly she’s won me over by her focus on good policy and getting things done, rather than the politics.

But it seems I’m in the minority. So I have to concede that instead of concentrating on silly things like the NBN, which apparently causes asbestos to appear in the street, or disability insurance, she should have been concentrating on keeping our borders safe. While Julia Gillard has been twiddling her thumbs, the Opposition have been working on a deal with Indonesia to stop the boats, and pretty soon they’ll have that in a form where they can let the Indonesians know about it.

I know that the only way that Labor can defuse this boat issue is to come up with a better policy. All right, they did try the Malaysian solution, but the Liberals complained that was inhumane. They did try the Pacific Solution, which the Liberals complained was their policy – until it hasn’t worked. Now the Liberals are suggesting that the only way is to tow back the boats. But I suggest that Labor should go one step further and have a “Sink the Boats” policy – in a totally humane way, of course. We’d only be sinking them to discourage other people from taking that risky voyage in a leaky boat.

Of course, we know that Julia Gillard won’t do this, so the only thing to do is to replace her as leader. Kevin Rudd would be divisive and make it appear as they Labor didn’t know what it was doing. They could offer it to Malcolm Turnbull, but I hear a rumour that he’d have a problem with sinking innocent women and children, so that only leaves one option. They should offer the leadership to Gina Rinehart. (Although Turnbull no longer has a problem with rising sea levels, since he got rolled as Opposition Leader for endorsing an emissions trading scheme!).

I know that it may seem a little strange, but I don’t see anyone else who’d have enough money to counter Rupert’s push to install Tony. And I know some of you would say that she wouldn’t be prepared to stand for the Labor Party, but I’m sure that if they promised to abolish the Mining Tax, the Carbon Tax and slash the minimum wage to $5 a day, she’d consider it. An agreement that they’d re-introduce Work Choices should just about clinch the deal.

Of course, they’ve already got a problem with the Budget not balancing this year, so rather than restricting spending and trying to raise revenue before the election, they could offer tax cuts to all and re-introduce the Baby Bonus retrospectively for anyone who’d ever been a baby.

In an effort to reduce the damage of Craig Thomson, all union officials should be jailed pending investigation. Once they can prove that they’ve never done anything wrong, they can be released, of course, but only after they’ve won the election. (Anyone who confesses to the theft of a pen could be released for time already served, in the hope that it’d encourage others to admit to crimes also).

With these simple steps, Labor may again be a winning chance at the election. And surely, winning the election’s what counts. In forty years, no-one will care that Julia Gillard introduced the NDIS. After all, who remembers that Gough introduced Medicare (Medibank) or that he bought “Blue Poles” for a fraction of its value today. But we all remember who won the 1974 election…

Don’t we?

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