Francis Vierboom's Blog

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Archive for November 2009

Who’s in for the Malcontents?

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Who would join the party? As Bernard Keane points out, “The biggest problem would be perceptions that the party was entirely a vehicle for Turnbull’s ego and fury at his former party. He would need to recruit substantial figures to provide a counterweight to the image of it being all about Malcolm.”

There are a few obvious contenders: John Hewson and Meg Lees, who tried to start the Australian Progressive Alliance a few years back.

The presumption is that Malcolm would tap his business contacts, but based on the barely contained excitement of the blogging and twittering classes about a new liberal democratic party, I can imagine another base where Malcolm might look for recruits: journalists! Who knows, maybe he could recruit some high-profile folk from the ABC or SBS – I suspect at least one or two of Tony Jones, Mark Colvin (the voice of PM), Anton Enis or Mary Kostakidis would run with Mal. Assuming that Mal sticks to Wentworth, which is probably the best opportunity of all, a journo could run against Tanya or Anthony in Sydney or Grayndler?  Pick up the ‘indie-but-sensible-uni-student’ and ‘affluent-but-progressive-with-toddlers’ vote? Could cause a major rift in the currently united-behind-the-Greens inner west pub scene. Then again, everyone likes Tanya and Anthony. Could the new party get a run in – dare I say it – North Sydney?

And even if the new party doesn’t quite make the highly unlikely move of trying to take lower house seats, the next senate could be a good place to hold two or three seats. And if it’s a double dissolution, with the whole senate up for grabs, a smaller quota of votes is required to take a seat – much better opportunities for minor parties to get off the ground. There is a reasonably plausible scenario where, following the election, Labor will be very close to an outright majority but still needing two or three more votes, which would leave them with a choice of crossbench parties to negotiate with. Do a deal with the Malcontents or the Greens? Delicious.

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Written by Francis

November 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

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Malcolm and the Malcontents? Naming Malcolm’s new crossbench party

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The latest news is that Hockey will in fact challenge, and Malcolm has called a press conference. As I suggested myself on Friday, there is a bit of speculation – Christopher Joye, picked up with relish by LP,  Bernard Keane, and John Quiggin – that Turnbull could starts his own party, a right wing, pro-climate change, classical liberal/socially progressive/free market party. John Hewson would probably sign on, and given that he once talked about starting a party with Meg Lees, maybe she would sign up as well.

Malcolm and the Malcontents is my boss’s favourite.

The Liberal Democrats is already taken, by a slightly fringe-y libertarian party. The Liberal Republicans? I had suggested ‘Progressive Liberals’ or ‘Fraser Liberals’, but I don’t find either particularly catchy. What should it be?

Written by Francis

November 30, 2009 at 3:28 pm

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Congestion charges in Sydney

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I love the idea of congestion pricing in Sydney. This is because I am highly self-interested. I ride a bicycle everywhere, including to work every day; I live in Glebe, ten minutes ride from the city centre and within walking distance of most of the pubs I like; and I ride a motorbike whenever I need to go further than my legs can be bothered (or when I urgently need to buy 5kg of laundry powder and 3L of milk). So basically, congestion pricing would probably cost me nothing, and cost a lot for people with very different lifestyles to me.

That being said, I’m still pretty sure it is a great idea for NSW overall. State governments basically have no money, for constitutional reasons, and almost half of the NSW budget is grants directly from the Commonweath (see p17 of the NSW Budget Overview). The majority of the remainder relies on a few taxes for revenue: cigarettes, and alcohol, gambling and stamp duty.

There are odd issues around choosing what to tax. You can tax ‘bad’ things, like cigarettes or gambling, in order to discourage them… but that means that the state government then has a direct financial interest in seeing people continue to drink and smoke while playing the pokies. Of course the state government has to pay for hospitals and police as well, and that does provide a useful incentive for them to prevent the harmful effects of drinking and smoking. (Which, it suddenly strikes me, is possibly a good argument to not federalise the health system).

Creating a new stream of tax revenue from driving seems like a better option. I’m not aware of any reported cases of people becoming ‘addicted’ to driving, unlike booze, cigs and gambling, so if the state government can convince lots of people it’s worth paying tolls to drive on roads, then philosophically to me it just seems a much fairer thing to tax.

But taxing driving itself is also a big winner for the citizens and economy of NSW. A little while ago Felix Salmon (via Matt Yglesias) looked at a study quantifying the costs associated with congestion in NYC. It found that a single extra car in Manhattan on a weekday typically caused a total of 3.26 hours in extra waiting for other people. From Felix:

Komanoff calculates (check out the “Value of Time” tab) that the average vehicle has 1.97 people in it, and that the value of an hour of saved vehicle time south of 60th Street in Manhattan on a weekday is $48.89. Which means, basically, that driving a car into Manhattan on a weekday causes about $160 of negative externalities to everybody else.

I have very little doubt that comparable numbers apply to people driving into the Sydney CBD. As Matt says:

If we implemented congestion pricing in those metropolitan areas suffering from chronic congestion and then gathered up all the revenue and lit it on fire, we would swiftly find ourselves living in a more prosperous society. And if we gathered up the revenue and did something else with it, we’d be even better off.

So entirely ignoring the particulate pollution impacts, carbon emissions, the health benefits of cycling or a bit of extra walking to use public transport, and the mental health benefits of not being stuck in a car listening to Kyle and Jackie O, congestion pricing is a winner.

Written by Francis

November 30, 2009 at 12:08 pm

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Barghouti to be freed?

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Interesting and exciting reports in the Guardian today that there could be a prisoner swap involving the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti. As the article explains, Barghouti, despite being in jail for most of the past decade, leads Palestinian opinion polls and, given Abbas’ announcement that he will not run for President again, could win an election fairly handily.

I had read about Barghouti before (this fantastic interview from 2001) and he comes across as a clever man and a potentially great leader. And it is easy to imagine his popularity in the current dire situation in Gaza and the West Bank; ‘Abu Qassam’, as he is known, represents a nostalgic time of relative unity and at least visible, even if horribly violent and not effective, resistance to the occupation.

The Guardian suggests that there are those who think his return could even heal the rift between Fatah and Hamas. That would be great, and it even worries some hardline Israelis, who see that the current split weakens the Palestinians. But the obvious thing to say is that on being released he might find that reality on the ground in the occupied territories – the true scale of the division between Hamas and Fatah, which by all accounts has been highly exacerbated by violence and abductions in the last year – has moved on a little further than even leader of his stature could turn back.

Still, given the total failure of the last eight years of violence and negotiations, it is elusive figures like Barghouti and the compelling ‘mythology’, as it were, of the Palestinian cause that could still make a big difference. Even though what I know about him is almost entirely on that interview and the snippets I have read since – while being fully aware of the charges of terrorism he was convicted of – I hope he is freed soon. It would be the first good news for the peace process in many years.

Written by Francis

November 29, 2009 at 2:47 pm

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Deal done?

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So is it all over for Malcolm? Probably yes. But he seems relaxed about it.

odds at 16:20 at sportingbet.com.au

 

Written by Francis

November 27, 2009 at 4:33 pm

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Turnbull could hang around – one way or another

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If Joe Hockey really is mad enough to stand up and take the leadership reins now, then it may be Malcolm’s one chance of still being prime minister. Joe was always going to be the ‘leader-after-next’, ie the first one with an actual chance of winning an election. Instead the scenario is now probably this:

  • Hockey and Dutton throw in their lot with Abbott and Michin, all leading the charge into electoral oblivion on climate change
  • Malcolm sits on backbench tapping fingers together
  • Liberal party asks Malcolm to lead again in 4 years time.

Far more likely though:

  • Following electoral devastation in marginal seats, a hardcore conservative group of liberals and nationals remain who would not elect Malcolm in a pink fit

    Malcolm is perfectly aware of this, and a more likely scenario is

    • Malcolm quits and gets some kind of amazing foreign posting from Rudd

      If he does indeed get rolled today, however, he will be full of righteous indignation. I can see a new centre right crossbench party: Turnbull, Hewson, Meg Lees. (Pyne?)

      The Fraser Liberal Party? The ‘Liberal Democrats’ is already taken by that libertarian group.

      Written by Francis

      November 27, 2009 at 11:19 am

      Posted in Uncategorized

      Malcolm – is it Custer or Gettysburg?

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      Futile last stand or bloody turning point?

      I woke up this morning and, for the first time I can remember, instead of tuning in to Glenn Beck’s Fox News show for my morning jollies over breakfast, decided to actually watch Sky News, where John Hewson (former leader of the liberals and noted ‘moderate’) practically had smoke coming out of his ears, ripping furiously into the Liberal party traitors. Just one part of a great spectacle over the last 24 hours, in which Malcolm has won plenty of plaudits, particularly for a great presser, although mostly from people who will never vote for him.

      As Jacques at Club Troppo notes, “Malcolm’s PEI [‘Premature Eulogy Index’] has been steadily rising and has spiked exponentially this week.” The MSM – at least the Oz – seems to be cautiously espousing a ‘conventional wisdom’ that Mal is done for. Bernard Keane at Crikey thinks it’s all over. There are a few dissenting voices taking the longer odds on Malcolm – Larvatus Prodeo and Joshua Gans at core economics (whose site has unfortunately been hacked, no doubt by underground Austrian economist hackers.)

      I personally would like Malcolm to survive, because like most bloggers, I think he’s put in a highly admirable performance, one in the finest traditions of Australian liberal (small l) politics.

      Perhaps in perfect contrast to Glenn Milne, who this morning on Newsradio pondered ‘Why, politically, would the opposition support the ETS? Aren’t they the opposition?’, taking all his cues from the nihilist/obstructionist/Gingrichist playbook of the US Republicans.

      But it clearly hangs in the balance. I tend to believe Ian McFarlane when he says that Turnbull still has the numbers as he did on Tuesday. But will the majority hold out through the weekend, with the talkback campaign raging, the ‘grassroots’ calling in and the News Ltd journos furiously writing the obituaries?

      It may all hang on the legislation getting passed today. The committee inquiry stage of debate is scheduled to end today, which means that, as announced, the vote on the legislation in the Senate could take place this afternoon. However, by filibustering for a few hours, it sounds like insurgents will attempt to delay debate until next week, and keep the dream alive of capturing the party on Monday and turning the ship around.

      There is a rarely used procedure in the senate that could ‘guillotine’ debate. However, to end debate, and assuming Fielding is not on board, at least one Liberal vote would be required! Probably more, as the Greens and Xenophon might not want to end it either.

      I think it has already been speculated in the media that the Liberals could not vote to end debate against their own colleagues. But the internecine battle has probably reached a new stage in the last few days. A delicious possibility pops into my head. Is Malcolm calling Julia right now (Kevin is on a plane) begging for the guillotine to be called? Hand him victory today, and save him? (Or at least let him fall as a martyr with the ETS on his gravestone, rather than a noble but insignificant failure?)

      And if you are Labor, and Malcolm is on the phone, saying either support me now, cut off debate, and pass the legislation, OR face Tony Abbott at the next election…what do you do?

      Written by Francis

      November 27, 2009 at 10:14 am

      Posted in Uncategorized