Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Naledi Man, continued troubles in the Abbey, ministerial offices

While I may be able to post from time to time, this will be my last regular post for a month. I leave the country tomorrow for my first significant trip since the Greek Islands in 2010 and also my first extended break. Five years! That's a long time.

So this post is a bit of a round-up on things that we have talked about from time to time.

The Origins of man

This is an artist's impression of Naledi Man. By all accounts, this is a most remarkable find.

When I first studied prehistory, so little was known of the deep human past. Since then, we have had discovery after discovery, including those coming from the application of DNA techniques.

From time to time I have referred to some of this, but I find myself a little lost now. There have been so many discoveries, some conflicting, that it is hard to keep in touch.

What is, I think, clear is that the process has absolutely ripped apart assumptions previously made, conclusions drawn, that are still deeply embedded in current thinking.

The Gillarding of Tony Abbott

During the last stages of the Gillard Government, I used to talk about the need for her to find that quiet place in the middle of turmoil that might allow her to think without pressure  It didn't happen. Now Tony Abbott finds himself in a similar position.

At one point, I spoke of the weekly crisis.that the Abbott Government was experiencing, wondering what might come next.

Last week the Government's response on the European refugee crisis provided a brief positive, even bi-partisan, positive point. Then came Minister Dutton's gaf in cracking nervous jokes, not realising that a boom mike was on.

The nature of the remarks ensured unsympathetic media coverage, as well as responses from Australia's political neighbours and Aboriginal groups. At the same time, the apparently official leak on possible ministerial changes, a move perhaps intended to show Mr Abbott in charge, seems to have just created angst and more speculation about another possible leadership challenge.

The by-election next Saturday for the Western Australian seat of Canning was being seen a litmus test on Mr Abbott's leadership. Now I don't think that it matters. Even if the Liberal Party holds the seat without the expected swing, the present Australian government is probably just too accident prone for Mr Abbott to survive.   .    

Role of the Ministerial Office

One of the issues that has become important lies in the dysfunctional nature of modern ministerial offices. 

 I am not in a position to talk about the running of Mr Abbott's office or the role played by Peta Credlin as Chief of Staff. I have had no contact with the office. I am in a position, however, to comment on ministerial offices in a general sense having dealt with so many over such a long period.

The emergence of the modern ministerial office is relatively new, the replacement of the term Principal Private Secretary by Chief of Staff even newer. There are two connected problems.The first is that they have become power centres in their own right, the second lies in their focus on winning the immediate political battle regardless.Instead of supporting the minister, they want to manage the minister. 

Mr Abbott's office is not the West Wing. The Australian system of government is not the US system. Modern ministerial offices simply don't work very well.

Productivity and all that

Finally, a brief note on productivity and economic growth.

The latest round was triggered by discussion over at Winton Bates' place.

Because of time, I'm not going to be able to follow up on our discussion in ways that I would have liked. However, I thought that I should make make a few comments since I am trying to pull ideas together in my own mind, if in a rambling way.  

I have written quite a bit on the way that human constructs such as "countries" or "economies" affect and indeed distort our thinking. Part of my aim here has been to clear out my own head, partly to challenge certain forms of thought.

The discussion in comments on "Productivity and technology in a globalised world" draws out some of the issues. I am not going to be able to comment properly now, but will try to do so later.


Interesting South African reactions to the Naledi story. 


2 tanners said...

Some fairly timely calls in your section trouble at t' mill. Now that MT is PM(D), the question is, can he, using the same ministers, avoid trouble? My answer is that probably if he does as he says and consults using the proper Cabinet process, he may avoid half the problem spots. I just don't think Mr Abbott 'got it' as regards the strengths of that process.

Anonymous said...

A demonstration of democracy, with now hope that the Libs will retain power at the next election. But I guess Albo will now roll Mr Shorten, and there will be a clearer policy division between the major parties. I think that is a good thing; no single party ever has all the good ideas.

Using the same ministers? I think there should, and will, be some changes to portfolios. I hope to see a few more of the talented women come to the fore, and I'd be very pleased to see Christian Porter move into some sort of ministerial position; he seems like part of the future to me, if he stays the course.

'tanners is right: even at the death, Mr Abbott's main reasons for staying were that "we are not the Labor Party" and "the people elected me as leader".


2 tanners said...

Agreed, and moreover the second statement was not true. The Liberal Parliamentary party elected him by one vote. Over MT. Before either had a chance to prove themselves electorally and also in the chair.

MT now has a hard row to hoe, but better than trying to do it from the opposition benches.

2 tanners said...

Don't know if it was deliberate, but I only counted two flags behind MT and JB. The number of flags the others had started wrapping themselves in had gotten so out of hand, one wag was talking about a 'flag-led' recovery.

Anonymous said...

Yes tanners, saw that too, behind the lecturn waiting for Mr Abbott's reply to MT's statement yesterday. "Only two flags" I muttered to nobody. Empty lecturns, empty corridors, empty roads leading to the GG's residence. Riveting tv - not - but nevertheless :)

On the other side of the blogs, it's been funny to watch the malicious glee at this event turn gradually into horror at the now reduced prospects in twelve months' time. Winning battles, losing wars. The Labor way, for way too long.


2 tanners said...

I'm not at all convinced that MT can save the liberals. To do that, he'd have to jump to the left of Shorten (easily done) and wedge Labor to the Right. Unfortunately for him, his own hard right probably won't permit that. Even if he did do that, Shorten could get knifed by Albanese and Labor could return the favour.

But yes, one of the cartoonists nailed it with Shorten on his knees begging "Tony, please don't go!". It was a meme at around the time of the first budget that Abbott was Labor's biggest asset, and it's certainly the case that ad hominem attacks from Shorten are not really going to fly, not when MT is so much more popular than he is.

If I were MT, I would pull all that money that Hockey threw into the RBA (they didn't request it), prepare an election budget that cut back on Defence (it was reported as receiving a huge Budget supplement this year), forget bombing Syria and instead put no-lose options up - law enforcement support (not refuges) for violence against women, revert funding for hospitals and education (to previous levels, but it will LOOK like an increase) etc. and even so record a small budget surplus. Play the banker/economist card to restore people's confidence in Liberals as economic managers. If I dared, I'd ask Defence to show how many subs it could presently staff and maintain, and put that number down as the "first order".

But it's what happens in the corridors that will ultimately seal his fate. Do some hate him more than they like governing? The answer appears to be yes.

Irony note: Kevin Andrews was saying yesterday that a party leader should only be changed straight after an election. Must've been a different Kevin Andrews whose challenge eventually brought MT down.

Anonymous said...

To do that, he'd have to jump to the left of Shorten (easily done) and wedge Labor to the Right. - you are jesting, surely?

Shorten could get knifed by Albanese - yup. An improvement if one wished to have a credible 'alternative government in waiting'.

Reverting the RBA money is small change; cutting back on Defence is an absolute no from either side - and most certainlty I would not personally support same - except for the JSF debacle in waiting. Any party running on that basis has a death wish.

You are not addressing the basic point that either we accept less government funding for those things we expect like health and education OR we amicably decide upon which taxation sources we increase.

However you massage around the edges, there will never be another government surplus until we face up to taxation increases. The only real discussion is how that might be fairly achieved - and I'm willing to listen.


Jim Belshaw said...

All this happened while I was in the air. I was informed of it by H when I arrived in Copenhagen. All very interesting, Have to find the time, more the internet access, to respond!

Winton Bates said...

Hello all, my hope is that we will now see some leadership in developing future economic policies rather than the ongoing game of trying to paint Labor Into a corner as big spenders who favour high taxes. (They will probably do that for themselves!) There is potential for MT to pick up the outcomes of the DIY Summit, put all tax reform options back on the table and develop some economic reform policies that might have some hope of gaining widespread support.

Anonymous said...

I share your hopes Winton. It would be nice to have such a government.


Winton Bates said...

kvd: This looks to me like the best chance we will have for a few years.

Anonymous said...

Hi Winton. Have been re-reading some old stuff about NZ, which I think should be required reading for MT and team - and in fact for every MP:

NZ is smaller than us, but I think that just multiplies the monetary size of a problem, rather than the number of problems we face. Also, should add, we have these things called 'States' which don't seem to help much.


Winton Bates said...

Hi kvd: That paper provides an interesting personal view of the NZ reforms.

It has been instructive to observe how the NZ model of reform has changed over the last 30 years. When I first got involved in the 1980s, the NZ reform model was about deciding what needed to be done and getting on with it as quickly as possible. By contrast with Australia, there was not much effort to build political support for reform before proceeding. The NZ approach at that time can be explained in terms of the urgency of the problem and the political system (unitary, one house of parliament, first past the post voting).

The view of the political leaders was that the electorate would endorse the reforms after the event when better outcomes were apparent. It didn't quite work out that way. There was a lot of support for reforms in the early years, but later on there were moves for changes to the electoral system to introduce more checks and balances.

These days the NZ model is about how reform can still be possible under PR if government can provide the kind of leadership necessary to obtain sufficiently widespread community support.

2 tanners said...

I note Peta Credlin's comment that now she needs to find a voice of her own. My understanding was that too many Coalition MPs thought that she already had too much of one. But then, I am innocent and naive.

Anonymous said...

Just a bookmark for Jim, upon return. Sheehan has a gushy style, and is frequently wrong, but he's writing here about a pol I have a bit of time for - as mentioned previously.

Hope the travels contain no travails!


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi all. Thanks for the links, kvd. Still not sure what I think of MT. I'm biased. I have always thought that he was too remote to properly understand the variation in the Australian community, too blinkered by a divine belief in the rightness of his own ideas.