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February 17th 2013 print

Peter Smith

Shambles, thy name is Julia, Wayne, Peter, Greg…

No matter what its latest scheme -- be it a mining tax or poaching Peter Slipper -- Gillard & Co. can be counted upon to make an absolute and appalling mess of things



My Concise Oxford defines the noun shambles and the adjectival shambolic as "chaotic, disorganised, or mismanaged". I have it on good authority that in keeping with its preparedness to move with the times, particularly under the influence of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary tantrums, the Macquarie Dictionary proposes to insert "Gillardlike" and "Swanlike" as further elucidations of the meaning of the word. "Ruddlike" was considered but rejected on the grounds that Rudd’s tenure was a little too brief for him to have become absolutely synonymous with shambolic, though he did show great promise.


Problems also arose with the best use of Gillardlike. Some thought it was better suited to the word mendacious. Advice was sought from Tony Abbott, as a learned ex-Oxbridge man. Apparently he protested that to treat Ms Gillard in such a fashion was an example of ingrained sexism, which he personally abhorred. However, he said that it was a toss-up, duly spun a coin, and Bob’s your uncle, "shambles" won the day.

Think about it. Has there ever been a more shambolic government in Australia’s entire history? How about the history of the world? Sure there have been much worse governments, mad governments, despotic governments, cruel governments, but has there been a more incompetent one. One with a miss rate of 100% in everything it did? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Sheer chance should have guaranteed the government one or two successes in more than five years of trying.  But no, bad luck has stalked it at every turn, as though the curse of Macbeth has been visited on the whole ministerial cast of the Labor government.

The revamped mining tax might have worked after a fashion, despite the way it was cobbled together. Mightn’t it? Anyway it was at least less silly that Ken Henry’s first go, which was the final nail in poor Rudd’s political coffin.

Surely one of Grocery Watch, Fuel Watch, the Digital Education Revolution, the Green Loans scheme, Garret’s free pink batts fiasco or Gillard’s Building the Education Revolution rort would have been a winner? These are now all distant bad memories, buried under mounds of subsequent serial incompetence.

We’ve had all of Howard’s and Costello’s good work undone, with massive deficit after deficit, culminating in the mysterious case of the disappearing surplus. Gillard and Swan must surely have set some kind of record for the number of times right up to the brink that something was solemnly promised and yet not delivered. Incompetence alone doesn’t do it, nor does the addition of bad luck on this occasion; we have to add a large quantum of self-delusional gormlessness to the mix.

It is one thing to impose a carbon tax after getting into office off the back of saying categorically that you wouldn’t. But why then zoom into the stratosphere of reckless incompetence by setting a tax four times the level of the European price, spend and/or promise the proceeds in advance, and watch while the competitiveness of Australia’s manufacturing industries is further undermined.

Alright, Stephen Conroy did sketch the NBN on the back of an envelope, but by what combination of ill-judgement and ill-luck did he decide that a one-size-fits-all, ridiculously expensive, government-controlled monopoly should connect fibre to every home? He could have easily arrived at something more feasible, practical and less expensive. Couldn’t he?

Joe Ludwig was simply going about his business when he was hijacked by a Four Corners program. His innate incompetence might have remained hidden. He would not then have summarily halted the live-cattle trade to Indonesia, while cattle were in transit and on the docks.

Then there are the boats that keep coming in larger numbers. To spare Gillard’s blushes the less said the better about the Dili Deal and Malaysian Solution. Though it is something of an irony that while Malaysia will accept our boat people they won’t let Nick Xenophon in. Maybe they want a deal. They’ll let Nick in if we take five of their opposition MPs?

Even the small things have been messed up; witness the shemozzle and bumbling over awarding the tender for the Overseas Television Service or appointing a new chairman of the Future Fund.

Then we have Thompson and Slipper, and Gillard’s own problems with the AWU. What an unsavoury icing on the shambolic cake.

I am sure I’ve missed any number of other shambles. What I don’t think I’ve missed is any major achievement.

When things have gone badly wrong, as wrong as this, it is nice to pin blame. You can’t necessarily blame the fox for getting into the hen house or a bunch of ex-union cronies for being limited. You can blame and indict the person or persons who left the door open or who invited them in. That’s where Windsor, Oakeshott, and Wilkie come into the dock; particularly the first two representing, as they do, conservative electorates. They have a case to answer. They have imposed this Labor shambles on us all.

Whatever hope is rekindled by the election of a Coalition government in September (or probably earlier if, as seems increasingly likely, Rudd or someone topples Gillard); it will be at least matched by the satisfaction of seeing the end of the political blight of Windsor and Oakeshott

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics