Thus Spake Mungo: Airy fairy election promises

Mungo, speechless

Mungo receiving the Echo Award for the Most Underpaid and Over Qualified Australian Journalist at the Echo 30th Birthday bash in Mullumbimby on Saturday.

So we now have competing ten year plans for what will be, at most, a three year parliament. And for this reason alone neither of them is worth the paper it is largely not written on.

When – if – they mature, they will be three elections away, with all the changes that this entails; even in the highly unlikely case that a single government survives that long, there will be retractions, backflips, broken promises and claims that of course the circumstances have altered and therefore the legislators must do the same.

The pie in the sky scenarios being promoted by both major parties are not just wishy-washy – they are totally airy-fairy, pure puffery.

But of course it is far more basic than that. Even that eternal fount of optimism, the commonwealth treasury, has to admit that the future is far from certain, and if things go wrong — as they are more or less bound to within a decade – all bets are off and we will be in deep doo-doo. So the pie in the sky scenarios being promoted by both major parties are not just wishy-washy – they are totally airy-fairy, pure puffery.

Which is, no doubt, why both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are talking down their immediate benefits: nothing much will happen in the first four years, leaving plenty of time to more unlikely promises before the next time the voters are dragged to the polls. And both sides reckon that they will deliver budget surpluses in 2020-21.

Well, they might, but if they do it will be a matter of hope triumphant over experience. The last two treasurers, Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey, both promised early surpluses and the targets continued, remorselessly, to recede; the deficit has in fact trebled in the years since Hockey famously declared a budget emergency and became far worse after he announced the end of the age of entitlement. So no-one is likely to lay down the champagne in anticipation of when the figures come around in four years time.

The point is that the forecasts are pointless; they are mere spin, designed partly to inspire confidence, which is not a bad thing, but mainly to pretend to the punters that the situation is totally under control, that there is no reason for alarm, let alone for panic. Because of course if there was, the leaders would have to do something about it, and in the election contest this is simply not on.

While it is highly unlikely that the answer lies in hung parliaments with minor parties and independents cobbled together in hastily formed coalitions, it is tempting to believe that they couldn’t do any worse than that in the last few lots.

So we see Shorten belatedly tweaking spending cuts while Turnbull waffles and Morrison mutters about how something may (or may not) happen after July 2 is safely out of the way. And each side goes along with the fantasy that it, and only it, has the solution and the other is wasting money, attempting to bribe the swinging voters and avoiding the real issues. It is hard to deny that at least a large part of the second contention is right – on both sides.

In the circumstances the public has every right to remain cynical and disengaged; the drift away from the major parties is accelerating, and while it is highly unlikely that the answer lies in hung parliaments with minor parties and independents cobbled together in hastily formed coalitions, it is tempting to believe that they couldn’t do any worse than that in the last few lots.

It is now more than decade since John Howard started hurling the proceeds of the mining boom to any willing voters who asked for them and since then there has no serious attempt to repair the damage. Obviously the GFC did not help, and nor did the decline in commodity prices; but these could have been, and should have been accommodated if properly and honestly structured budgets had become the norm.

Instead, we saw ambushes, broken promises, and a continuation of the handout mentality to the rent seekers from both major parties. Most of them have done very nicely, thank you – until their own largesse was at least partially removed to make way for the next lot of carpetbaggers. And so it has been, and so it is.

This is not to say that some, at least, of the proposals suggested by Turnbull and Shorten are not worthwhile. Company tax cuts are intrinsically desirable, although the contention that they are some kind of economic philosopher’s stone is of course absurd. Education, health and renewable energy are obviously important priorities, and supporting them should be applauded: but equally obviously, their effect on the economy is at best indirect and long term.

To their credit, both Turnbull and Shorten are finally acknowledging that there are problems, and that they are more likely to get worse before, if ever, they get better. But that is about all they are doing; most of the time they are wafting through the marginal seats, distributing beads, mirrors and other trinkets to the eager recipients on the one hand while mercilessly blackguarding the opposition on the other.

It has been a most unedifying election campaign, and we still have the three long weeks of it to endure. Shorten at least keeps telling us that his plan will eventually be fully costed well before the fateful day, in plenty of time for the government’s enforcers to fall on it with shrill screams of outrage and deliver it to the Murdoch press, which, after a brief turn at mildly criticising Turnbull, has fallen (or been pushed) into line to bash Labor and everything it stands for, or that it can be imagined to stand for. Turnbull, when asked about his figures, simply refers doubters to go back to his budget – which is no answer at all, given the way things have developed since and are still developing.

So for the weary voters, it will come back to a simple question: which of the unloved and untrusted leaders can they bear to put up with for the next three years, and is there any point in trying to alleviate the pain with a touch of seasoning from new and untried ingredients? You pays your money, if you have any left, and you takes your choice, such as it is. And in the end, you are stuck with the old truism: whoever you vote for, a politician always gets in. Good luck.

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State of the states: 19 reasons why Turnbull and Shorten keep flying to Queensland

Ahead of polling day on July 2, our State of the states series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states and territories. We begin today with a look at New South Wales and Queensland.


There are 19 good reasons why Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have been spending so much time in Queensland. To win government, Labor needs a net gain of 19 seats nationally – and that’s the exact number of marginal seats being fought over in Queensland this election.

Stretching from far north and central Queensland to a cluster in the state’s south-east, there are 12 federal seats with margins of less than 5%, and seven more on margins of less than 8%, which in a Queensland context can be considered marginal. Of those dozen most marginal seats, the Liberal National Party and Labor each have the edge in five, though the LNP is likely to take back Clive Palmer’s seat of Fairfax. Bob Katter holds the other in Kennedy.

Our team at Griffith University chose ten of those key Queensland seats to watch closely and we have developed interactive profiles of each one, drawing on Australian Bureau of Statistics population, income, housing and education data.

Key issues and seats in regional Queensland

Queensland is Australia’s most decentralised state, and the only state or territory where roughly half of its population of 4.7 million lives outside the capital.

To understand why some election promises matter more than others in Queensland – from a now bipartisan pledge to build Townsville a new stadium, to spending more on the Great Barrier Reef – you need to look at the demographics of marginal seats, as we have done.

In May, Bill Shorten restated Labor’s support for a new stadium for Townsville, now matched by the Coalition. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Take jobs and growth. Turnbull’s much-vaunted “economic plan” aims to transition Australia from the mining boom to the new “innovation economy”. But that means quite different things to voters in the north and west of the state, where unemployment is above the state average of 6.2%.

The state’s unemployment highest rate, almost 12%, is in Townsville, which is in the north Queensland electorate of Herbert, held by the Coalition’s Ewen Jones on a 6.2% margin. There, the closure of Queensland Nickel has compounded the mining downturn.

Queensland’s regional unemployment rates.Department of Employment, Australian GovernmentCC BY

Add to that the “double whammy” of negative equity in houses and investment properties bought at the peak of the boom. Those factors can also be expected to impact other Coalition seats: Dawson, which lies south of Herbert and includes the city of Mackay; Hinkler, which takes in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay; and Leichhardt, a seat more than twice the size of Tasmania, sprawling from Cairns north to the Torres Strait Islands.

Both leaders and their respective frontbenchers have made frequent visits to regional Queensland, particularly seats like Capricornia, which the LNP’s Michelle Landry holds by 0.8%. Again proving the power of incumbency, Capricornia, Dawson, Herbert and Leichhardt have all benefited from what the Australian Financial Review has dubbed “the Coalition’s $1.7 billion pork barrel strategy”.

On Monday, after months of local campaigning, Turnbull promised $100 million towards a multi-purpose stadium in Townsville. That matched a Labor pledge from last year.

 

Turnbull used the same trip to announce a new $1 billion Reef Fund to be spent over the next decade, in contrast to Shorten’s earlier campaign pledge of $500 million over five years for additional reef funding and research. The Great Barrier Reef is a hot topic statewide for voters concerned about the environment and climate change. But in these northern seats, protecting the reef is also about protecting tourism jobs.

Regional Queensland is at the heart of another issue that has been simmering for months, and which is sure to raised again in today’s state budget: disaster relief and recovery.

In 2015, much of Queensland felt the brunt of Tropical Cyclones Marcia and Nathan, especially the electorates of Hinkler, Capricornia, Dawson, Flynn, Wide Bay, Herbert and Leichhardt. But it emerged recently that the federal government has “withheld” $1.1 billion in reimbursementfunding owed to Queensland under the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

This issue could gain greater national attention as Queensland, NSW and Tasmania all assess the damage from the east coast low and flooding that claimed five lives.

Key issues and seats in south-east Queensland

In south-east Queensland, which is home to seven out of ten Queenslanders, jobs are also a concern. But it’s a story of stark contrasts.

Unemployment runs as high as 11% in Ipswich (part of retiring Labor member Bernie Ripoll’s electorate of Oxley) to a low of 3.1% in north Brisbane, and between 4.5-6% to the south and west of the city. In these electorates, cost of living looms among the most significant issues. Labor in particular has focused on costs of childcare, public school funding, and the government’s decision to freeze the Medicare rebate for another three years.

One of the most interesting electorates to watch on election night will be Dickson, in Brisbane’s outer north, which Immigration Minister Peter Dutton holds on a margin of 6.7%.

Dutton wrested the seat from Cheryl Kernot in 2001, but this time he is being challenged by Labor’s Linda Lavarch, a former Queensland attorney-general. Lavarch’s ex-husband and former Keating government attorney-general Michael Lavarch held the seat from 1993-96. A national social media campaign is being waged to “ditch Dutton” by the activist group GetUp!; by June 10, it had reportedly crowd-funded $190,000.

On asylum-seekers and border security, as with managing the economy, the Coalition maintains a decisive edge with voters. This may explain why Dutton went so hard, so early, on refugees in the opening weeks of the campaign. But Dutton’s comments may yet backfire on his leader in the inner-urban electorates of Griffith and Brisbane, which the ABC’s Vote Compass shows are Queensland’s two most left-leaning seats.

The LNP’s Trevor Evans (right) at an anti-homophobia ceremony in Brisbane. Dan Peled/AAP

In Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro’s belated decision not to re-contest the marginal inner-northern seat left the LNP scrambling to find a candidate to challenge Labor’s Pat O’Neill. O’Neill, a former Army officer, has been campaigning since he was preselected in June 2015.

The LNP’s Trevor Evans was endorsed in April 2016. Much has been made of the contest between two “openly gay” major party candidates. But it remains unclear whether economic or social issues will be of more concern to Brisbane voters. Expect the Greens’ candidate Kirsten Lovejoy to have an impact, even more so as a result of the Labor/Greens preference deal.

Why Queensland is always a state to watch

Historically, Queenslanders have favoured conservative or Coalition governments – making it fashionable for some on the left to describe it as a “conservative backwater”. But when it comes to politics, the more accurate adjective is “volatile”.

Queensland voters tend to swing harder than elsewhere, which has proved as decisive in turfing out recent Coalition governments as it has in rejecting Labor.

In 1996, Queenslanders were “waiting on their verandahs with baseball bats” to oust Paul Keating’s Labor government, helping John Howard’s Coalition win all but two Queensland seats.

But in 2007, Queenslanders swung more dramatically against Howard’s government than any other state (7.53% to Labor) to elect “Kevin from Queensland”. Labor won seats in the Coalition heartland in the north (Dawson and Leichhardt), as well as central Queensland (Flynn), and around the outer Brisbane mortgage belt in Forde, Longman, Moreton, and Petrie.

In 2010, Queensland voters repudiated Julia Gillard and played a major role in driving Labor into minority government after just one term: 9 of 18 seats Labor lost in that election were in Queensland.

At the last federal election in 2013, Queensland turned decisively to Tony Abbott. Labor achieved a primary vote of 29.8%, winning just six out of 30 lower house seats.

Then, almost as if to prove how volatile Queensland politics can be, came last year’s state election, in which the LNP went from winning a record majority in 2012 to losing power.

Whether Queensland’s unpredictable behaviour at the ballot box will be repeated on July 2 remains to be seen. With two-and-a-half weeks of campaigning to go, there doesn’t appear to be the kind of mood for change that usually accompanies big swings in Queensland. And Labor’s low base in Queensland, plus the slight margins held in traditionally Labor electorates like Lilley (1.3%) and Moreton (1.6%), makes it an uphill battle.

There is also a developing consensus that the national swings reported in published opinion polls are not translating to the seats that matter. This, and historical experience, may explain why the Coalition looks less anxious in Queensland than some might have anticipated.

New technology offers hope for storing carbon dioxide underground

To halt climate change and prevent dangerous warming, we ultimately have to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While the world is making slow progress on reducing emissions, there are more radical options, such as removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing them underground.

In a paper published today in Science my colleagues and I report on a successful trial converting carbon dioxide (CO₂) to rock and storing it underground in Iceland. Although we trialled only a small amount of CO₂, this method has enormous potential.

Here’s how it works.

Turning CO₂ to rock

Our paper is the culmination of a decade of scientific field and laboratory work known as CarbFix in Iceland, working with a group of international scientists, among them Wallace Broecker who coined the expression “global warming” in the 1970s. We also worked with the Icelandic geothermal energy company Reykjavik Energy.

The idea itself to convert CO₂ into carbonate minerals, the basis of limestone, is not new. In fact, Earth itself has been using this conversion technique for aeons to control atmospheric CO₂ levels.

However, scientific opinion had it up to now that converting CO₂ from a gas to a solid (known as mineralisation) would take thousands (or tens of thousands) of years, and would be too slow to be used on an industrial scale.

To settle this question, we prepared a field trial using Reykjavik Energy’s injection and monitoring wells. In 2012, after many years of preparation, we injected 248 tonnes of CO₂ in two separate phases into basalt rocks around 550m underground.

Most CO₂ sequestration projects inject and store “supercritical CO₂”, which is CO₂ gas that has been compressed under pressure to considerably decrease its volume*. However, supercritical CO₂ is buoyant, like a gas, and this approach has thus proved controversial due to the possibility of leaks from the storage reservoir upwards into groundwater and eventually back to the atmosphere.

In fact, some European countries such as the Netherlands have stopped their efforts to store supercritical CO₂ on land because of lack of public acceptance, driven by the fear of possible leaks in the unforeseeable future. Austria went even so far as to ban underground storage of carbon dioxide outright.

The injection well with monitoring station in the background. Dom Wolff-BoenischAuthor provided

Our Icelandic trial worked in a different way. We first dissolved CO₂ in water to create sparkling water. This carbonated water has two advantages over supercritical CO₂ gas.

First, it is acidic, and attacks basalt which is prone to dissolve under acidic conditions.

Second, the CO₂ cannot escape because it is dissolved and will not rise to the surface. As long as it remains under pressure it will not rise to the surface (you can see the same effect when you crack open a soda can; only then is the dissolved CO₂ released back into the air).

Dissolving basalt means elements such as calcium, magnesium, and iron are released into pore water. Basaltic rocks are rich in these metals that team up with the dissolved CO₂ and form solid carbonate minerals.

Through observations and tracer studies at the monitoring well, we found that over 95% of the injected CO₂ (around 235 tonnes) was converted to carbonate minerals in less than two years. While the initial amount of injected CO₂ was small, the Icelandic field trial clearly shows that mineralisation of CO₂ is feasible and more importantly, fast.

Storing CO₂ under the oceans

The good news is this technology need not be exclusive to Iceland. Mineralisation of CO₂ requires basaltic or peridotitic rocks because these types of rocks are rich in the metals required to form carbonates and bind the CO₂.

As it turns out the entire vast ocean floor is made up of kilometre-thick oceanic basaltic crust, as are large areas on the continental margins. There are also vast land areas covered with basalt (so-called igneous provinces) or peridotite (so-called “ophiolitic complexes”).

The overall potential storage capacity for CO₂ is much larger than the global CO₂ emissions of many centuries. The mineralisation process removes the crucial problem of buoyancy and the need for permanent monitoring of the injected CO₂ to stop and remedy potential leakage to the surface, an issue that supercritical CO₂ injection sites will face for centuries or even millennia to come.

On the downside, CO₂ mineralisation with carbonated water requires substantial amounts of water, meaning that this mineralisation technique can only succeed where vast supplies of water are available.

However, there is no shortage of seawater on the ocean floor or continental margins. Rather, the costs involved present a major hurdle to this kind of permanent storage option, for the time being at least.

In the case of our trial, a tonne of mineralised CO₂ via carbonated water cost about US$17, roughly twice that of using supercritical CO₂ for storage.

It means that as long as there are no financial incentives such as a carbon tax or higher price on carbon emissions, there is no real driving force for carbon storage, irrespective of the technique we use.

*Correction: The sentence has been corrected to note that gas volume rather than density decreases when it is compressed. Thankyou to the readers who pointed out the error.

Aurukun: pressure mounts for overhaul of Noel Pearson reforms

 Community is divided over the merits of school curriculum and income controls supported by Pearson, but critical voices are getting louder
Noel Pearson
 Noel Pearson has emphatically defended Cape York Academy’s running of the Aurukun school in a place he branded ‘the Afghanistan of teaching’. Photograph: Peter Eve/PR IMAGE

Calls for an overhaul of Noel Pearson’s welfare reforms are growing in Aurukun as the Queensland government considers the first ever rollback of his contentious education program.

Bruce Martin, a Wik entrepreneur from Aurukun who sits on the prime minister’s Indigenous advisory council, has joined critics of schooling in the town. He says it bears symptoms of a “hugely expensive” and “fundamentally flawed” welfare regime.

But Pearson’s Cape York Partnership has defended the cost of welfare reform – which it puts at $1 in every $20 of government funds spent in Aurukun – and its introduction after an “unprecedented” effort at community engagement.

Martin, who has been appointed to work with the government on a new advisory group to give locals a leadership role in driving economic development, said Pearson’s Cape York Academy had taken an “authoritarian” and “us and them” approach to running the school.

He said this reflected a broader welfare reform agenda that was developed without substantial local participation, hinging on a punitive approach to social problems through income controls.

“When you have a program like welfare reform, an agenda that’s developed independently of Wik people, and when the school program, the education program is a fundamental tenet of the welfare reform agenda and it’s again developed in isolation and it isn’t driven or led by Wik people, people obviously have no buy-in into it,” Martin told Guardian Australia.

“When you promote that this is the only model for social welfare reform, this is the only model for an education program – ie direct instruction and only at primary school, every high school student has to go to boarding school – if that doesn’t fit in with the priorities of the community, well of course people are going to disengage.”

Bruce Martin (second from left), a Wik entrepreneur and social worker from Aurukun who opposes the welfare reform agenda, with Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt, Craig Koomeeta (right) and Phillip Marpoondin (left).
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 Bruce Martin (second from left), a Wik entrepreneur and social worker from Aurukun who opposes the welfare reform agenda, with Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt, Craig Koomeeta (right) and Phillip Marpoondin (left). Photograph: Joshua Robertson for the Guardian

The state treasurer, Curtis Pitt, who met Martin to discuss economic development in Aurukun on Monday, said he was “very keen to ensure we get the best value for money in all government investments”, including the primary school’s controversial multimillion-dollar “direct instruction” program.

Pitt said he would “take a keen interest” in a review due as early as next week to decide whether the government takes over the school, which was shut over fears for the safety of teachers.

A distance education program run at the school by four temporary teachers until next term is catering for an average of 80 of the school’s 230 students.

Pitt, who is also minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships, said the government “may well need to consider” redirecting investments within education, health and social services “if we aren’t spending the dollars effectively”.

Cape York Partnership, which has a group companies providing many of those services in Aurukun, estimates from almost $65m in federal and state funding, $3m a year is spent on welfare reform activities. A spokeswoman said more than half of that went to programs that would be in place anyway, including school and parental support.

She said the welfare program was “designed in close conjunction with Wik people over a number of years”. This included two full-time engagement officers based in Aurukun for 18 months, conducting interviews, workshops and forums – with a special attempt to engage “the most dysfunctional members” of the community.

“Cape York welfare reform is perhaps the best example we have of Indigenous people working to co-design an initiative in a genuine partnership with government,’ she said.

A group of Wik female elders last week asked the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, for direct instruction to be scrapped as part of a government takeover amid concerns students were not being prepared for high school.

The elders, who sit on both Aurukun council and the family responsibilities commission – a body that manages income for parents of truant students – also asked the government to reopen a local high school that was closed in 2012 after Cape York Academy took over.

Concerns about the presence of an estimated 70 high school-age students who were in the community without schooling were highlighted after youths allegedly twice carjacked the school principal and allegedly tried to break in to teacher accommodation.

Cape York Academy has boosted the number of Aurukun students in boarding school – their only high school option – to an all-time high of 57.

Guardian Australia understands 16 boarders have either been expelled or suspended or refused to return this term.

Francis Woolla, 20, who went to boarding school in Brisbane from Aurukun aged 14, said it was a positive experience but not for everyone.

Francis Woolla, 20, with friends in Aurukun,
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 Francis Woolla, 20, with friends in Aurukun, went to boarding school from aged 14 and enjoyed the experience but says a local high school should be reopened. Photograph: Joshua Robertson for the Guardian

“It’s good if they’re going to put [the high school] back for other kids who are older, still staying in Aurukun,” he said.

“It would be good for the kids instead of just staying home, doing nothing.”

Pearson, who has called the government review “routine”, has emphatically defended Cape York Academy’s running of the school in a place he branded “the Afghanistan of teaching”.

“This past week has been a travesty of a conversation that was about youth delinquency and law and order in the community has been turned around into a story of the failings of what is a lighthouse school,” Pearson has told ABC.

Pearson has also said the key obstacle to welfare reform in Aurukun was a lack of new economic opportunities over the past eight years.

“The thing that’s missing at Aurukun is jobs – you can’t have welfare reform without jobs and where we have jobs we have welfare reform succeeding,” Pearson has said.

However, the criticism from Martin echoes disaffection among some educators, social workers, and local government figures who have previously been reluctant to speak out about the Cape York organisations’ role in the community.

This year is the first that Aurukun school – the largest trial school for direct instruction before its national rollout to Western Australia and the Northern Territory – has a student body taught entirely on the program.

The US-imported program – which focuses on basic literacy and numeracy through highly scripted lessons and has attracted $30m in state and federal funding – has drawn fresh criticism from educators in the wake of the shutdown, including from a former executive principal of the academy.

The school program still has its influential supporters in Aurukun. Wik Women’s group cofounders Keri Tamwoy and Phyllis Yunkaporta have written to Palaszczuk defending direct instruction and calling for the school reopening this week.

“Shutting down this safe haven for our children has been gut-wrenching,” they wrote. “Premier, our children are learning and achieving at this school and we simply do not understand the logic in its closure due to uncivilised teenagers and ineffective policing.

“The current schooling model has achieved results that we didn’t think was possible.”

Another former Cape York Academy executive principal, Don Anderson, said he could not understand calls to scrap direct instruction as “the reality is the old [program] wasn’t working nearly as well as it’s working now”.

Naplan data for 40 Aurukun students in year 3 in 2013, shows the proportion that met or bettered national minimum standards two years later increased in spelling (59%) and numeracy (32%).

However, that percentage declined for reading (40%), grammar and punctuation (30%), and was lowest in writing (14%).

An education department source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this reflected the fact students under direct instruction were not being taught to “analyse and write expository test” which was critical for high school.

Anderson said writing skills were taught to children who progressed through direct instruction, and that the program “wasn’t designed to cure cancer and ingrown toenails”.

“DI will ensure a child who’s got erratic attendance when they come to school, they’ll be taught at the level they’ve left from,” he said.

Anderson said the high school had been closed with the support of the former Aurukun mayor who was “against having that soft option [that] encouraged people to come back instead of going through the struggle that everyone has when they’re going to boarding school”.

The small cohort and narrow range of subjects offered meant the school, which went to year 10, “didn’t prepare [students] at all for the even more complex grade 11 and 12 they were going into”, he said.

Martin, a former youth justice worker who became one of the first Aurukun students to finish year 12 when at Canberra Grammar, said the “reinstatement of a high school isn’t going to be a panacea but it is another important tool in the puzzle that is Aurukun”.

“I got the benefit of an outside education but that isn’t the answer for everyone,” he said.

“We have to have those other opportunities here for those other kids as well, otherwise, once they’re graduating from year six, we’re just writing them off and that’s inexplicable.

“The fact that there are 70 to 80 kids of high school age who currently aren’t proactively engaged in mainstream education I think is a travesty.”

Forced council amalgamations; Part Two – What does and could work? By ‘The Contrarian’

In my first article on forced council amalgamations I highlighted that many of the goals set by the NSW Government as a measure of amalgamation success had failed to materialise when forced local government amalgamations had occurred previously elsewhere in Australia.  I also highlighted that the NSW Government had initiated a backlash against their forced amalgamations and that it didn’t need to have turned out this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I argued that there are other ways of making savings and of giving ratepayers a ‘better bang for their buck’ while also ensuring democracy is alive and well at local government level.

This article, Part Two, addresses one of those other ways of making savings and efficiencies while also considering the response of the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) to the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future criteria.

First of all some amalgamations have been largely successful when given time and encouragement to occur.  It could be argued Brisbane and the Gold Coast City Councils have been reasonably successful mergers for example  However in NSW the non-forced process has only been successful in a few areas.

So if the State Government was genuine about wanting better value for ratepayers and greater efficiencies overall, a big if it would appear, then what could they have done other than ram through forced amalgamations?

The most obvious would have been to require councils to table as part of something akin to Fit for the Future a number of costed shared services initiatives.  Yet having trawled through more than a few Fit for the Future templates and guidelines I have yet to find anything that specifically asks councils to submit shared service and administration strategies, plans and budgets.  I may well have missed it, but if it is there it is well hidden.

There is next to no savings in reducing councillors, they get paid a relative pittance and unless one has ulterior motives then you don’t make a fortune being a councillor and nor is it a huge budget line item for most councils although some reductions could well be considered.  But big savings and efficiencies on shared payroll, HR administration, engineering, roads, water, and waste collection services to name just a few for starters could be huge.  There are therefore sound reasons for administrative amalgamations.

So why didn’t the NSW Government push harder for these?  Was it because they believed forced amalgamations gave them more direct control and influence over developments?  Were those who were pushing behind the scenes for forced amalgamations people whose reasons for doing so could be viewed as ‘problematic’?  This now seems to be the dominant theme emerging as can be seen here.

What was to stop Councils suggesting administrative amalgamations in their submission to Fit to the Future?  Nothing is the answer.  It could have been put up as an alternative, but obviously they would need to be comprehensive.

So did the CHCC delve into shared services and administrative amalgamations in their submission?  Well sort of as can be seen here on page two.  But note it is explicitly stated that no costings had been done or were included.  Why not?  How serious was the suggestion about banding together with the Clarence, Bellingen and Nambucca councils to share services?  Was the mention just put in the report by the CHCC as a handy fig leaf?

A whole range of very valid questions about this aspect were raised here in Coffs Outlook by another author.  Although I do not agree that forced mergers are necessarily right the author nevertheless raises many other points that had me nodding my head in agreement.  As is highlighted we continue to see the leadership, both elected and managerial, at the CHCC exhibit some debatable judgement and behaviours.

So what can be done to improve things in local government both globally and here in Coffs Harbour?  With local government elections just over the horizon these are questions that are very apt.  I’ll talk more in future articles about this.

But let’s just throw something ‘out there’ to ‘get the ball rolling’. For too long now the role played by developers and real estate agents who become elected local government officials has been controversial overall to say the least.  I concur one hundred percent with the State Opposition Leader Luke Foley when he says  “developers and real estate agents should be banned from being local councillors and political donations and spending should be capped in council elections.”

Before I am accused of bias against developers and real estate agents consider this; after 30 years as a master builder my father spent the last 15 years of his working life as a housing developer, valuer and real estate agent and I owe much in my life to his hard work and honesty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my first article on forced council amalgamations I highlighted that many of the goals set by the NSW Government as a measure of amalgamation success had failed to materialise when forced local government amalgamations had occurred previously elsewhere in Australia.  I also highlighted that the NSW Government had initiated a backlash against their forced amalgamations and that it didn’t need to have turned out this way.

 

I argued that there are other ways of making savings and of giving ratepayers a ‘better bang for their buck’ while also ensuring democracy is alive and well at local government level.

This article, Part Two, addresses one of those other ways of making savings and efficiencies while also considering the response of the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) to the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future criteria.

First of all some amalgamations have been largely successful when given time and encouragement to occur.  It could be argued Brisbane and the Gold Coast City Councils have been reasonably successful mergers for example  However in NSW the non-forced process has only been successful in a few areas.

So if the State Government was genuine about wanting better value for ratepayers and greater efficiencies overall, a big if it would appear, then what could they have done other than ram through forced amalgamations?

The most obvious would have been to require councils to table as part of something akin to Fit for the Future a number of costed shared services initiatives.  Yet having trawled through more than a few Fit for the Future templates and guidelines I have yet to find anything that specifically asks councils to submit shared service and administration strategies, plans and budgets.  I may well have missed it, but if it is there it is well hidden.

There is next to no savings in reducing councillors, they get paid a relative pittance and unless one has ulterior motives then you don’t make a fortune being a councillor and nor is it a huge budget line item for most councils although some reductions could well be considered.  But big savings and efficiencies on shared payroll, HR administration, engineering, roads, water, and waste collection services to name just a few for starters could be huge.  There are therefore sound reasons for administrative amalgamations.

So why didn’t the NSW Government push harder for these?  Was it because they believed forced amalgamations gave them more direct control and influence over developments?  Were those who were pushing behind the scenes for forced amalgamations people whose reasons for doing so could be viewed as ‘problematic’?  This now seems to be the dominant theme emerging as can be seen here.

What was to stop Councils suggesting administrative amalgamations in their submission to Fit to the Future?  Nothing is the answer.  It could have been put up as an alternative, but obviously they would need to be comprehensive.

So did the CHCC delve into shared services and administrative amalgamations in their submission?  Well sort of as can be seen here on page two.  But note it is explicitly stated that no costings had been done or were included.  Why not?  How serious was the suggestion about banding together with the Clarence, Bellingen and Nambucca councils to share services?  Was the mention just put in the report by the CHCC as a handy fig leaf?

A whole range of very valid questions about this aspect were raised here in Coffs Outlook by another author.  Although I do not agree that forced mergers are necessarily right the author nevertheless raises many other points that had me nodding my head in agreement.  As is highlighted we continue to see the leadership, both elected and managerial, at the CHCC exhibit some debatable judgement and behaviours.

So what can be done to improve things in local government both globally and here in Coffs Harbour?  With local government elections just over the horizon these are questions that are very apt.  I’ll talk more in future articles about this.

But let’s just throw something ‘out there’ to ‘get the ball rolling’. For too long now the role played by developers and real estate agents who become elected local government officials has been controversial overall to say the least.  I concur one hundred percent with the State Opposition Leader Luke Foley when he says  “developers and real estate agents should be banned from being local councillors and political donations and spending should be capped in council elections.”

Before I am accused of bias against developers and real estate agents consider this; after 30 years as a master builder my father spent the last 15 years of his working life as a housing developer, valuer and real estate agent and I owe much in my life to his hard work and honesty.

A BOARDWALK TOO FAR?

The recent bad weather caused great damage to the marina, boardwalk and surrounds along the North side of the Coffs Harbour precinct.  But it is interesting to see work on the “replacement/improvements” was quickly resolved.  The local media reported the decision to use the contractors, engaged to do the “original” work, to also do the remedial work.

Such a decision was reached without; it appears, for the need to go to council.  As it would appear that the cost of the remedial must be in excess of $150,000 there would be, under normal circumstances, a tender process involved.  Whilst the prompt decision is applaudable it also raises questions namely-

  1. Who owns the land, break-walls and so forth?
  2. If it is the NSW government should they be responsible for the costs of the remedial work?
  3. Does the “new” contract exist between the NSW government and the contractor?
  4. Is the contractor Coastal Services?
  5. Is Coffs Harbour Council, as the principal leasee of the area, a party to the contract?  If so in what capacity and with what financial obligations?
  6. Is the new contract a document between the council and Coastal Works?
  7. Is the area included on the Coffs Harbour council register of assets?

If so, what is the book value ascribed to the area before the weather event and as of the current date?

  1. How much of the infrastructure is to be written off and what is the “book” value of the write off?
  2. Did the council amortise the holdings at any stage?
  3. If the area is owned by the NSW council was it necessary to transfer any part of the depreciation reserve to the NSW Treasury?
  4. Does the council have any funds that were treated as depreciation in its accounting system?
  5. If so, how much is available from these funds to support the remedial work?
  6. What is the impact on the current budget noting in particular which tasks have to be rescheduled because of immediate resources conflicts and what tasks need to be “shelved” because of financial conflicts?
  7. When will such changes go before a council meeting?
  8. Is there any insurance taken out by council on the asset?
  9. Is any insurance contract still valid if it turns out the NSW government owns the land?
  10. How does it impact on the financial obligations of the local residents?

As already mentioned the prompt action is positive but surely the mayor who was a party to the proceedings (we hope) should explain a little bit more about the arrangements.  Perhaps she could provide the details which allows the tender process to be avoided (hint for the mayor could it be emergency powers or public safety?)  Interestingly the General Manager has made no comment throughout the entire process.

The economic case for a company tax cut is collapsing

A corporate tax cut would not actually be very good for the economy, writes The Australia Institute director Ben Oquist.

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The government says it abandoned a possible GST increase because modelling showed little, if any, economic benefit from the associated personal income tax cuts. But the champions for reducing revenue have moved on — it is a lower company tax cut that is now supposedly “essential” to stimulate growth.

The assertion that cutting the corporate tax rate is a good idea has become so common in Australian debate that it is rarely questioned, with claimed benefits including higher investment, higher employment, higher growth, higher productivity … higher everything.

The political benefits for such a tax cut are sometimes questioned, as is the best way to fund another big hit to revenue. Much time is spent debating whether it would be better to increase the GST, cut tax concessions for super or slash government spending. But all the talk about how best to cut the corporate tax cut has been used to conceal a much more important question: where is the evidence that cutting the corporate tax rate is a good idea?

In fact, international and Australian data on tax rates and macroeconomic indicators provides no support. A new report out today from David Richardson, senior research fellow at The Australia Institute, analyses data from Australia and OECD countries and finds that:

  • There is no correlation between corporate tax rates and economic growth in OECD countries;
  • Countries with lower company tax rates have lower standards of living, measured as purchasing power of GDP per capita;
  • Wages and mixed income has declined as a share of GDP as corporate taxes have been lowered;
  • Average unemployment rates have risen as company tax rates have lowered; and
  • Growth in foreign investment as a share of GDP was strongest when Australia’s company taxes were highest.

Then there is the revenue cost. The most common proposal is for a company tax cut from 30% to 25%. But what would that actually look like — not in projected trickle-down benefits or in the new parlance “growth dividend”, but what would it mean in dollars and cents for the budget and for Australian companies? Many of the same commentators who were once obsessed with the need to rein in the budget deficit seem entirely relaxed about the consequences of slashing revenue.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is Australia’s most profitable listed company. If there were to be a company tax cut then it would be its biggest beneficiary. Previous research shows CBA would benefit by more than $600 million in 2016-17 and well over $9 billion over a decade if the company tax rate were cut to 25%. The big four banks would collectively receive a gift of more than $2 billion in year one and almost $30 billion over 10 years.

The argument goes that this increased post-tax profit will drive massive new investment levels. However, a cut in the corporate tax rate would be unlikely to increase the already low levels of investment in the Australian banking sector. If anything, banks have been getting rid of property and buildings and only investing in technology when it means they can save on labour costs. The Commonwealth Bank is moving back to the city from the Sydney suburbs because it cannot attract and retain staff in western Sydney. Any investment associated with that would have happened anyway.

The mining companies will also be big beneficiaries — but with commodity prices the way they are, the miners are not likely to be investing much for some time. Indeed, the financial press is full of stories of mines being closed and many of the others facing losses. No amount of company tax cuts can assist a company making losses, but we should know that from watching the repeal of the mining tax. Unsurprisingly, the removal of the mining tax did nothing to fend off the collapse in commodity prices.

While the benefits of cutting the company tax rate are hard to identify and even harder to measure, the costs will be huge. The $58 billion the top 15 listed companies would receive from a 5% cut over the next decade comes out of a budget that already has a revenue problem.

You would think that such an expensive decision would be based on a wide range of reliable evidence, but a notable feature of the current debate is the complete lack of strong empirical evidence. Instead we get modelling exercises where someone plugs in an assumption that tax cuts will stimulate investment, and lo and behold the model shows there are benefits from cutting taxes. Such exercises are not much help.

The “mature” tax debate we’ve long been promised, so rarely seen in Australian politics, must be grounded in evidence. Australia is a good place to invest and do business — the proof is in the pudding, with companies making high profits and most of the time paying taxes.

And this is the compact: pay your taxes and Australia can afford to keep on providing health services, a well-educated workforce and important infrastructure. While high-profit companies might enjoy paying less tax, let’s not pretend that doing them such a kindness is a cure-all for the Australian economy.

The economic case for company tax cuts is poor. The tens of billions that some want to give to the owners of our biggest companies could be invested instead in improving education, childcare or infrastructure. The economic evidence supporting such investments is strong, but not nearly as strong as the support for corporate tax cuts among sections of the commentariat.

Forced council amalgamations; Part Two – What does and could work? By ‘The Contrarian’

In my first article on forced council amalgamations I highlighted that many of the goals set by the NSW Government as a measure of amalgamation success had failed to materialise when forced local government amalgamations had occurred previously elsewhere in Australia.  I also highlighted that the NSW Government had initiated a backlash against their forced amalgamations and that it didn’t need to have turned out this way.

 

I argued that there are other ways of making savings and of giving ratepayers a ‘better bang for their buck’ while also ensuring democracy is alive and well at local government level.

This article, Part Two, addresses one of those other ways of making savings and efficiencies while also considering the response of the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) to the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future criteria.

First of all some amalgamations have been largely successful when given time and encouragement to occur.  It could be argued Brisbane and the Gold Coast City Councils have been reasonably successful mergers for example  However in NSW the non-forced process has only been successful in a few areas.

So if the State Government was genuine about wanting better value for ratepayers and greater efficiencies overall, a big if it would appear, then what could they have done other than ram through forced amalgamations?

The most obvious would have been to require councils to table as part of something akin to Fit for the Future a number of costed shared services initiatives.  Yet having trawled through more than a few Fit for the Future templates and guidelines I have yet to find anything that specifically asks councils to submit shared service and administration strategies, plans and budgets.  I may well have missed it, but if it is there it is well hidden.

There is next to no savings in reducing councillors, they get paid a relative pittance and unless one has ulterior motives then you don’t make a fortune being a councillor and nor is it a huge budget line item for most councils although some reductions could well be considered.  But big savings and efficiencies on shared payroll, HR administration, engineering, roads, water, and waste collection services to name just a few for starters could be huge.  There are therefore sound reasons for administrative amalgamations.

So why didn’t the NSW Government push harder for these?  Was it because they believed forced amalgamations gave them more direct control and influence over developments?  Were those who were pushing behind the scenes for forced amalgamations people whose reasons for doing so could be viewed as ‘problematic’?  This now seems to be the dominant theme emerging as can be seen here.

What was to stop Councils suggesting administrative amalgamations in their submission to Fit to the Future?  Nothing is the answer.  It could have been put up as an alternative, but obviously they would need to be comprehensive.

So did the CHCC delve into shared services and administrative amalgamations in their submission?  Well sort of as can be seen here on page two.  But note it is explicitly stated that no costings had been done or were included.  Why not?  How serious was the suggestion about banding together with the Clarence, Bellingen and Nambucca councils to share services?  Was the mention just put in the report by the CHCC as a handy fig leaf?

A whole range of very valid questions about this aspect were raised here in Coffs Outlook by another author.  Although I do not agree that forced mergers are necessarily right the author nevertheless raises many other points that had me nodding my head in agreement.  As is highlighted we continue to see the leadership, both elected and managerial, at the CHCC exhibit some debatable judgement and behaviours.

So what can be done to improve things in local government both globally and here in Coffs Harbour?  With local government elections just over the horizon these are questions that are very apt.  I’ll talk more in future articles about this.

But let’s just throw something ‘out there’ to ‘get the ball rolling’. For too long now the role played by developers and real estate agents who become elected local government officials has been controversial overall to say the least.  I concur one hundred percent with the State Opposition Leader Luke Foley when he says  “developers and real estate agents should be banned from being local councillors and political donations and spending should be capped in council elections.”

Before I am accused of bias against developers and real estate agents consider this; after 30 years as a master builder my father spent the last 15 years of his working life as a housing developer, valuer and real estate agent and I owe much in my life to his hard work and honesty.

Campaign catchup: Labor digs in on childcare

Election 2016: Bill Shorten bats off reporters’ questions on the affordability of Labor’s $3bn childcare policy, both sides enjoys a rare moment of unity at the RSL’s 100th anniversary and Nick Xenophon talks down the prospect of holding the balance of power
Bill Shorten addresses the Returned Services League centenary conference in Melbourne.

Bill Shorten addresses the Returned Services League centenary conference in Melbourne. Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA


Whoa-oh, we’re halfway there. Bill Shorten began week five in Melbourne, campaigning on Labor’s $3bn childcare policy, released yesterday. The centrepiece is a 15% increase in the child care benefit, as well as a rise in the cap from $7,500 to $10,000, which Labor says will benefit every family on less than $150,000 a year. (The Coalition, meanwhile, has delayed rebate rises until 2018.)

On Monday Shorten announced a further $100m over three years to fund extra spots for childcare, which he said it was a “game-changer” (about five times in 60 seconds). Reporters called Shorten up on how the $3bn policy was going to be funded – reallocated money, he said on Sunday, but what is the government currently spending it on?

He didn’t answer the question. At all. “We are backing in childcare because we think an investment in childcare is an investment in the future of this country,” Shorten said.

Reporters – those pesky reporters! – then pointed out that an average of $300,000 per urban centre per year may not go very far, to which Kate Ellis, the education spokeswoman, replied it would be targeted towards areas where there’s very high demand.

But Shorten wasn’t off the hook over funding yet, and was pressed on when Labor would make public its costings. He bristled at the suggestion the party was aiming to prevent scrutiny until later in the campaign, pointing out there are another four weeks to go.

“When we have unveiled all of our policies, at that point we will outline our final costings and measures,” he said. “Hold on to your hats because the next four weeks you will see more positive policies which make a practical difference in the lives of all Australians.”

But funding is shaping up to be a key issue this election. The government says Labor’s policies aren’t affordable; Labor insists they are. Until the costings are made public, we won’t be sure either way.

All quiet on the Athenian front

Shorten later joined Malcolm Turnbull at the Returned Services League for its centenary conference – and a rare moment of unity. (The prime minister had earlier made a small funding for sport in Kelly O’Dwyer’s electorate.)

The prime minister began by outlining the Coalition’s defence spending and quoting the Athenian general Thucydides. Who said he’s not a man of the people?

He said addressing homelessness and mental illness among veterans – including greater support for Australia’s growing female veteran community – would be a priority in the next term of government. The Coalition government would also work with employers to recognise veterans’ leadership and skills.

Shorten began by repeating his apology for not attending the Vietnam repatriation ceremony last week. Like Turnbull, he ended his contribution by noting that more has to be done to help veterans of current conflicts.

Xenophon: what hung parliament?

Of course the other thing uniting Shorten and Turnbull is their eagerness to convince the Australian public not to vote for the Greens and independents. (Where their views split, of course, is on the matter of who to vote for instead.)

Scott Morrison, the treasurer, addressed the possibility of “the Labor-Greens-independent minority outcome” on 2GB with Ray Hadley on Monday morning. The decision between that and re-electing the Coalition, he said, was a choice between “certainty and stability versus chaos and uncertainty”.

Even Nick Xenophon thinks a hung parliament is “highly unlikely”, saying rumours of his influence “are much exaggerated”. The Nick Xenophon Team is polling 3% nationally, according to Monday’s Newspoll. In South Australia support is 22%.

Xenophon told AM he was hopeful of getting three Senate spots, including his own, in South Australia, and maybe one more in NSW or Victoria.

There’s all this fear and loathing toward myself and the team from the major parties, but the fact is we haven’t run one TV ad, one radio ad, because we simply don’t have the dough.

Best of Bowers

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten with the RSL national president, Ken Doolan, at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne to mark the centenary of the establishment of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, known today as the RSL.

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten with the RSL national president, Ken Doolan, at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne to mark the centenary of the establishment of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, known today as the RSL. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian


Further reading

• Election podcast: the Greens’ fight for Batman and Wills (The Conversation).
The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale discusses the party’s play for two nearby Labor-held seats – Batman, held by David Feeney, and Wills, where the popular Kelvin Thomson is retiring.

• Marginal seats unlikely to deliver a hung parliament (The Saturday Paper).
Despite a scare campaign, the election is tending to a narrow Coalition victory, writes Karen Middleton. Meanwhile, the Greens are everyone’s enemy.

• Why Turnbull is his own worst enemy (Fairfax).
“Malcolm Turnbull’s courage to swim against the tide had defined the future PM in the public mind. But his non-delivery since has offered Labor its best opportunity to dismantle his allure.”

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world …

The sentencing of a former Stanford University student for sexual assault has caused anger on social media.

Twenty-year-old Brock Turner had faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in a station prison, but was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in a county jail on Thursday. The character reference submitted by his father, which said Turner had already paid “a steep price … for 20 minutes of action”, was publicised today.

Meanwhile, the victim impact statement written by the 23-year-old woman he assaulted has gone viral after being released by the district attorney’s office. You can read it in full here.

And if today was a pop song …

Turnbull’s daughter Daisy is expecting a baby girl, and the prime minister is using the campaign trail as an opportunity to crowdsource name ideas.

There are, of course, myriad songs referencing women’s names, but Mambo No 5 – the pinnacle of Lou Bega’s career as well as NOW That’s What I Call Music! 44 – must list the most of them.

Of course, as a self-described feminist (“As I often say, women hold up half the sky” – what?), Turnbull would doubtless take umbrage with objectification that forms the body of the song’s lyrical content. But he might get some ideas to pass on to Daisy.

Turnbull on message but who’s listening?

Thus Spake Mungo:

MungoMalcolm Turnbull’s supporters have been praising him for keeping on his message, which at least has the virtue of simplicity: my government has a national economic plan for jobs and growth.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, and this is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know, as John Keats more elegantly put it.

And certainly our prime minister and his dutiful choristers have been hammering the line. But the problem is that it is not only repetitious; it risks becoming boring to the point of irrelevance to many of his potential listeners.

And more ominously, as the message is progressively deciphered, it is becoming increasingly unconvincing. Apart from the various glosses about innovation, trade agreements, youth internships and the rest, the superannuation changes have become seriously divisive within Turnbull’s own troops, with his cabinet secretary, Arthur Sinodinos, apparently promising a review after the election and Turnbull himself having to insist that he was staying firm.

But the centrepiece of the whole construction – the plan for short, medium and long term company tax cuts – is proving less and less like a plan for jobs and growth and more and more like a handout to the Liberal faithful. The revelation that the potential – and it is only that – improvement on GNP is a mere one per cent over ten years at the expense of some $50 billion suggests that the result is simply not cost effective.

Turnbull himself has started to hose it down; after all, he says, the initial impact will only be on small businesses in the first three year term of government, and for the rest – well, that is three elections away. Who knows what might or might not happen then?

In the meantime, we hope that the immediate winners will invest and spend, creating the jobs and growth – well, perhaps just one third of one percentage point of GDP. But even this could be wildly optimistic. Small companies are notoriously conservative: it is only the big end of town that jobs and growth might eventuate, and that is at least a decade away. The smaller players are reluctant even to replace old equipment, let alone to recruit new staff; they are more likely to sit on what they can get, especially in a time when net profits are falling.

So Turnbull has had to admit that the instant surge he had confidently predicted in budget week will, if it happens at all, be more of a trickle; not much for the first few years and not even a great deal after a decade.

And the same applies to Bill Shorten’s recipe for more expenditure on education: there will be an economic dividend, and when it eventually comes it will perhaps be larger and more permanent than Turnbull’s prescription, but by definition it will take a whole new intake of pupils to emerge as the success stories.

However, all is not lost: Shorten’s proposal to bring back to the Gonski formula does provide immediate relief for the schools, parents and children currently disadvantaged: there can be no serious argument that more and better targeted teaching staff will not improve the immediate needs, even if it does not immediately translate into cold, hard economic bottom lines.

If Turnbull looses ten seats, even calling a joint sitting of both houses to pass the Building and Construction Commission bill may not be an option. His combined majority could easily fall short.

Turnbull’s rebuttal, that the government is already doing enough and that more cash is not the answer, is hardly likely to convince those who can see for themselves that in some cases the situation is dire, and that Shorten’s idea, no matter how expensive it might seem to the hard-line rationalists, is more worthwhile than a company tax cut. It is, as Shorten keeps reminding them, about priorities.

Which is why, presumably, Turnbull has decided to take out some insurance. Last week he suddenly changes tack: it was not all about the Labor Party, it was also about the Greens, Nick Xenophon, the independents – about just about everyone else, apparently. Only a vote for the coalition would ensure stability, prevent the alleged chaos of minority government—you know, the system in which Tony Abbott failed to convince the Greens and independents to co-operate in his version of it.

It has finally dawned on Turnbull that in spite of the advice of his machine men that the marginals in the Reps will hold firm, the senate is still certain to be a melange. The strategy of reforming the voting system has not been the panacea intended; far from weeding out the unwanted recalcitrant, not only will at least a couple of them probably survive, but they are likely to be joined by a few more, and prospect of a senate securing a mandate for Turnbull’s economic plan is at best problematical.

But it gets worse; if Turnbull looses ten seats, even calling a joint sitting of both houses to pass the Building and Construction Commission bill may not be an option. His combined majority could easily fall short. And if that happens, the entire exercise – voting reform, bringing forward the budget, the double dissolution, the election itself – will not only collapse, but become a fiasco; many Liberals, not to mention the electorate at large, will ask what was the point?

Why did we have to go through so much pain and suffering only to go back to a hamstrung government with a lot of his backbench followers now thrown into the scrapheap? The horror, the horror.

And of course Scott Morrison is also taking an each way bet. When the national accounts figures provided an unexpected boost, Turnbull said, ‘so far, so good’ – although he had very little to do with them and his economic plan had not even been formulated during the relevant period. But Morrison warned that things were fragile: the voters should not assume that things were really improving – certainly not rosy enough to risk a return to Labor.

But the implication was that the last two and a half years of the coalition had still not done anything substantial to repair the economy – F for fail. No wonder the punters are less than convinced about the current prescription.