Features Australia

B1 and B2 spell trouble

Bowen and Burke could make life difficult for Labor

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

Not surprisingly, the mainstream media has provided a prolonged honeymoon for the Albanese Labor government. Gosh, so many of the high-profile, superstar journalists – ok, they’re not really superstars but they like to think they are pretty damn good – are only now beginning to recover from the harsh years of the fascist Morrison government whose very existence they had failed to predict back in 2019.

It must have been exhausting, dragging up unconvincing material about what a horrible man Morrison is, although copying Labor’s media releases made life a whole lot easier. For my money, Morrison is really just an ordinary family man from the burbs with an intense desire to be PM. (All PM’s must, by definition, be driven by this ambition.) After nine years in office and after forgetting far too many centre-right principles, most importantly prudent budgetary management, the Morrison government probably deserved to be booted out.

But I don’t go along with the current sugary commentary on the Albanese government, including his ‘triumphal’ overseas trips. What was he really doing hanging out on the fringes of the NATO meeting in Spain? And what about the nice trip to Ukraine to catch up with Volodymyr in his khaki t-shirt? These sorts of trips always come with a price tag.

Even Peta Credlin thinks that Albo may be the man for the times. Certainly, Albo has been around for a long time in politics and will be keen to avoid blowing things up too quickly. But his ministerial experience has always involved spending money and doing deals. He has never held an economic portfolio, doesn’t understand budgets and is certainly not good at saving money.

On the face of it, Jim Chalmers seems as safe a pair of hands as his predecessor, Josh Frydenberg. Of course, there are various ways of interpreting this statement from ‘we’re completely rooned’ to ‘should be ok.’ Jim at least seems to grasp the need to repair the budget by reducing the growth of spending – he would struggle to actually cut government expenditure. But when all he can do is bang on about cutting out ‘waste and rorts’ we know that any repair will be very marginal.

The trouble is that what Jim identifies as ‘waste and rorts’ doesn’t really add up to a hill of beans. In his mind – and in the minds of most Labor parliamentarians – any regional spending program is pork-barreling. But Labor has its own constituencies to please and so other spending – aka pork-barreling – is likely to simply fill the gap.

As for cutting back on the use of contractors and consultants, believe it when it happens. The big consulting firms are actually better buddies of Labor than the Coalition. Getting multinational companies to pay more tax is another Labor favourite, but again only believe it when it actually happens – which might be in a few decades’ time. But all up, Jim is likely to muddle through and whatever he fails to achieve with fiscal policy in terms of taming inflation will, in all likelihood, be made up by monetary policy, with bigger and faster increases in interest rates.

The real potential for the Albanese government imploding emanates from the actions of two other men – Chris Bowen, Minister for Climate Change and Energy (note the order, it’s not accidental) and Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Arts (aka the Yarts). Both come from New South Wales, both have high opinions of themselves as politicians and policy thinkers and both are capable of being manipulated by grasping rent-seekers.

Take Bowen – shall we call him B1 – whose illustrious ministerial career involved the uncontrolled flood of illegal immigrants by boat, the failed Malaysia solution and the absurd Grocery Watch scheme that never got off the ground. He even wrote a book about Australia’s greatest treasurers and included Wayne Swan in the list. (He could always have an alternative career as a comedian.)

When it comes to his current ministerial responsibilities, his lack of knowledge of the key features of the energy system is frightening. Driven by activist bureaucrats, ambitious advisers and self-seeking business types, he will always be prone to take positions which win the applause of the deep-green crowd while ignoring the needs and preferences of ordinary punters. Notwithstanding the fact that the main problem facing the National Electricity Market is the lack of investment in dispatchable 24/7 generation, Bowen has sought to double down with the claim that we need even more investment in intermittent renewable energy. In point of fact, forcing more renewables into the grid – either by mandate or more subsidies – will hasten the exit of coal-fired power stations. Note here between 60 and 70 per cent of generation in the NEM is still from coal.

As for the crazy idea of bankrolling an ugly and unpopular tapestry of new transmission lines to connect up renewables, good luck with that one, B1. There is already widespread opposition to the transmission lines that have been approved. Let’s face it, who wants those gigantic pylons in their backyard?

In the likely event that blackouts, load shedding and soaring electricity prices become commonplace, the Albanese government will be running for cover, no doubt with all sorts of excuses. Those canny business types who are stocking up on diesel generators may do very well in due course.

Tony Burke – B2 here – also has some radical ideas which he wants to impose on us as soon as possible. Obviously, he and Sally (McManus, secretary of the ACTU) are close and he needs to deliver what the unions demand, given their very useful contributions to the Labor Party.

Ignoring the fact that the labour market is still a market – businesses will only employ workers if it is a worthwhile thing to do – Burke is planning an assault on casual work and labour hire firms. He wants all jobs to be permanent with the full range of entitlements, including domestic violence leave.

Wage growth which at least matches the rate of inflation is also on his agenda. After consulting with the trade unions and big business, he will rig the enterprise bargaining rules to kick-start the process in a way that pleases Sal and her pals.

My prediction of the fate of the Albanese government is that much hinges on B1 and B2. Both men have the potential to blow things up, making the next election winnable for the Coalition.


Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments