Poor policy is poor government

As ever, it comes down to policy.


Sure – people like to focus on political nous and polls and manoeuvrings.

But it always comes down to policy.

A government that worries more about the political aspects of policy and about wedging the opposition quickly becomes like a football team that devises any numerous numbers of strategies to beat the opposition and then forgets practice kicking.

As they say, poor kicking is poor football – and poor policy is poor government.

There were three policies that were delivered this week and none of them showed any sense of coherent thought or considered response.

They probably saved the worst for last when backbencher, but chair of the parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, Dan Tehan, decided to announce that Australia should start bombing ISIS in Syria.

Bugger the fact that the international legalities of us doing so are dodgy at best. Bugger the fact the USA hasn’t even asked us to join in with the bombing campaign. Tehan wants in.

Had he talked to the Prime Minister about this before deciding to make it an issue?

Well … no.

Of course not! I mean, why would any government want policy about bombing another nation to be done through any sort of ordered way?

Although to be fair, perhaps Tehan thought that given the way policy had been announced and received this week, it was time for another national security issue to discuss. If Tony Abbott couldn’t be bothered to break out the 9 flags, then Tehan would do it for him.

Certainly, the government was in grave need of a distraction.

Earlier in the week the government had announced its carbon emissions targets post-2020 and also a policy on marriage equality.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the two policies is that those in the Liberal Party who think climate change is a UN conspiracy are satisfied with the targets and those who are steadfastly against marriage equality are now championing the government’s policy on marriage equality.

The major problem with the carbon target policy is the aim has nothing to do with limiting carbon emissions but all to do with attacking the ALP’s position on the matter.

All the policy is meant to do is give a vague impression that something about carbon emissions will be done and that it will be done in a much less costly way than that proposed by the ALP. 

To achieve this aim, firstly it leaked to a willing media outlet dodgy costings of what the government would have you believe is ALP’s target, and then it cobble together a policy with a big number target that could be spun to be similar to nations such as the USA.

And thus the government proposed limiting carbon emissions by 2030 to 26% to 28% below 2005 levels.

There was a bit of hoo hah about just how comparable this was with other “comparable nations”. The government’s own documents released this week – documents which are about as informative as hotel travel brochures – show that the target is behind any comparable nation, unless you want to include China, Japan and Korea – nations whose economies are hardly at all comparable with ours.

But regardless of the size of the cuts and whether or not they are too small or just right (no one is really arguing they are too big) the policy itself is complete bollocks.

To achieve the cuts the government is putting faith in the Emissions Reduction Fund and the ERF’s “Safeguard Mechanism”. One teensy problem is the Safeguard Mechanism is yet to be defined and the ERF has thus far been very good only at giving money to companies to do things they had already been doing or would have done anyway, but not so good at actually reducing emissions.

Since the end of the carbon price, emissions from electricity generation have begun rising for the first time in 3 years.

The policy also suggests about a quarter of the emissions cuts will come from a national energy productive plan for “energy efficiency” and “vehicle efficiency”. Neither of these exist at the moment. But hey, have faith.

Finally, the government believes up to 22% of the cuts will come from “technology improvement and other sources of abatement” – i.e. things that do not yet exist.

It’s reached a point where things are so incredibly bad that I’m willing to give the government credit for not including a category called “magic beans”.

On marriage equality we also had the government seeking to come up with a policy that on the surface was more about trying to wedge the ALP, but with the added twist of trying to wedge parts of the Liberal party room.

So worried was Abbott about his own position within the party, and his need to assuage the conservative rump, that he emerged from the 5 and half our coalition party room meeting on Tuesday proposing a policy that he had specially dismissed just 3 months ago.

In May, the Prime Minister told the media, “referendums are held in this country where there is a proposal to change the Constitution. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that the Constitution needs to be changed in this respect.”

Now Tony Abbott himself is suggesting it.

It didn’t take long to see why he and others in the party room who are against marriage equality would be in favour of a plebiscite or a referendum.

Scott Morrison – the man next in line for the conservatives in the party room – went on ABC’s 730 and quickly ensured the issue would be riddled with confusion by suggesting rather than a non-binding plebiscite a full constitutional referendum was needed.  

The next day, the Attorney General, George Brandis, sharply contradicted Morrison, telling the media and the Senate that the High Court had already ruled that a referendum was not needed and that the federal parliament already had the power.

Morrison countered by tweeting “unlike plebiscite referendum is binding and compulsory – Oz people should decide this not politicians, judges or lawyers”.

Thus we have two senior members of cabinet fighting openly over the policy ensuring confusion covers all, and we haven’t got close to considering what the question in any plebiscite or referendum, would be.

Make no mistake – if you don’t want marriage equality, pushing for a referendum on the issue is your best bet – and the confusion is key part of that bet.

Thus we have a carbon emissions’ policy with little care about reducing emissions, and a marriage equality policy whose proponents hope will not allow marriage equality.

This is what you get when you have a Prime Minister who never in his career has shown a sign that he believes policy is more important than politics.

Poor policy is poor government, and ever since its election, the Abbot government has been incapable of displaying any policy wealth.

But this week it fell well below the poverty level. 

Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.