Pull the udder one

After a week dominated by a major party retreat – rhetorical or real – from free market ideology, I’ve given today’s Inside Out to regular correspondent Tim Dunlop in Canberra. He’s subjected its certainties to a searching layman’s analysis, via the dairy deregulation debate. Heavy going, sure, but Wow! I asked Tim why he was interested in the topic, and he replied:


“I wasn’t really interested at all, but it is a rather symbolic topic in debates about the role of government, the notion of free markets, and the place of economy versus society in our lives. It started because I heard Mark Latham on Lateline, I read Paul Kelly and Imre Salusinzky, and they all sound so authoritative about what an unequivocal “good” dairy deregulation is (and neo-liberalism in general) that I decided to check it out for myself. Thanks to the internet an immense amount of material is available and I thought the claims of the various advocates just didn’t add up. So I decided to put what I’d found down on paper and see what I came up with.


“A couple of things make it attractive as an example. One is that it is about something that nearly everyone knows something about, that is, we all buy milk. The other is that it shows how ideology can simply overcome common-sense in that, even if deregulation worked exactly as they say it should, the net benefit to consumers is so bloody small that you have to wonder what the point is. I show in the article that even if it reduced the price of milk to ZERO, on average we would be only $3.20 a week better off. And this against the loss of 4000 dairy farms and $2 billion out of rural communities. Nutty in my book.


“So I knew nothing about it going in and had no previous interest in cows, farms or even milk before in my life. It just seemed like a good example of how the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality, which is why I tied it to a wider discussion of democracy and citizenship, which is something I do have an interest in. My thesis topic is on the relationship between intellectuals and citizens in Australia.”




By Tim Dunlop


This is an article about milk deregulation. But it is also about democracy, what we mean by it and how we can participate in it.


I write this as a citizen, not an economist. One of the big bluffs that experts use to minimise participation by we mere mortals of the general public is to maintain that only the properly trained are in a position to comment on such matters. I reject this, and suggest that not only is it possible for average citizens to get a grip on some of these specialist matters, but that we all should have a go at it more often. Sure, the experts will pick us up on the fine detail, but we shouldn’t mind that – anyone would be foolish to reject the correction of out and out errors. But in a democracy, no-one is an expert on what we should expect our democracy to look like. We all get a say in that. Or we should.


The American journalist Walter Lippmann thought that this lack of specialist knowledge was such a barrier for ordinary citizens he concluded that they should just leave the running of the country to experts, people specially trained to deal with the complexities of nation-management. He has plenty of tacit supporters throughout the world, including in Australia. On the surface of it, such a position has a certain common-sense appeal. I mean, running a country is a complex matter; it does involve the cultivation of specialist skills, of expertise, and it does need a professional class of technocrats to run things. But acknowledging this truism is not the same thing as saying we should just leave it to them to get on with it.


This, therefore raises the first issue that animates how we might understand our democracy: what is the relationship between ordinary citizens and the elites, the experts, the intellectuals who run the show? The second issue is this: how are we to understand the relationship between the economy and society?


My opinion is that in both cases we have got the balance wrong. Experts dominates citizens, and the economy dominates society. And on my reading, the topic of dairy deregulation provides some insights into the battle that exists between these competing forces. By looking closely at a real-life example we might be able to make some useful general comments about the nature of our democracy. So this discussion is in two parts: a detailed look at dairy deregulation followed by a more general discussion of what it all teaches us about our democracy.


Dairy deregulation is part of a general policy of deregulation that has been pursued by governments of both major persuasions for at least twenty years. On the 28 September 1999, the government announced that all support for the dairy industry would cease and they passed legislation to this end that took effect on the 30 June 2000.


Until then, the industry was supported by “two major sets of regulatory arrangements, the Domestic Market Support Scheme (DMS) for manufacturing milk, administered by the Commonwealth, and State regulatory arrangements for market milk”. Essentially, the industry made a distinction between market milk (drinking milk) and manufacturing milk (non-drinking) and each was supported by the state and federal governments respectively.


The detail of how the various subsidies worked is fairly complex, and we only really need to note two things: first, all subsidy was basically paid for by consumers and therefore represented a transfer of money from consumers to producers. Second, none of this subsidy exists any more. This was the whole idea – end subsidies and therefore lower the price to consumers. As you will see, things are never as simple as they seem.


There are two things to keep in mind. One is the argument of whether consumers should be charged a premium in order to fund a subsidy that keeps more farms in existence than would otherwise be the case if no subsidy existed. And don’t let anyone tell you this is merely an economic question. Certainly it can subsumed under the rhetoric of free markets, the need for competition and “level playing fields”, and the “rights” of consumers. But it is just as much a philosophical question and you don’t need a degree in anything in order to think about it and come up with a valid opinion. It is a question of what sort of society you want to live in.


The second question to ponder is whether the evidence justifies the economic claims made on behalf of deregulation.


Deregulation goes hand in hand with what is officially called Competition Policy, a coordinated effort by Federal and State governments of micro-economic reform. Full deregulation is consistent with the aims and intention of Competition Policy. It is also fair to say, and in fact the bill digest does say that, “National Competition Policy reviews of state regulatory arrangements undertaken as a result of the Competition Principles Agreement between the Commonwealth and the States have added impetus to the deregulation push”. It is important to understand this, as such an environment, as I argue below, adds to the feeling of so-called inevitability that surrounds dairy deregulation.


Before giving an outline of how it specifically applies to the milk industry, here’s bit of background on competition policy in general and one of the agencies closely associated with its implementation, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). One of the ACCC’s Commissioners described competition policy in these terms: “The aim of micro-economic reform (and of competition policy as part of it) is to improve the efficiency with which resources are used, thus contributing to improved living standards. Thus, it is about: increasing the output obtained from a given input (technical or production efficiency); improving the allocation of resources between different uses, such that resources go to those uses where consumers value them most (allocative efficiency); and improving the response to changing demand and supply conditions (referred to as dynamic efficiency).”


You can see that farmers might flinch a little from this description. Although there is reference to “improved living standards”, three things are apparent. First, it isn’t referring to the farmer’s standard of living, rather the consumers.


Second, “living standards” is rather narrowly presumed to be equivalent to the cost of goods, and therefore people are being considered merely as consumers, not as citizens with interests outside the purely economic. Thus, a reduction in the retail price of milk is presumed to be a greater good than subsidising the price so a number of farms can continue to exist (and ABARE estimates the number of dairy farms to go will be in the order of 3-5000).


Third, it is subordinated to the other three listed goals, which are given the typically jargonistic (and therefore deceptive) titles of technical efficiency, allocative efficiency and, the almost Orwellian dynamic efficiency. That is, although some lip-service is paid to “living standards”, what is being offered here is first and foremost an economic process, not a social one, a crucial difference. A reduction in the price of milk is more important than 3-5000 farms being “artificially” maintained by government subsidy. True or False?


In fact, the same Commissioner, in the same speech, acknowledges the difference and places the Commission firmly on the side of the economy, not society. She speaks of what is called the “public benefit” in the workings of the ACCC. Public benefit is one of those phrases that sounds not only self-explanatory but unequivocally positive. It is neither. It is a piece of newspeak that seeks to imply the notion of a common good while at the same time undermining the political settlement involved in attaining any notion of a public good. It is verbal Prosac.


The Commissioner notes not only that “[p]ublic benefit is not defined by the Act” but also, lest there be any doubt about it, that “The public benefit of the conduct is assessed within the context of the market.” Got that?


The Commissioner notes nine items she thinks constitute “public benefit”: fostering business efficiency; industry rationalisation; expansion or employment; promotion of industry cost savings; promotion of competition in industry; promotion of equitable dealings in the market; development of import replacements; growth in export markets; arrangements which facilitate the smooth transition to deregulation.


I certainly don’t want to disparage these as goals per se. But what does such a list tell us? It makes it absolutely clear that we (the “public” in “public benefit”) are being thought of merely as consumers and the “benefits” we are to (rather indirectly) receive, and the “benefits” that will be protected by the ACCC, are purely economic. The logic of this is that we the public will benefit because product x (milk, in this case) will be cheaper.


But what this Commissioner is making abundantly clear is not the “public” in any meaningful sense, but in fact industry, business, and that favourite abstraction, “the market”. To me it’s a pretty odd definition of “public benefit”.


In fact, the Commissioner is drawing on the government’s own understanding of “public benefit”. The National Competition Council (NCC) uses similar criteria, though they make some interesting additional comments. They suggest, for instance, that “National Competition Policy only requires that Governments identify and change their laws when the restrictions on competition are not justified by public interest.It explicitly recognises that there are circumstances where restrictions are justified.” They add that, therefore, “each law must be assessed against a number of criteria including specific public interest considerations; whether there are other ways of achieving the objectives of the laws without hindering businesses and, whether the benefits of the laws outweigh the costs.


These are interesting points because they indicate that deregulation is not necessary, though again it is all couched in market-subordinate language: note that line “without hindering business”. All this illustrates the most remarkable circular thinking or Catch-22 or doublethink. Consider: competition policy itself does not require deregulation if “restrictions (regulations) are justified.” What test do we apply to see if they’re justified? A public interest test. What’s the public interest? Well, as the ACCC Commissioner said, we’re not sure, but we do know that it is “assessed within the context of the market.” The NCC also says that it shouldn’t “hinder business”. So if the market reckons deregulation is necessary, then it fulfils its public benefit test!


Even if we accept this rather distorted definition, is there actually some “public benefit” in milk deregulation, and how might we quantify that benefit? Clearly, we do this by looking at the price of milk before and after deregulation. But this isn’t as straight forward as it sounds. I want to come back to this point because really this is the whole reason that its advocates promote Competition Policy in general and milk deregulation in particular.


The whole point of “technical”, “allocative” and “dynamic” efficiency; the whole logic of “business efficiency”, “industry rationalisation”, “expansion or employment”, “promotion of industry cost savings”, “promotion of competition in industry”, “promotion of equitable dealings in the market”, “development of import replacements”, “growth in export markets”, and “arrangements which facilitate the smooth transition to deregulation” is to give “us” the “public benefit” of cheaper milk. That’s their justification and we should assess it on its own terms. But before we do, and lest anyone is tempted to think that this is just my own personal vexatious reading, let’s take a look at a another source which has misgivings about this straightjacket definition of “public benefit”.


The report of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee on the Australian dairy industry (the official government inquiry into deregulation) expressed similar concerns about the role of competition policy and the definition of “public interest”. When the report was tabled in parliament, the chairman said: “The Committee has a number of specific concerns about the proposal to deregulate the industry, including the application of the public interest test in the State based legislation reviews under the terms of National Competition Policy…The Committee’s concerns in relation to the application of National Competition Policy principles, especially the interpretation of the net community benefit/public interest test and its application in the varying legislation reviews include: there has not been a thorough investigation of the national consequences of deregulation with State reviews being undertaken piecemeal; assessment of the public interest in the reviews has been less than comprehensive and appears to favour narrow sectional interests.”


I offer all this as prelude because it places in context the thinking of those in power who decide that stuff like milk deregulation is a good idea. I contend that they are not thinking about the real lives of real people, they are thinking and acting on behalf of a bloodless abstraction (largely of their own invention) called “the economy” or “the market”. It’s bit like the logic of Michael Corleone in The Godfather II, who in the name of protecting “the family” has various actual members of it, including his brother, killed.


The main point to make in this regard is the presumption that deregulation equates to public benefit. Each of the criteria that the Commissioner gives us above has this as its heart and soul. There is no room in their thinking that allows for an alternative approach. Of course, this is part of the power of the doctrinal system – assert and presume at every juncture that There Is No Alternative (TINA). When obvious failures of pure free markets are pointed out, go to Plan B which is Not Implemented Completely Enough (NICE). Or plan C, Give It Time (GIT). Plan D is also sometimes employed by apologists for the system – the insulting attack on anyone who dares question the genius of neo-liberalism.


A classic Plan D in regard to milk deregulation was thus executed by SMH columnist Imre Salusinszky: “The fall in prices that attended deregulation confirms that the udder-wringers have been too focused on milking the public, rather than their cows”. Apart from the gratuitous dismissal of the 3-5 thousand farms that will close thanks to deregulation as “udder-wringers”, the implication and justification of the process implied in his comment is, as always, the promise of cheaper product. Everything is permissible, in fact desirable and inevitable, as long as “the public” gets cheaper milk. As Paul Kelly, another deregulation tout puts it: “The benefits of deregulation are larger, more productive farms delivering a better Australian industry and cheaper milk for consumers.”


In fact, three arguments are usually put forward in support of dairy deregulation: “larger more productive farms”, as Kelly puts it; the “fact” that “the farmers wanted it”; and the promise of cheaper milk. Let’s deal with each in turn.


More Productive farms.


It is certainly true that dairy farms have been getting larger, that is, running more cows. And ostensibly this means they are more productive: that is, if there are more cows on the same amount of land, then it almost inevitably mean more milk is produced. Two things to note: this trend to larger farms was happening anyway and can hardly be claimed as a benefit arising simply from deregulation, though proponents would probably note it as one of the developments that made deregulation “inevitable”. But again, notice the false logic: farms are getting more efficient; deregulation makes things more efficient; therefore deregulation is inevitable.


The other is that what some define as more efficient farms others see as an environmental problem. Dr Jim Scott of the University of New England has led the case warning of the environmental impact of dairy deregulation. He says: “It is clear that, as milk prices to the farmers decline sharply with deregulation, milk production changes will be forced in the direction of large feedlots and the long-term negative consequences of this have not been taken into account.


“Compared to the current rain-fed pasture system which supports most dairy production of drinking milk, feedlots have huge numbers of cows, resulting in concentrations of manure and effluent that need to be disposed of rather than have cows re-cycle it back to pastures naturally as they graze. Harvesting and irrigating crops for large feedlots will use up energy as will transporting milk around the country from the main dairy state, Victoria, once most coastal dairy areas in NSW and Queensland have been shut down.”


The point he makes is that, for environmental reasons, there is a good case for a regulated industry. “If consumers want to continue to get a regular supply of high quality drinking milk, it makes very good sense to regulate supply and price so that seasonal fluctuations in production can be ironed out using such production controls and incentives. All consumers have a right to expect their food to be produced in an environmentally responsible and sustainable fashion.”


The farmers want it


Labor MP Mark Latham, about as gung-ho for competition policy as you get on either side of the parliament, said in an ABC interview in February: “I’m on the side of the dairy farmers. Ninety per cent of Victorian dairy farmers voted for deregulation. This was Australia’s first ever democratic deregulation. So how can anyone like Hanson or other people campaigning on these issues say that they want to reregulate the industry when it’s the industry itself, the great bulk of Australia’s dairy farmers are in Victoria and they decided that they wanted to go down in path?”


Did they? It’s actually almost impossible to judge. It certainly isn’t as clear cut as Mark Latham makes it seem. The first point to make about the vote Mark Latham mentions is that, as he said, it was amongst Victorian farmers only. The significance of this is that Victoria dominates the dairy industry in Australia, accounting for two-thirds of all production. As the chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee on the Australian dairy industry, Senator John Woodley, put it: “Deregulation is principally supported by the large Victorian co-operatives, Murray Goulburn and Bonlac, and the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria. However, because Victoria dominates dairy production in Australia, producing two thirds of the total milk produced in Australia, Victoria’s press for deregulation is of considerable weight.”


It is undisputed that Victorian farmers have led the push for deregulation. But even this is a little misleading, as the real push has come from the three big corporations who dominate the Victorian industry, Murray Golburn, Bonlac and United Dairyfarmers. So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that those who already dominate the industry want barriers that limit their ability to expand got rid of.


Nonetheless, a large majority (89%) of Victorian farmers did vote to deregulate. But as a number of people have pointed out, this seemed to be out of resignation rather than conviction. As the Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) has said. “We cannot stop the commercial push for deregulation. The best possible action is for all dairy farmers to send a very clear message to their state politicians. We need the restructure package to help manage the inevitable deregulation package.”


Let’s face it – the whole history of economic policy in this country for some time now has been of the sort of neo-liberal “reform” that favours less regulation and increased competition. The catch-cry has always been TINA – There Is No Alternative. Farmers therefore had good reason to suspect that deregulation was a preferred option. Add to this the fact that deregulation was being led by those who dominate the market, and it adds another layer of inevitability. I mean it’s not as if people were really being given an option in the form of a vote. There was no evidence that had they voted no that any effort would have been made to honour that vote. Competition policy was in place. Deregulation was the official way to go.


The other point is that the regulated market rested on a questionable reading of the Constitution which outlaws trade restrictions between states. Under regulation there was a sort of “gentleman’s agreement” to overlook this constitutional impediment. And although at least one farmer’s group produced a legal opinion suggesting that such regulation was in fact legal, no-one really wanted to go to the trouble and expense of testing it in court. Especially when most people would just shout “inevitable! inevitable!” whenever anyone mentioned deregulation. Thus, when Victoria decided to “go it alone” as market leader and ignore the gentleman’s agreement, another support for regulation collapsed. Certainly, this did add to the “inevitability”.


But there was another aspect to the vote. As part of the deregulation, a compensation package was being offered to farmers, a cash payment to help them through the change-over and out of the dairy business. However, the package was only available if farmers in all states accepted deregulation. It kind of adds a whole new dimension to the idea of Mark Latham’s “democratic deregulation”, don’t you think? To again quote committee chair, Senator Woodley: “They voted with a gun to their heads because they were told they’d get no compensation unless they voted yes.” So I think it is a reasonable reading of the “vote” for deregulation that it was more a case of farmers throwing their hands up in surrender than pumping the air in support.


Cheaper milk


Here we come to the deregulators’ trump card. This is the bottom line. Mark Latham: “In my electorate of Werriwa, young families drinking a lot of milk, they are many many dollars a week better off because of the lower prices for consumers.”


I’d like to know how he knows, because despite the fact that this is such a central plank of the argument in favour of deregulation, it is surprisingly hard to find evidence to support it. Besides, for any one family to be “many dollars a week better off”, they would have to be drinking an awful lot of milk, a point to which I’ll return.


But even an advocate like Paul Kelly acknowledges that the benefits “are coming…too slowly” and that “[t]he truth is that the consumers aren’t getting the benefits they should at retail outlets”. He quotes the ABARE figures which indicate that the average spot price of a 1-litre milk carton is ‘slightly lower’. It has evidence of 2-litre packages in supermarkets selling for about $2 each and 3-litre packages at about $2.90 which is ‘a significant reduction'” – not exactly a ringing endorsement.


Why is it so difficult to determine whether the price has dropped or not?


A number of factors cloud the issue. The first is that the $1.8 billion compensation package is being funded by a levy of 11cents per litre on the retail price and this has to stay in place for eight years. (In fact, about $1.25 billion of this goes to farmers, the rest arises because the Tax Office refused to make the package tax free.) Thus, the retail price reflects this enforced increase for the next eight years, whether the price goes up or down.


The second is simply the availability of reliable data. The Australian Dairy Corporation makes the following point: “The removal of state milk regulations from 1 July 2000 has had implications for the availability of dairy industry information. While the ADC is working with dairy companies and other organisations to continue data collections – comprehensive national data is not yet available for 2000/01.” Such a conclusion is supported by ABARE. This seems to be a polite way of saying that information has, under the guise of “free markets” and “public benefit”, moved from being a general, publicly accessible resource to being private property and therefore not for our eyes.


Another factor is the role of the large producers and the large retailers. For one thing is certain: the wholesale price of milk has dropped. In fact, collapsed is probably a better word. In the period 2000/1, ABARE estimates that the “farm gate” price of milk will drop by a low of 3.5% in Victoria to a high of 30% in Western Australia. The average reduction throughout the states will be, on these estimates, 17%. This means that the big retailers and the big producers (that is, six corporations) have received something of a windfall. And it is not clear that anyone can force them to pass on these savings to consumers, which, remember, is the whole idea of the process. Many have suggested that the real winners out of deregulation are therefore these six corporations, particularly the two biggest retailers, Coles and Woolworths. And certainly, by a simple process of elimination we can suggest that the 17% reduction in the farm gate price must have gone somewhere: the farmers sure haven’t got it. No sign of it on the supermarket shelves. Where could it be?


Another aspect is that these corporations are now in the enviable position of being able to negotiate from a position of absolute power. With only really three big retailers and three big producers, these giants get to deal on a one-to-one basis with the farmers. A family with 50 cows versus Woolworths. Even advocates of deregulation recognise this might be a tad unfair. The Australian Dairy Industry Council chairman, Patrick Rowley, although a advocate of deregulation, has said: “The structure of the Australian industry with three big supermarkets tendering for market milk and three major milk processors struggling to get home brand share is a recipe for a hell of a scramble for price to the detriment of the farm sector, and that is exactly what has happened.”


He wants to see some sort of collective bargaining put in place and is lobbying the ACCC to set it up. They apparently are sympathetic. And they now have support from a most unlikely source, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Why is this an unlikely source? First, because it was their government who introduced deregulation and chose to ignore warnings that this sort of thing would happen. And second, because history would suggest that they have an ideological aversion to collective bargaining of any sort. I mean, I don’t see them encouraging it in wage negotiations. But I’ll come back to this change of heart.


A further point needs to be made about the role of the supermarkets and prices. Given that their margin has increased and that there is no longer a fixed retail price for milk, they have a deal of flexibility in setting the price in their outlets. Thus, they may choose one week to run it at a highly reduced rate as a loss-leader. But the next week they can put it up to whatever level they think the market will bear. This makes the whole concept of cheaper milk prices highly problematic, for what does it mean to say that prices have dropped when the price can fluctuate to such an extent? An argument based on the idea that the price will be lower presumes a standard price against which decreases can be gauged. In the absence of such a standard, the claim that prices are dropping becomes, logically, rather suspect.


We might also consider the fact that, as the Australian Dairy Corporation puts it: “The gradual deregulation of the market milk sector has seen a corresponding increase in competition between processors. This has resulted in the introduction of an expanding range of branded milks, which may have varying fat contents, or are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. Other milks have been developed to address particular consumer needs, such as lactose-free, or extra frothing milk for cappuccinos”. Most of these “branded milks” are premium products. That is, they attract a premium price. In other words, competition may have simply led to the search for premium niche markets and therefore forced the price up.


There is one final point that is rarely spelt out when people discuss the advantages of deregulation in the form of cheaper milk. ABARE estimates that the cost of the subsidy to milk farmers was around $350 million a year. Thus by ending deregulation, these tax dollars will be available for other things. This is true. But don’t forget: the government has now put in place a $1.8 billion safety net for farmers and although I am certainly not knocking this (under the circumstances) we shouldn’t forget that this too is coming out of consumers’ pockets. If we divide $350 million into $1.8 billion we find that the structural adjustment package is equivalent to just over five years worth of industry subsidy; that is, it is as if the subsidy was there for another five years anyway. With one big difference: under the structural adjustment package there are 4,000 less farms.


So at this stage I would defy anyone to give a definitive answer on whether the price has gone down. I certainly can’t tell just by going to my local supermarket or service station. ABARE can’t tell, though, as I’ve indicated, they try and put the best gloss on it. So what then can we say about the price of milk? My guess is there may be some bargains for a while, the novelty will wear off, the price will stabilise, and gradually rise. That’s what happened with eggs, as I explain below.


Doesn’t this strike people as strange? I mean, if this is the bottom-line justification for a policy that the government’s own figures suggest will result in the closure of between 3-5,000 dairy farms; of farmers being at least $13,000 a year worse off even after the compensation payment (ABARE’s figures); and that will do collateral social and economic damage to families and rural communities (John Cartwright of the Australian Milk Producers Association, for instance, estimated that $2 billion would be taken out of rural communities) shouldn’t this so-called advantage (cheaper retail milk) be blindingly obvious and easy to see? Shouldn’t it be indisputable?


I know, I know. There is no alternative. Not implemented completely enough. Give it time.




It might help to look at another deregulated industry where the promise of lower prices was also claimed as a central benefit: eggs. Here the evidence is in and it’s not too encouraging for those who equate deregulation with lower prices.


A News Weekly article of 20 May 2000, headed “How deregulation cracked the egg industry”, states: “Seven years after it was deregulated, the Victorian egg market is delivering low returns to farmers and high prices to consumers. It represents a redistribution of wealth upwards from producers and customers to retailers and shareholders. Deregulation of the Victorian egg industry in 1993 has led to increased supermarket egg prices to consumers and reduced returns to farmers. According to one large volume Victorian egg producer, Philip Szeppe, in 1993 farmers were being paid $1.32 for a dozen 55 gram eggs which then retailed in the supermarkets for $1.91. Australian Egg Industry Association figures show that, in February this year, farmers were being paid 78.5 a dozen for eggs that retailed for $3.31 a dozen on supermarket shelves in Victoria.”


The article continues: “One egg producer near Bendigo, Robert Harrison, recently featured in the media after the payment he received for the delivery of 30 dozen eggs was one 45 stamp from his egg buyer. He is a low volume producer now being forced out of the industry. Mr Harrison told the Weekly Times, “I don’t have much faith in deregulation, and I think the same sort of thing might happen in the dairy industry.”


I reckon he might be right.


So if you asked me to sum up dairy deregulation I would say something like this: the compensation was inadequate, though it is virtually impossible to imagine a really “adequate” package given the dislocation that everyone knew would occur; there are environmental concerns that were almost completely ignored; the way it was implemented was suspect, especially tying the vote for deregulation to the compensation package; the whole process is based on a flawed and possibly bogus understanding of the term “public interest”; and the one great benefit – cheaper milk – cannot be found with any confidence. This is why I would suggest that if someone says to you that dairy deregulation is a good thing, you would be within your rights to say, “pull the udder one”.


The postscript


There is a sequel to all this that has hit our screens only in the last couple of days. It seems the scriptwriters want to go off in an unexpected direction. Led by the Nationals, the Coalition has announced they will reconsider some aspects of competition policy, particularly in regard to the dairy industry, particularly in regard to how “public benefit” is defined (um, remember? it’s not defined). Let’s have a look at what they were saying then and what they are saying now.


It is interesting to note that, even amongst the advocates, there was always an air of resignation and a concomitant feeling that there was nothing the government could really do. The Minister for Agriculture, Warren Truss, was even willing to eschew responsibility for deregulation, saying in a press release: “The simple fact is, the Commonwealth Government did not deregulate the dairy industry. Deregulation occurred because of commercial pressures from the major dairying States and State Government responses.” This did not stop them from repeating the mantra of “lower prices” at every opportunity and against every objection.


The closer you look at what the advocates say, the more you wonder at their logic. Paul Kelly is probably as well-informed, reasonable and concerned a commentator on the topic as you are likely to find and yet his advocacy is difficult to fathom. His recent opinion piece on dairy deregulation repays a careful reading because it shows you the odd, almost cognitively dissonant logic you are up against if you want to oppose such reforms.


The first thing you notice is that you will be called a “Hansonite” or at the very least the presumption will be that all opposition comes from Pauline Hanson and her party. The name “Hanson” is used and evoked throughout Kelly’s article. He writes: “The dairy industry is a micro-study in the false economics but receptive politics of Hansonism.”


No it’s not, Paul. It’s a complex issue, which, as we’ve seen doesn’t lend itself to easy answers, let alone sweeping generalisations. Opposition to it is hardly just coming from Hanson. The Democrats have opposed deregulation at the Federal and State levels. Environmentalists opposed and oppose it. Many farmers opposed it, even as they recognised they were being swept along on the rhetoric of inevitability. The chair of the Senate committee that investigated deregulation was a Democrat. His pleas against the mentality of “inevitability” are articulate reminders of what is at stake here, namely, the ability of a country to be in charge of its own destiny.


But even you, Paul, have serious misgivings about how it has proceeded. But let’s not get off on the wrong foot: to oppose dairy deregulation doesn’t make you Pauline Hanson and it doesn’t make you a closet One Nation supporter.


Kelly makes a number of observations in his usual enumerating way: deregulation shows three things; there are three morals. The trouble is, at least for an advocate, none of them actually show any advantage in deregulation. They assert benefits, they theorise them, but they can’t actually point to them in the real world. Like everyone else Kelly tells us that deregulation was inevitable; he implies that it is desirable. But he can only offer in support the section I quoted earlier: “The benefits of deregulation are larger, more productive farms delivering a better Australian industry and cheaper milk for consumers.” But as we’ve seen, none of these stand up to scrutiny. What’s more, he knows it and admits it.


He writes: “Hanson’s economics are the latest instalment of the struggle between producer and consumer interests so dominant in Australia’s history. The difference now is that consumers, at last, are starting to win.”


As I’ve already suggested, although this is offered as a choice in economic terms, it is really a philosophical or political question. But Kelly, like others, reduces it to a quantum calculation and it is clear what answer he gets to his sum. That is, he is weighs the benefit of the absolute uncertainty of the cheaper retail price of milk against the virtually undisputed loss of around 4,000 dairy farms, $2 billion in associated wealth that will be lost to rural communities, and the non-economic disruption associated with these losses and decides it equals inevitable, desirable deregulation.


As a consumer, as a citizen you have to ask, surely, is it worth it? Is Kelly’s the right answer?


Kelly thinks it is despite noting that “the public’s gains from reform are hard to extract and spread thinly across the community, the losers are identifiable and angry [t]he industry shake-out is intense and traumatic” and that “[t]he truth is that the consumers aren’t getting the benefits they should at retail outlets”.


Finally, he accuses opponents of holding out false hope to people in their opposition to deregulation: “Hanson’s trouble is not just her phoney solutions, but the false hopes she engenders in people”. There might some truth in this if we define the hope that is being held out as merely re-regulation. Although Kelly is wrong in saying that Hanson is the only one proposing this (the Democrats had it as an option at one stage, as did at least one of the farming organisations, and environmentalists represented by Dr Scott of UNE still advocate it), he is probably right in implying that the moment has passed.


The industry won’t re-regulate. It doesn’t need to – those whom regulation supported, the smaller farmers, are going or already gone. But it takes a bit of cheek to accuse re-regulators of holding out false hope. What could be classified as a falser hope than the promise of cheaper milk for consumers under deregulation? Even if we got it – which doesn’t seem to be happening – would it be the boon that Kelly and others suppose?


Consider: Australian Dairy Corporation statistics show that the average per capita consumption of drinking milk in Australia has been steady for at least the last fifteen years at about 100 litres per annum. This means, on average, we each buy about two litres of milk a week. So even if the price dropped to zero, we would save about $3.20 a week each. So this is our average consumers absolute best case scenario.


No wonder that even the government is having second thoughts. Not that they are going to re-regulate, but they are re-visiting the compensation package. And their concern over what has happened in the dairy industry – no doubt heightened by recent state and by-election failures and the reality of a looming Federal poll – has caused them to revisit competition policy in general.


Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, has said, “I am very interested in [the idea of collective bargaining] … I don’t think the rules have allowed for a proper assessment of a community interest, let alone dairy farmers’ interests.” The Prime Minister said in Parliament: “If I find areas where the policy is not working to the public benefit or in the national interest, I will not be the least bit reluctant to pursue with the State governments changes, because that is the common sense thing to do.”


The question that this raises above all others is why has it taken until now for them to consider these matters? Nothing is known now that wasn’t known before the legislation was enacted. All the things they now consider problematic were the very things that they were warned about. In particular, the report of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee foreshadowed all these things. Committee chair Senator Woodley almost begged the government to give proper consideration to the concerns of the committee. In particular he urged them to consider the Bega Valley Social Impact Study, funded by the local community. It developed a detailed snapshot which demonstrated in a highly specific way the impact a fall in the farmgate price of milk of different degrees would have on the local community. “The Committee considers that this is a fundamental piece of work, demonstrating very clearly the potential impacts of deregulation on a community such as the Bega Valley,” he said.


It was all known. It went ahead anyway. It was inevitable. TINA. NICE. GIT.

Feral admission

“I always read your web diary with some degree of interest, but in today’s entry you’ve gone completely feral. You have allowed your personal dislike of Crean and Beazley to cloud the site. I always thought you were a bit rough on the Prime Miniature, but your anti-Labor text on today’s page was ridiculous.


“Crean’s announcement was “sickening” – how so? His announcement simply followed on from his previous calls for Howard to keep his promise on the price of petrol ie. that it wouldn’t rise as a result of the GST. Howard is the one who is at fault – he made a promise he could never keep, as he knew full well that:

(a) GST is always 1/11th of the price of anything;

(b) Petrol prices are always higher in the country than in the city; and

(c) Our constitution prevents federal taxes being levied at varying rates in different geographical areas.


“Howard got caught out, Crean made the running on the issue and now he is cleaning up. The rise because of GST was more than 1.5 cents per litre. Crean is going to give back the real amount of the windfall. It might be a bit pedantic, give Howard’s long-term freeze on petrol indexation, but that is his job. I don’t see how his conduct is “sickening”.


What’s your real beef? My beef is that Howard is an opportunistic little wretch who will freeze the indexation of excise on petrol but won’t do the same on beer. There are other ways of protecting the revenue, of course. How about taxing trusts as companies? As far as I know that is still ALP policy. And so it was for the Libs until the going got tough last month.


If your stated aim is to lift the standard of your web diary, you could take tomorrow rather than today as the first step. Today’s effort was woeful, and if you look back at it in a few weeks’ time as you are wont to do, you’ll probably agree.” KEN McALPINE


I’ve led with Ken’s critique because I’ve been feeling a bit queasy myself on whether I’m being too hard on Kim Beazley. I stand by the anti-Crean remark, though. To announce a revenue cut while refusing to announce any spending increases on the grounds that the budget parameters are unknown is pure hypocrisy. It’s also an admission that cheap populism is being elevated above what Labor claims are desperately needed investments in education, research and innovation. If Labor had serious guts, it would have opposed Howard’s disastrous decision to impose a permanent freeze on petrol excise indexation over and above his hand-back of the 1.5 cents a litre GST windfall. It’s one of those areas where your stomach sinks in the knowledge that good policy must, just must, give ground to short-term political advantage, or the neutralising of the other side’s short term advantage.


Personally, I don’t think the “must” is right. I believe that when the ramifications of that Howard decision were exposed – that is, the brakes it puts on credible, long term investment in the future prosperity of our country – opposition to the freeze would not be a negative.


When Howard and Beazley talk about “listening” to the people, I get scared. I think people want to be let into the “joke”, the truth that priorities must be set and hard choices made. They KNOW political parties can’t change the world, and are hostage to events beyond their control in many areas. They want to know what CAN be done, under what constraints. They no longer believe that choices in their interests are being made.


Now all this is certainly naive gibberish, and the proof is that politicians buy votes with hip pocket promises and always have, because it works. The big exception was John Hewson with Fightback, a vision statement if ever there was one. I disagreed with most of it, but its clarity and purpose was undeniable, and admirable. He lost. The second big exception was Howard in 1998 – where he won, somehow, promising the GST. The public, after decades of debate, were convinced something needed to be done about the tax system, and gave him the chance.


What worries me is that politicians keep promising they can deliver what the other can’t, don’t specify how, get trusted, let people down, and the cycle goes in in an ever tighter circle of cynicism, until politics becomes mere blood sport and its participants objects of distaste.


This is the hole I think Beazley is falling into. As I’ve said before, there is a collapse of consensus on the appropriate role of government. I’d like Kim Beazley to set out his re-envisioning of that role in detail. I’d like to read his manifesto to transform our investment in education, research and innovation. This is a time for big ideas. This is a time for strong, rigorous frameworks for priorities and action to be laid down for discussion and debate. I’m disappointed that Beazley didn’t write to the voters of Ryan outlining that framework.


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the media and political obsession was with “where’s the money coming from”. Now, the time has come for a focus on the big ideas to get us where we want to go. That focus then puts the money question where it belongs – here’s what we’ve got, what’s the best way to spend it, over time, to achieve our desired results. This focus broadens questions of individual gain or loss from a decision, and allows voters to truly judge whether short term pain is worth longer term gain, for themselves and/or their children.


The bottom line for me is that I hate the Government’s ideological imperatives, its narrow view of human nature, its corruption of democratic process, its petty intolerance and its revengeful paranoia. I want a refreshed, renewed, reinvigorated Labor to win the next election, but I see no evidence that it has thought through the lessons of its time in office, let alone imagined a new direction.


Granted I’m being tougher on Labor than the Libs. But I’ve SEEN what they offer, and its awful. I saw what Labor became in its decadent years, and that was awful too. I don’t think I’m the only voter who wants a breakthrough in the arid, dog-eat-dog, praise-yourself-for-good-news, blame-others-for-bad landscape of Australian politics. I don’t think I’m the only voter who wants some honesty and some risking taking in the national interest.


Now to DOMINIC RIORDAN in Warwickshire, who brings me down to earth with a less emotional take on the political trend.


I have been in the UK for 12 months and enjoy reading the Web Diary – a bit of a window on the mood of the electorate.


Your prediction on Ryan seems to have been pretty accurate. What’s interesting is whether it is time for the media bandwagon to tire of kicking Howard and turn, (as they did, briefly in 1996 on Howard until they realised no-one cared) and start pushing Beazley on policy.


All of this is very interesting for the media, which for its own sake would much prefer a close election and therefore habitually talks up the underdog. (MARGO: Can’t agree there. The media likes a winner – we’re a conservative lot really, and a bigger winner the better. analysis becomes much less risky. We do want regular changes of government though, for professional reasons of keeping it interesting.)


“I think it all comes down to sentiment. The sentiment for change has to be there at election time. It certainly seems to me from here that it is. And when it is there, just as in 1996, 1983 and 1975 (who can remember what Hawke and Fraser stood for?) we will elect a new government.


It seems rather a strange paradox is at work when the media carp on at how the ALP lacks policies. On the one hand virtually nobody believes in old labour ideology any more. Yet much of the criticism of Beazley seems to come down to a rather nostalgic view that, unlike his predecessors, he and the rest of the ALP do not believe in anything.


What they seem to me to believe in is what most western leftist parties believe in – social inclusion, equality of opportunity, environmental protection and good economic and administrative management. So it is with Blair, Clarke in NZ, Cretien in Canada and Jospin in France, to name a few.


From Blairite Britain, here is my punt on what Beazley is doing. First, the electorate is weary of change. So you don’t do what Hewson did, promise them something totally different, as this will allow Howard (as it did Keating) to exploit fears of change. Blair did the same, promising to the great frustration of old Labour not to depart from the Tories’ tax and spending commitments for his first two years in office.


Second, Beazley is rightly about being cautious on policy. The policy landscape is almost always determined by the sitting government. So the policy settings put forward by the opposition are usually fairly reactive. Ask yourself honestly when was an opposition actually elected on the basis of its policies? Where they matter is whether they set or build on the voters’ impressions of the opposition. So Beazley is building on the electorate’s prevailing view that he is more trustworthy on health, education and the environment, and throwing some pat solutions to the government’s big policy problems like GST and petrol.


Third, let sentiment run its course. Howard, having won in 1996 due to discontent about Keating’s ‘elites’, proceeded to accentuate the divisions his election manifested for his own cynical political ends. The social discontent that first poured out in 1996 has been constantly reinforced by the present government, with its meanness, its language of division and its general tolerance of intolerance. Howard is reaching the natural end to the cynical political journey on which he has taken us since he became PM.


What seemed to matter in 1975, 1983 and 1996, when we changed governments, was a sense that Australia was a divided nation. Howard’s greatest mistake has been to use this to buttress his political position, rather than show a bit of national leadership.


In Britain, for all of the things that just don’t seem to work (the trains, the flood defences, the food supply) the Government is held in reasonably high regard, and is seen as positive and inclusive. Sentiment is working for the government here. And if the ALP does even a half decent job of convincing the Australian electorate it is inclusive, that it will try to address some of the divisive issues that Howard has done nothing to fix, they will win handsomely.





Today, I’m wallowing in my success (or at least near success) in predicting Ryan. Please indulge me – apart from picking Beattie in Queensland before he called the poll this is my first right call in too many years reporting politics. I’m off to the outer Sydney seat of Hughes tomorrow for a marginal seat profile. Back Thursday.




Ryan does Florida. Debbie does Dallas. Mainstream politics does Australia. We all get screwed by economic fundamentalists. These people are the last hardline dogmatists, the untrue believers. Our politicians are good fighters, but does anyone want brawlers in power? Unlike our politician’s hollow words, your article is well thought out and reflects what so many of us are thinking. As for me, I’m voting Green.



CECILIA HANNON in Queensland.


I just want to say well done – if that’s appropriate – for such an accurate prediction on Ryan.


I started tuning into your thoughts on Ryan about 2-3 weeks ago and then when I saw you on LateLine 2 Fridays ago ( with Michael Duffy) I really started to take notice because at the same time I had my good mate Michael Lavarch (former Labor attorney-General, who lost the Brisbane seat of Dixon in 1996) chewing my ear off for weeks with gloom and doom about Ryan. Lavarchie is a professional pessimist.


Anyway, you and Lavarchie were spot on and I’ll only be listening to you two for the rest of the year! Bugger those polls!



MIKE BOWERS, Fairfax political photographer, in New York


Good prediction on Ryan mate, a bit of distance from the wolf pack in Canberra gives you better insight maybe? Margo, I have always believed that Australian voters in the leadup to an election will say one thing to a polster, and when comes the crunch at the ballot box I believe they feel vindicated in giving their preferred party a scare through the polls and vote the same way they always have.


When it comes down to it I feel a majority of them can’t bring themselves to change.It’s very Australian, being able to mouth off at an issue but doing little about it! I think this is why so often we get it totally wrong in the media. Remember 93???? Keating said he knew he’d win it, but you could see he was as surprised as us. Poor old Hewie.





Congratulations for being closer to the mark on Ryan than anyone else. Your reasons for going against the herd and the screaming polls made sense to me. If the herd and the polls had been right, Labor would now be sitting in Ryan with a substantial winning majority.


Clearly that is not the reality. The media gets it wrong again.


I had my doubts. My reasoning was partly like yours. I just couldn’t believe the required number of Liberals would turn to the extent the polls and the media were saying. In Web Diary today, you say that in the last two state elections and in Ryan, the media got it wrong. If I had the time and the resources, I would love to trawl through some history and show how quite a few times in the past few years this very same thing has happened.


There is the old cliche of the pollies, “the only poll which matters is the one on election day”. It may be a cliche but I now believe it.


The irritating thing is that after everyone gets it wrong, they merely brush it aside, failing to admit the error. It is brushed aside as “oh, yeah but everything changed in the last 48 hours”.


Oh really?? Is that how it works??


So on Wednesday, Newspoll predicts a Labor landslide in Ryan and by Saturday in the real poll it becomes a cliffhanger. How does this happen? Maybe the polls should be thought of as just a small tool in the overall analysis. I’d rather read Margo Kingston’s take on it!!


The polls and the headlines said in the week before the last federal election that Howard was destined for the political scrap heap. They said no one could win promising a new tax. It had not been done anywhere in the history of Western democracy. They clearly predicted a Beazley win.


Then when Howard got in with a reduced majority we were treated with the “it all changed in the past 48 hours of the campaign” line and the classic “oh but he held onto some key marginals and the swing wasn’t even”. Why wouldn’t they focus on the key marginals and why would the establishment assume an even swing over a MASSIVE and incredibly DIVERSE country?


This thing isn’t over yet. John Howard should not be underestimated.


The other key point is the “credible alternative”. Is there one? I think Kim has a lot of work to do and it will take more than joking around and a personal make over.



FIONA ROTHWELL in London on the view from there.


The drama for Australians over here will be keeping ourselves informed of the goings-on of John, Kim, Meg/Natasha and everyone else who dons a jumper for the event.


Without being able to tune in to the box each night and find out who said

what where and what was he/she wearing when he/she said it, we will be

relying on the web pages of the Australian news agencies to fill us in.


Australian politics doesn’t get much press space. Over the last month, Australia has featured only in stories where we are shown to be lesser mortals (losing the cricket, losing Don Bradman, losing the rugby). I did find an article on one reputable UK news agency web site at the time of the last Australian federal election which stated that the average turn-out rate is usually over 95%, which was “only exceeded by the mock-elections of countries under Communist rule”.


The article went on to say that Australia has compulsory voting and the penalty for failing to vote is AUD$50 (in UK currency, about 3 pence) but that Australians don’t complain about the fact that they have to vote even though doing so can be quite inconvenient. Odd thing to say I thought – suggesting perhaps that the UK wouldn’t dare impose upon its subjects to go

out of their way to vote for the country’s decision-maker.


I had never really turned my mind to the fact that Australia may be seen as some sort of communist society in making its citizens attend at voting booths and mark a few boxes.


Of the Australians I know over here, the majority are very well informed and consider it a ritual of sorts to log on to the SMH on a daily basis to get a fix of home. I have no doubt that they will cast an informed vote and debate will ensue over warmish (despite the cold weather) pints of beer in dingy pubs all over this fair city. Of the various comments I have been privy too, the problem posed was this: the regrettable thing about Howard being voted out of the top office is that ineffectual Beazley is the alternative. “What’s a good Labor voter supposed to do?” was the lament. What indeed.

Ryan does Florida

Ryan is Australia’s Florida. I’ve dredged up what I wrote about that result (The Gorey Truth – democracy’s got no clothes, Webdiary November 15).


It has to be significant that the world’s richest nation, which has grasped most of its spoils, does not know which direction to take in policy terms, or, if you see the USA election as a personality contest, is unhappy with the men thrown up by the political establishment to embody American values.


This is a core lesson of the election – that the two political parties which run America have become so detached from the people that they are unable to present them with a choice that inspires them.


If you accept that USA public opinion is at a crossroads on huge questions which will shape our future – such as whether to implement the Kyoto agreement on global warming – how does this translate to Australia?


We have a totally different political system, where the leader is chosen by his colleagues, who are chosen by the people. But my instinct is that Australian voters are as equally polarised as their American counterparts.


We don’t like the package of policies resented by either party, and we do not have confidence in either leader to represent us.


To me, that means an escalation in the splintering of the vote from the majors to minor parties and independents.


It could also mean that one of the three major parties – ALP, Liberal, National – could do something dramatic before the next election to break the sterile deadlock in public opinion by choosing a new leader with the capacity to excite and inspire.

I suppose it’s another way of saying that Australians, like voters in so many “democratic” countries, want a third way.


So what’s happened in Ryan?


First, for the third straight election this year, voters have delivered the the political and media establishment a surprise. In Western Australia, the Libs were supposed to crawl over the line. A substantial Labor win ensures. In Queensland, Labor was supposed to fall over the line. It won in a landslide. Labor was supposed to win Ryan in a landslide. It’s too close to call. Why oh why does the media keep getting it wrong? When will we address our endemic disconnect from the people? And how can we do it?


I’m confident my prediction of a Liberal win will stand up. Why did I think that? Here’s the reasoning (Don’t kick me, I’m down mate, Webdiary March 9)


Eyes straight ahead, total focus on Ryan, John Howard is unashamedly doing everything possible to win it. He’s become a Keynsian overnight, just one element of his spectacular humiliations over the last month. In my view he’ll do it.


What’s the psychology of true-blue Liberal voters of the Mosman/Toorak of Brisbane at the moment – the professional types who did the unthinkable last month in the Queensland election and voted Labor for the first time?


They made their point last month in voting Labor. They said that rather than risk the disarray of the right, they’d find refuge in the relative stability of the left. It was a vote for self-interest, their own and the State’s.


Of course federal issues played a part, but in my view State issues were paramount.


We’re heading for a byelection where Liberal voters can hardly swing to Labor in protest at an arrogant, out-of-touch government. Howard didn’t do as Keating did after the Canberra by-election shock before the 1996 election wipeout and sneer at the nappy valley dwellers upset their house prices weren’t rising.


On the contrary, Howard succumbed to his core constituency’s demands and simplified the Business Activity Statement and postponed a tightening of the taxation of trusts. He then gave back 1.5 cents a litre of petrol tax and abolished automatic indexation of the excise completely, saying, quite simply, that he was wrong to say it couldn’t be done.


This week, when it was revealed that the economy contracted substantially in the December quarter, he said sorry again, and today doubled the $7,000 grant to first homebuyers if they built their home. It’s kickstart time, and all of a sudden, it’s the people’s surplus, not the governments’.


Now it’s Labor’s turn to smirk. They’ve got everything going for them except that when you have a good look, there’s no policy or vision to latch onto. Kim Beazley said today that “the economic managers have become the economic manglers, and basically what it is all related to is the election in Ryan – this is the most expensive by-election in Australian history”. By the way, he supports the homebuyers decision.


So what does a Liberal in Ryan do? Kick a man when he’s down and begging for mercy? If so, the wreckage of the Liberals, with Howard impotent and his only viable replacement, Peter Costello, equally tainted by the GST mess, would be complete.


Is that what a Liberal voter really wants? I don’t think so.


I think Howard is playing this the right way. He will win Ryan, and when he does, he will have drawn a line under the Government’s descent into chaos. That means this longest of election campaigns will take another turn.

There are more turns to come, but I just can’t believe voters in a Liberal seat like Ryan will not want to given their party a ghost of a chance at the federal election.”


The big swing back to the Liberals in the last day or so of the campaign (the Newspoll taken Wednesday and Thursday nights had Labor roaring through Ryan with a 16 percent swing) is partly due, as I said last week, to the collapse in the dollar. Voters are scared. They don’t want to wipe Howard and the Liberals out until they’re convinced Labor has some answers. Beazley would have been better off staying out of Ryan last week for one simple reason. He had absolutely nothing new to offer. Instead he smiled and smiled and smiled, joked about how the voters would be glad when the circus left down, and made the most of the negative positives that kept raining down on him. Dollar collapse, negative growth, share market collapse etc etc. Given that Ryan had taken on the significance of a real election, mot just a byelection, for both parties, Beazley needed to get out of town or march in and make a vision speech or flesh out the principles of a big-ticket policy like education or innovation.


To me, Ryan voters kept Howard in the game, not because he’s respected or trusted, but because the alternative is offering nothing to get excited or inspired about.


Howard produced his brand of leadership in the Ryan campaign. He threw his credibility into the mix, explicitly, with that letter late in the week. Beazley, as usual, played safe. Safe is not good enough. Without positive positives, he was, as usual, an ineffectual bloke with nothing to say.



I watched a debate on the 7-30 report late last week between Tony Abbott and Wayne Swan, on Ryan. It was horrible. It was empty. It parrotted lines worked out in advance. It was dead. It was sad. I watched the new Labor national secretary Greg Sword, the man who overthrew a man of ideas who’s proved way ahead of his times, Barry Jones, in a post election interview on Network Ten yesterday morning. He said nothing. He waffled. He denied Labor had any structural problems. It was sad. It was dead.


So the game is in stalemate. A couple of weeks ago, a senior political correspondent berated me for even contemplating a Liberal win in Ryan. The swing to Labor in the State seats comprising Ryan was 16 odd percent. Sure, there were strong State factors at work, but he insisted that because Ryan was a byelection, not an election, that swing should at least hold. It didn’t.


So Howard is not finished, nor is Beazley. Stalemate is where it should be. Neither side has given us reason to believe either can do it for us, or with us.


Today, Simon Crean announced that Labor would work out the exact amount of the windfall the government gained from its initial refusal to ensure that the price of petrol not rise because of the GST, and return it to taxpayers. Think about it. Howard has given back the 1.5 cents already, so Crean is talking about the value of the money kept till then, and perhaps money gained by indexing the excise in the rise early this year. But Howard has given back much much more. He’s frozen indexation forever, carving a terrible hole in the revenue Labor needs to rebuild education, research and health. Crean’s announcement is sickening.


You can just about bet your house both parties will go for populism from now on. I’m just waiting for Howard to let the social nasties out of his backpocket, just to make sure we get even sourer than we are now, with ourselves and our politicians. Gee it would be great if someone, anyone with power in politics surprised us.


OK, it’s easy to carp. What can we do? I’d like us to build a revolutionary election web site which is fresh, constructive,innovative and (relatively) uncontrolled. I said last week I want it to be the people’s site. Let’s do it. I”m still after your ideas. Here’s an open invitation to two regular contributors who’s work makes me think. To Don Arthur, please consider writing a regular column in the lead-up to, and during the election campaign. I thought I’d call it ‘The politics of ideas”, or “Ideas in Politics”. To David Davis, I’d love a regular expats view on our campaign, maybe to lead off a section on views from abroad. For pungent media analysis, where are you Jack Robertson? I’d love a member of all the groups that make us up – in Matthew Pearce’s analysis progressives, radicals and conservatives, or in Peter Parker’s terms, social liberals, social conservatives, economic liberals and economic conservatives (see Webdiary March 9 and earlier) – to regularly comment on the political advertising we’ll start drowning in from now on. I’d love people who work in health, education, research, the money markets etc to start debating policy and directions online. Robert Lawton’s idea last week of coming up with policies for the majors is great, if ambitious. I’m still looking for marginal seat reporters. I’d like to begin a gossip site, and get titbits on politics from where you live.


Today, we’ll begin with some hard-core spleen venting, then early reaction to the Ryan result, the view from Ryan on that Bob Tucker video and Cathy Bannister,in constructive mode, advising John Howard how to play the game from now on.




1. MD


I wish some politician would “come out” and say it – the Australian public is not a clever mob; in fact we are a unsophisticated, unsuspecting, witless lot. Australians swallow and regurgitate the press headlined without digesting.


The Beazley bloc KNOW that world petrol prices have nothing whatsoever to do with Howard government policy. The KNOW that the Australian economy is largely a hostage to the US and Japanese economies. They KNOW they can’t Roll Back the GST. They KNOW they have no answer for unemployment. Yet they spew their flaky hoodwinking platitudes like snake oil salesmen for cheap instant thrills.


Labor will win, they KNOW the public is dumbed down and easily seducable. We voters insist on our inalienable right to be bamboozled by dodgy policy. And here’s a bet. Beazley will not be able to do a thing about any of these issues, unless Roll Over means he will now roll-over in his sleep.


When Beazley puts his parliamentary pension and salary on the line, IF he EVER points out a policy, and links these with the success of those unmentionables, even I will vote for him.




I’ve been wandering the streets lately thinking I’ve gone utterly crazy. I keep hearing this faint circus music wafting on the breeze, but the other day I realised what it was. It was the neurotic tunes of Carnivale Ryan, the most farcical show on Earth.


If our fearless political correspondents are to be believed, Ryan will signal the end. The end of the Libs if they lose, the end of Beazley’s leadership if the ALP lose, and we might throw in the end of civilisation for good measure. The significance of the result makes me think the Ryan electors might be a tad nervous, considering they’re being told the fate of the government, or the government-to-be, rests in the way they fill out their cards.


But let’s face it – we are at least six months away from a general federal election, and, in the event of a defeat in Ryan, you can rest assured Howard will drag his time in office out long enough to wipe the ugly stain from the electorate’s memory.


And, we’ll be honest – the electorate’s memory is poor. Take petrol excise, for example. It was reduced, the indexation gone, half a billion axed from the budget for one and a half cents a litre. And the excise issue has vanished. Now the burden is on oil companies to cut prices, on whose shoulders it rested all the time anyway.


What about BAS? Fixed. No more quicksand pits of red tape for small business. For weeks, griping about the GST was pretty much absent from the media.


It was great strategy by the government. Most proclaimed them backflips, but I thought it was smart. Remove the problems and the electorate will forget in time for the polls. So what, a bit of egg on the face at the beginning of the year. No one will remember come November.


But if everyone’s going to get angry about something, can’t we at least stay angry until the time when it actually counts? Who would have guessed the Beattie government would be returned to office during the electoral rorts affair, when it seemed his slimmest of margins would be swallowed whole by the opposition. What about Carr and the tolls? What about Menzies, given a second chance years down the track even after selling iron to Australia’s wartime enemies? What about Kennett, period?


I don’t want to see anger wasted by bad memories. If, once you’ve filtered the spin and come to the conclusion that you despise Howard and his government, or any government for that matter, don’t forget the minute you walk through the polling booth doors.





God save the Queen, but nothing will save John Howard at the next federal election. The arrogant, heartless and stupid economic rationalism will destroy the Liberal Party at the next Federal election, and they will be lucky to end up with any seats at all.


The GST was the biggest confidence trick on the ignorant electorate at the last election, but sadly the Liberals believed in their own con on the GST. The GST is more destructive than most people realise even now. It stops a lot of individuals to go onto business and to set up new small businesses ventures, that in turn stops creating more employment. Also a lot of small businesses have closed their doors since the introduction of the GST.


But what the GST did is to wipe out the so called “Cash Economy” that had billions of dollars circulating untaxed adding to lots of economic activity. Now that’s all gone and is trapped by the new “tax system”. It might be ideologically rational to tax everything that moves but not very smart from an economics point of view.




As I really don’t think either Liberal or Labour have a clue on what is right for our wonderful country I would really like to see neither win but unfortunately that is not going to be the case. Whomever wins will still try to sell our great land down the gurgler. Have a great day


5. JEFF ARNOLD, an “Aussie Biker in USA”


From a globalization point of view, Australia must be just about the best bargain on Earth; not only are we putting up everything for sale, but the falling currency is like a constantly increasing discount. Now we even give access to Ministers for a paltry $7,500 – a far cry from the $US100,000 + it costs in the United States. Perhaps this should be the new measure of our economic worth. (Margo: The $7,500 refers to the price being asked by the Liberals for players in information technology to buy a seat at the Libs policy table, as exposed in the Herald last week.)




We here in the Mountains never get the opportunity to touch Kim Beazley’s hem, to seek shade neath his shadow. Next time you’re granted an audience with him, I’d be most appreciative if you could pose the following questions on behalf of an elector who’s never voted for the Coalition in his life, but is deeply troubled about giving the nod to Labor come the

next Federal election:


1) Why should I vote to install a millionaire in the Lodge? How could such a wealthy man understand the plight of those trying to make do with $10,000 a year unemployment benefits, less than one sixth of what you get via super, let alone your wage?


(Answer: I’m not a millionaire, dadedadadah.)


2) What is your Parliamentary superannuation worth?


(Answer: I don’t know, dadedadadah.)


3) The taxpayers’ contribution is now more that $1m,

isn’t it?


(Answer: I don’t know, dadedadadah.)


4) Well, try this simple arithmetic, Kim. How many years have you been in Parliament? Okay, now multiply that by $60,000. There you go, you’re in the money, son.


(Answer: I never bothered to calculate, dadedadadah.)


5) Don’t you think it’s a bit rich for you to become a millionaire on the public purse while preaching tightened purse strings for everyone else?


(Answer: It’s out of my hands, dadedadadah.)


6) Will you guarantee here and now that you’ll change Parliamentary super contributions to bring them into line with those paid by everyone else?


(Answer: We may have a look at it, dadedadadah.)





MIRCO DRACA: Congratulations, it appears that your March 9 prediction of a Liberal win in Ryan could eventuate against the odds described by last week’s opinion polls. I just re-read that column: clear line of argument, a complex structure and totally logical. Hey, could you pick my lotto numbers for me? And christ, that Howard guy can fight.


HENRY HU: Are Aussie serious about politics? Aussies choose losers as their leaders .


BARRY SUTERS: I tried to vote but could not find my informal party.








As a Ryan voter, I was out of town earlier this week and came home to 2 letters from John Howard, one from Kim Beazley, one from Jim Soorley (Brisbane’s Labor mayor) and one hand written from a neighbour who wanted to say how nice a man Bob Tucker was. On top of that there was the usual political fliers so it was a crowded mailbox. Last week Senator John Herron sent the same letter twice, Peter Beattie sent one, and so did Bob Tucker. Talk about overkill!


I did manage to get hold of a few copies of the Tucker video which were left in a common area of my place (there was one for everyone but I figured nobody would be that interested) and decided to focus group it with my work colleagues. Personally I couldn’t get past the background muzak and the nervous to camera delivery by Bob Tucker, but others thought it was a pretty impressive package so maybe I just wasn’t the target audience.


In five minutes (it seemed longer) he talked about raising children and being on P&Cs so that gave him insight into youth, how he would fix the Moggil road problem (I don’t live on it so I didn’t understand the problem), looking after small business, families and seniors. There were photos of his wedding (in black and white – which made me wonder does he pre-date colour??), a messy office (at least that was something I could relate to), and various shots of young children, all the while accompanied to this awful Kenny G-style backing track.


Whether it was worth the effort or not, at least it was novel. It would have worked better if he put it out three months ago to raise his profile and awareness. Back then we Ryan voters didn’t have our “voter-cynic vision” installed either. By putting it out this week, along with John Howard writing two letters to you in one day, it does look a tad desperate, (disorganised?) and insincere.







Howard asks, what should he do? (Webdiary last Thursday) Here are quite serious suggestions (and none of them rude).


For God’s sake John, stop panicking! Howard’s terror is what is driving down the dollar. The market is both manic depressive and neurotic, the slightest whiff of uncertainty makes it a-flutter. The whole construct is confidence trickery, after all.


He should play down Ryan. If he can, he should try to look confident, honest, and reassuring. This means, no more promises ’till after it’s over. If he can’t get it together, he shouldn’t say anything. (It might not make things better, but it sure as hell won’t hurt.)


Simplify the GST. The BAS is a nightmare because of the exclusions. Therefore, he should drop these and compensate low income earners directly with tax breaks and benefit increases. (No, I don’t know how he’d get it through the Senate.)


Point out that “rollback” probably means more exclusions, which means an even worse administrative nightmare. Labor never had any intention of removing the GST.


Explain that after any large reform, some period of adjustment is to be expected. Drag out other countries’ post-GST figures and prove that it always is worse immediately afterwards, and it always improves five years down the track. (It does, doesn’t it John?)


Just an idea, but while he is being populist how about offering some sort of golden handshake deal to farmers to get out of unprofitable, unsustainable farms? It would solve a lot of problems in the long term, despite being way expensive.


Howard’s rhetoric and policies contradict. He’s playing to the wrong end of town. He’s trying to get low end support while the policies, at least in the popular conception, are for the top bracket. This has lost the Liberal Party support across the board.


Finally, if he wants a market survey, he should hire a consultant. He shouldn’t just do it spur of the moment on talkback! Not a good look.


Why am I stating the obvious? Because I can’t stand to see someone so patently distressed, and I hate seeing an unfair fight! Make Labor sweat for it.


Now, where’s my $7.5K? Or does it work the other way around?

Tell me what to do

Our dollar falls below $US50 cents. The Indians end our winning streak in cricket. Our sharemarket crashes. Our confidence collapses. John Howard says to a talkback caller on radio, “I am desperately upset, can I tell you, I really am very unhappy about the high price of petrol … Can you tell me what I can do?”


And he asks Kim Beazley a question which would normally be rhetorical but in present circumstances probably isn’t. “What really matters is if the Labor party has an alternative to handling the economy at the present time. Can we please hear it?”


I suppose what Labor would do really does matter now, not what the government will do. After all, Howard all but conceded defeat in Ryan in his begging letter to voters. A Labor win would “encourage Mr Beazley in his belief that he can cruise into government without policies or without ever telling the Australian people where he stands on particular issues”. So, don’t protest against me, protest against him. But maybe voters don’t want to know what Beazley would do, they just want Howard out. Maybe they think neither side has the intellect, commitment, or inspiration to bring us together and drive us forward. Maybe that’s all of our faults and not just theirs.


Tyron Pitsis is getting most upset at our plight. “I am a young(ish) Australian and I am frightened about the future. Our environment is slowly dying, the dollar is now worth less than US50 cents and foreign debt is so high now that not even John Howard drives around in his “foreign debts bus” to tell us how much we owe (even though its mainly private sector debt). However it’s not those things in particular that bother me, it is our leaders’ reaction to them. I am alarmed: does no one care? Why are politicians so quiet about it? Why is no one angry? Have we just given up? But what’s our option, a protest vote? I’d just like you to tell our “leaders”, and I can only speak for myself, they have let us down! They have created a deep feeling of confusion, loss of trust, resentment and a general feeling of what I’ll call PAD (Political Affective Disorder – A general loss of psychological well being caused by our politician’s poor leadership and gross mismanagement).”


I’m starting to wonder whether Howard could survive a defeat in Ryan. If a personal plea for forgiveness to voters in a blue-ribbon seat your party has owned for 50 years doesn’t work, if you tell voters that if they vote Labor it’s a death sentence for his government, it’s hard to see where he could go from there.


I wonder if either Beazley or Howard could have avoided the stakes getting so high in Ryan. While Labor is confident of success, a Labor person I spoke to today is desperately worried about a surprise loss. It seems its goodbye Kim or goodbye John. Ryan has become more than a byelection, alright, its become a referendum on which leader should stay and which should go.


I predicted last week that Howard would win Ryan – and regretted it ever since – but here’s my latest self-serving rationale. The fall in the dollar to under $US50 cents is just the latest bit of bad news panicking the hell out of all of us. Ryan voters could take the tack that, with everything falling apart around them, keeping Howard in the game for now would at least be a vote for stability.


Say Howard loses. The Liberals have tried populist backflips and apologies, throwing away their edge on economic credibility as a result. I know I’ve written that Howard could still set some traps for Labor via tax cuts in the budget, but after that letter I reckon there’s only two cards left to play. On the prospect of a leadership change, it would be a brave party to try Costello, and a brave Costello to take on such a poisoned chalice.


The other play would be to call an election immediately and let Howard plough right into it. That would catch Labor off guard and concentrate voter’s minds on the choice, or lack of it. It might even hold up the Liberals vote a bit because of the sheer guts of the move. So that’s my crazed prediction if my crazed prediction that Howard will hold Ryan is wrong.


On the ground in Ryan Ann Roberts has no doubt the Liberals are gone, as do most of you in the Ryan poll (478 go Labor, 145 Liberal)


Ann writes:


Anticipation mounts in Ryan.


We’re not in the most exclusive of Ryan’s suburbs. Our area is pretty average. For what seems like decades tho’ it has seemed an unassailable blue-ribbon Liberal seat. Now there is hope.


This afternoon we have been phoned by 4 polling organisations. Someone is in a frenzy. Sadly we haven’t been sent one of Mr Tucker’s videos – one has to wonder how a Ryan resident could qualify for one of them. The Courier Mail, in reporting about the videos this morning ran a rather cruel wedding photo of the Tuckers with the bride shown in a strange headdress: not a vote catcher.


I ran into a hard working high school P & C worker this afternoon who said John Moore didn’t even acknowledge invitations to a local school over the years – perhaps arrogance will reap its reward. Mr Tucker seems to have run a campaign more suited to someone running for a local council. He keeps mentioning seat belts in buses.


Anyway Saturday night can’t come soon enough – we have to take our pleasures where we can in these hard times


Tim Dunlop in Canberra goes for Howard’s jugular:


“Did you see this letter in today’s SMH? Raises a good point, don’t you think? Howard had staked his political reputation on being a good economic manager, but was willing to flush it for the sake of another shot at being PM. But one thing he has stuck with absolutely is his opposition to an apology, or really, anything like a more sympathetic response to Aboriginal disadvantage. Good to know he still has some principles.


“It’s a shame the majority of electors in Ryan aren’t Aboriginal. John Howard would have said “sorry” last week, we’d have a new flag, and the treaty would be drafted this week, ready for signing on Friday. Ryan did vote “yes” in the republic referendum, however, so we can look forward to Howard’s conversion to the cause and a new vote in 2002. I can hardly wait.” Brendan Jones, Leichhardt, March 12.


Stephen Clarke nails Howard on tax, but wait for David Davis, my REAL favourite correspondent, who wrote our first profile on Ryan in good spirit but now accuses most of us of commie tendencies.





John Howard can’t have it both ways. He refers to his party’s natural inclination toward lower taxes. At the same time he crows about his GST as being a growth tax which will secure and build revenue for spending by the States. In fact, it has been argued that with the introduction of the GST this government is the highest taxing ever. It would be more accurate to say that the Liberal Party believe in low indirect taxes (income tax, company tax) and high direct taxes on consumption (GST). To put it another way: The Liberals have a natural inclination toward lower taxes for the rich and higher taxes for the poor.





I see you have selected Don Arthur as your “favourite correspondent” (Webdiary Monday). Well that’s just lovely. In the end I shouldn’t be surprised though. Communists are probably always attracted to their own kind. Just as well people like you, Don Arthur and Phillip Adams weren’t at the wheel during the Cold War, otherwise I suspect by now we’d all be marching around in some kind of hideous goose step in the shadow of giant surreal posters of Gough Whitlam.


I thought anyway that in your scheme of things excellence should not be recognised (ie by calling one of them a favourite). Doesn’t that mean the individual is being given higher priority than the collective?


Anyway, I need to get to work. Enough of this breakfast babble.


Still, as I sit forlornly on the Number Six tram as it traverses the Rhine River in Basel this morning, I will soak up the melancholy atmosphere of this grey morning and wonder what might have been. If only I hadn’t been so strident about petrol, perhaps I could have had a shot at being Margo Kingston’s favourite correspondent.


If only. Woe is me.


PS: I am resigned to the reality of my ranking as a “lower to middle order” correspondent. Such is my lot, such is the card I have been dealt. I won’t blame anybody, I’ll just accept it.

Ryan bears’ picnic

The political hysteria of the dash to Ryan judgment day is reflected in reader contributions, from poems to pleas for us to do Beazley’s policies for him. Before we begin, have any of you Ryan dwellers seen the Liberal video letterboxed to voters or the ALP’s TV advertisements? I’d love a review, and also your final words on how Ryan is coping with the attention and who will win and why.




By Linda Petrie


If you go down to Ryan today you’re in for a big surprise,

If you visit Polls on Sat’dy you won’t believe your eyes.

For every bear there that ever there was,

Are parting their locks in a way that says,

Picnic time is over for How-ard.


Picnic time for Labor bears,

Every la-bor teddy,

Has his day.

And this is the time if ever there was,

Ted-in-the-street will have his say because,

Picnic time’s over for Howard Gov-ment.


Don’t go down to Ryan today if you don’t want to see,

No more baskets for the big-end of town,

Don’t think ’bout what Ryan ring,

No more putting the down,

The pensioners and all the services gone,

And now all the Ted-dy’s sing!

Picnic time for all out work with frown,

Just called dole blud-gers.


So now every Teddy sing!

Won’t be long till ‘conomic rash-nalists,

And union bludgeonists,

Get the boot from the fair!

Picnic time for Teddy bears,

The little teddy bears,

Who had to walk there,

‘Cause they couldn’t afford gas for the cars,

Picnic time, la, la, la, la-la, la-la, la………


Picnic time? Who’s going to pay for it, I wonder.




The election site sounds grand, particularly the advertising section (MARGO: See my plea for contributions and ideas in yesterday’s webdiary). By pure coincidence, I got to experience the Queensalnd election, which was hysterical.


Rob Borbidge’s strained voice was just embarrassing – hide behind the couch material. Beattie has changed since I was home last – I couldn’t work out if he’d turned into a Jeff Kennett pretending to care more or good ol’ Sir Joh (don’t you worry about the rorts, I’ll fix it up).


Beattie had some ripper ads. He had that meadow lea ad singer (forget his name, people love him), singing “headin’ in the right direction, livin’ in the best place on earth, headin’ in the right direction, puttin’ Queensland first”, and he had the hide on another to say “I promised jobs at the last election (5% unemployment) and I’ve delivered (Queensland has the worst unemployment rate on mainland Straya).


The ad that took the cake cleverly appeared like something the Australian Electoral Commission had produced – a how to vote card with a voiceover asking about preferences until finally saying, “Nuh, I just want to vote Labor”, with a more “authoritative” voice saying just vote one for Labor and leave the rest out.


On the other side, the Nats ad was just funny. It said you may like Peter Beattie, but look at the company he keeps – then it had a succession of pics of ,I think, Jim Elder, Mike Kaiser, and finally Bill DArcy – on their faces were stamps of fraud disgraced and PAEDOPHILE. Hardcore stuff, but people bought the meadow lea.


Any chance of finding out the ads in Ryan? I just can’t imagine the ALP winning it but the polls say I’m wrong. I did like the political switcheroos for the Ryan campaign launches – the ALP has champagne a flowing at the St Lucia Golf Links club, and the Libs drink water at the Jindalee bowls club. Go figure. I can’t. But if that’s typical of the campaign, the ALP are playing up to the electorate, and could win. Strange.


I had an attempt at the sunburnt battler piss take challenge (to spoof One Nation’s theme song, A Sunburnt Battler). After re-reading what I’d wrote, I had a frightening thought – maybe it does more to the cause than the original waffle. This was by no means the intention.


Bitter Brooding Battler


A bitta broodin battla

filled with fury is this fella

too stupid to realise the wankas

are rippin orf MacKella

his sheilas workin now

coz his dairys gone to shamble

he lights another durry

cursin those bastards from Canbra



His kids unemployed

works closed on the main street

the only thing left going

is he lives in a marginal seat

the pokies steal his savins

while pollies pays get fatta

he proudly lifts his middle finga

to the pricks that won’t back Katter



He doesn’t see his mates much more

too busy fillin out the BAS

and with stubby prices risin

they’ve left the pub en masse

and its become a total shocka

fillin the ute up with fuel

the gun stealers are just lucky

coz he could really lose his cool



He likes that red head sheila

reckons she scrubs up awright

she wont sell orf Orstraya

please explain answers any fight

he’ll march into the polling booth

in which his vote is cast

he can turn Canbra inside out

puttin the sittin memba last





Howard’s chances of getting any concrete policy statements out of Beazley are now zip. Beazley is going to do exactly what Keating did in 1993: he’s going to stand back, say nothing and let the Liberals go down in a mass of flames. As long as he keeps to attacking the government and vague policy directions, he’s home and hosed.


Labor is now in a brilliant position. Not only did the Liberals introduce it, meaning they’ll take the flack, the version of GST they brought in is such a total dog that it’s universally hated. If the next election sees Labor in with a clear majority, they tweak it so it works better and keep the revenue.




If Beazley won’t provide us with any policy before the election date is announced, why don’t you invite the CIO (Canberra Inside Out) crowd to design their own?


After all, this is a well-informed and literate group. Frankly I’m not convinced that the insiders at Labor HQ are any wiser, indeed they may well be far off our pace.


I would like to see some ideas not regularly trotted out – like “more money for universities and hospitals” – or “say sorry” – and in areas not usually covered. Communications, say, or defence.


Who needs politicians for a campaign. Let’s start without them.


MARGO: The problem is all those budget parameters. How about a 150 word vision statement?


MERRILL PYE of Pyrmont in Sydney


Say there’s a tribe of 10 survivors running on the bead economy. One has 90 beads, one has 10. Eight have 50. Total 500, average 50 each.


Disadvantaged beadie gets more for ‘social equity’. One does well in Microsphere shares & real estate speculation. Big Boy Beado gets tax cuts & company subsidies funded by cuts in support services for all, plus profits from beadstock & options rises funded by cutting wages & conditions of average little working beaders.


Now one has 225 beads, one 110 and one 15 instead of 10. But seven now have only 25. Total 525, average 52.5.


“We’re all ahead!” cries Tribal Council “Average beadcount rises!”, they crow. Meanwhile 7 of 10 are worse off beadwise & underlying support for all is less. Poorest, despite rise, is lower compared to highest. Do you wonder which is the happier group? (MARGO: Is Ryan the middle-class revolt we’ve all been waiting for?)




I don’t know why Don Arthur & other Herald readers waste their time reading Paddy Mcguinesses’s love child Imre Salusinszky. (For Don’s spoof of Imre, see yesterday’s webdiary). The guy has no original ideas & just repeats the mantra of the right while at the same time trying to be witty in an undergraduate manner by attacking anyone/thing that might have any relationship with what he classifies as the left, I mean “wet”. Don, just skip their columns. Their writing is as exciting & original as a train timetable.

Tax or vision

John Howard needs to make Kim Beazley explain himself, and fast. How about this? Yesterday, he said: “We always like to give tax relief when we can. We are a low tax party. The Labor Party is a big spend, big tax party”.


In normal circumstances, Howard would save tax cut promises for the election campaign. But we’re in one now – Howard is throwing out policy change at a great rate and all parties are campaigning furiously in Ryan. Howard can’t save up goodies because he must stabilise his plummeting support base now, then start to build.


Say he announced tax cuts in the May budget, and introduced legislation soon after. What would Labor do? Beazley is contradictory on tax. He says in one breathe that tax cuts are not on his agenda because government cash is necessary to invest in health and education. Better to bring back equity in these vital areas than cut tax and expect people to pay their health and education expenses on credit card, he says.


Yet in another breath he says Labor would prefer tax cuts through a GST rollback. Labor sources told the Herald yesterday that the Party would be forced to back any personal income tax cuts in the budget. Just like they got hoist on their own self-serving populism on petrol, and were forced to agree to an end to petrol excise indexation. That’s politics.


But what say they got brave and said no? Howard is busily wrecking any budget surplus, both to stay in power and to stymie spending initiatives by an incoming Labor government. There’s no point having big plans to invest in the knowledge nation and restore social equity if there’s no money to do it. So Howard gets his ideological way even if he loses.


Early last year, when John Anderson was acting Prime Minister, he said he believed tax cuts were no longer attractive to Australian voters, because they realised it was just some money in one pocket and more out the other to make up for reduced government services. Is he right?


It’s a brave politician who’d test the theory. A Howard tax cut would be the perfect opportunity for Beazley to finally articulate a new vision on the role of government, and to strongly differentiate himself from the Coalition, whose vision is being rejected by an increasingly large number of Australians.


Would Beazley have the guts to do it? Could we see early in this year-long campaign some genuine philosophical debate in mainstream politics? Don’t hold your breath.


To Ryan, and my prediction of a Liberal win (Webdiary Friday) is looking shakey. That’s the nice way of putting it, after the incredible 16 percent swing to Labor predicted by the latest Newspoll. I’m losing confidence in my instincts as a Queenslander – my only comfort is that if Labor does win it would be the first political contest this year in which the result was not a surprise. WA was supposed to stay conservative. Queensland was supposed to sneak in a win for Beattie, not a landslide.


Howard today is doing the heartfelt appeal thing, saying he knows Liberal voters want to send him a message, but can’t they see he’s already got it? Why don’t they send a message to Kim Beazley instead, that they expect him to announce his vision and policy platform to win it, not rely solely on negativism. It’s a unique pitch.


JOHN CROCKETT says I’m wrong on Ryan. “Since the Olympics there has been a shift in attitude towards the Conservatives.The Olympics demonstrated potential, a sense of what could be, another way of seeing ourselves and as one of your correspondents has said, this government lacks imagination. The Coalition, and for that matter Labor, have lost the capacity to address in any creative fashion who we are and how to engage with the global economy. Neo-liberalism cannot address these issues — the concept of a social compact falls outside the parameters of this rather crude ideology. The Coalition will lose government. The conservatives can take confidence in the fact that I am invariably wrong.”


TIM DUNLOP thinks I could be right. “Howard has done virtually everything voters are supposedly asking him to do. However – and this is a cruel and unusual punishment for any political leader – it might turn out to be that they dump him for that very reason. As you’ve pointed out, he’s backflipped from here to Kingdom Come on every major policy issue, trying to give people what they want, but now that they have it, they might judge him as merely opportunistic, weak and not to be trusted. The backflips risk him looking to be merely finding the most expedient way to save his own skin, not to be responding to community concerns. If they think this, he’s gone. I reckon they might give him the benefit of the doubt (they are, after all, from Ryan!). Then they’ll judge his sincerity from now until the federal election. If there are more backflips and if it becomes increasingly obvious that he’s only out to save his own skin (and he said on radio this morning something about being more determined than ever in his life to win the next election) THEN they might dump him and his party. What odds on winning Ryan now and losing it at the Federal election?”


We’re starting to plan our Election 2001 site, and a big theme will be interactivity. We’ll have a marginal seats section where we’ll put your reports and add your updates as they come in. So far, we’ve had reports on Bennelong, Mayo and Paramatta, with a promise of a report soon on the ultra-marginal northern NSW seat of Richmond, held by National Party minister Larry Anthony. I’d like many more, so if you live in a seat of interest, please consider getting involved.


I’d love to get volunteers for regular reports on political advertising, polling, and the issues that matter, including health, education and environment policy, so anyone with expertise in these areas who’d like to report for us, let me know.


What would YOU like to see on our Ballot 2001 site? All ideas gratefully received. I’d like to make our site the people’s site.


I lost most of your emails yesterday, again, so if you wrote anything you want to see in print, please resend. My apologies. My computer is now working, so I hope that’s the last glitch for a while.


Today, my favourite correspondent Don Arthur spoofs a typically crass column in the Herald by Imre Salusinszky on Monday, headlined “Your Guide to the Perfect Australian Idiot”. Ain’t it great how the hard-line rightwingers are getting increasingly hysterical as their certainties fade away? In his quotes from idiots, he includes this from me: “To me, the Liberal mantra of equality of opportunity necessitates redistribution of income because it’s only when a society can guarantee that that individual freedoms mean anything”. Merrill Pye is depressed and frustrated by the petrol excise freeze and the new homebuyers subsidy.




Once again the mighty Imre Salusinszky comes to life — standing tall and straight against the idiocy of the Australian left. Imre’s been reading a Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot — an often humorous look at the intellectual failings of Latin American populist-nationalists. It’s inspired him to tap out another devastating critique of our own flaccid, left slouching intelligentsia.


Imre fingers a number of local idiots including Margo Kingston, Hugh Mackay, Natasha Stott Despoja and whoever that idiot is who writes policy statements for the Australian Democrats. Imre lists five beliefs that are central the mindset of Australian Idiots:


1. “The market is a mechanism for grinding human dreams to dust.” I hadn’t realised this but it’s well known that the Australian Democrats plan to abolish capitalism. Hugh Mackay and Margo are, of course, fellow travellers with ‘Red Meg’ Lees and ‘Nationalising Nat’ Stott Despoja. If this lot have their way the government will nationalise Woolies and we’ll be forced to buy whatever our collectivised agricultural system feels like producing today. Look forward to bran for breakfast.


2. “Tariffs advance the interests of Australian producers against those of their foreign counterparts.” It’s not immediately obvious but Dick Smith, Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter are left wing intellectuals just like ‘Red Meg’ and Margo.


3. “Local content laws save our culture from being overrun by el gran Satàn”. Racism against our fine American friends leads to idiocy like Water Rats, Play School and that new Paul Kelly thing on the commie channel. What’s wrong with Sesame Street and re-runs of that show about the Civil War? Anyway, if kids learn to speak with a proper accent they won’t have to take expensive pronunciation lessons when they go to Hollywood. Russell and Mel must have spent a packet – it’s so unnecessary.


4. “The role of government is to abolish the gap between the rich and the poor.” Imre sorts out that pathetic bolshevik Hugh Mackay for suggesting that governments ought to spread wealth around a little bit. This kind of interference in the natural order seems to be a favourite with banana republicans. I looked up redistribution in my copy of Hayek for Dummies and it said that even a little can lead to war, famine and pestilence so I guess Imre must be right. It’s just a matter of time before it reduces the whole of western Europe to third world status.


5. “Things were better 20 years ago, before free-market economics.” It’s all Phillip Adams ever talks about isn’t it – how good things were back in the 70s. Imre says lefties grandstand on “traditional values” and oppose population growth. By doing this he cleverly unmasks the left’s pretensions to progress – they’re more reactionary than Bruce Ruxton! I’m looking forward to Margo’s column on the importance of returning to family values.


It’s a good thing Imre’s warned us about this. A lot of this nonsense is propagated by the ABC so it’s probably best to stay away from the Idiot Channel for now — at least until Jonathan Shier fixes things up. For Late Night Live listeners, however, there’s some good news. Due to popular demand Phillip has agreed to join the Liberal Party and become ‘The Right-Wing Phillip Adams’. He said so himself. (MARGO: He said so in his Saturday column in the Australian newspaper.)




Do we have anyone who cares for the future in any position of power, or is it only the ruthless, grasping & generally thoughtless who bother to obtain or can plot to get it?


On March 5th’s Webdiary you said John Howard said “…It is the people’s money, and they want it used in an intelligent fashion, particularly when we’ve retired so much debt already.” Whether justifying a previous denial of basic supports to a decent human society by producing a surplus was “wrong”, or not, this petrol excise cut is NOT using it in “an intelligent fashion”!


Jerry Schneider, professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle: “It makes me very sad to see large sums of money being spent on … dumb things instead of technologies … that hold some potential for dealing with the truly horrendous congestion, carnage and pollution that we are experiencing in all of our large and medium cities.”


The same goes for the ruddy pathetic, disgustingly short-sighted policies our government has recently been following.


I have similar feelings in relation to the new home payment. What about the idea of only getting the allowance IF assorted sustainability/low energy/recyclability/use of recycled material/water saving/&c, &c, technology was used? And a higher allowance for more such features! These are things already available, just awaiting some large-scale use. Quite a few are Australian products.


I was bitterly confirmed in my contempt for the cupidity &/or stupidity of various groups by the lost opportunities in a number of large-scale developments in the last 5 years or so. Ignorance is curable & can be forgivable; stubborn unwillingness to improve or learn is less so, particularly when the results are so damaging.

Don’t kick me: I’m down, mate

Eyes straight ahead, total focus on Ryan, John Howard is unashamedly doing everything possible to win it. He’s become a Keynsian overnight, just one element of his spectacular humiliations over the last month. In my view he’ll do it.


What’s the psychology of true-blue Liberal voters of the Mosman/Toorak of Brisbane at the moment – the professional types who did the unthinkable last month in the Queensland election and voted Labor for the first time?


They made their point last month in voting Labor. They said that rather than risk the disarray of the right, they’d find refuge in the relative stability of the left. It was a vote for self-interest, their own and the State’s.


Of course federal issues played a part, but in my view State issues were paramount.


We’re heading for a byelection where Liberal voters can hardly swing to Labor in protest at an arrogant, out-of-touch government. Howard didn’t do as Keating did after the Canberra by-election shock before the 1996 election wipeout and sneer at the nappy valley dwellers upset their house prices weren’t rising.


On the contrary, Howard succumbed to his core constituency’s demands and simplified the Business Activity Statement and postponed a tightening of the taxation of trusts. He then gave back 1.5 cents a litre of petrol tax and abolished automatic indexation of the excise completely, saying, quite simply, that he was wrong to say it couldn’t be done.


This week, when it was revealed that the economy contracted substantially in the December quarter, he said sorry again, and today doubled the $7,000 grant to first homebuyers if they built their home. It’s kickstart time, and all of a sudden, it’s the people’s surplus, not the governments’.


Now it’s Labor’s turn to smirk. They’ve got everything going for them except that when you have a good look, there’s no policy or vision to latch onto. Kim Beazley said today that “the economic managers have become the economic manglers, and basically what it is all related to is the election in Ryan – this is the most expensive by-election in Australian history”. By the way, he supports the homebuyers decision.


So what does a Liberal in Ryan do? Kick a man when he’s down and begging for mercy? If so, the wreckage of the Liberals, with Howard impotent and his only viable replacement, Peter Costello, equally tainted by the GST mess, would be complete.

Is that what a Liberal voter really wants? I don’t think so.


I think Howard is playing this the right way. He will win Ryan, and when he does, he will have drawn a line under the Government’s descent into chaos. That means this longest of election campaigns will take another turn.


There are more turns to come, but I just can’t believe voters in a Liberal seat like Ryan will not want to given their party a ghost of a chance at the federal election.


Today discussion continues on the makeup of the new politics, courtesy of Matthew Pearce and Peter ParkerDavid Davis wants to heat put on Kim Beazley and Murray Henman adds his comments on the British election to those of Evan Duffield (Webdiary Wednesday). The Australians in the UK are taking over this space; to end Fiona Rothwell, an Australian lawyer in London, writes about mad cow disease.


MATTHEW PEARCE of Macquarie University.


Regarding your question the other day about alternatives to left and right, I think we can better use the terminology of progressive (those who want some change), radical (those who want great change) and conservative (those who want no change). Furthermore, we can apply those terms to two main areas: economics and culture.


In this context, the economic rationalists of the late 1980s and early 1990s were definitely economically radical. They tried to overhaul the whole welfare state and redirect expenditure.


Similarly many of the S11 protestors could be described as economically conservative, because they deny the so-called necessity to open up national borders for trade. Certainly, regarding trade, the S11 protestors are similar to the conservative Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party.


But culturally, to make generalisations, the S11 protestors and One Nation supporters couldn’t be more different. The S11 protestors were often culturally radical, doing their best not to subscribe to society’s conventions. The One Nation party, however, would definitely appear to be culturally conservative.


Some people, such as Michael Warby of the Institute of Public Affairs, like to refer to liberal and conservative when refering to the political spectrum. But I think there is much disagreement, and has been for a couple of hundred years, over what liberal means. It’s such a contentious term that its value in public debate is pretty limited.


Regarding the two main areas of culture and economics, referring to progressives, radicals and conservatives is much more fruitful, and more relevant to today’s society, than speaking of left and right.




I agree that the old left and right classification has become less important since the collapse of communism. Both the Labor and non-Labor parties have been affected by this trend. This has been because of two factors.


The main parties of the ‘Right’ have lost their common enemy of communism. The common enemy of communism united both liberals and conservatives in the one party. Communism masked the differences between liberals and conservatives.


The main party of the ‘Left’ has suffered a loss of faith in collective solutions following (1) lack of public support for socialist solutions (2) the collapse of communism (3) consumerism and widespread material affluence (but not necessarily widespread wealth) and (4) a degree of suspicion of government (though less strong here than in the USA).


Like some others, I also see four categories:


Social Liberals

Social Conservatives

Economic Liberals

Economic Conservatives



Examples of policies favoured by each group


* Social Liberals


Strong support for multiculturalism and active encouragement of diversity

Non-judgementalism over people’s lifestyle choices

Moral relativism (except when criticising absolutism)

Support for drug decriminalisation and injecting rooms

Support for homosexual rights

Support for apology to Aborigines

Sympathetic towards ‘affirmative action’ to improve position of disadvantaged groups in society


Sympathetic to boat people refugees

Oppose censorship


* Social Conservatives


Suspicion of overt encouragement of diversity and need to maintain social cohesion

Moral absolutism clear idea of right and wrong for all

Opposition to drug decriminalisation

Opposition to homosexual rights

Opposition to apology to aborigines

Belief that aboriginal and ethnic rights should be equal rights


Less sympathetic to refugees

Support censorship


* Economic Liberals




Less government involvement in economy

Support for market forces

Labour market de-regulation to increase ‘flexibility’ for business


* Economic Conservatives


Support for national economic sovereignty


Government involvement in economy to protect national interest

Suspicion of market forces

Labour market regulation to ensure fair wages and conditions


Let’s see how prominent figures show up. John Howard: Economic Liberal, social conservative. Jeff Kennett: Economic Liberal, social liberal. Kate Carnell: Social Liberal, maybe economic liberal. Malcolm Fraser: Social Liberal, economic conservative. Gough Whitlam: ditto. Kim Beazley: Economic Conservative, social conservative. Richard Court: Economic liberal, social conservative. Peter Costello: Economic liberal, social liberal (some issues).


Of course there are imperfections in the above. For instance a feminist may be socially liberal, but support censorship of sexist pornography. Also some of the social liberals are heavily into identity politics and group rights, while some social liberals emphasise the primacy of the individual (especially those who are also economic liberal). Also I haven’t found a place for environmentalism on this spectrum. However I would suspect that many environmentalists are economic conservatives and social liberals (though serious environmentalism would have to eventually curtail the ‘right to consume’ or the right to produce’ to reduce resource depletion).


DAVID DAVIS in Switzerland


When is the media going to focus more attention on the incoming Labor government? It seems SO inevitable that they are going to take power. Shouldn’t we know what is in store for Australia once Kimbo and Co are at the wheel?


I heard that Mr Beazley now has a personal trainer. I think it is great that he has an objective to improve his health and sense of well being. No one can knock this. Then on the other hand I have this recurring image of Mr Beazley sitting at the gym in an expensive towelling bathrobe, sipping on a freshly prepared carrot juice flipping though interior decorating magazines wondering how he can add his touch to the Lodge when he moves in later in the year. That is his biggest challenge, how to redecorate the Lodge and to phsyically prepare for the office of Prime Minister. It’s such a forgone conclusion, why does he have to bother with anything else?


Meanwhile, the media and the electorate have grown weary with the smug grins of Peter Costello. OK, that’s fine, but how long will it be before they grow weary of the snarling Simon Crean? Personally, I’d rather take the grinning than the snarling.


My view: if Mr Beazley and the snarling Crean get in, they will be a one term government. After the “euphoria” of the recovery from “recession” (ie minor downturn, 25% of Keating’s recession) and the apology to the Aborigines, people will want a return to competence.


I can handle Kim Beazley in a “seems like a nice bloke” kind of way, but people need to remember they are electing an entire government. It’s not just a personality contest.


What goes on in the minds of the electorate anyway? They certainly dont care about charisma anymore. That seemed to die off with the end of Hawke and Keating. Now what is it?


Finally, the petrol price drop will be blown away by the fall in the dollar and upcoming meetings of OPEC in Vienna. Now perhaps people will get it through their thick skulls that it isn’t all about GST. The biggest causes of petrol price movements have ZERO to do with Howard. If people want to lash out, tell them to go to Vienna or New York; these places are more relevant than Canberra to petrol prices. Oh yes, but who is interested in reality? It’s far easier to spin anti-Hoared claptrap in some kind of shark-like feeding frenzy.


Ok the victim is bleeding. Now start having a go at the man in the bathrobe drinking carrot juice.




Like Evan Duffield, I would also like Labour to win a second term in the UK. But I am not convinced that they deserve one. They have not acted like a Labour government (typically introducing legislation even the Tories would hesitate at), but having lived through the Hawke-Keating era and watched Clinton’s Democrats from afar, I am too used to seeing the left betray its own to be too surprised or disillusioned at what I have seen here.


But then, maybe I’m just another member of the liberal intelligentsia – one of William Hague’s regular targets. Does this sound a bit like John Howard circa 5 years ago? He’d probably start talking about battlers if it were part of the local vernacular.


The Tories may be unpopular, but I think there are a few differences between the disaffection of them and their Australian counterparts. While John Howard may be mean-spirited, William Hague comes across as simply mad. Either that or so poll-driven as to be insensible. He has lurched from issue to issue in an effort to get noticed, moving on when he has finished appealing to whatever sectional group he is supposed to be attracting that month (yes, it’s not just the left who like minorities).


Last week, he predicted that the UK would become a foreign country if Labour won a second term. This sounds closer to the rhetoric of Pauline Hanson than that of an opposition leader. I agree that a One Nation party won’t get a start here, but that’s only because the Tories have already staked the ground.






As I sit here on a yet another cold, bleak (spring) afternoon in London, I think of you all tucked up in your beds having enjoyed an evening doing whatever it is you do in the evenings at your place. More than likely you ate dinner and may be that dinner involved eating meat of some kind. Lucky you.


What I would give for a nice big juicy steak cooked on the grill at the Duke of Gloucester in Randwick or at the Coogee Bay Hotel. The fact is, I haven’t had a steak since I left Australia in June last year.


As you know, this country is not faring well in the eating-loads-of-meat stakes at the moment. As I write, the supermarket a few doors up from my office is bare of all meat products except for some over-priced tuna steaks, salmon fillets (which will be cooked in the English way – until dry and tasteless) and some 98 per cent. fat-free shoulder ham. Any meat still available for purchase is not contaminated by the really-charming foot and mouth disease doing the rounds of England and now Europe at the moment.


The Guardian newspaper reported on 5 March of Professor Richard Lacey, the clever guy who, many years ago, claimed that BSE or mad cow disease, could possibly infect humans in the form of CJD. Few believed him and he was accused of scare-mongering. Nice one. I guess Professor Lacey wouldn’t be taking too much delight in the old pearler of “I told you so” however much he may be entitled to.


He has made the call however, for a return to smaller scale farming and states that until such practices are adopted, there will always be the risk of farming catastrophes such as this latest catastrophic one.


I genuinely feel for farmers, trying to make a living in this country, who have – or soon will have – lost their livelihood because of this. They sit and wait, praying that their stock won’t be infected and that the wind will blow the disease in the opposite direction to them and that they will be spared.


Hopes are probably slim and the daily reporting of how many new cases reported (74 farms as at 6 March) and how many beasts slaughtered (14,092 out of a total of 77,614 – 64,804 sheep, 10,894 cattle, 2003 pigs and 13 goats) is incredibly discouraging.


Now as crass as it may be to take advantage of another’s downfall, Australian farmers could do really well out of this. Some months ago, I was lamenting in an email to my father that I couldn’t magically fly in to Canberra for the day to participate in a family barbie and feed my face on steaks and prawns. He responded by gloating in his good fortune but then suggested a brilliant idea for a dot com – care packages of Australian beef or lamb sent with a slab of your favourite Australian beer. Issues of how one might get this past our intrepid Customs officers aside, my mouth was watering at the thought – how popular I would be with my friends – deprived (and looking not just a little bit pallid and sickly) of some magic Aussie meat.


In actual fact, this idea is probably not a new one and for all I know is already a thriving empire, netting some clever dick in suburban somewhere a tidy profit.


Every Australian in London worth his salt knows about the existence of the Australia Shop in Covent Garden (http://www.australiashop.co.uk/). It is where we all go to pick up our Cherry Ripes, Butter Menthols and Blackmores Eye Cream. On the list of available goodies were such essentials as Capilano Honey (a mere GBP3.90 (AUD$9.16)), Cottees cordial at AUD$4.67 and a 1 kilo tin of Milo for AUD$12.45. There was however, no meat on the menu though I daresay this shop would be the perfect opening for farmers all over Oz to try and sell their rump steaks. Furthermore, they could charge a premium because from the prices of the goods available at the Australian Shop that Australians in London, when desperate for something that reminds them of home, will quite happily pay through the nose.


There are those who that say that – in the case of BSE – the damage is done and that if you ate beef in the late eighties/early nineties then yes, you may be at risk but that English beef now is perfectly safe and don’t make the English farmers suffer by buying beef from overseas (or not eating it at all).


I accept that may be true and feel for the farmers who are up against people with attitudes like mine but I cannot help but agree with the wiser-than-was-first-thought Professor Lacey, who has not, he claims, eaten beef since 1988.


All this is not to say however that there have not been momentary lapses by me: a few months ago my flat mate in an effort to kill me for not taking the garbage out/cleaning the bathroom/taping Eastenders for her, fed me beef mince in a spag bol. At the time I thought it was lamb but was most distressed when she confirmed what animal it actually came from during an ad-break in The Bill.


I have diarised this meal and shall bring it out and present it to my lawyer if ever I start to display symptoms of v-CJD. Not so diarised is the meal I had a few weeks ago with a friend. Suffering terribly after a night out on the town and in desperate need of fatty, comforting food, a friend and I demanded beef burgers and fries, throwing caution to the wind (as

one does when full of the demon-drink).


For the amount of money I paid for this experience, an Australian farmer could put a deposit on a new John Deere or a bull. From where I stand I see a real marketing opportunity for Australian meat – get your product on our shelves before we learn to live without.