The Adelaide Advertiser normally loves Nick Xenophon. He is good copy. He loves a cunning stunt of the photographic opportunity kind. He is the anti-politician politician who puts the pop in populist.
But his decision to vote down the government’s popular – albeit wrong-headed – stimulus package caused the daily to wield the axe as they had never done before against the former plaintiff lawyer.
They put as much pressure as they could on the Senator. And we suspect it was much effective than anything any Government minister could have done or said. Showing all the limitations of populism, the Senator whose principal ideology is being loved caved rather more quickly than he probably should have.
He would have done very well indeed to make the government wait.
To force a bigger debate on this huge spending package that may well be better off being delivered next year when the full impact of looming Chinese economic collapse could be felt here.
To make the Government make good on its pledge to govern with a little less partisanship and working together with the Opposition on tackling the local implications of the global financial crisis.
So far its mistakes have included dishing out $10 billion to pensioners, many of whom either saved much more of it than Treasury boffins presumed or blew it on the pokies in one of the biggest extravaganzas for the gambling industry outside the Spring Carnival.
Those mistakes can be avoided through greater scrutiny, more debate, genuine discussion.
Nick Xenophon could have ensured that. Or at least fought for it.
Instead, despite complaining and whining, Xenophon and the Family First’s Senator Fielding “folded like a deck-chair” to use one journalist’s expression this morning.
And that’s not a partisan political point in favour of the Libs either. By supporting the government’s package, Xenophon has let Turnbull’s Opposition off very lightly.
The government has made its case for the package well. We don’t like it but we’re harder to please than most. Turnbull hasn’t made a clear case for anything, other than he’d spend, but perhaps not quite as much.
The truth is that many of the factors contributing to a looming economic slowdown will not be easily fixed. The capital strike engaged in by the credit committees of most banks will not be influenced by government cash splashes other than possibly negatively. The bursting of the Chinese bubble won’t be changed by it either. Our passionate love affair with imports. Our refusal to save other than through compulsory, employer funded superannuation. Our pre-occupation with property speculation. Government regulators more concerned with cracking cartels than helping create big Australian businesses that can take on the world. We have plenty of problems a budget stimulus plan won’t fix.
Labor reminds us constantly that the real human cost of economic crisis is jobs. They know they’re on a political winner when they do. They would do well to remember though that the way sustainable jobs are created is through a strong private sector that is allowed to bloom.
Too much government activity seems designed to slow down and restrict business from doing just that. Environmentalists are growing in power not just in our parliaments but throughout government bureaucracies too. We tax payrolls, we tax employers to provide for superannuation, we make employing people very, very expensive.
A jobs focused government worth its salt would consider all that very carefully.
It’s a shame Nick Xenophon was so easily swayed. There is much more work to do if we are to escape the doom and gloom that seems to have so thoroughly infected the United States.