There’s Never Been A More Exciting Time To Run a Country – Our Charles Foster Turnbull is lost

(Originally on Ausvotes 2016 – new title suggestion from @patstokes)

It’s been a strange couple of weeks for Malcolm Turnbull, with many things changing and unravelling about “his” government.  The suave, leather jacket wearing Point Piper sophisticate seems to have already forgotten why it is he was made leader and what his job is as Prime Minister.   The shifts and back peddling by Turnbull are clear to see – and are being catalogued by cartoonist Dave Pope with his sharp eye for details.  With this week’s acquiescence to the homophobic wing of his party in allowing an inquiry into the Safe Schools program, Pope posits that Turnbull is allowing himself to be bullied by the homophobes in order to keep his job as Principal.IMG_4176.JPG

A bit different to the Pope image from a couple of weeks before, where Turnbull was the sophisticate getting ready to make the switch to election mode, though still tied to Riverview’s old boy combo, Abbott and Joyce.

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The most telling cartoon from Pope for me this year is the one where Turnbull is handcuffed to Joyce whilst driving the Abbott car – it’s both amusing and chilling, with the “boot full of asylum babies” line.

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If we’re talking characters, though, overall Turnbull can be seen as being more like Charles Foster Kane from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.  Turnbull himself is a vastly talented person who has flitted from place to place, able to achieve any number of things. Kane may have inherited his fortune, unlike Turnbull, who made his own – but Kane could have gone anywhere, done anything, but he chose to focus on building up a broken down newspaper, because it would be “fun to run a newspaper”.  He did so partially in order to fight for the disenfranchised and underprivileged, because, as he puts it, he can because he has money and power.  Our own C.F. Kane, though, has created his own feckless catchphrase – “there’s never been a more exciting time to run a country” would be more accurate.

Turnbull seems to have decided, like Kane, that it would be fun to run a country.  And he fought his way to do so, continually sniping in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways at the previous incumbent throughout his time as leader, chiefly by presenting himself as the leader of moderate thinking. One such way was being a leader in the marriage equality issue, suggesting a private members’ bill introducing the change, which saw him come into conflict with Bernardi and others.  Another was his continual support for action on climate change, which included him being a passionate advocate for scientists who would address climate change, as opposed to the “climate change is crap” stance of his predecessor.  These stances from the outer made him the popular figure who continually topped opinion polls.  The sensible moderate who should be leading the country instead of the clown who was.  The Man of Principles.

Unlike Kane, though, Turnbull doesn’t seem to have written them down and have them published – only to be reminded of them later.  Turnbull’s principles all seem to be evaporating in a very short time.  He supports the ineffective Direct Action policy, the ridiculously expensive (and pointless) Marriage Equality Plebiscite is going ahead. This week, it is reprehensible that, unlike old Malcolm, he isn’t speaking out against the kind of comments being made by the likes of  George Christensen accusing the Safe Schools Coalition of “grooming” children.  Instead, he is making meaningless comments about people “needing to be careful“.  The squibbing on this necessary discipline is highlighted by Cathy Wilcox’s outstanding cartoon, which highlights why Turnbull should be speaking as he used to.

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It is, as Jacqueline Maley has said, as if Turnbull is becoming the “incredible shrinking man“.

Another aspect of Citizen Kane is when Kane runs for election and loses.

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He is, like Turnbull, charismatic and charming.  We never really find out, however, why he runs, except for vague promises to help the underprivileged.  He doesn’t really seem to know why he’s running for political office.  He does it for the same reason he wants to run a newspaper – it would be fun and he may get the chance to help people.  His old friend Leland, however, points out how patronising his rich man paternalism is in one of the best scenes in the film.

The problem with Turnbull is that it’s rapidly becoming clear that he doesn’t seem to quite know what he needs to do, now he’s Prime Minister.  He is letting people like Bernardi, Christensen and Abetz run rings around him.  We expect him to give them looks like this –

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But he doesn’t. He hasn’t been able to stop the Onion Man from staying in parliament, doing his sniping not sniping act.   In terms of showing they actually believe in something, Labor has well and truly got the jump on him with their Negative Gearing policy.  They have snookered him in terms of showing they have ideas about how to both address first home owner house purchasing and the revenue loss currently occurring with the tax break (I outline my reflections on their policy as someone who uses negative gearing here).  His response was to become nothing more than a confused 2 Dollar shop scaremongerer about the issue, diving into his weakest persona, Retail Politician. As pointed out here, his “opposition to Labor’s plan is full of contradictions and has been made on the run for political purposes rather than sound policy judgements”. This is because, like Kane, Turnbull is playing at being a politician, rather than truly believing in what he’s doing.  He needs to remember, however, what it was that got him into the chair in the first place, his popularity as a moderate. He is running the risk of spurning those who supported his rise. These supporters must be increasingly thinking they are doing this whilst giving their support:

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Turnbull himself needs to get some passion into his politics. He needs to stop acting like a feckless wealthy patrician hobbyist and have some idea of the principles he may have had at some stage in his life. Or maybe he never really had them.

Postscript – There’s been some discussion about this analogy. In it, Jed Leland is Chris Kenny, a close confidant who is now drifting his own way. Rosebud is maybe the Republic…

Negative Gearing – Why Boomers and Gen X Need to Let It Go

There’s been a great deal of chatter about negative gearing in the wake of the new ALP policy in relation to the tax break.  It’s a brave thing for the ALP to take on a policy instrument that is essentially middle class welfare, making it easier for those with some means to get into Australia’s wildly over inflated housing market.  But it’s a necessary move, in order to address a gross generational inequality and help out the Australian construction and steel making industries.

In terms of the issue of negative gearing, I am part of the audience being pitched to by both major parties. I am someone who uses negative gearing.  As I wrote in my post about selling my old flat, I have, for the first time, bought somewhere purely as an investment.  I also – completely by chance – have fallen into the pattern that the ALP want investors to follow, as in purchasing a new property.  Hence I will be able to take advantage of the taxable reduction afforded by depreciation on that new property, as well as other benefits that will come with the reduction of my taxable income.  Reflecting on the process of buying the new property, I can see the advantages of Labor’s plan to have people being encouraged to buy new housing stock and making it available to tenants – as well as keeping the other benefits of negative gearing.

Where the problem is negative gearing, however, is that there’s something questionable with the current system where people are encouraged to buy existing properties, rent them out until they accumulate in value, sell, and gain a 50% discount on the Capital Gains Tax made on the property.  It’s a pretty sweet, low risk deal, especially if the rental yields are low and you can reduce personal income tax to well below Scott Morrison’s magic $80,000 figure.   From my personal experience, it encourages the type of investor frenzy caused by the selling of Preston Towers.

My old flat in South Penrith should be the type of place that would be perfect for first home owners. It’s 30 years old, with no depreciation potential. It’s close to shops, schools and public transport.  It’s also small, in the middle of an area filled with apartment blocks of varying ages and should be cheap, as it was for me as a first home owner in 2009.  I did ask my real estate agent during the process the type of people who would be buying the property – I was thinking of the tenants, who had taken great care of the property, but were also of Indian heritage, which may have made finding another property in Penrith difficult (I remember being asked when I was renting out the property whether “it was ok that they were Indian”).  It was made very clear to me early on that only investors would be in the market for it, as only they had the means necessary for an offer battle.

So it came to pass. On the day of the first open home, there were multiple offers, and at prices I could barely believe. The “winner” was a baby boomer investor using superannuation proceeds.  So that small flat will continue to be a rental, out of reach to first home owners, as will any other property in that area.  There will be negative gearing, as the price that was paid cannot be covered by the rent for that area for some time.  Under the current system, whenever the market goes up again in the same way it did between 2013 – 2015, the investor will sell, pocket the half of the gap with the discount and move onto somewhere else, denying even more first home owners a chance for a foot in the door.  With the ALP system, the owner will be forced to be very sure that he is ready to shift his investment to new housing stock, with its reduction of the CGT discount.  Or he will just hang onto the current place under the grandfathering provisions and be happy with the rental returns and reduction in taxable income – one day still being able to pocket the CGT discount.

For this kind of problem to occur in Penrith, its should show us that negative gearing policy change is a generational shift that should occur.  It’s wrong that baby boomers are able to swoop in and deny Gen Y first home owners chances to buy their first home.  There will be ridiculous scare campaigns directed at boomers and Gen X middle class voters, such as Malcolm Turnbull’s “Middle Class People, Your House Value Will Drop!!!!!”  Even if that happens, that would be a good outcome for younger generations wanting to buy. It is difficult to see, however, with the grandfathering provisions for the people currently using negative gearing, how prices would drop dramatically. It would be hard to see why people who own investment property would panic sell before the changes come, risking a dropped value in their properties.  The shift might be more gradual, however, as people investing in property will have to consider how to do their investing in the future.

Another criticism of the plan will state that may also be a bit of an increase in value in new developments, but that will also be interesting to see – there’s a great deal of building going on around the country which will need investors and it’s difficult to envisage a huge battle between investors driving up prices artificially.  This way, channelling investor cash towards new property will have the impact of helping to grow working class jobs in construction and steel, rather than just helping to artificially driving up prices on existing properties.

There’s more qualified people than me to be looking at such things, using graphs and data.  This is just one taxpayer’s questioning of funnelling possible taxation receipts into the pockets of wealthy property owners from the Baby Boomer and Generation X just willing to get more low risk cash. Meanwhile, the younger generation wait while such people count their tax breaks and advantages.

Trollentine’s Day – An Antidote to Commercialised Romance

Valentine’s Day. It’s everywhere, it creeps into conversations, it dominates TV, shopping centres. It also inspires Google searches like this

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Yes, it’s such a central part of our culture that people think it could be a public holiday.  But this is not a post going into the history of Valentine’s Day, whether he is a Saint, all that we already know (except – Valentinus means worthy, strong, powerful, which brings with a whole lot of ideas of what Valentine’s Day actually means in terms of shows of power).

I have had a strong dislike of Valentine’s Day for most of my life.  I remember it vividly as a time when I never received a Valentine’s Day rose / message at high school. Then later, I remember the pressure from society that it was the socially expected time to shower my first wife with gifts / chocolates / flowers / booking at an expensive restaurant.  So then all the flower sellers, chocolate manufacturers, courier companies, restaurants all benefit as people (usually men) attempt to outdo each other with their expensive, sanctioned public shows of affection.  As we were pretty much on a financial abyss throughout our marriage, we just ignored the whole farrago.

My feeling then was the same as it is now.  This madness needs to stop.  Apart from anything else, it emphasises to all of those without a “Valentine” that they are alone. The secret Valentine thing is also weird and vaguely creepy.

So, this is the proposal – people should celebrate Trollentines Day.  Find a loved one and give her / him a present that is guaranteed to drive them up the wall – in a fun way.  Then, sling the money you save to Sweetheart Day – an initiative designed to research children’ heart disease.

Fortunately, my second wife, Claire, is also as unimpressed by the Corporate Affection Time as I, so we have started this tradition. That is, we buy for each other the most inappropriate present we can dream up for each other.  The present we know the other person will never want or use.  As in, deliberately trolling each other (teasing, provoking, whatever else you want to call this in an age where the term “troll” is used indiscriminately by various media outlets).  Last year, Claire bought me a DVD copy of 20,000 Days On Earth, the self indulgent Nick Cave project (though for me, saying “self indulgent” and “Nick Cave” is just tautology).  I bought her a Kardashian leopard print bag. Pretty much everything Claire is not.

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This year, we are pushing out the concept to be playing and showing things that the other person really doesn’t like.  I’m tossing up the possibility of putting on some back issues of the Matty Johns Show, playing Nickelback or reading out excerpts of the future autobiography of Barnaby Joyce, My Life with Alpacas (though, that might be entertaining). For Claire, that could mean any number of things – though having us both drink VB would be trolling herself, which is not part of the deal.  We are also going to eat lunch at a restaurant we would not normally consider the ideal venue for a romantic Valentine’s Day meal. One idea for us was the restaurant that helps define what actually is Western Sydney

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Or maybe Rashay’s family restaurant, that uniquely Western Sydney franchise (with which we can do a similar line to the Red Rooster line), where every steak meal is served with the same mushroom sauce.  Great for families (especially ones that like mushroom sauce), but not a place one would normally associate with Valentine’s.

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Trollentines Day is tricky to do, to an extent. You need to know exactly what irritates your partner, but not in a serious way, but more in a light hearted way.  So, TV, movies, music and the like.  It’s actually also surprisingly romantic – a good troll means you really need to know your partner. (And in our case, the restaurant location has had to be a mutually agreed thing.)

But honestly, the day can be whatever you make of it – it’s meant to be a bit of fun, highlighting just how absurd it is that society believes that Romance has to occur on an appointed time and with the appropriate spending of money.