We bought you fair and square

Hot custard pie is still dribbling off the faces of Tony Abbott, Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey. They offered Andrew Wilkie $1 billion (a sum he himself apparently asked for) and they were rejected. Rejected! Oh the injustice. Clearly bribery isn’t having quite the anticipated effect.

Regardless of what you think of Andrew Wilkie’s honey pot style of negotiation, it did at least tell us a bit about the Liberals’ style of negotiation. Quite simply, the Liberals were more desperate; more willing to give in to arbitrary demands. I have no idea how much money was actually appropriate. The Liberals’ offer may well have been better for Wilkie’s local constituents, but it probably wasn’t better for the country.

Hockey and Robb are outraged, but they only have themselves to blame. The $1 billion was their offer, irrespective of who first suggested it. Wilkie himself pointed out the obvious recklessness, especially when combined with the Liberals’ newly-revealed $7-$11 billion worth of “assumptions” that Treasury inexplicably doesn’t quite have a handle on.

If Andrew Robb honestly believes now that $1 billion to fix Hobart Hospital is a “wise investment”, as he told AM, why wasn’t it proposed during the campaign? Why wasn’t it proposed before the Liberals’ suddenly needed the support of one Tasmanian independent? I’m sure that Wilkie could easily have made a convincing argument for fixing the hospital, but if there really is $1 billion to spend, perhaps we should consider all the potential projects it could fund.

The Liberals’ ran their entire campaign (except, of course, for the incoherent ravings about “the boats”) on fiscal/budgetary responsibility. I didn’t buy into it at the time, and now – more than ever – it looks like a complete charade. It looks like they were prepared to promise anything to anyone, merely to get into power.

In the end, Wilkie’s negotiating style may also pay off simply by breaking precedent (or even setting a new one). If negotiation with independents is needed again in future, the major parties may be a little more hesitant about how much money they throw to special interests.

The Liberal war

Costello is quitting politics, Wilson Tuckey isn’t quitting politics, Peter Dutton (the shadow health minister) has had politics quit on him. Turnbull is the voice of (relative) sanity in the Liberal Party, but not many – either in the Party or in the wider population – seem inclined to listen to it.

Some seem to be in the market for a new messiah in Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott, to save them from the horror of endorsing an emissions trading scheme and thus actually doing something constructive for humanity. Perish the thought that the Liberal leadership should be driving at such things. Better bulldoze them aside and continue squabbling over interest rates before anything useful happens. I’m not convinved that Hockey would be any more popular or politically savvy than Turnbull, and Abbott I think would be a disaster.

On a somewhat different track, Howard isn’t giving up the ideological game either. On motives for victory in Afghanistan, from an ABC article:

What we’ve got to ask ourselves is, what is the consequence of failure in Afghanistan? And that would be an enormous blow to American prestige, it would greatly embolden the terrorist cause.

This is predictable Howard rhetoric, and it gives some insight into his mindset. He actually does see American “prestige” as a commodity worth fighting for. Not freedom, democracy, security or any other desirable facet of society, but image, and not even the image of the country of which he was the second-longest serving prime minister. This is a war, not a beauty contest. There are real people dying out there – how many innocent lives is one country’s “prestige” worth?

I think there is probably a grain of truth in the idea that a withdrawal from Afghanistan could be used in Al Qaeda propaganda, but an “enormous blow”? Since Obama came to office, the world hasn’t seen America in quite the same slight belligerent light. Of course, Obama hasn’t actually done that much yet (a rather premature Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding), but even so he has helped redefine America’s image. I think that people throughout the world are probably far less inclined now to view the US as a conquering power. Consequently, there is less propaganda value in a US defeat as there would be if the hawks were still running things.

I actually happen to agree that, on balance, the Afghan War is an important one to win, but my argument has more to do with the prospect of the Taliban condemning society (especially women) to live in the dark ages. Yes, it’s certainly true that Western military might cannot solve all the world’s problems, and in many situations can be a problem in itself. However, it would be encouraging if we could solve just this one, to help Afghan society back from the precipice.

The problem with that argument, from Howard’s general nationalistic-conservative point of view, is that it’s not our society hovering above the precipice. To argue this case might be to admit that human rights and civil liberties are worth fighting for. If we start saying things like that, where does it end?

The hardliners of the Liberal Party might ask themselves why the election is worth winning. For the prestige of the Party?