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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

an inflation nail in Lib's coffin « Previous | |Next »
October 24, 2007

Recall the RBA's oft expressed fears that the Australian economy was being pressured by greater than expected price pressures. This was fear was based on their judgement that the economy was operating at full capacity constraint---strong employment levels, strong economic growth and rising investment levels. Yesterday, in an op-ed in the Canberra Times, Peter Martin informed us what the release of today’s inflation figure would mean:

If the quarterly trimmed mean comes in at 1.0 per cent, an interest rate hike in November is certain. If it comes in at 0.9 per cent a hike is highly likely. Only a rate of 0.7 per cent or less will calm the board, and there are few signs of one.

He said that trimmed means discarding those prices that have moved up the most and those that have moved up the least, examining only the middle 70 per cent. As their movements are unlikely to be unusual so they represent underlying trends.

Well the figures are out. The headline CPI rose 0.7 per cent in the September quarter, for an annual rate of 1.9 per cent. The so-call trimmed mean CPI rose 0.9 per cent in the quarter, for an annual growth rate of 2.9 per cent.The weighted median CPI rose 1.0 per cent in the September quarter, with an annual rise of 3.1 per cent.

Bill Leak

Expect to see the Treasurer and the Prime Minister latch onto headline CPI because it will seem to show that inflation is safely within the Reserve Bank's target band of 2 to 3 per cent. They will seize on this raft to argue that there is no case for raising interest rates in the next month.

However, the real question is whether price inflation of the trimmed mean CPI would persuade the Reserve to act to raise rates? The answer is yes. The underlying inflation is above expectations, and bumping hard up against the 3 per cent trigger for Reserve Bank action. Glenn Stevens, the RBA Governor, has assured us that the political cycle is no longer a consideration. Stevens told the House of Representatives Economics Committee in August in response to a question from ALP member, Craig Emerson, about an election campaign rate rise:

If it is clear that something needs to be done, I do not know what explanation we could offer the Australian public for not doing it, regardless of when the election might be due. I do not think that there is any case for the Reserve Bank board to cease doing its work for a month, in the month that the election is going to be. I doubt very much that members of the public would regard that as appropriate. So, should that data, or other data for that matter, make a clear case, I feel we have no choice; nor should we have any choice.

So a rate rise will probably be announced by the RBA the day after the Melbourne Cup. That places Howard and Costello on the ropes. The panic deepens. Can they still argue that the Coalition are the better economic managers? Will there be a number of rate rises?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:33 PM | | Comments (23)


The Coalition's demoralised candidates in the marginal seats--- eg., witness the sad face of Kym Richardson, MP for Kingston on the national news ---- must be on the verge of depression. Will the big bribes for pensioners, self-funded retirees, carers and those on disability support pension get them on the front foot?

I kept on thinking of those on disability support pension and how the Howard Government has been kicking them in the shins for the past three years.

How do you spin that?

Will they do it Gary, or will they not? I gather we're about to find out just how independent the RBA really is.

My comfort zone is the shallow end of politics, the pop culture of the worm and sundry shiny things. Costello and Swan are apparently going to debate next Tuesday (with worm). What options are available for them, both claiming to be responsible economic managers and both backing policy which, if I understand correctly, are likely to have an undesirable impact on interest rates?

the inflation red zone changes the atmospherics of the campaign. There's a gun pointing at Howard+Costello and there's a finger on the trigger. Just watch the media. They sense that Howard's political capital now looks to have run out. The media is motivated by mood swings as well as ideology and blind ambition.

the politics of inflation will not help to close the gap in the polls. The odds on the Coalition returning to office got worse. The promise of low interest rates has come back to haunt John Howard. The most optimistic hope for the Coalition right now is that it wins in a photo finish, with a wafer-thin majority.

Will the Coalition be able to persuade votes that rising inflationary pressures and increased interest rates show that we voters need the strong experienced leadership by Costello + Howard to help us get through tricky times?

In the Sydney Morning Herald Peter Hartcher points the finger of irresponsibility at both political parties:

Howard and Rudd are pledging to add extra fuel to the inflationary explosion. Let's be clear - they are increasing the odds this boom will end in a bust.

How dumb do they think the electorate is? Answer: pretty dumb. The leaders of both parties are talking economic responsibility while they busily pursue economic populism.
They are enticing us to the ballot box, trying to mesmerise us with a fistful of dollars, in the full knowledge that those very dollars will threaten the economy once the election has passed.
John Howard and Kevin Rudd are frantically packing in more gunpowder.


I notice the word 'recession' is getting bandied about. Is this the big scare we've all been waiting for?

Recession + WorkChoices = big pain for workers. Can Rudd sell that message?

Kym Richardson gave me one of those rare moments of pure delight voters get during an election campaign.
I forget which tv station, but when they were at the old folks home, Howard finished one of his raves and after a moment Richardson leaned forward, put his hand up covering his mouth to solemnly intone something into beloved leader's ear. Howard sudenly jerked back into life like a marionette, bubbling away about "the team this" and "the TEAM that" and I wondered if Howard operates off of replaceable Dura-cells with a hidden switch flicked by whoever operates him.
Sort of stuff we don't usually get to witness.

Costello + Howard have to do something really scary to avoid a rise in interest rates almost certainly ending the their chances of another term at the helm. The nexus between interest rate rises and not being re-elected has to be weakened. But what tactical options do they have to break that nexus; to turn things round?

No doubt that good ole sinking feeling is deepening and spreading amongst Coalition backbenches and becoming pessimism. Expect more hot air and spin.

In such a situation attack is the best form of defence. Go for the jugular ---weasels ripped my flesh stuff.

The ALP has to play this new situation carefully---talk about fiscal restraint, economic responsibility, ring the alarm on inflation, paint Howard and Costello as porkbarelling spendthrifts, bring monetary and fiscal policy into line so they work together etc etc. New leadership =constraint.

The ALP needs to put its money where its mouth is.

I can smell the death of the Howard Government from Victor Harbor. No doubt the voices scaring us about a big bad recession to spook the electorate will becoming increasingly shrill, as the Howard Government remains on the defensive on its supposed cast iron strength--economic management.

Time for a change plus you cannot trust Howard on interest rates. It's a pincer movement in the electorate. What's more Rudd looks nice. An attractive brand as it were.

The night of the Liberal long knives where treachery walks with a smile on his face is approaching . The 'weasels will rip each others flesh' as Gary so delicately puts it.

Richardson was probably reminding Howard that, despite Howard saying it was golden days for oldies, the market surveys were saying that the political shoppers are switching political brands. Rudd is their man now.

However, the Coalition will still control the Senate after July 1 next year and it will block ALP legislation.

I was so terribly disappointed with Howard's trip through Adelaide. He was here for two days and there wasn't much pork on offer. What's the point of making SA the Defence State full of happy oldies playing pokies if Adelaide has little water?

Since Howard is not going to fix the River Murray problem the minimum he could do is buy us a desalinisation plant; fund more treatment plants to recycle water, increase the subsidies for solar cells on our rooftops and increase the tariff the companies pay for the energy we produce being fed into the national grid.

We deserve nothing less. It would also be a good way to successfully defend Christopher Pyne's seat of Sturt. Howard looked tight fisted as he said nothing about the backlog in health, aged care and education. He has to lift his game.

your comment "the inflation red zone changes the atmospherics of the campaign. There's a gun pointing at Howard+Costello and there's a finger on the trigger."

It's game, set, match for another interest rate rise in November.

Peter S,
its a paradox isn't it. The modern economic (monetary) technique for keeping inflation down is the tight squeeze: deliberately slow economic growth, toss people out of work and push unemployment higher.

Shouldn't we be questioning this strangling technique, even if it carved in stone as a natural law?


"Weasels ripped my flesh" I should have recognised that without the link. Bad me.

Yes, you're right. "It will be harder with us, but Armageddon with Labor" is about all they can do. Keating gave a great response to the unions/inflation equation at Greg Combet's launch today. It's a shame they can't wheel him out for the occasion, but Labor could at least nick a few of his lines.

I'd argue the ALP needs to use the imagination it's shown all year instead of letting the Liberals define economic restraint. Maybe some gentle reminders of the pre-election advertising spend?

On the subject of that sinking feeling, there's quite a bit of speculation about that the betting odds (I'm not good at gambling lingo) are less than reliable because a decent wad of party money has gone to the bookies in the interests of boosting morale. Talk about desperation.


I think one of the big problems for the Liberals recession spook lies in your observation on 'shrill'. They've done faux outrage to death. They never smile. Avuncular Joe Hockey is their happiest asset, but he'd look more at home in the ALP than knocking around with the likes of living dead Ruddock.

Have you ever seen anything cleverer than Labor's pre-emptive 'mother of all scare campaigns' line? Whoever came up with that is worth their weight in gold. Or Downer's weight, whichever is the greatest.

re your comment:

Avuncular Joe Hockey is their happiest asset, but he'd look more at home in the ALP than knocking around with the likes of living dead Ruddock.

How apt. George A. Romero's classic The Night of the Living Dead ---zombies feeding off the flesh of their victims. Horror can be found in ordinary, unexceptional political situations.

Bob Hawke had a great line on John Howard:

He's had so many conversions on the road to Damascus if he's going round the marginal electorates handing out money for roads he ought to make a contribution to the government of Syria to repave the road to Damascus because he's worn it out.

Quote of the day?


Acknowledging bias, Labor walk all over the Liberals when it comes to funny. Keating was at it again yesterday.

That's one of the disappointing things about Rudd. So far, unless you find mixed metaphors amusing, he's just not funny.

Here's a giggle for you:

re your commentRecession + WorkChoices = big pain for workers. Can Rudd sell that message?

Maybe. Will we have a recession in the immediate future though?

At the moment Howard and Costello are delivering thinly veiled warnings to the Reserve Bank Governor about raising interest rates. Their browbeating is putting the government on a collision course with the RBA.

I see that Costello is doing doomsday rhetoric ----predicting a “huge tsunami” will engulf financial markets, the US economy is going down, China will weaken, Australia will fall into recession, and the ALP will destoy everything. It's Armageddon if Labor wins the election.

The huge tsunami will be caused by the US economy weakening in the wake of its subprime mortgage meltdown, and the breakneck pace of Chinese growth not continuing.At some stage, likely to coincide with a move to a floating exchange rate, the Chinese economy would unleash even greater instability on global markets than the US had. A floating Chinese currency could see investment capital that has poured from China into US reverse direction, producing a traumatic realignment of currency markets.That will set off a huge tsunami that will go through world financial markets."

A frequently asked question during the lead up to the 2007 Election is "Are we heading in the right direction?" The answer must always be prefaced with the words "from whose point of view? We have been going in the wrong direction but appear to be about to take a desirable change of direction. It's all about balance and that balance is missing from our society today. The last ten years have been governed in a way that focuses on maximising profits at the expense of living in a just and balanced society. Economic indicators indicate increasing success is rarely balanced nor analysed against corresponding social indicators. There is a growing proportion, some 11.1%, that's 2.2 million of Australians live in relative poverty. Poverty is the single most significant overall determinant of health. Our strong economy is killing Australians.
Marriage break down is high, domestic violence is a major problem, substance abuse, particularly alcohol, is high,we have a range of eating disorders, social exclusions in our communities, high rates of crime and many other indicators that show something is drastically wrong with our society.
A recent statement by The Evatt Foundation about Economic inequality in Australia sums it up . It is based on the work by Merrill Lynch and data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In the last twelve months the number of people who have over $1 million worth of assets has increased by 10%. Between 2004 and 2006 the top 10% of households raised their income by $139 a week while people at the other end of the spectrum only got an average increase of $24 a week.
ABS show that the "owners " of business are receiving an increasing percentage of the profits and wage earners a declining percentage. The wage earners are also working longer hours and many are working broken shifts that further disrupt family and social lives.
Excessive profit motive is destroying our society and our environment. An examination of the available written material about the Policies of the two major parties clearly shows the Liberals will continue their present direction of "maximising profit" while Labor has a blend of managing and advancing the economy while ensuring that this is balanced by developing a fair and just society.

Yes liberty to make money has been given greater priority than equality though redistribution of tax income. The market provides opportunity and jobs but it is unequal. The rewards to the CEO's of corporations is an example of that.

Well said, Gratton.
Nan, Mia handshin is a thinking person's alternative to whiney Pyne, the Eternal eastern suburbs Preppy who escaped from Tom Brown's Schooldays by fagging to Monitor undergrad Downer. Such a spree!
Unfortunately, the protraits hidden in the cellar age by in a most unattractive way by the hour, so would almost even give up seeing Howard ousted to see Handshin in. Well, maybe not that.
Turnbull would be a fair swap though, since only a few years in politics already have his reputation tatty, anyway.