The End Of An Epic

Clarke and Cook

2011: The boy wonders destined for leadership

When Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook first faced off as captains back in 2011 they were the archetypal boy generals. Taking over the top job while still in their twenties, the energetic and limber new captains cut a sharp contrast with their crusty and deteriorating predecessors.  Both men had been earmarked for the top job about thirty seconds after making their test debut and when they swiftly rose to the top position at precociously young ages it seemed we were destined to witness a rivalry so epic as to cast a shadow over all others.

Cook and Clarke have now gone head to head as test captains some fourteen times, plus a dozen or so one day encounters. Ricky Ponting did battle with Graham Smith on nine occasions, so too Mark Taylor with Michael Atherton but neither crossed that magic ten match threshold. Cook and Clarke did not merely cross it, they have well and truly demolished it. The idea now of an Ashes test under different leadership seems a little peculiar and yet, sadly before time, we are poised to experience exactly that.

The two men that shook hands at the beginning of July were markedly different from the boy wonders that crossed swords four years earlier. Out of form and under fire with talented and dynamic young deputies breathing down their necks, the pair were grimly aware of the fact that they were not merely playing for the Ashes but their own careers.

Cook and Clarke would face off for the last time under threat from popular young deputies

Cook and Clarke would face off for the last time under threat from popular young deputies

Alastair Cook was the first captain in decades to take over an English side of comparable strength to the Australians, arguably greater. Yet his record as both a batsman and a captain has disappointed, falling short of the high standards set by Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan.  For the last four years as a batsman Cook has been lacklustre and as a side England has been volatile. An Ashes loss on their home turf would likely have spelt the end of Cook’s captaincy and potentially his place in the test side.

Clarke as we well know was an ageing, underperforming batsman leading a side in continual decline.  Under his leadership Australia was meant to arrest a persistent slide in overseas campaigns that began with the retirement of the Warne, Mcgrath, Gilchrist Troika in 2007/08. Whether by strategic genius, disciplined leadership or sheer force of his own run scoring, Clarke was supposed to reverse the decline. For a fleeting moment  he appeared to be doing just that,  off the back  of his own Bradmanesque scoring he appeared to be keeping the decline at bay, but when injuries hampered his batting prowess Australia slid right back into this severe decline from the their 97-07 high water mark. The string of disappointments had stretched too far, the Australian selectors could not abide another and so Clarke had to go.

This was the spectre under which both captains greeted each other at the beginning of the series.  Unlike many other notable cricketing rivals there was no malice or acrimony in the relationship between Clarke and Cook. They have throughout their careers maintained a dignified and professional respect for the other. There were no unedifying shouting matches on the field, no potshots in the media and no accusations of bad sportsmanship. They played hard, they played to win and they did it within the spirit of cricket. It was perhaps therefore with a touch of melancholy that they shook hands with the knowledge that at the end of the series only one of them could have a future ahead of them.

The final showdown was a yo-yoing affair but this was the how it had always been between Clarke and Cook.  In 2013 England comfortably claimed  a home victory over the Australians before being humiliated six months later in a five nil whitewash in Australia. This time round, fighting for his very survival, Cook drew first blood with a convincing win at Cardiff against a respectable Australian performance.  Clarke’s Australians fought back at Lords as they were wont to do with an imperious 400 run victory and for a moment it looked as though Cook might be the one forced to deliver a resignation speech. But wimpy batting efforts from the Australians saw England seize control at tests 3 and 4 and undisciplined bowling secured Clarke’s demise. Cook will go on to lead England perhaps for another five years, the boy captain is still only thirty years of age and despite poor form with the bat still seems athletic and hungry in the field. His Ashes triumph has bought him time. Time to regain his form, time to correct his technique. His great rival has completely run out.

remebrance day

By 2015 both captains were out of time: they needed to deliver or stand aside.

When they go head to head for the last time at The Oval for their final pas de deux, Cook will be a man with a spring in his step. The weight of a thousand pressures will be lifted from his shoulders. Clarke will be, as they say, a dead man walking. He has chosen not to fight his own demise, he has pleaded guilty and stoically prepared himself for execution.

Four years ago two promising young deputies stood in for their injured captains. They stood on equal footing, relaxed, confident and optimistic.  Four years later one is a national hero, his position in the side is unquestioned, he looks as fit and healthy as a twenty year old and appears destined to enjoy a flourishing career for years to come. The other is a humbled and broken. Frustrated by injuries and a lack of success he can but wonder what might have been had his (and perhaps Ryan Harris’) back held up.

The final encounter

The final encounter

So when the two shake hands on the 20th of August savour it. Take a moment to reflect upon the rich and exciting era of Ashes cricket under Cook and Clarke: Ashton Agar’s 98 at no11 on debut, Mitchel Johnson’s 37 wicket series in Australia, Kevin Pietersen’s dramatic sacking, Steven Smith’s double century at Lords and of course Stuart Broad’s 8/ 15 at Trent Bridge. Throughout these turbulent years Cook and Clarke remained at the helm, stoic, dignified and resilient and now it is all at an end. The game will of course go on as it always has but we have never seen and may never again see two captains go through as much together as these two and even the hardest of men must be touched with sadness at this truth.

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Fixation With Turn Backs Misses The Point

Anthony Albanese votes against boat turnbacks. But Manus Island detention is fine.

Anthony Albanese votes against boat turnbacks. But Manus Island detention is fine.

Within Labor Party ranks the debate about asylum seekers can be accurately contextualized as an attempt to find the right balance of compassion and pragmatism. The same can be said for some members of the Liberal Party, but others are wholly guilty of using the plight of waterborne asylum seekers to prosecute xenophobic agenda.

Recently the Labor Party conference debated whether to rule out towing intercepted asylum seeker vessels back to Indonesia.   Successive speakers from the left faction spoke of the need to show compassion to refugees, to be fair, to treat their fellow man with basic human decency. These are all admirable sentiments but that they were employed in a debate about turning back boats highlights Australia’s fixation with this particular element of asylum seeker policy, a fixation which completely misses the point.

Turning back boats is not the harshest element of the government’s approach to asylum seekers, nor is it the most effective deterrent. It was a key plank in John Howard’s so called Pacific Solution because, prior to 2013, genuine asylum seekers who made it to Christmas Island or the Australian mainland were legally to be resettled in Australia. Intercepting the vessels and transporting the travellers either back to Indonesia, or to Nauru for offshore processing was therefore necessary in order to create a situation whereby asylum seekers would not travel to Australia by boat with an expectation of getting permanent residency once they arrived.

This is no longer the case, in 2013 the newly reinstated Rudd government, changed the rules, to use Rudd’s parlance.  From that point on, no new arrivals would be resettled in Australia, whether they were intercepted on water, at Christmas Island or on the Australian mainland. If their claims for asylum were rejected they would be returned to their country of origin. If they were accepted they would be resettled in Papua New Guinea. The promise of Australian resettlement was removed and before long the numbers of boats began to decrease. It also meant that genuine refugees were being resettled in a country that lacked the infrastructure to accommodate the dramatic increase in its immigration intake, and in which homosexuality was a crime punishable by corporal punishment.

While the Gillard government wrestled with the East Timor, Malaysia and finally Pacific MK II solutions turn backs may possibly have formed an effective deterrent. Theoretically if vessels were intercepted either to be taken back to Indonesia or a third country for processing, the promise of Australian residency would be taken off the table. Instead the Gillard government went for a “deterrence by cruelty” option. Making asylum seekers spend inordinate amounts of time in hellholes while their claims were being processed. It caused, and still causes, immeasurable suffering and trauma but the end goal of Australian residency remained and it failed as a deterrent.

As for compassion, turning back boats is not the main source of trauma or suffering, compared to detention on Manus it barely registers. None of which is to say that being on a towed boat would be anything short of horrific, but it is little worse than being on a boat that wasn’t being towed back, and unlike Manus it is a very temporary arrangement. Somewhere, somehow it has become received wisdom that Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard refused to turn back boats because it was a bridge too far, it was too cruel. In fact neither Rudd nor Gillard had any humanitarian objections to turnbacks.

In 2007 Rudd, then opposition leader, announced plans to shut down Nauru detention centre, abolish temporary protection visas and scrap detention debt for humanitarian reasons. Turnbacks remained a part of Labor’s platform. Once in government however they received advice, first from the public service and later from the Houston committee that boat turnbacks were not feasible. Their level of risk meant they failed the cost benefit analysis. Labor were concerned that asylum seekers might sabotage the vessels they were travelling on and in put the lives of Navy personnel at risk.  If the suffering of asylum seekers on towback vessels was the primary argument against it, the Rudd government would not have hesitated to continue turn backs in 2007. It was the advice from the department of immigration that it was unfeasibly dangerous without cooperation from Indonesia.

And yet while this battle rages on and the rhetoric of compassion and cruelty is doled out in enormous portions, nobody within Labor appears to be at all interested in debating the real human rights concerns: offshore processing and offshore resettlement. So what’s it all about? If the Labor left is prepared to support the continuation of Manus Island, Nauru and the so called Papua New Guinea situation  then this debate is hollow as they have already adopted the harshest components of the current government’s asylum seeker regime.

If the intention is to retain some compassionate edge over the Liberal Party while broadly accepting the principles of “deterrence by harshness”, fine, but opposing towbacks simply doesn’t achieve this. In fact in this regard the Labor Right are far more adept than the Left. Matching the Liberal policy then ramping up the size of the humanitarian intake puts some genuine space between the two major parties. Perhaps I’m missing a more cynical angle to it.

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What underpins opposition to same sex marriage?


It has been some time since I have considered myself particularly passionate about same sex marriage. Although firmly in agreement with the principle that everyone should be equal before the law, I have struggled to convince myself that exclusion from the institution of marriage is any real impediment to a rich and fulfilling life. Notwithstanding all of this I find, and have always found, the sentiment that underscores opposition to same sex marriage to be detestable.

The pleas of Archbishop Jensen not to conflate his views with bigotry are laughable, the concession made by Fran Kelly on the ABC’s Insiders program that opposition to marriage equality is not indicia of homophobia was craven. The opposition to marriage equality stems from minority yet prevalent view that homosexual intercourse is a depraved act.

The union of marriage –heterosexual or otherwise –is a thoroughly conservative, at times prudish concept.  Those bellicose opponents of same sex marriage regard extra marital sex as a selfish indulgence in lust and gratification. In their puritanical world view intimacy outside of wedlock is animalistic, degenerate and weak, a capitulation to unsanitary urges. The lifelong commitment to keep only one partner, to devote their lives to the singular partner and to enshrine the commitment in law is supposed to sanction the otherwise immoral act.

Conservative views of sexual intercourse impart marriage with immense importance. In the correct circumstance sex can be the manifestation of true love, in the wrong circumstance it is the manifestation of something vile and loathsome. When Barnaby Joyce referred to same sex marriage as decadent he was in fact referring to homosexual intercourse.  In this way marriage is supposed to transfigure something vile into something holy and beautiful, which brings us back to the homophobic quest to stop marriage being extended to same sex relations.

No reasonably minded person could be left with much doubt that Eric Abetz and those of like minds regard homosexual intimacy as something vile and immoral. They lost the legal fight to prevent it many years ago, now they are digging in to try and restrict it to what they might term “immoral contexts.”

For decades bigots have stereotyped homosexuals as promiscuous debauchers.  The last thing they want now is for same sex couples to start entering enduring, monogamous marriages that would seem to satisfy conservative ideals. And therein lies the true driver of this furious push to keep marriage equality at bay: marriage equality looms likely to destroy the most mainstream critique of homosexual lifestyles, in doing pulling back the veil to reveal the naked and irrational disgust that homophobes reserve for homosexual intercourse. And should this proxy debate be shattered and the bigotry get flushed out into the open its practitioners will become the pariahs of conservative politics, shunned in mainstream political groups as Hansonists have been for the last decade.  This fight isn’t about etymology and it definitely isn’t about protecting any pre-existing marriage, it is about preserving the last remnants of plausible deniability against the all too accurate charges of bigotry.

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Greg For PM-An Update


An unexpected by-product of Sarah Ferguson’s  The Killing Season has been to provide a little more insight into the sort of leader Greg Combet would have been had he accepted Julia Gillard’s offer as an anointed successor in 201, and gone on to defeat Kevin Rudd in the caucus ballot.


In July last year when Combet released his autobiography I latched onto a specific section of the book in which  the former secretary of the ACTU in which he discussed his ideological conflicts with his then leader Rudd and expressed dismay at Rudd’s attempts to de-unionise the government. In particular the quote  “After spending my life in the union movement, the idea that I needed to be cleansed of my union past was pretty offensive” was very illuminating as to where Combet stood in comparison to Rudd, and  why Gillard may have perceived him to be a suitable successor.


Whereas Kevin Rudd led a movement to rebrand the Labor party as a broad church housing a diverse range of centre left philosophies, Combet still believes the labour movement deserves ownership over Australia’s oldest political party. This was a perspective Julia Gillard seemed to share. In February 2013 Gillard addressed the Australian Workers Union  in a speech  that was going to be rebroadcast on all the major news bulletins that evening. In her address Gillard proudly declared

 I come here to this union’s gathering as a Labor leader.

I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party.

I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party.

I’m not the leader of a party even called the socialist democratic party.

I’m a leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from.



The speech electrified the faithful at the AWU and thousands of moderate Australian voters watching it on their televisions recoiled uneasily and started contemplating whether the Liberal Party might be a more accommodating house for them.  In the minds of Gillard and Combet if the election could be framed as a contest over industrial relations, and if the Labor party could articulate its position effectively than this was a winning formula but in the real world elections can’t be restricted to singular issues and Labor came off once again as obsessed with IR at the expense of other issues like debt and deficit and cost of living.


In 2012/13 we could have been forgiven for thinking that Gillard was the worst offender in terms of wrapping herself around labour issues and neglecting others but in The Killing Season Gillard comes across as positively Third Way compared to her grizzling anointed successor. Combet was one of two people interviewed who seemed convincingly bothered by Rudd’s challenge to Kim Beazley in 2006, the other was understandably Jenny Macklin who lost her place as deputy leader.


But in Combet’s mind Howard had just put industrial relations at the centre of the election through his Workchoices legislation and Beazley had responded with a 1950’s textbook response. It was gearing up as a good old fashioned election to be contextualized as a contest between the businesses and the workers and Howard had overstepped badly with Workchoices. Then Rudd intervened. Eschewing the crude narrative of bosses versus workers, Rudd sensed his moment, scaled back the ideological rhetoric and launched a scattergun attack on the Howard-Beazley axis that enabled him to transcend the old political divide. Upping the ante on a raft of secondary issues including climate change, education, broadband and reconciliation Rudd capitalised on the public’s lack of enthusiasm for the old paradigm. When it became apparent that public opinion was demanding the Labor caucus install Rudd, Combet was understandably shocked out of his comfort zone. For ten years he had yearned for another Labor government, now on the eve of a likely Labor victory the rules were changed and instead he got an anti-politics social democrat who hadn’t done his dues.

For 10 months the ACTU and the Rudd led Labor  Party ran a bizarrely two pronged campaign against Howard. For the first time in living memory the rhetoric of the labour movement was completely out of synch with the rhetoric of the Labor party. The ACTU ran a heavy handed negative campaign oriented around Workchoices, Rudd ran a highly positive campaign, presenting a broad and optimistic vision for the nation’s future.  As Barrie Cassidy, another creepy crawly of the Labor apparatus, noted in 2010, the party had been stolen, it’s apparatus used to get elected an outsider.


We can glean from these glimpses into Combet’s mindset that a Combet leadership in 2013 would have been electorally disastrous. An obsessive focus on industrial relations and attempts to recreate fears of a Workchoices strawman that nobody believed would have dominated the campaign and debt and deficit  would have lied neglected in the corner. The party faithful would have been engaged, the volunteers out en masse come election day but the swinging voters disillusioned and sent scuttling into the safe embrace of the opposition. It was for the best that Greg bowed out when he did. If he hung around, only more misery awaited him.


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Online Threats

I’m fortunate enough to have only received an online threats once, or rather received a couple of threats but within a very narrow space of time about the same subject.

The occasion was the death of author and professional atheist Christopher Hitchens in 2011. Being an impertinent kind of guy I wrote on my twitter account “My thoughts & prayers are with Christopher Hitchens and his family at this difficult time”, accompanied by the relevant hashtag. In an odd way I thought the departed Hitchens would probably enjoy the sneering wit, but maybe not. I actually knew very little about the man.

Regardless of what the Hitch may or may not have thought, his disciples were incensed by this quip. The comment was retweeted once, than twice, within an hour it had more than fifty retweets and as is now recorded in the classics, retweets do not necessarily translate to endorsemens.

The responses began to flow in, most of them to inform me that I was not funny (probably true) a small few to inform that I was in fact funny (probably false) and a dozen or so to inform me that I would soon to be joining the Hitch in that great kingdom in the sky.

Practically all the threats came from the United Kingdom or the United States, there were none that suggested that they would track me down or anything to that effect. They were mostly “If I ever see your fucking face you better watch out I will fuck you up.” Others would call me a piece of shit and warned me to watch my back etc.

And so it went. From the safety of Australia I found these emotional and aggressive threats from these self-anointed intellectual rationalists to be amusing and enjoyable. In fact the whole experience was tremendously fun. A perverse part of me looks forward to the day Dawkins dies to see if I can arouse the same kind of hostility. Somehow I doubt it. I think I got lucky in catching the retweet wave.

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When Christine Milne assumed the leadership of The Greens from Bob Brown she did so amidst a wave of unwelcome speculation about her party’s short term future. From start to finish pundits wanted her head on a silver plate, not out of any detestation for her but out of a desire to write about another Greek tragedy like that which befell the Australian Democrats. They never got their Greek tragedy, they never got their head on a plate. Yesterday Christine left on her own terms, her party intact, the doomsayers flummoxed.


Much was made of the media’s role in damaging Julia Gillard politically but till the bitter end she enjoyed a loud and passionate cheer squad headed up by Anne Summers. Milne never had an Anne Summers. For three years every development concerning The Greens was distorted by the fifth estate to signify that a catastrophe was on the horizon for the hapless Milne. When it looked as though the Greens might lose their West Australian senate seat at the last election this was supposed to signify a disaster for Milne. When, a month later, Scott Ludlam romped home in the Senate re-election, this too was cited as evidence that Milne’s leadership was facing an imminent crisis.


But the crisis never came. The narrative of the inept, second leader falling dismally short of her predecessor’s impossibly high standards never got beyond the prologue. For three years the crisis was just a day away, three years on it still hasn’t arrived.


In part credit for Milne’s success rests with her parliamentary party. For all the innuendo about Sarah Hanson-Young’s ambition, the parliamentarians who served under Milne showed her a decency of which major party leaders could only dream. For The Greens did suffer setbacks under Milne, too many to count. But whereas the major parties would have turned on their leaders after such setbacks, The Greens, even Hanson-Young, set their teeth and placed their trust in Milne. A trust, in time, which she repaid.


Yet for all the decency of her parliamentary colleagues it was Milne who had to go out day after day to hear her own doom prophesized as loudly in the progressive media as it was in the conservative media. The natural ebb and flow of the electoral cycle was being proffered as proof of her ineptitude. She was simultaneously charged with losing touch with The Greens core values while sabotaging Julia Gillard’s leadership with her extreme demands. They probably thought the relentless barrage would break her. What fools they were. This was the same woman who was once dubbed “mother of teenage sodomy” by a former federal minister within Tasmanian parliament, sneering was never going to finish her off. The savagery of the hung parliament finished many towering figures of Australian politics, the vision of Tony Windsor choking back tears as he declared “I don’t want to be in three years time,” spoke succinctly to the mental and emotional toll the environment was taking on these political practitioners. Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Stephen Smith, Simon Crean, Bob Brown, Rob Oakshott, Nick Minchin and Windsor all called it quits during this vicious period in Australian politics but Milne fought on.


Throughout all the setbacks, despite unfriendly voices bellowing advice to change course, Milne remained true to her party’s core principles of grassroots democracy, ecological sustainability, social justice and nonviolence.  And eventually the setbacks became fewer, Gillard loyalists stopped blaming Milne for their hero’s shortcomings and the electoral tide began to move back in The Greens favour. A decent showing in the Victorian elections and a barnstorming performance in NSW coupled with federal polling hovering around the 12 percent mark seemed to suggest a rosy future for The Greens under Milne.


Had she stayed on until 2016 she would likely have matched Brown’s 2010 performance and joined him as equally the most successful minor party leader in Australian history. But those accolades were never what Milne was after. She’d guided a parliamentary party of young, promising Greens through a challenging time and didn’t need to be around to reap the rewards. She guided her anointed successor into the leadership so that he might build on her efforts in the longer term. And with that she was gone, on the eve of what could have been her tour de force she had stepped aside, not with tears or a stiff upper lip, but with a broad smile and a hug. A commentariat hoping for an unedifying leadership fracas resorted to soviet innuendo to try and inject scandal into this harmonious  transition but there simply wasn’t anything scandalous.


And that was the way of it. The party that was meant to disintegrate under Milne’s leadership marches on in a stronger position than when she first took over. They stand alone, the only party seemingly prepared for what the next federal election will bring. All the early signs suggest that for The Greens it will bring rewards, and Christine Milne won’t hang around to enjoy them. She doesn’t need to.

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The Policy Cracks In Abbott’s Fiscal Narrative

Since coming to power the Abbott government has broken a slate of election commitments in the name of fiscal restraint and economic sustainability. Having made specific promises to keep the funding for nearly all of Labor’s major spending projects, while simultaneously promising to reduce total government expenditure, the newly elected government found itself confronted with a Sophie’s choice of core promises and chose to sacrifice the former.


Oppositions making and then governments breaking contradictory and unkeepable promises is a ritualistic fixture of the Australian electoral cycle.  Since the demise of the Whitlam government, dying government have pumped the electorate with fiscally unsustainable goodies in desperate, last ditch attempts to cling on for another three years. Opposition leaders equally desperate to preserve their tenuous lead in the polls engage in the politics of “me-too” and we reach a bipartisan consensus to tax nothing and fund everything.


Then the new government arrives with huge reserves of political capital, no election in site and a budget groaning under the weight of election sweeteners and they sensibly begin to trim back the fat. Sectional interest groups who had pinned enormous hopes on the anticipated cash splash howl with rage; but most voters soon acclimatize to the policy change, and in the long term the government receives plaudits for its so called fiscal restraint.


But the integrity of such an approach is predicated on the expectation that the least purposeful spending is the first to go, and that the government will apply the so called efficiency dividends with some semblance of consistency. Since its inception, the Abbott government has been guilty of two highly questionable cash splashes which have grossly undermined its cuts to health, education and welfare benefits.


The first was the 16 million dollar bailout of the Cadbury Factory in Tasmania. The new government boasted that businesses would have to stand on their own two feet and refused to bailout flagging companies SPC and Holden. For a right of centre government, refusing to subsidise private businesses incapable of turning a net profit would seem to be altogether consistent with their philosophical agenda. Alas then why did they bail out a flagging chocolate factory in Tasmania while offering little explanation other than “Tasmanians are special,”? Paradoxically Cadbury have since refused to meet the conditions of the government grant and the 16 million has returned to the Treasury. Sadly for the government this latest development was scantly reported while the initial announcement received saturation coverage.


Secondly If the Abbott government is to credibly claim that it is governing with fiscal restraint, it needs to rescind its carbon tax compensation measures. It was pragmatic of  Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to promise to retain the carbon tax compensation, such was the level of political debate in 2013 that a promise to wind back any social services payment would have been hysterically seized upon and distorted into evidence of an attempt to dismantle Medicare or some such.


Once the Liberal Party won government and set in train procedures to remove the carbon tax however, the newly elected government should have correctly identified the compensation scheme as an instance of wasteful government expenditure and removed it from their policy platform.


In the case of such pointless expenditure there could be no outcry. If it were removed in a swift surgical slash the electorate would quickly acclimatise to the change, and if the opposition attempted to block the cut they would expose themselves to levels of ridicule comparable to those surrounding the knighthood of Prince Phillip.


It would also have a devastating impact on Labor’s economic credentials. Shorten’s consistent opposition to Abbott government cuts is relatively effective in the context of trying to shield the less fortunate from social and economic devastation but this could not be said of 15 billion dollar compensation package for a tax that no longer existed. To make this claim would fit snugly into the conservative narrative of Labor as profligate spenders with no notions of thrift of frugality.


And yet the government squibbed this freest of free kicks and instead looked to such sacred cows as health, education and the old age pension to find budget savings. In doing this they are perceived as defunding essential government services all the while leaving an altogether pointless one untouched.


Perhaps current health, education and pension levels of funding aren’t sustainable in the long term and a path back to surplus necessarily involves cuts to these services. There is some scope to make this argument but only if it is clearly represented as a last resort. The electorate will only countenance the defunding of these services if it believes that every non-essential source of government expenditure has been dealt with first. And so long as these fiscal elephant remains in the room the government will continue to be selling a mixed and confused message which voters will understandably greet with a great deal of scepticism.

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