If it’s stupidity you want, welcome to the party

Herald Sun: If it’s stupidity you want, welcome to the party. Tom Elliot. 15 August 2014.

Clive Palmer is a politician who loves nothing more than chucking verbal hand grenades to see, post-explosion, where the pieces fall. Picture: Gary Ramage

Somethings in public life people make spur-of-the-moment decisions that in hindsight appear silly. Tony Abbott’s wink during an ABC radio call from a mature-age phone sex worker is a forgivable example of that.

At other times, though, individuals in the spotlight say and do things that defy logic and the imagination. What goes through their minds at such times? And why do they persist in digging ever deeper holes for themselves? Here are the dumbest recent ideas in politics:

A couple of days ago Treasurer Joe Hockey attempted to justify his increased tax on fuel by claiming that the “… poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far…”. What was he thinking? Even cursory research on the topic suggests that low-wage earners live further out than most, own relatively inefficient cars and, due to lack of public transport, are generally forced to drive to work. How could more expensive petrol not hit such people directly in the hip pocket?

Wealthier drivers might spend more in total on fuel (as Mr Hockey claims), but as a proportion of income petrol is a far more significant expense for those toward the bottom end of the income scale.

The same logic (or lack thereof) can be applied to the Government’s much unloved $7 GP co-payment proposal. This fee will be hardly noticed by the wealthy, yet could become a real imposition on the poor. Not one of the major players in the federal Senate has indicated any support for what appears to voters as an assault on Medicare’s universality.

Yet both Mr Hockey and Health Minister Peter Dutton keep flogging this dead horse.

At what point does their persistence give way to major reputational damage? As former treasurer Peter Costello advised this week, sometimes it’s better to admit defeat and move on.

Clive Palmer is a politician who loves nothing more than chucking verbal hand grenades to see, post-explosion, where the pieces fall. His latest idea is to split Queensland in two so hardworking folk of the sparsely populated north aren’t exploited by the cruel “socialists” (to misquote the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen) of the Brisbane-centric south. Has Mr Palmer been affected by the sun up there? He professes to be a fan of smaller government and letting people live their own lives. Just how does this sit with the creation of yet another state parliament for the inhabitants of far north Queensland?

The Victorian Labor Party is not immune to such moments of madness.

Its campaign to win the upcoming state election began this week with a new TV ad designed to humanise its leader — a man who for 20 months I have known as Daniel Andrews. Except now he’s morphed into the spin doctor inspired “Dan”.

I sort of get the trend towards abbreviated first names. After all, Jeffrey Kennett was always “Jeff”, Edward Baillieu is better known as “Ted” and even Anthony Abbott hardly ever uses the long form of “Tony”. But in recent years Mr Andrews has always been Daniel.

Why change it now?

Perhaps he hasn’t considered the cost of changing all his office stationery and signage.

This list of silly political decisions could go on forever.

On a far more serious note, the Prime Minister has refused to rule out sending combat forces back into Iraq. While halting the murderous advance of IS is undoubtedly a good idea from a humanitarian perspective, the wasted decade US-led armies spent there between 2003 and 2012 suggests that returning would be a terrible mistake.

UNFORTUNATELY, different groups of people in that part of the world seem intent on wiping each other out. The only thing they seem to hate more than each other is Western troops sent in to impose democracy. We would be insane to risk more Australian lives on an obviously failed cause.

Finally, a major battleground on which the Victorian election will be fought is the $8 billion East West Link project. Dr Napthine’s Government loves the idea, while Labor rejects it on the basis that the money would be better spent on a cross-city rail tunnel.

Leaving aside my personal views on the Link (I think it makes sense to join the Eastern Freeway with the Tullamarine one), any project this big demands a publicly scrutinised business case before large sums of money are committed. Yet for reasons no one outside the state Cabinet understands, access to the business case (which does exist) is blocked by spurious Freedom of Information rules.

How is that a smart idea? If the numbers surrounding the East West Link stack up, the Government should shout them from the rooftops. If, however, the road doesn’t make financial sense, the project should be shelved. But to push ahead while maintaining ill-advised secrecy? That’s politically dumb. Should we be surprised?

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