The Gillard government's sticky wicket

Like the West Indies scrappy, unorthodox batsman, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the Gillard government is not pretty to watch but has runs on the board.

Apologies at the outset for all of those non-cricket fans, but read on and you’ll see the point.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul is a West Indian test cricketer. His approach to cricket is a little unconventional and he is widely criticised because his style of batting is quirky. He is not a flamboyant entertainer in the style of a Viv Richards or the rampaging smasher Chris Gayle. Chanderpaul often scratches around at the crease prodding and poking at the outswingers, bumpers and googlies tossed down at him.

English cricket writer Simon Hughes says Chanderpaul is "small, spindly, bow-legged with a wobbly head and funny dark circles under his eyes… Chanderpaul cuts an unlikely figure as the No.1 batsman in the world".

Vineet Ramakrishnan, writing for India’s Zeenews says of Chanderpaul; "known for his unorthodox batting stance and very effective dodgy style of play he has to be one of the greatest players to play the sport in the modern era.”

Shivnarine Chanderpaul has scored 10,342 test runs at an average of 50.20. Everyone’s favourite West Indian batsman, the Master Blaster, Sir Vivian Richards, scored 8540 runs at an average effectively the same as Chanderpaul’s at 50.23. Chris Gayle, who hits the ball harder than just about any current player, has a test average of just 42.32.

Now pick the West Indies test team – Chanderpaul, Richards or Gayle? My guess would be that Chanderpaul would be lucky to register double digits, and this despite the facts that show Chanderpaul having a terrific track record.

Bring on the Gillard government. The Shivnarine-Gillard government.

On just about any economic measure, Australia is one of the greatest economy’s in the world.

This is due to a combination of many years of economic reform, decisive policy changes including during the global financial crisis, an independent Reserve Bank of Australia and a solid dose of luck with the terms of trade boom and expanding links with China.

GDP growth is strong and inflation is low. Australia has not had a recession in more than 20 years. Now that there is some form of global recovery unfolding, the fiscal consolidation is, according to the IMF, "welcome” and "tighter fiscal policy combined with an easier monetary policy stance is an appropriate policy mix".

Australia’s economy is the envy of the world. Job creation is rolling along at a steady pace and the unemployment rate is locked in at a low level, just above 5 per cent. Australian incomes are growing steadily and real wages keep increasing, which is aided by the fact that inflation is hovering near a 40-year low. The tax to GDP ratio is at its lowest rate since the 1980s and public debt is set to fall from a peak of a ridiculously low 9.6 per cent of GDP as the budget returns to surplus.

Yet the Gillard government that is helping to put these economic runs on the board is, like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, all too frequently maligned for its "bow-legged, wobbly headed” approach; or indeed its "unorthodox” style. This is uniformly seen to be a function of the government’s inability to sell this message or to get business and consumers on side with the policy changes that are helping to deliver these good economic times.

There are some who can see the successes of the government. According to Westpac’s global strategist, Russell Jones, "Australia’s enviable suite of contemporary public finance metrics and the fact that its fiscal policy is likely to retain a restrictive bias are likely to remain strong attractor points for international asset allocators".

The IMF noted: "Australia's performance since the onset of the global financial crisis has been enviable."

Even Opposition Leader Tony Abbott suggests, "On the face of this comparative performance, Australia has serious bragging rights. Compared to most developed countries, our economic circumstances are enviable".

But therein lies the Shivnarine problem for the Gillard government.

Despite a raft of good economic news, there is scant electoral support for her or her government. Even with a sharp jump in support in the last month, this morning’s Newspoll has the Coalition well ahead and still more likely than not to win the next election.

Again, this must reflect some internal communication problems from the government. An electorally popular and successful government must be able to bring the community with it.

The Gillard government is helping to deliver an economic scorecard that is probably without peer in the world today. Yet so few Australians seem either to know it or give her government credit for delivering these results.

Whatever happens politically at next year’s election, and even if you don’t like the Gillard government, you can rest assured that the economy has been well managed and is in good hands for whichever side wins in 2013.

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