THE LAST GASP: Best left unsaid

Swan rambles on rates, David Murray warns the future is bleak and Alan Jones puts his foot in it.

The Last Gasp is a wary take on the week’s biggest stories, every week. This week, Wayne Swan rates himself, the High Court binds itself in knots and Alan Jones becomes the first ever talkback radio host to make controversial comments.

Losing interest

Never one to shy from kudos when it’s available, Wayne Swan put his hand up after the Reserve Bank of Australia made a surprise cut to the official cash rate this week, claiming it was the federal government’s budget policies that had got the decision over the line. It’s a particularly optimistic attitude to have, especially given the bank itself said the decision was based on a softened outlook for the global economy. The central bank lowered interest rates by 25 basis points to 3.25 per cent, and warned on growth in Europe, the United States and China, while making no mention of any Labor policies. In the hours following the rates decision, Swan slipped into his regular post-cut groove, making it clear to Australia’s big banks that the federal government would accept nothing less than an equal move. It’s a stance that has terrified banks in the past, forcing them to ignore the Treasurer and do whatever they've wanted. Swan’s claims were supported by the official RBA statement, which said Australian banks were having no difficulty meeting funding costs, an excuse they have used to dodge the rate rise bullets in the past, while the ACCI said it believed the funding costs debate was dead and buried. ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of Queensland then each held back some of the cut, citing funding pressures, in what is not the first time the Australian banking industry has turned to dark arts like necromancy for a dollar.

Future imperfect

Europe was in the news again when former Future Fund head David Murray warned Australia could end up in the same economic boat as the struggling continent unless it cut back on public welfare entitlements. The stance got support from opposition leader Tony Abbot, which led Swan to claim the opposition leader had reached record lows of economic recklessness. Coalition sources rejected the claims, noting they were sure Abbott had said worse than that at some point.

The Alan Jonestown massacre

There’s something to be said about a man who makes jokes at the expense of those still grieving over the loss of loved one. Much of which is unprintable. Shock jock Alan Jones heard a lot of those things and more this week, after he not-so-classily quipped at what he thought was a private dinner that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father, who passed away in September, had had ‘died of shame’ due to his daughter's political ‘lies’. Jones said he was surprised by the outcry that followed the offhand remark, and condemned the significant outpour of ‘hatred and anger’ that followed it in both social and traditional media. The broadcaster is rumoured to have said such mediums were not the right forum for that kind of crass commentary – the correct place was at Liberal Club dinners, where no one important could hear you and the only thing likely to blow up was the room, in laughter.

Check again

A chunk of commentary that flowed in the immediate aftermath of the story suggested that not even the Liberal Party would be willing to back Jones in the wake of the gaffe. It turned out they could. Coalition MP Christopher Pyne claimed that no one outside of political circles gave a hoot about the Jones saga, and urged the federal government to stop its persistent condemnation of the quip and concentrate on everyday issues. Which would be a reasonable observation, had 80,000 people not already signed an online petition calling for advertisers to desert Jones’ radio show – which they then did, in droves. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd even weighed in, accusing Jones of suffering from delusions of grandeur, in an interview where it is alleged he demanded the journalist address him as "former Prime Minister Rudd”.

Some habits are hard to break

Twiggy Forrest had a win this week when the High Court of Australia ruled, for some reason, that it was OK to call agreements ‘binding’ as long as companies have some intentions to, at some point, go ahead with whatever it is they think sounds like a good idea, if it comes off. So pretty much any occasion, it would seem, that contradicts the meaning of the word ‘binding’. Fund managers have called the decision absurd and warned it will endanger small, uneducated investors. Fortescue deputy chairman Herb Elliot said the case, which had been pursued by ASIC for years, had been an expensive distraction, before leaving the court in his sports car.

A tough call

National Australia Bank is on a high, after a customer satisfaction survey rated the lender the best out of Australia’s big four banks. Despite the win, smaller lenders still came in well ahead of the larger corporations. Respondents said the results were fair, but that the survey was a bit like trying to rank all the fillings you’ve ever had at the dentist.

Quick misses

– Kevin Rudd has admitted to media that the government’s performance has improved in recent weeks. Little else came out of the doorstop as he spent the whole time speaking through gritted teeth.

– Independent MP Tony Windsor believes Tony Abbott’s chances of leading the coalition to the federal election next year are now just 50/50. He reportedly offered these odds to fellow independent Andrew Wilkie, who then ran from the room crying.

– A leaked Labor contact list this week showed a large amount of MP advisors have limited experience in their areas of work, which comes as an absolute shock given the MPs they work for always appear to be ultimate professionals.

– Former PM John Howard has urged Australia to maximise its links between both China and the United States, claiming there no need to choose between the two. It’s a logical position, he said, given that when they inevitably blow each other up it won’t matter which side we’re on anyway.

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