THE LAST GASP: Digging a hole in China

This week the Opposition Leader throws a brick at China, Wayne Swan lays into the realists and Julia Gillard learns about compromise.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s new, every week. This week, Abbott gets caught up in Chinese whispers, Swan takes a swig from the half-full glass and Gillard makes a unique kind of compromise.

They terk arr jeeerbs

In a stroke of pure economic genius, Liberal leader Tony Abbott used news of China’s biggest foreign investment acquisition this week to tell an audience in Beijing that he wasn’t too keen on current levels of Chinese foreign investment. Abbott said any future Coalition government would increase scrutiny on Chinese state-owned companies seeking to control businesses in Australia. Which is a great idea, as it’s well known that everyone in Australia hates money. The comments were slammed by the ALP, among others, which suggested that existing Foreign Investment Review Board guidelines were adequate. Liberal sources said the reaction was harsh, and it was not as if Abbott spends all of his time constructing policy aimed at keeping things out of the country. Treasurer Wayne Swan said the speech was a sign that the Coalition was now letting everybody’s favourite Senator Barnaby Joyce write its foreign investment policy. The opposition reportedly denied the claims, insisting that Joyce is a well known illiterate.

He’s from Barcelona

State Liberal premiers rushed to clarify Abbott’s comments, including Western Australia’s Colin Barnett, who went as far as to distance himself from the claims. It was an understandable move, given that roughly 80 per cent of all state-owned firm investment in China occurs in WA. There’s no doubt a special kind of rage from the premier reserved for the man who would put that kind of money at risk. Barnett told media that he was yet to discuss the issue with Abbott, which was unnecessary, as his comments make it perfectly clear the guy has little idea what is going on.

Good News Swans

The ALP had another dig at the press this week, when Swan accused the media of being doomsayers and ignoring the good news of Australia’s economic prosperity. Clearly, he’d much rather everybody ignored the bad news, and for that matter, anything the opposition or anybody else says about the government that isn’t glowing. Which sounds fair. His intentions are honest though, and it’s unlikely that the ALP would attempt to control the media outright. That just sounds ridiculous.

You can’t say that on the internet

The Labor Party’s quest to place further regulation on the media this week took an interesting turn, when Julia Gillard wrote to a suite of media bosses offering a hand of compromise. It was an odd compromise, the kind where one party suggests something, gets completely lambasted for it, then comes back later with a different idea and calls it a compromise. So, not really a compromise at all. Gillard’s plan is to offer the sector a system of tougher self-regulation, as opposed to a new statutory body to handle complaints and tighten limits on industry ownership. As part of her compromise, the PM reportedly sympathised with publishers of print media, noting that their time in the sun was similarly limited.

Sharing the love

It wasn’t just the media industry that the PM annoyed this week – all the state premiers got a chance, too. The latest Council of Australian Governments meeting was held in Canberra, and went exactly how one would expect, given the existing level of federal and state relations. The main battle focused on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and it was not the success the ALP was hoping for. Labor-run South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT signed up, while the rest sat out. At face value, it’s a pretty good result for Labor, as a 37.5 per cent record is still better than the party’s current primary vote.

Two speed oil

Caltex cut a highly-debated amount of jobs this week, but the one thing everyone did agree on was that it was a lot. The crude refiner closed its Kurnell plant in Sydney, after a year-long review of the operations, which did not fall in favour of the site’s staff. Elsewhere, the collapse of a Qantas joint venture has led to another 160 job cuts in Victoria. The Prime Minister has denied the job cuts are signs of a struggling economy, maintaining that Australia is a fantastic economic environment. Expect for all the job cuts. Adding to the company's woes, Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes has accused Caltex of duplicity over the decision. Experts have reportedly questioned how anybody could lie to Howes, given that from all of his public appearances he seems like such a nice guy.

Who would have guessed

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner believes the Bank of England knew about lenders in the country rigging Libor as far back as four years ago, on account of him telling them that lenders in the country were rigging Libor around about four years ago. Geithner made ‘detailed recommendations’ to the British central bank about the breaches and what action they should take. The claims cast the ECB in a bad light, but such decisions are understandable, given how successfully the ‘close your eyes and hope it goes away’ tactic has worked for the financial sector over the past five years.

Quick misses

– Queensland MP Andrew Cripps has warned licensed shooters in the state that it is unsafe to use products containing explosives for target practice. The warning was confined to those in Queensland, probably because everywhere else such a thing is considered common sense.

– The Climate Institute has again defended the under-fire carbon tax, releasing a study that described voter dislike for the levy as ‘knee-jerk’. The report allegedly named Tony Abbott’s practice of blaming everything bad on the tax as a contributing factor.

– And finally, Julia Gillard moved out of the lodge this week to make way for renovations on the historic building. Liberal sources reportedly said the PM was glad to get a practice run in before the election next year.