THE LAST GASP: The brave and the told

Labor sends one of its unknown lambs to the slaughter, the MRRT continues to get hammered and Commonwealth Bank defends another huge profit.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s biggest news, every week. This week, Labor sends out the big guns to talk tough on the MRRT, Commonwealth Bank shows how much the financial industry is hurting with another bazillion dollar profit and it’s hard for even us to take Kevin Rudd seriously anymore.

I’m a chicken hawk, I am

Labor felt so tough this week that it sent little known MP Graham Perrett to tell the world how tough it was. The influential Perret stood in front of reporters in Canberra and dared the mining industry to ‘bring it on’, the same day the sector launched an advertising campaign warning the government not to make any changes to its MRRT, echoing the campaign in 2010 which some attribute to the downfall of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Perrett defended the MRRT completely, going as far as to say that the structure of the levy was perfect. This is completely correct, save for one crucial design flaw, according to Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson, which means the whole thing raises very little actual tax. But hey, it’s very possible Labor has lowered its standards for success lately.

The comments followed a wave of opposition to and condemnation of the tax, and speculation the government would rush to change it to save the already failed federal budget. Later in the week, Julia Gillard stepped up and put an end to the talk, assuring the public that no changes would occur under her watch. And of course not, really; the PM is nobody’s fool. We all saw what happened to the last Labor leader that went angry little toe to toe with the mining industry. And that’s why they send lackeys like Perrett out to talk the talk in the first place.

Works for me

The poor Mineral Resource Rent Tax has taken a lot of flak, but the overly maligned levy does have support from some areas. Mostly from the miners whose money it leaves pretty much alone. In fact, so strong is the support from the industry, that Rio Tinto sang its praises after announcing its first ever loss this week, in a press conference that otherwise was not particularly bright, new Rio chief Sam Walsh said the MRRT was designed to tax super profits, and was actually operating as it was physically designed, in a somewhat unsurprising compliment from a company which was one of the three that actually designed the tax.

$ticks and $tones

Another half, another massive profit. Financial industry darling Commonwealth Bank of Australia posted a cash return of $3.78 billion this week, a six per cent rise on the same time last year. The figure, as usual, left many aghast, including known banking fans the Australian Greens. Lower house MP Adam Bandt accused Commonwealth Bank of making excessive profits at the expense of its their customers, in a sign he may be confused as to what the exact purpose of business is. However, his point, and it’s a pretty good one, is that the bank can hardly claim woe from rising funding costs as its profits and share price continually move higher than an Essendon Football Club sports scientist. Commonwealth boss Ian Narev is surprisingly unbothered by this implication, or at least appears so for the purpose of public relations. Narev said he was prepared to ‘take the heat’ from upset parties in order to serve the bank’s various stakeholders. This is either a sign the man possesses no capability whatsoever to feel empathy, or just that everything is easy to justify when you can comfort yourself with endless piles of money.

That’s not helping

Clearly confused as to which party he actually represents, former Prime Minister Rudd responded to mounting pressure on the government surrounding the resources levy this week by admitting it had not collected ‘any real revenue of any significance’. He then said it was solely up to Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan to fix the problem, just as soon as they got themselves out from under that bus. The Labor backbencher later clarified his comments, saying it was a little early to be judging the full impact of the tax at this point, but the whole thing did nothing to stop speculation he plans to make another run for the leadership of the ALP before the September election. Fear of such a move exists in some parts of Labor, however, as shown by the email doing the rounds containing scathing criticism of Rudd, including accusations he was "disloyal" to the PM and the ALP. Because the most honourable way of dealing with disloyalty in the ALP is by spreading mean rumours.

Pappy’s moonshine

Royal Bank of Scotland boss Stephen Hester defended his right to a massive bonus payment this week, only days after the bank was fined over $500 million for rigging LIBOR and ripping off the public. The same public that pay his massive wage, as well as his bonus, given the bank is 81 per cent owned by British taxpayers after the lender was bailed out by the government in 2008. Defending himself, Hester said he had managed to get taxpayers off the hook from some of the bank’s huge liabilities, and has done big things to rescue the lender’s perilous situation. Which is quite nice, except that all of these things occurred as he presided over massive institutionalised corruption which has dragged the bank back into disgrace. RBS chairman Philip Hampton called Hester's pay ‘modest’ when judged against his peers, in a comparison that clearly neglects to consider things like common sense, reason and real life.

Quick misses

– Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has banned Coalition MPs from leaving the country ahead of the election. Prime Minister Gillard has reportedly placed a similar ban on Labor MPs wanting to flee Labor before the vote.

Bill Shorten has unveiled a government push to give victims of workplace bullying a better way to have their claims heard. The announcement was meant to be made by Kevin Rudd, but he apparently went home after Wayne Swan labelled him dysfunctional, a man of great weakness and accused him of self-interest, sabotage, and being deeply demeaning. Again.

– And finally, US President Barack Obama delivered his state of the union speech this week, at the relatively late time of after 9pm in New York. Liberal sources have urged Tony Abbott to follow a similar path for speeches when he is elected PM, so at least they have a good excuse for sleeping through them.

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