February 13, 2004


The Sydney Morning Herald’s Mark Riley apparently has no idea what backflip means:

After two days of ridiculing the Labor leader as "Mr Flip-Flop", John Howard executed a spectacular backflip of his own on MPs' superannuation.

Howard explained his decision at a press conference late yesterday as being in keeping with the positive new air pervading federal politics.

He said he had always maintained that if an Opposition leader came up with a good idea, he would act upon it.

So where’s the backflip? When Mark Latham first raised the superannuation issue, Howard -- as Matt Price reported -- promised to analyse Latham's proposal. Which he’s now done. If he first rejected Latham’s proposal then later agreed with it, well, now we’re talking backflip. Let’s see if the SMH pursues Howard’s counter-challenge to the Labor leader:

Howard promised to analyse Latham's proposal, then challenged him to instruct the ALP to renegotiate the Centenary House lease, a shameless Keating government deal that channels about $2 million a year into party coffers.

If Latham was so concerned about cynicism, argued Howard, "he could say, 'Mate, renegotiate that lease, it's a rort".

Mr Flip-Flop smiled nervously at the Big Bad PM, perhaps reflecting that by the end of this story, only one would be living happily ever after.

Posted by Tim Blair at February 13, 2004 12:06 AM

I guess it's a "flip-flop" because any adoption of a position or program espoused by Labor would represent Howard turning his back on his master, Satan.

Posted by: Mike G at February 13, 2004 at 07:19 AM

Well, Abbott and Costello were both defending the super scheme the other day, so you might be able to see it as a change of policy for the party's senior leadership overall rather than Howard himself.

I think the other SMH article has a more interesting spin: "The Prime Minister... handed Mark Latham a dramatic victory, announcing the Government would take up the Opposition Leader's plan to axe the lavish superannuation scheme for federal MPs."

How is this supposed to be a victory for Mark Latham? Unless we suppose that Mark Latham was motivated by a strong personal desire to reduce his own perks, then this is anything but. If Howard had said no, then Latham could have rode this all the way to the last election, portraying Howard as a greedy bastard concerned only with feathering his own nest. (Then, after winning the election Latham could have made some token changes to the scheme and left it at that.) But now, Latham has lost the issue _and_ his pension, and Howard looks statesmanlike. Looks like a big political victory for Howard to me.

Posted by: Jorge at February 13, 2004 at 08:17 AM

It's not just the Sydney Morning Herald, Tim. The front page of The Australian has this paragraph:

In a desperate decision to regain the agenda from the new Opposition Leader, the Prime Minister surprised his own colleagues with a backflip that dramatically cuts the taxpayer contribution to MPs' superannuation to 9 per cent of salary for those elected from this year's poll.

And this from Matt Price in the same paper today:

It's a backflip of the order that would do the Howard family's bedtime story character, Mr Flip-Flop, proud.

Damn the Fairfax press! They've infintrated The Australian now. We'll have to change their name to The Australathamian.

But, more scurriously, this gets a run in The Australathamian today as well:

Only last month, in an interview with The Australian, Howard emphatically ruled out changes to the super scheme.

I guess no one has any idea what backflip means, hey?

More interestingly, I wonder when Howard decided on this backflip (oops, sensible change of policy), given that the two main challengers for his position were criticizing Latham and defending the current superannuation scheme yesterday:

Treasurer Peter Costello defended the system and said pay packages for politicians were restrained compared to the private sector.

And Health Minister Tony Abbott said Mr Latham's promise was a populist stunt.

Perhaps Howard couldn't resist a populist stunt (oops, sensible change of policy) that also humiliated his two rivals?

Posted by: Jethro at February 13, 2004 at 08:31 AM

It's seen by some as a victory for Latham, because it looks like the Government is allowing the Opposition to set the agenda. When was the last time this happened in the last 8 years?

Then again, Howard is being characteristically canny, and quickly shutting down any area where the Opposition could gain an advantage, in order to fight the next election on the Government's preferred issues.

Posted by: Jethro at February 13, 2004 at 08:34 AM


Backflip or not - how about keeping up the pressure on the disgrace of the Keating Rort on Centenary House!
Bloody Labor must not only kill this deal but pay back the taxpayers funds they have already dudded us for.
F**k - to think I have contributed funds to these bloody perfidious wankers, makes me sick.

Posted by: lawrie at February 13, 2004 at 09:01 AM
They've infintrated The Australian now

Oops. infiltrated. Fat fingers.

Posted by: Jethro at February 13, 2004 at 09:21 AM

On Newcastle Herald's front page today

The Great Super Backflip

On Seven Sunrise this morning:

Mr. Flip-flop

(Both captions next to a picture of John H.)
It looks like the perception is pretty much universal - very galling to John, I suppose, since that was one of the most memorable phrases in the previous election v. Beazley.
Still, the Coalition has been put on the defensive, so that's an opening victory for Latham.
Incidentally, John was going to appear on the 7.30 report to discuss this issue last night; when he heard that Latham was going to appear as well, he decided against it. That's another (small) victory for Latham.
I don't think this issue is going to go away, though - I reckon the Opposition are going to tie it in with the unresolved question of John's retirement. If John's not going to accept a docking of his own personal superannuation, then he could find himself in an uncomfortable position later this year.

Posted by: TimT at February 13, 2004 at 09:26 AM

Don't think the scribblers intended it but they're correct with "backflip". Howard said he would consider Latham's proposal. He did and came up with new policy. No backdown, no U-turn, Howard has ended up in the same position as when the debate began -- prepared to consider and adapt. When you perform a backflip you end up where you began.

Posted by: slatts at February 13, 2004 at 10:26 AM

The man of steel certainly showed a lot of nerve to pull that one. The press are apoplectic but it won't resonate hugely with the public - it had to be done and he's done it. It looks like good judgement to me.

Latham's had his worst week, with FTA and now this rug's pulled from beneath him. What will he do next week?

Posted by: ilibcc at February 13, 2004 at 10:50 AM

Is this the same as Beattie stealing the stamp duty exemption from Springborg.

I don't seem to remeber him being roundly criticised or accused of stealing the oppositions agenda.

Heaps of journo's hate Howard, just like they hate the US. They will use any excuse to criticise him, even if he has done nothing more or less than Labor politicians.

I don't give a damn, I'm don't want Latham because it will result in 'hard workers' paying more tax for the 'no-hopers'. All you leftie journo's keep scribbling away, you might be convinced Latham is the answer but lets see if he can fool the voting public on election day.

Posted by: Gilly at February 13, 2004 at 04:25 PM
All you leftie journo's keep scribbling away, you might be convinced Latham is the answer

I'm sure Dennis Shannahan (who wrote about Howard's backflip in The Australian today), would be amazed to be described as a leftie journo.

Posted by: Jethro at February 13, 2004 at 08:20 PM

The concept of the "Backflip" is one of those media memes that debilitates a politician's ability to participate in genuine consensus politics and implement exactly what the public wants. A good idea proferred by the opposition and adopted by the government is a "backflip" and a sign of weakness?

What do you call opposing something just for the hell of it? Opposing the FTA so publicly and saying you will vote it down and then not voting it down. Latham better vote it down even if the FTA's good for the country - otherwise he would be doing a "backflip".

Posted by: The Gnu Hunter at February 13, 2004 at 10:16 PM

Well, so much for being "statesmenlike":

Politics, not principle, was behind the dumping of the generous parliamentary superannuation scheme, John Howard conceded yesterday.

Posted by: Jethro at February 14, 2004 at 12:24 AM

Is "rort" a typo or some strange Australianism?

Posted by: Dave at February 14, 2004 at 04:20 AM

"rort" is kinda like "scam" or "racket".

Posted by: Jethro at February 14, 2004 at 06:35 AM

It's a backflip because Latham's not the first to have called for a new system. Howard has, until this week, consistently defended the indefensible.

Posted by: Robert at February 15, 2004 at 08:26 PM