17 April 2024
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Is Dr Jim a poor man's Keating?

Peter Switzer
2 April 2024

There’s an old saying that opinions are like bums, everyone’s got one. I can dismiss an opinion from a dope, but I can’t when someone’s smart. Afterall, as an educator, I know I can’t get smarter if I dismiss everyone I don’t agree with.

So, I’ve been asked to assess The Australian’s Judith Sloane’s view on the country’s current Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers, who’s seen as the likely successor to PM Anthony Albanese.

Dr Jim isn’t a Doctor of Economics, and Judith is probably better qualified to be the country’s Treasurer, from an economics perspective. Dr Jim’s PhD was in political science, so he’s qualified to be a Treasurer from a political perspective.

Interestingly, his doctoral thesis was entitled “Brawler statesman: Paul Keating and prime ministerial leadership in Australia”, which, of course, was his academic take on Paul J. Keating.

By the way, Sloane is a respected economist but as a commentator she has a problem in that she always leans to the right. I have a ‘problem’ that I try to lean towards a balanced point of view, but it does make me look less predictable and some might say uncommitted. I’d argue to the contrary, saying I’m committed to the best whether it comes from the right or the left.

Ironically, it will mean both Sloane and Chalmers will hate me and that’s why I never get invited to the Lodge or any other event where the media gets sucked up to.

Anyway, let’s get to Sloane’s bagging of Dr Jim, who effectively she calls a poor man’s Keating. Here are her criticisms in a nutshell:

  1. He’s “minding the shop” and isn’t a reformer like Keating was.
  2. His influential economic thinkers, like Mariana Mazzucato, are from the left and aren’t entirely respected.
  3. He likes directed investment, but Sloane says that never helped the USSR.
  4. He’s been lucky with his Budget surpluses of $22 billion last year and another one coming, thanks to high commodity prices, as well as tax bracket creep. She’s right on that point.
  5. He’s failed to reign in government spending, unlike his idol PJK and she’s right there.
  6. He lets the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke get away with old-fashioned pro-union Labor wage rises and deals, that the likes of Keating would have fought against, for purely economic and Treasurer reasons. Sloane calls him an “onlooker” not a significant player like Keating was, and she looks right.
  7. He’s signed up for all the climate change policies of the Labor left-leaners, led by Energy Minister Chris Bowen, without publicly arguing for a debate about what is idealistic and what’s realistic about what alternative energy solutions can do. I’d have to say that Sloane looks on the money with this as well.

After all these barbs, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she calls Dr Jim “a very weak Treasurer” who has a “…misguided view of the role of governments in managing the economy”.

Sloane wants a Treasurer who strips back unnecessary regulation, speeds up project approvals across the board and allows businesses to make investment decisions on the basis of their assessments of future profitability.

And she doesn’t see Dr Jim as this kind of guy. For my part, I think she has some strong arguments. Dr Jim might look OK up against other Treasurers, but he looks weak compared to Paul Keating and Peter Costello. Mind you, if he ever wants to lead the Labor Party to become PM, he needs to toughen up and step up. Since John Howard, we’ve seen a procession of failed PMs/leaders, who when it came to big issues, all really lacked guts or didn’t know how to get Australians to come along with them when it came to big, important and difficult changes.

Sloane is a very hard marker but Dr Jim, if he’s any kind of great student, should learn from this shocker of a report!

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