Faine at his best is smartly, aggressively prosecutorial without actually being rude. Abbott at his best takes questions seriously and tell people what he thinks. They were both (mostly) at their best here, and the result was an interview that reminded me of many of Abbott’s good points even while reinforcing my view that he doesn’t present convincing responses about the economy.
The interview’s single best point is that Faine challenges Abbott about quantities. Asked about a string of high-profile job losses, Abbott starts to explain the claimed impact of the carbon tax. Faine pulls him up, noting that the high value of the Australian dollar is more important to firms like Qantas. Abbott responds coolly that while he accepts the carbon tax is not the only factor in these companies’ problems, it is a big problem. Faine asks him to address issues other than the carbon tax, and Abbott’s response is to start talking about cutting government waste. “If you succeeded in abolishing every single instance of waste in the federal government,” asks Faine, “what effect do you think that would actually have on the Australian dollar and interest rates?” Abbott says he’ll leave the modelling to the experts. Faine argues that most economists think it would make a minimal difference, and that the real issue is the mining industry’s effects on other sectors.
Note to journalists: keep asking not just what good a policy would do, but how much good it would do.
Abbott sounds tired (listen to him saying “good morning” at the start of the interview) and yet very much on his mettle here. The reason he does not come off better is that the weight of evidence suggests Faine is right: the commodity-bound $A and other outside influences are driving most of the job losses; removing the carbon tax and the mining tax and hoeing into “government waste” will, even on the best interpretation, make little improvement to national outcomes. I suspect Abbott knows this, too.
There’s a quality to this interview that is a credit to our democracy. It’s getting to the heart of important political claims and economic arguments. It’s intellectually confrontational discussion between two smart people who don’t very much like each other, all the better because both participants are working to keep a lid on their natural aggression.
Last week I said Faine was turning into a left-wing shock-jock. That was unfair. Sorry, Jon.