His gaffe yesterday, provoked by Fairfax radio blunderbuss Neil Mitchell, where he said no-one’s job is safe was appalling not because it’s true but because it inadvertently stoked our worst fears about where the economy’s headed.
Carr’s exact words to Nasty Neil Mitchell who puts the irk in smirk:
“I wouldn’t say anyone’s job is safe, even yours”.
Sadly it’s provoking powerful dudes like Kim Carr to say such indelicate things that probably means Mitchell’s job is the safest of all. At least until Fairfax Media’s liquidator is appointed. To be fair, Kim Carr’s annihilation of Mitchell’s rival Jon Faine in an interview about cars is still the stuff of legend. Faine was lecturing him about how nasty Ford Territory 4WD’s are while Carr responded in defence of the patriot car in question and declared that Faine might be being a bit of a hypocrite given his splendid collection of luxury gas-guzzling motor vehicles like 12 cylinder Jags. Gold. Yesterday proves you can’t win them all we suppose.
We needed no encouragement by Kim Carr to be panicked with ample evidence that Australians are already in a mild state of panic about the future. The ANZ’s Saul Eslake – as quoted on Peter Martin’s excellent blog – has an interesting chart showing that Australian current household saving rate is through the roof. Saving is clearly a good thing and normally we don’t do enough of it to the extent we required a huge national compulsory super scheme to get us to do any at all during less pessimistic times. But at the levels projected by Eslake, big parts of the local economy – especially retail – will be in trouble for a long time.
Despite that prospect, Australia’s economy is doing relatively really well. Last night’s ABC interview with Westfield’s Stephen Lowy was a very interesting insight into the comparative strength of Australia next to the US and Britain. Normally heirs of family empires like that are much less impressive than the founder, Lowy is clearly very sharp and it’s well worthwhile reading his analysis of events. Bottom-line: occupancy rates in Australia in his shopping centres are very, very high with no sign yet of a change to that. US/UK are “soft”.
Eslake also makes the point that compared with the OECD Australia is doing comparatively well with our flat-lining growth much better than the freefall of other economies.
All that said, even Kim Carr’s traditional foes weren’t feeling too smug about his mistake yesterday. It was a throwaway line at a time of great sensitivity about jobs.
Carr is not our keep of tea but he is considered by his colleagues as the perfect Industry minister for the government for these times, a true interventionist who is obsessed with keeping manufacturing jobs in this country even if there’s greater opportunity elsewhere.
Here’s some sacrilege for you: we think economies should focus on their strengths, where they have a competitive advantage, not necessarily on car assembly and whatever else requires enormous community subsidy to stay alive indefinitely. The prevailing belief that manufacturing jobs are inherently or necessarily good and that if you’re not making stuff you’re a useless economy is a widely held and in our view completely erroneous opinion. There was nothing good about the ragtrade sweatshops that once dotted inner-city Melbourne in the dark days of tariffs. We don’t disparage all manufacturing either, it’s important but only if it pays its way.
It is unpopular views like that led us to have little interest in taking up our potentially hereditary seat in Victoria’s equivalent of the House of Lords. If they offered serious titles like Duke of Docklands or Baron of Brunswick we might have been more open to persuasion on the question.
Subversive views about public subsidy for foreign owned car manufacturers are about as popular as the Churchill arsonist. Carr’s intervene-everywhere view of the world is much more in keeping with these troubled times and goes over much better in the pub lounges and barbeques of the nation. The times suit him.
Yet the Minister – fondly called Kim “Il” Carr because of his once very strident and dictatorial Left-wing ways – will be haunted by what he quickly admitted was a poor choice of words.
But many in the government think Carr was “on-message” in that the nation needs to be prepared for the inevitable adverse consequences from what is proving to be a near collapse in the banking systems of much of the world due to over-lending and inadequate monetary policy.
Carr has been seen as doing quite a good job – much to our amazement – but we doubt he’s feeling that way this morning. Thank God it’s Friday…