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The Abbott Government and short thinking


Image from blogs.crikey.com.au

Image from blogs.crikey.com.au

“We know that politicians are always trapped between the long-term need for substantial policy reforms and the short-term pressures of winning elections, which, combined with vested economic interests, generally means that maintaining the status quo becomes the default option. In this case, the status quo is our carbon-based economy. To dismantle it would impose serious short-term risks and costs, as against the even more serious long-term risks and costs of not doing so. And for politicians, the short-term risks always loom larger than the long-term ones, as they do for most of us in our daily lives.”

Judith Brett. The Monthly


“I’m focusing not on what might happen in 16 years’ time, I’m focusing on what we’re doing now”


Now some of you may think that it’s a problem that government’s have a tendency to only think in terms of the electoral cycle. Abbott – it would appear from his own admission – doesn’t even think that long term. (Of course, some of you will undoubtedly comment that the words “that long term” were superfluous, but stop taking cheap shots, I’m trying to make a serious point here.)

Ok, I know that roads are mainly a state responsibility but Abbott has said that he wants to be known as the infrastructure government, so I thought that this quote from “Focus” by Daniel Goleman was appropriate:

“Traffic jams? The shortsighted solution means building more and wider roads. The new capacity brings short- term relief in congestion. But because it’s now easier to get around, those very roads mean people, stores, and workplaces spread throughout the region. Traffic over the long term increases until the jams and delays are just as bad as, or worse than, before— the traffic keeps growing until it’s so unpleasant to drive that further growth in trips stops. “Feedback loops regulate congestion,” says Sterman. “Anytime you have more capacity for traffic, people take more car trips, move farther away, buy more cars. As people spread out, mass transit loses viability. You’re trapped.” We think we are held up because of that traffic jam, but the jam itself emerges from the dynamics of highway systems. The disconnect between such systems and how we relate to them begins with distortions in our mental models. We blame those other drivers clogging the road but fail to take into account the systems dynamics that put them there.”


Yep, when he said, “I’m focusing not on what might happen in 16 years’ time, I’m focusing on what we’re doing now”, he was telling the truth for once.

Ok, let me turn all Andrew Bolt for a moment and use hyperbole to show exactly what Abbott is saying.

“What do you mean that by sunbaking/smoking/drinking/taking drugs/having unprotected sex that I’m putting my life at risk? I’m not thinking about what might happen in the future I”m focusing on what I’m doing right now, and let me tell you, man, it’s awesome.”

All right, Abbott never said “awesome”. But he did just about express the view of every teenager who maintains that they don’t need to study because the exam isn’t for another two weeks.

No, we won’t be contributing to any fund to help poorer countries reduce emissions. We’re doing enough by giving money to rich companies to help them reduce emissions.

Gees, I think I’ll have another drink. After all, I don’t expect any long term health consequences until, at the earliest, tomorrow morning, and I’m not thinking about that, I’m thinking about another drink.

Yes, yes, I know if I keep using logic like that, I could end up Prime Minister of Australia, because from what I hear, they’re on the lookout for one. But that’s not now, so who cares?

* * *

By the way, is it true that Abbott closed the G20 by telling everyone that it was hard being PM, because, while he thought he’d have unlimited power, he couldn’t even get Julie Bishop to wash up the dishes after Cabinet meetings, even when he pointed out that he was also Minister for Women and that she wasn’t even a feminist? Once, I would have just presumed that it was unfunny satire, but ever since Barnaby Joyce was made a Minister, I’ve never been quite sure of such things . . .

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  1. flohri1754

    I remember reading a history of the American Interstate Highway system back in University there in the 1970s. The same point (as is presented in this column) was clearly made: building more and more highways does not solve congestion problems. It is just putting off dealing with the problem till another day. But the problem itself is not in any way solved ….

  2. keertidalleykeerti

    It may be interesting as an example: Perth’s car park, alternatively known as the Kwinana Freeway, was until about three years ago a minnow of six lanes. With the increasing release of land for housing to the south of Perth, the freeway and the rail system that adjoined it was definitely not up to the task of coping with the traffic volume. The Western Australian State government,in it’s inestimable wisdom, after considerable complaint (in best Australian whingeing style), decided to rectify the problem. It added another lane on both sides,LOL. Traffic peaks of around two hours at either end of the day with bottlenecks, caused in part because the government only did half the job, still turn the Kwinana Freeway into a car park. And at least in part because traffic movement outside of peak times is capable of delivering huge traffic movements the city of Perth, is spreading even faster in longitudinal fashion to the south where it busily swallows up farmland, bush remnants and open space. The Liberal government has even been heard to say that it would like to phase out subsidies on bus train system. It was a liberal government that many years ago closed the Perth to Fremantle rail despite public protest. They secretly wanted to build a highway where the rail was. The line has since been recommissioned. Liberal parties do not seem to live in the real world! Why is that?

  3. Kaye Lee

    Roads get really hot, transferring excess heat to the air above them and heating stormwater as it runs off the pavement into local waterways. More cars, more pollution.

    How about building high speed rail between Melbourne and Brisbane via Canberra and regional areas – we already have the plan. Oh that’s right – it would take longer than your attention span to build.

    Speaking of which, did anyone else notice Tony introducing David Cameron to war veterans in Parliament the other day? Cameron, despite having to shake hands and be introduced to hundreds of people, really engaged with each of the 19 (?) veterans who were there. Tony shook their hand and then looked around the room testing the air with his tongue as he is wont to do seemingly bored with how long Cameron was spending with these men and women. Tony had ticked the protocol to do list and wanted to keep moving. He is as engaging and sincere as a carbuncle.

    (Great article BTW rossleigh)

  4. silkworm

    It is the interests of neoliberal capitalism to build more roads, and to increase traffic, as it creates more opportunities for business, and increases land values. One of the best ways to control traffic is a) to increase government revenue through site rent, and b) improve public transport.

  5. diannaart

    Tone has made his mark on the world stage, the Washington Post ticks off the reasons why:


    …and I’m setting up “Stop Tony Meow” – just because I enjoy stuff like bashing my head against a brick wall, sticking toothpicks under my fingernails – if there is one thing I am sure of; conservatives are into S&M – so long as they are the dominatrix.

    Thanks again Ross.

  6. Kerri

    The infrastructure government??. More like the dark ages!!!
    I suspect Abbott’s real aim is to have one of these “awesome” (yes I know he didn’t say that) superhughways named after himself. Maybe we’ll see the Frances expressway for a fast trip to a free University education???
    Dianart don’t you thinks it’s so polite the Washington Post using the term winking?

  7. townsvilleblog

    Abbott doesn’t think long term because he is on a mission to privatize Australia, sell off all government services to the private sector which he can do in 3 years, when he leaves office there will be nothing left to save.

  8. Kerri

    An interesting point I just thought of? China is emerging as a new world superpower. Lifting the masses out of poverty and into a flourishing middle class. Yet China deliberately stifled growth for many years. Remember the one child policy? They used Communism (correctly I might add) to slow growth and allow the country to get ahead industrially and commercially before relaxing laws on the population and allowing growth once again.
    Communism is sold as the big bad bogeyman and the G20 (mostly Abbott) were all about growth!
    I doubt you could compel Abbott to comprhend something that complex and long term.

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