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Kaye describes herself as a middle-aged woman in jammies. She knew Tony Abbott when they both attended Sydney University where she studied for a Bachelor of Science. After 20 years teaching mathematics, with the introduction of the GST in 2000, she became a ‘feral accountant’ for the small business that she and her husband own. Kaye uses her research skills “to pass on information, to join the dots, to remember what has been said and done and to remind others, and to do the maths.”

We have forgotten what is important let alone how to fight for it

The trouble with neoliberalism is it focuses on the how and not on the why.

The result of this headlong pursuit of continuous growth is a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few while the vast majority are mired in poverty.  At the same time, environmental degradation in the pursuit of profit, and the waste produced by billions of consumers, is destroying the planet.

Neoliberalism purports to reward individual effort, completely ignoring the fact that we don’t all start from the same place.

It is much easier to build wealth if you start with some assets.  It is easier to do well at school if you have somewhere to live and enough to eat.  It is easier when your parents can afford to pay for extra tuition or to pay university fees so you don’t start life with a humungous debt.  It is easier to find work if you have a car or can afford, and have access to, good public transport.  It is easier to fight for your rights when you can afford a barrister.  And it is much easier to protect and grow your wealth if you can afford financial advisers and accountants.

Neoliberalism cares nothing about the greater good.  Every man and woman for themselves.  Lobbyists promote self-interest and the privileged jealously guard their perks.  Greed has replaced our sense of community, collective caring and shared responsibility.

Neoliberal governments strive to reduce regulation but businesses exist to maximise profits, not make moral or even ethical choices.  They will adhere to the law (usually) but contribute no more than they are forced to do.  And even that is questionable.  A quick look at the Fairwork Ombudsman site shows hundreds of litigations for underpayments, sham contracting, false or inadequate record-keeping and a litany of other abuses.

Environmental protection regulations are regularly breached with minimal consequences.  The Department of the Environment and Energy shows some case judgements but they seem to have dwindled to almost nothing since the Coalition won government.

Conservatives are often religious, insisting on imposing their view of the sanctity of life on everyone.  But they complain bitterly about contributing to the cost of raising children or caring for the elderly or providing a safety net for those who cannot work or find employment.

Spending on health, education, welfare and environmental protection is not a cost but an investment in a happier, more productive, more harmonious society.  That creates savings itself and benefits everyone.

Increasing company profits, on the other hand, have only benefitted CEOs and shareholders.  With company profits at record highs, investors enjoyed a 9.5 per cent per annum increase in dividend payments last year, while workers’ wages remain stuck growing at roughly 2 per cent per annum.  Rather than sharing the benefits of a revenue boost, the government wants to give even more back to big business through tax cuts and less to workers through cuts to penalty rates.  They want to impose draconian industrial relations laws and hobble workers’ ability to negotiate or protest, all the while protecting shareholders at every turn.

Despite the taxation assistance already given to small businesses, many will continue to struggle until their customers have more disposable income, a fact the government seems unable to understand.  Big business lobby groups oppose any increase in the minimum wage but they still think it would be a good idea for the government to give people on welfare a bit more to spend.

The idea that we must decrease company taxes to attract investment is not borne out by the facts. Non-mining investment grew by 14.0% through the year ending March 31, 2018 with many foreign investments coming from countries with lower tax rates.

You can’t tax a profitable business into being unprofitable, but you can, with their contribution, provide a strong judicial system, a safe place to do business where the rule of law is enforced, sophisticated transport and communication infrastructure, a well-educated, healthy workforce and a comparatively stable government.  These are the things that attract business investment.

We don’t need more growth.  What we need is a better, more equitable distribution of our finite resources.  Why should the owners of the capital amass wealth beyond measure built on the work of others who struggle just to survive?

We are a wealthy nation but we have lost our compassion.  We have forgotten our duty to protect the vulnerable.  We have abandoned our obligation to keep our home clean.  We ignore the plight of less fortunate countries.

We have become consumed by greed and gluttony.  But that has led to a greater poverty – a poverty of purpose and dignity, as Robert Kennedy said fifty years ago.

“Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.

If we judge [our success by Gross National Product], that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

That same year, 1968, Martin Luther King organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice.  The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C., demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.

He felt that Congress had shown “hostility to the poor” by spending “military funds with alacrity and generosity.” He contrasted this with the situation faced by poor Americans, claiming that Congress had merely provided “poverty funds with miserliness.”  He was particularly in support of a guaranteed basic income.

His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: he cited systematic flaws of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism”, and argued that “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

They shot them both that year.

Fifty years later, we are so used to all the things they warned about that we have given up the fight.

It is possible that a visionary leader could get the weight of the people behind them to remind us of what is important, but would the corporate world ever allow it?

With Abbott and Joyce gone we have an opportunity for a reset

For almost a decade, Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have been hugely instrumental in the destruction of bipartisan support for action on climate change (and a lot of other things).  They have both now had their power stripped from them by their own parties for showing a stellar lack of judgement.

This presents an opportunity for a reset that should be grasped.

But will they?

No more money has been committed to Direct Action which has seen billions spent by the government resulting in a 3.6% (so far) increase in emissions since the abolition of the carbon price in 2014.

Minister for Agriculture and Water, David Littleproud, and his Assistant Minister, Anne Ruston, are at least mentioning the words climate change now but they remain unwilling to commit to government policy and regulation to tackle it.

Despite farmers’ increasingly urgent call for good, consistent policy, Mr Littleproud rejected calls for an agricultural climate change adaptation plan, saying farmers will need to do it themselves.

Ms Ruston told agricultural stakeholders they cannot rely on government and said “Industry should be allowed to explore the opportunities” to respond to the risks of climate change.

“We’re not investing specifically in programs, our response to climate change is embedded in everything we do,” she lamely said.

They certainly aren’t investing in programs.  They are terminating them.

The 2017 federal budget axed funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), an agency that provides information to decision-makers on how best to manage the risks of climate change and sea level rise.

The NCCARF received A$50 million in 2008 to coordinate Australia’s national research effort into climate adaptation measures. That was reduced in 2014 to just under A$9 million. For 2017-18, a mere A$600,000 will be spread between CSIRO and NCCARF to support existing online platforms only. From 2018, funding is axed entirely.

This “do nothing and leave it to a future government” approach is typical of the Coalition who are all about the now.  Company profits are up.  Agriculture had bumper crops last year.  Fossil fuel exports are riding high.  Debt is unimportant now as the government spends up big to help boost growth figures.  Let’s do some tax cuts real quick before the Chinese economy slows down, the drought bites, commodity prices go down…and still no wage rises.

“I think we are already reducing emissions. We’ve made a commitment under the Paris agreement and we are moving towards that in a sensible and methodical way,” said Mr Littleproud.

Except we are not even going to meet our 2020 target of 5% let alone the inadequate commitment for 2030.

According to the Department of Energy and Environment’s own website, “Australia’s annual emissions for the year to December 2017 are estimated to be 533.7 Mt CO2-e. This figure is 2.4 per cent below emissions in 2000 (547.0 Mt CO2-e).”

If it’s taken us 18 years years to reduce emissions by 2.4%, how likely are we to reduce them a further 2.6% over the next two years?  I doubt the Snowy-Hydro 2.0 feasibility study will even be finished.  Is there another plan?

Mr Littleproud is a fan of renewables, perhaps unsurprisingly as his electorate will soon be home to large solar and wind farms, but he also has four coal-fired power stations so he treads the fine line of saying that economics should determine our future energy mix.

The men who thought wind farms look ugly – Abbott, Joyce and Hockey – have all been dumped by their own.  Their loudest coal supporters are men like Craig Kelly and George Christensen, hardly your go-to men for evidence-based decision-making.  Oh, and the overly ambitious Matt Canavan who will always say whatever he thinks is in his best political interests but who had little support in the recent leadership change.

The Coalition invested a great deal of energy into promoting Abbott’s attack dog style of politics and Barnaby’s public bar ‘beer with the boys’ porkbarrelling antics.  But the spin of best Opposition leader and best retail politician was exposed as having no substance.  These two were just not up to the job of governing in so many respects.

So why does the Coalition remain hamstrung by their policies?

And more to the point, why do they listen to the IPA who seem to come up with most of these whacky ideas?

The only Coalition policy, aside from increasingly intrusive attacks on our privacy, is tax cuts.  So what does the IPA, who recently made a submission to the Senate inquiry into the proposed changes to the taxation laws, have to say on the matter?  This one ranks up there with their most hilarious.

A progressive tax system, the IPA argues, discriminates against rich people.

“Other forms of discrimination, such as by skin colour, race, or ethnicity, are rightly abhorred,” the submission says, “yet the income tax system openly discriminates against people by income”.

We’ve got rid of Tony and Barnaby.  If they ignored Rupert, Alan, Ray, and the creche for aspiring Young Liberals – the IPA – we might just have a chance of resetting political discourse in this country so we could actually make some progress on the things that matter.

Time for a reset.  Please.

We are mired in the gutter of character assassination for political purposes

The Coalition’s political strategy has been, for some time now, to attack individuals in relentless smear campaigns.  This does absolutely nothing to advance policy.  It does nothing to encourage debate, inform the electorate, or garner support for action.  It does nothing to improve the lives of Australians.

Looking back over this century so far, it is hard to remember the good things that have resulted from political decisions.

Instead, we remember the tragedy of illegitimate wars and argue about how to deal with the innocent victims.  We attack people like Gillian Triggs who try to remind us of our obligation to protect human rights and to inform us of the harm being caused by our inhumanity.

We are told we should revere our civilised Western culture and our Judeo-Christian heritage, ignoring the way in which we built our wealth – invading countries, stripping them of their natural resources, stealing their land, massacring or enslaving the native population, instilling the fear of our god whilst spreading disease and debauchery.

We have sold off our common wealth, resources, crucial infrastructure, and profitable government businesses that provided competition to private providers, without consideration of future consequences.

We see inequality condemn millions to poverty as company profits soar, wages stagnate, employment becomes increasingly insecure and welfare payments fall further and further behind increases in cost of living.

We subsidise property investors ignoring the hundreds of thousands who can no longer afford anywhere to live.

We were briefly world leaders on tackling climate change until Tony Abbott convinced enough people that paying a few dollars a week to save the planet was an evil plot.  Reversing the trend of a decade, emissions have increased every year since they “axed the tax”.

As we endure coral bleaching, massive flooding, devastating droughts and bushfires, changing rainfall patterns, increasing temperatures and the melting of the polar caps and permafrost, we brag about economic growth built on the export of fossil fuels.  We attack Tim Flannery for passing on the warnings from the science community and disparage environmental protection through the legal system as green “lawfare”.

We wring our hands about falling educational standards as we pay teachers a pittance, pour more money into the private system whilst cutting promised funding to our most disadvantaged schools, decimate the TAFE sector, and burden university graduates with huge debts before they even start their working lives.  Bureaucrats and conservative think tanks push rote learning in opposition to the initiative, creativity, communication, teamwork and leadership skills employers are asking for.

The private health system, rather than easing the burden on public health, has led to rising costs for everyone and longer wait times in the public system.  Emergency departments are unable to cope as beds lie idle and jobs are filled by overseas visa workers.  Primary health has had funding frozen and private health insurance costs soar as do the government subsidies to prop it up.

We had a chance to listen to our Indigenous people about a way forward in addressing disadvantage and giving them a voice in determining their own lives.  Except we took their Statement from the Heart, screwed it up, and threw it in the bin without even a cursory glance.  I cannot imagine how that must have felt to the people who worked so hard to bring everyone together.

We almost had a world class NBN until Abbott and Turnbull decided to demolish it.  To all those lumbered with FttN, I empathise.  You wouldn’t want a job with the Telecommunications Ombudsman right now.

The outsourcing of services, whether it be the jobactive network, aged care, the NDIS, private colleges, call centres etc, has not improved efficiency or cut costs but has led to a myriad of problems and opportunities for unscrupulous rorting.

We chose to let out car industry die rather than subsidise it and then decided to subsidise arms manufacturing instead – a fraction of the jobs for immeasurably higher cost.  We cannot afford foreign aid but we have hundreds of billions for more weapons.

Rather than tackling the important issues facing government, we have endured endless scandals and directed attacks on opponents.

We have had three Labor leaders dragged before very expensive Royal Commissions.  Julia Gillard was subjected to months of attack in parliament over legal work she did decades ago.  Bill Shorten is now facing similar attack for a donation made over a decade ago.

In what has become a disturbingly familiar pattern, Craig Thomson’s arrest was televised.  The destruction of Peter Slipper’s life also occupied the Coalition for a long time.  Meanwhile, Kathy Jackson remains at large and no-one suffered any consequences for illegally sharing copies of the Speaker’s diary or for referring a possible debt of $900 to the police.

Sam Dastyari was forced to resign after asking a donor to pay a couple of small bills and then telling him that his phone might be tapped.  No-one ever answered who told the government that this had happened.  Is ASIO passing on information to be used for political purposes?  And what of Andrew Hastie using parliamentary privilege to reveal an ongoing investigation by the FBI into a donor?

As they throw mud at everyone else, the character of Coalition members and the integrity of their actions often avoids scrutiny as they refuse freedom of information requests, ignore court directions, withhold evidence and advice.

Even with the protection racket, the Coalition have had more than their fair share of controversy.

Tony Abbott told us, when asked about the qualities of a female candidate, that she had “sex appeal”.  Jamie Briggs was stood down for inappropriate and unwanted advances to a staffer.  Barnaby got a staffer pregnant and is facing sexual harassment complaints.  Both the head and deputy of Border Force stood down for affairs with junior staffers.  Allegations of inappropriately securing jobs for their girlfriends remain unanswered.

Peter Dutton texts that a journalist is a “mad fucking witch” and Greg Hunt tells a female mayor to “fucking get over it”, “robust” language he also admitted to using to bully a public servant.  Turnbull goes toe-to-toe with Abbott on a plane telling him “you’re fucking hopeless, you’re a fucking cunt, you should resign.”  And, in Parliament, Christopher Pyne calls Anthony Albanese a word that sounded a little bit like grub and a lot like cunt.

Bronwyn Bishop and Sussan Ley both lost their positions for abusing travel entitlements.

The head of the ABCC is found guilty of breaching Fair Work Commission laws and the Public Service Commissioner resigns amidst questions about his links to the IPA.  Michael Lawler also beats a hasty retreat allowing Michaelia Cash to bury the report into his protracted “sick leave”.

Tim Wilson went through no selection process for the job created for him at the AHRC, an organisation he had campaigned should be abolished, where he warmed a seat collecting a hefty salary for a short while whilst waiting for a safe Liberal seat to be gifted to him.

James McGrath was admonished for paying for tawdry dirt files to be complied on Labor members and was then gifted a job as Senator.

Andrew Robb and Bruce Bilson both took jobs before they left parliament which presented significant conflicts of interest.

Speaking of which, how has Stuart Robert survived the many controversies surrounding him?

The Coalition want proof of the process for approving the donation made by the AWU to GetUp in 2005 yet refuse to disclose the process for approving the $30 million grant to Foxtel Sports and the $443 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (whoever they are).  And why was Gina gifted $70,000 to host a dinner where she gave $40,000 to Barnaby?

The Coalition has spent all of its time attacking unions, attacking Labor, attacking individuals who question their policy, and fostering division by ‘othering’ various groups in our community.  Five years in and they still are looking for others to blame.

The rich have got richer but the vast majority of the population are feeling disappointed and uneasy, concerned about the future.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

The Coalition election strategy is, once again, to go for character assassination of the Labor leader – “Kill Bill” and “Unbelieva-Bill” and other such puerile nonsense

It is up to the public to reject this inadequate attempt at deflection and to demand a genuine debate of important policy.

Vicki Campion’s judgement

If you are a politician who has, for your whole career, deliberately courted the cameras for your own purposes, you cannot expect them to just turn up when it’s convenient.

Here’s a tip, Barnaby.  If you want privacy, stop giving interviews about your private life.  Stop with the fluff pieces in magazines with wife and daughters, moralising to others about family values when you were already having an affair.  Stop with the photo shoots with a tea towel showing how domesticated you are in your new digs provided free of charge.  Stop throwing your new partner under the bus by questioning the paternity of her baby and blaming her for the latest attention-seeking money-grabbing exploit.  None of it is necessary.  We don’t need to know.

For a person who was employed as a media adviser, Vicki Campion shows a complete lack of judgement in how to handle the situation.

The leaked snippet of next week’s tell all show on Channel 7 shows a tearful Vicki saying “I couldn’t help it.  You can’t help who you fall in love with.”

Oh yes you can sunshine.  And what’s more, regardless of how you ‘feel’, you are in control of your actions.

If you have ‘feelings’ for someone who already has a partner, and those ‘feelings’ are reciprocated, then the decent thing to do is to terminate the first relationship before you have unprotected sex with someone else.

A drunken moment of lust is one thing.  Accusations of drunken lecherous behaviour from Barnaby abound.  However, an ongoing workplace affair that is known to colleagues, the deliberate action to cut communication with his family, the unprotected sex, are not some glorious expression of romantic love.  It is total hedonism.  It shows cruel disregard for a family and the inevitable public humiliation they would endure.

Barnaby took a week of personal leave in February to allow “current controversies to blow over”.  Now he’s off until August because of the backlash from their latest interview.

Barnaby and Vicki would have us see them as victims.  The promo of the interview suggests Vicki will tell us that she faced political pressure not to have the baby.  That begs the question, from who?  How many people knew she was pregnant and when?  Did they know when she was gifted a job in Damian Drum’s office in August through to October when she went on “stress leave”?

Drum said: “I suppose what you have to ask is when does a casual relationship become a regular relationship? When does that become a formal relationship? When does that become a girlfriend?”

Ummm….having a child together might be a clue.

Relationships break down.  The way that is handled says a great deal about the integrity and compassion of the people involved.

As for Ms Campion’s judgement – Barnaby?  Seriously?

Why do governments find it so hard to say we were wrrrr……….

Government is, in some ways, like running a business.  They must decide what they are trying to achieve, examine different approaches, choose which one to adopt, assess and evaluate progress, and, if you are not achieving the desired outcome, change the plan.

It’s the last part that government seems to have trouble with.  No-one seems willing to say that their plan isn’t working.

One obvious example of this is the privatisation of the Commonwealth Employment Service.  In an excellent article at Independent Australia, Darren Rexter writes of the pitfalls of turning jobseekers into commodities and the questionable practice of private sector organisations making a profit from the ills of the needy

He quoted Peter Strong, CEO of the Council of Small Business Australia, who recently wrote a piece calling for the creation of a new CES, stating that the privatised system was textbook driven policy that has created a few millionaires off the back of the unemployed while delivering a scheme that is probably delivering, at the most, minimal service.

Another example is the government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The Labor government introduced a carbon price which was achieving the goal of reducing emissions.  The Coalition chose Direct Action instead and, ever since, emissions have been rising.

We have always had the goal to provide affordable, reliable energy.  The thing that has changed is the urgent need to minimise global warming.  But somehow that imperative has been discarded.

Privatisation of the electricity sector has proven a disaster.  The NSW government, against the advice of the ACCC but with the encouragement of the Federal government, sold off Bayswater and Liddell power stations and now the Coalition want to prosecute the company they sold them to if they don’t give it back.  They want them to keep using coal rather than implement their plans to use gas and renewables.

Then there’s our asylum seeker and refugee policy.  Supposedly, the draconian offshore detention was to save lives.  Peter Dutton keeps telling us about the deaths at sea.  But he refuses to talk about the deaths in custody or the sexual abuse or the mental health issues or the cruelty and illegality of indefinite detention of people whose only crime was to come by boat instead of plane to ask for our help.

Or we could talk about how we let the car industry die but are now going into the armaments industry.  Apparently giving billions to foreign arms manufacturers is preferable to giving foreign aid which has been slashed to record lows.

We have tried the experiment of pouring billions of dollars into private schools and our standards have fallen.  Perhaps we should stop funding them, put the money into public schools, free tertiary education, and teacher mentoring and support and see if results improve.

Private health insurance has also become an expensive experiment that drains money out of the public system with increasingly unaffordable premiums and rising out of pocket costs.  Waiting lists for elective surgery continue to rise as public hospitals close beds due to cuts in funding.

The government should fund public schools and hospitals and let those who wish to choose another system fund it themselves.  Private health insurance should not be government subsidised.

Slashing the numbers of public servants has also been a poor choice.  It has not led to better, more streamlined service for users.  It has not eliminated duplication.  All it has done is transferred the work that agencies used to do into the hands of overseas call centres and, instead of frank and fearless advice from departments, private consulting firms, for huge fees, give the advice the government wants to hear.

We send in inspectors equipped with the power to shut down puppy farms, we willingly pay more for free range eggs, yet when it comes to the horrific conditions in live sheep transport or the cruelty in abattoirs overseas, profit overrides our laws and our morality.

This list could be much much longer.

Why do governments find it so hard to say we were wrrrr……….

Increasing the Superannuation Guarantee would be a smart move

Nothing exemplifies better how totally lacking in judgement the Coalition is than the superannuation saga.

(Ok, maybe their determination to exacerbate climate change, but that’s another story albeit very similar in its short-sighted ignorance.)

In the brief moments between discussing dual citizenship and Gestapotato’s latest bid to make us all scared, they sometimes remember we have an aging population.

Their plan to deal with this is to make most of us work until we are 70 and to protect the wealth and tax concessions of rich old investors.

Scomo tears at our heartstrings about all the nanna, nonna and yanni investors who would miss out on their yearly gift from the government if Labor took away their excess franking credit returns.  Unlike the Low Income Tax Offset, which can only be used to offset tax you owe – no tax, no benefit.

(I also didn’t hear any concern when they took away the Schoolkids Bonus which was an enormous help to families trying to get kids ready for school just after Christmas.)

Getting back to superannuation….

Having adequate superannuation gives workers who haven’t had enough disposable income left over to buy multiple investment properties or extensive share portfolios a chance to have some quality of life in their retirement.  It also reduces the reliance on the aged pension.

So why do the Coalition fight so hard against it?

Compulsory national superannuation was initially proposed as part of the 1972 Whitlam initiatives but up until the 1980s superannuation was solely the privilege of predominantly male professions, clustered in the public sector or available after a long qualifying period in the private sector.

In 1985, a deal struck between the government and the ACTU saw the trade union movement forfeit a claim to 3% productivity improvement as wages to instead be paid in compulsory superannuation – endorsed by the Arbitration Commission and managed by superannuation funds with equal representation of the unions in the industry and the employers.

As usual, the leader of the Opposition, John Howard, saw it as an evil union plot.

“That superannuation deal, which represents all that is rotten with industrial relations in Australia, shows the government and the trade union movement in Australia not only playing the employers of Australia for mugs but it is also playing the Arbitration Commission for mugs”.

The 1996 election saw Howard promise to match Labor’s plan to gradually increase superannuation to 15%, only to dump it six months after the election.  Despite fighting tooth and nail every step of the way, they were unable to halt the rise to 9% by 2002, thanks to the Senate.

The Howard government despised superannuation. The idea that organisations of working people should manage large sums of money in the economy was anathema to it.  The rich wanted a piece of the action.  So, in 2007, the Coalition made changes that turned superannuation into a tax minimisation scheme for the wealthy by allowing people to invest up to $1 million in super and take the benefits tax free.

To this day, they still resent and regularly attack industry super funds despite the fact that they continually outperform the retail funds.  They don’t want workers’ organisations benefitting from the scheme they set up.

When Labor won government, they reintroduced the gradual rise in the SG but only got to 9.5% before the Coalition nixed it again.  This supposedly temporary freeze, unlike the temporary freeze on politicians’ wage rises and the temporary budget repair levy, seems to have turned into permafrost.

Any suggestion that increasing the SG would be an imposte on employers is not borne out by the facts.  Small business has already had a tax cut and have benefitted from instant asset write off and reduced penalty rates.  Unit labour costs have been stagnant or falling while company profits are soaring to record highs.  But none of this has led to wage rises.

If the Fair Work Commission and government refuse to legislate for pay rises, and with the unions largely blocked from the negotiating table and hobbled in the action they can take, increasing the SG, and the penalties for not paying it, would be a good start on forcing companies to give the workers a share of the wealth their labour creates.


Dodgy dealings

Tony Abbott promised a government that would be transparent and accountable.  Malcolm Turnbull promised to respect the intelligence of the electorate.  But increasingly, we are seeing a government who is a law unto themselves, a government who seems to view Treasury as their private piggy bank to use as they see fit, a government that showers largesse on their supporters at our expense, a government who thinks we have no right to know what they are doing as they strip away our privacy rights in the name of national security.

The latest example is the gifting of almost half a billion dollars to ‘save the reef’ to a charity who, last year, spent (or promised to spend) $5.9 million on “science investments” whilst spending $1.44 million on “employee benefits” and another $1.7 million on various administrative expenses.  They have six full-time employees and a further five part-time employees who have “roles relating to science, marketing, communications and accounting.”

This gift was made without any tender process or any consultation with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority who have 206 full-time equivalent employees.

Very similar to the $30 million gift given to Fox Sports to cover “niche” women’s sports on pay tv.  Whilst the government has refused freedom of information requests about correspondence relating to the gift, as it coincided with licence fee cuts for free-to-air channels, it seems obvious this was about keeping in good with Rupert.

Another hot topic where the government is stonewalling is why, on two separate occasions, Peter Dutton personally interceded to grant working visas to two young women who arrived on tourist visas but had the intention of working as au pairs.  All it took was a phone call from someone to Dutton’s office and hey presto, he overrules the immigration authorities and laws.  Mike Pezzullo, refused to answer any questions at senate estimates, taking them on notice even though others sitting with him at the table may have been able to provide the requested information.

Michaelia Cash has adopted a different approach in refusing to answer questions about her involvement in tipping off the media about a raid on union headquarters about a donation that was made over a decade ago and appropriately declared at the time.  As it is under police investigation, she can’t comment.  Surprisingly she has had no such hesitation in commenting on investigations into union activity, declaring people thugs and criminals only to, on countless occasions, have the prosecution case abandoned before it begins.

One such case was the recent dropping of blackmail charges against John Setka and Shaun Reardon.  When it turned out that Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz had met with executives from Boral who then changed their story, the prosecution beat a very hasty retreat, a move the magistrate said was “a very sensible decision”.

One thing the government prides itself on is stopping the boats.  But we never did get to the bottom of the story about whether, as overwhelming evidence suggests, they have been paying people smugglers to take the boats elsewhere, making it someone else’s problem.  The fact that that is illegal seems to have slipped by.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) representative in Indonesia, Thomas Vargas, said “To turn around and smuggle people to another country — that is illegal. So whoever does it, an individual or a country or a government, it doesn’t matter, it is illegal.”

In 2016, an interim Senate inquiry report found if the 2015 incident occurred as reported, “it potentially involved serious breaches of both Australian and international law” but ” these are unlikely to be dealt with through court action either in Australia or Indonesia.”

Another power that the government has used with relish is its chance to appoint people to boards, tribunals, and statutory bodies, the most egregious example being the sacking of disability commissioner Graeme Innes from the AHRC to gift Tim Wilson a high-paying job with an organisation that he had called for to be dismantled.  The job was not advertised and Tim did not have to submit an application or go through an interview process.  George Brandis just rang him up and said have I got a deal for you!

As Tim had no qualifications or experience in anything really, other than scribbling for the IPA and constant appearances on the ABC, they had to make a new position for him.  It didn’t really matter what because it was just so he would get lots of government money (I thought he was a libertarian?) and have something to put on his resume as he filled in a couple of years waiting for preselection in a safe Liberal seat.

I sometimes wonder if Tim feels any guilt about the price people with disabilities paid for his leg up onto the stage he so coveted.

Somehow I doubt it ever entered his mind because, as we can see from these few examples among countless others, honesty, integrity, accountability and acting in the best interests of the country are not considered important by a government who does as it pleases and feels no obligation to answer to anyone.

How do you achieve tax reform when the government are more interested in name-calling than honesty?

Rather than prosecuting the case for their policies, such as they are, the Coalition have decided their best chance of re-election lies with their “Kill Bill” strategy where they try to convince us, mainly through puerile name-calling like “Unvelieva-Bill”, that Bill Shorten can’t be trusted because he “says one thing in Canberra and another thing in Queensland/Victoria/Western Australia.”

Considering their own track record, that is a very dangerous road for them to go down.

It is true that Labor have argued for, and made, company tax cuts in the past but they were accompanied by increased taxes elsewhere to help pay for them.

When Paul Keating cut the company tax rate from 49 per cent to 33 per cent, he paid for it by a massive broadening to the base of the tax system: capital gains taxation at full marginal rates, a comprehensive fringe benefits tax, the abolition of entertainment as a deduction, tax on company cars etc.

The Gillard government went to the 2010 election proposing a modest cut to the company tax rate reducing it to 29%.  The policy also referred to the introduction of “new resource tax arrangements including a Minerals Resource Rent Tax for coal and iron ore and an expansion of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax for oil and gas.”

At the time, the Coalition opposed any spending attached to the MRRT and so also opposed the company tax cuts.

When asked “If the legislation is introduced separately, which way will you vote on the company tax cut?”, Joe Hockey said they would still oppose it.

“The total amount of revenue to be raised by the mining tax over the next three years is the equivalent of just three months of borrowings by this Government in the last few weeks. This government is on track to have a deficit of nearly $40 billion this financial year. The mining tax is estimated to bring in around $10 billion over the next three years. It is a simple equation.”

Yet now, with government debt hundreds of billions higher, the Coalition feel they can give substantial company and personal income tax cuts with no broadening of the tax base or reduction of concessions whilst also delivering a surplus, mainly by relying on what appear to be unrealistic estimates of wage growth and the hope that the windfall from increased commodity prices and surging company profits will continue.

And if we want to revisit what the party leaders have said in the past, it is worth looking at what Malcolm Turnbull wrote about negative gearing, capital gains tax discounts, and concessions for the wealthy in general.

In his 2005 tax policy paper, Turnbull described negative gearing and the CGT discount as a “sheltering tax haven” that is “skewing national investment away from wealth-creating pursuits, towards housing”, and has caused a “property bubble”. Turnbull also acknowledged that “Australia’s rules on negative gearing are very generous compared to many other countries” and that “the normal deductibility principles do not apply to negatively geared real estate such that the taxpayer is not obliged to demonstrate that the negatively geared property will generate positive cash flow at some point in the distant future”.

In 2014 he said “Looking at Australia’s tax regime you would say that it is too tough on people earning income… but is incredibly concessional to older people who have made their money…”

But according to Scott Morrison, Labor’s policy to stop refunds for excess franking credits is “ripping off retirees, pensioners, nannas, nonnas and yayas all over the country.”

There was a time when Malcolm Turnbull spoke the truth about important things.

In a speech to the House of Representatives in February 2010, Malcolm warned that “having the Government pay for emissions abatement, as opposed to the polluting industries themselves, is a slippery slope which can only result in higher taxes and more costly and less effective abatement of emissions.”

He told Lateline in 2011, “If you want to have a long-term technique of cutting carbon emissions, you know, in a very substantial way to the levels that the scientists are telling us we need to do by mid-century to avoid dangerous climate change, then a direct action policy where the Government, where industry was able to freely pollute, if you like, and the Government was just spending more and more taxpayers’ money to offset it, that would become a very expensive charge on the budget in the years ahead.”

They have avoided that by refusing to commit any more money to Direct Action and not giving a shit about emissions rising.

When the Coalition say that you will always pay higher taxes under Labor, they seem to forget that they introduced the GST, adding enormously to the cost of living in one fell swoop.

They were also the ones who introduced the budget repair levy, removing it before the budget is repaired but in time for an election.  Suggestions by Labor that it should be kept until the budget is repaired bring howls of class warfare from the very people who introduced it in the first place.

They also conveniently ignore the fact that the Gillard government tripled the tax-free threshold putting thousands of dollars back into the hands of low income earners.

Whoever is advising government strategy would do well to remember the words of Matthew:

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

We will never achieve genuine tax reform with a government who is more interested in name-calling than honesty.

And still they ignore the existential threat posed by climate change

The most recent quarterly update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory states that emissions per capita, and the emissions intensity of the economy (emissions/$ of GDP), were at their lowest levels in 28 years in the year to December 2017, a fact loudly repeated by Josh Frydenberg in the hope that we won’t notice that emissions rose again last year as they have done ever since the Coalition took over.

The reality is that this has far more to do with large increases in population and GDP than any reduction strategies and are fairly pointless measurements.  The atmosphere doesn’t care how many of us there are or what our GDP is.

Emissions increased 1.5 per cent in 2017, with the main cause being the expansion in LNG exports which saw a 41.4% increase in LNG production in 2017 and a forecast increase in LNG production for 2018 of a further 18.1%.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not considering the price, domestic gas sales decreased by 9.7% in 2017.  We don’t have a gas supply problem, we have a regulation problem.

Bucking the trend in all other sectors, annual emissions from electricity decreased by 3.1%, reflecting weakening demand (0.5%) in the National Electricity Market (NEM) and a reduction in brown coal generation.

Over the last ten years, coal generation has decreased from 85% of total generation to 75%. Conversely, gas has increased from 9% to 11% and renewable generation (predominantly wind and hydro) has increased from 7% to 14% of total generation.

Much has been made of Tony Abbott’s promise to add one million jobs in five years, but no-one seems to remember that he also promised to add one million additional solar energy roofs by 2020.  That promise never even made it to the starting line.

With the reducing price of solar panels and improvements in battery storage, we are well-placed to benefit from the abundance of sunshine in this country.  There have also been thousands of potential sites identified for small scale pumped hydro to act as storage.

Our government committed to the woefully inadequate target of, by 2020, a 5 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 2000.  According to the report, our emissions last year were 2.4 per cent below emissions in 2000.  Any claim that we have met, or will meet, our target relies on accounting skulduggery.  The facts are clear – in 2000 we emitted 547.0 Mt CO2 -e, in 2017 emissions were 533.7 Mt CO2 -e.

Many countries used 1990 as the year they based their 2020 emission reduction targets on, for example Norway who committed to a 30% reduction and the EU, 20%, on 1990 emissions.

In Australia, from 1990 to 2017, emissions from electricity increased 42.4% and stationary energy excluding electricity grew 47.3%. Emissions from transport grew 62.9%, fugitive emissions increased by 48.8%, and industrial processes and product use increased 37.4%.

The only reason we have seen a 7.5% reduction in emissions since 1990 is because Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) decreased by 114.5%.

Which is amazing considering, in Queensland alone, woody vegetation loss was around 395,000 hectares in 2015-16.  More than 1 million hectares of native bush and forest has been cleared in Queensland over the last four years.  Thankfully, the Paluscez government has recently reintroduced the land-clearing legislation that Newman so foolishly abolished.

The report also stated that the past six years have seen a strong increase in diesel consumption of 26.9%.  The transport sector has seen the highest growth in emissions since 1990 because growth in transport activity outpaced improvements in fuel efficiency. While per person ownership and use of light passenger vehicles has stabilised after decades of growth, freight and aviation activity continues to grow.

This represents an area where real improvements could be made by improving vehicle efficiency, moving to alternative fuels with potentially lower emissions, such as electricity, natural gas and sustainable biofuels, improving public transport, staggering freight deliveries and working hours to avoid congestion, decentralisation and small scale enterprises so freight doesn’t have to be transported as far, enabling people to work from home etc.

Action on climate change is an increasingly urgent priority yet this government chooses to ignore the myriad of ways in which we could be acting to try to avoid the inevitable catastrophe that will follow the out-of-control global warming their greed and irresponsible ideology is causing.

And I haven’t even mentioned a price on carbon which is the obvious first step.  Removing it did not stop the inexorable rise in electricity prices.

A few short years ago we were leaders in this field.  Thanks to the Coalition, we have gone a long way backwards, making future action much more expensive and even more urgent.

Press propaganda ramps up

I used to think Mark Kenny was a reasonably well-informed political commentator but I have felt recently that he was trying overly hard to give the Coalition the benefit of the doubt.

And then I saw his latest offering and thought WTF, do we live on the same planet?

The title – “As ‘ascendant Malcolm’ shows, nothing succeeds like success” – made me expect a satirical smackdown but I was sorely disappointed.  He actually meant it.

“Buoying the spirits of team-Turnbull is a confluence of factors including a rebounding economy, a generally well-received budget, Bill Shorten’s imminent byelection challenges, and the hope of extra pressure on the Labor leader around his party’s July National Conference.

Nothing succeeds like success.

And what could be more emblematic of success than 1 million jobs created under a Coalition government?”

It would be really nice if experienced journalists like Kenny actually did some analysis on those claims, put them in context, make some comparisons – did something to earn their salaries.

According to the ABS, between November 2007 and August 2013, the number of employed people increased by 1,088,500 despite Labor having to manage through the greatest global financial meltdown since the Great Depression.

So adding one million more employed in five years during a time of global resurgency is hardly anything to crow about.  It follows the average jobs growth over the last 15 years of about 200,000 per year which does not keep up with current population growth.

Kenny concedes that, despite the million jobs, wage growth “languishes at 2.1 per cent” which “has put a crimp on the budget’s shiny revenue projections barely a week after they were published.”

But he, again, fails to point out how significant that “crimp” is.  Adam Creighton gave a better idea in The Australian.

The budget anticipates wage growth rising to 2.25 per cent this financial year, which would require the quarterly rate of growth to surge to more than 0.7 per cent — a level not seen for four years — over the final three months of 2017-18. Wage growth is then expected to rise to 3.25 per cent by financial year 2020.

Reserve Bank deputy governor Guy Debelle commented this week that wage growth could remain stuck at about 2 per cent for longer than people anticipated.

Speaking on ABC’s Q&A program on Monday, the chairman of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Elizabeth Proust, said it was hard to see how Treasury had come up with such optimistic figures, describing the wage growth forecasts in the budget as “pretty heroic” and warning the government’s surplus will be delayed if they’re not achieved.

Undeterred, Kenny concludes with his own heroic prediction that “persistent internal critics – read Tony Abbott et al – might pull their heads in after realising that the PM could jag another term after all.”

Ya think?

A government who truly cared about jobs would have kept the car industry going rather than spending hundreds of billions on defence materiel

When the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) delivered a scathing report into the government’s $89 billion Naval Shipbuilding Plan, warning of high levels of risk, cost blowouts and schedule delays, it was met with a typically arrogant and inadequate response from Christopher Pyne.

“Key risks relate to the delivery of expected capability, program cost, ability to meet program schedules, and management of the industrial base. The Naval Shipbuilding Plan did not address the management of these risks in any detail,” the report said.

“Schedule compression presents such extreme risk that cost and schedule over-run is likely and proceeding on the current schedule has the potential for severe reputational damage to Defence and the government.”

Successful implementation of the overall Naval Shipbuilding Plan will “depend on actively managing the high to extreme levels of risk”, the ANAO found, adding that Australia’s experience in this area, alluding to the Air Warfare Destroyer Project, suggested delivering these projects on time and on budget was “very high expectations”.

The ANAO recommended “That Defence, in line with a 2015 undertaking to the government, determine the affordability of its 2017 Naval Shipbuilding Plan and related programs and advise the government of the additional funding required to deliver these programs, or the Australian Defence Force capability trade-offs that may need to be considered.”

But the recommendation has been rejected by Defence and Defence Materiel Minister Pyne.

“Building an Australian shipbuilding and submarine industry is a huge undertaking, it’s a nation building project so of course it contains risk,” Minister Pyne said.  “The alternative would be to send the $200 billion of taxpayers’ money we are spending on the largest build-up of our military capability in our peacetime history overseas, creating jobs and advanced manufacturing opportunities in other countries.”

“We make no apologies for deciding to invest in Australian-built ships, creating Australian jobs and using Australian steel rather than buying foreign ships off the shelf and using Australian tax dollars to strengthen the defence industries and increase employment and wealth overseas.”

This from the government who decided a fibre NBN was too expensive.

This from the government who refused to, in line with all other manufacturing nations, subsidise the car industry.

Holden received $1.8 billion in Commonwealth Government Assistance between 2001 and 2012.  During that time, they generated $32.7 billion in economic activity for Australia and paid $21 billion to other Australian businesses such as component suppliers.

That is a very big return on a relatively small investment.

Unlike the ship-building program.

Starting with the small fry, the cost of establishing a Naval Shipbuilding College to provide training to future shipbuilding workers has already blown out from $25 million to $62 million before they have even begun and ongoing operational costs for the College have not been considered or included in any costings.

The Offshore Patrol Vessels (OVPs) build was brought forward to avoid a so-called “valley of death” in naval construction after the Hobart Class Destroyer project ended.  But the report said there was no cost-benefit analysis done on whether accelerating the patrol vessel build was the best way to maintain a domestic workforce and that the accelerated construction of the OPVs and frigates added $5 billion-$6 billion to their cost.

For the OPV acquisition, “reliable sustainment cost estimates were not provided to the Government at second gate approval, and commercial arrangements between the selected ship builder and Australian shipbuilding firms had not been settled when the tender outcome was announced.”

The report also warns that “A key potential risk relates to any decision to integrate the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense capability into the selected frigate, which would require significant development work and be a departure from the Government’s guiding principle of minimising unique Australian design changes.”

When the contract to design our future submarines was awarded to a French company, Malcolm Turnbull stressed the 12 submarines would be built in Adelaide and the project would create 2,800 Australian jobs.

Defence SA figures released in 2016 estimated that “In 2026-27, the workforce is forecast to peak at 5805.”

Then CEO of DCNS, Sean Costello – who has since quit – said “over 90 per cent” of the build would occur in Australia but, at Senate estimates in June last year, DCNS would not commit to that target, telling the Senate committee it was too early to say whether it could be met.

The company’s interim chief executive, Brent Clark, told the committee DCNS had “no formal agreement” with ASC and that the company intends to “absorb” ASC workers.

A report by DCNS executive Marie-Pierre de Baillencourt posted on the company’s subscriber-only website in 2017 noted the project would see DCNS Australia “create 2000 jobs”.

“DCNS Australia today has around 30 personnel…this will ramp up to 300 to 500 in 2019-20 and 2000 direct employees from 2021, the scheduled start date for production of the first submarine in Adelaide,” the stakeholder update read, according to a translation.

It’s a far cry from the glossy brochure DCNS put out as part of its bid for the Future Submarines design contract, which broke down “the roadmap to 2900 jobs”, of which the French company would occupy just 100 and ASC would account for 1700.

Despite such assurances and Christopher Pyne’s declaration last October that “the valley of death is over and we are now seeing an upturn in employment”, a few weeks ago the ABC reported that “Government-owned shipbuilder ASC is poised to shed up to 223 jobs from its Adelaide shipyard by June.”

In 2015, the government asked the US-based military research thinktank Rand Corporation to review Australia’s shipbuilding capabilities and the costs and benefits of government investment in the industry.  It found that production in Australia “involves a 30% to 40% price premium over the cost of comparable production at shipyards overseas.”

Furthermore, a report prepared by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) warned that rapid advancements in underwater military technology could make the RANs future submarine fleet obsolete much sooner than Australia’s defence ministry is anticipating.

In 2013-14, 7,950 people were working in shipbuilding and submarine and ship repair.  The demise of car manufacturing cost about 50,000 jobs.

We abandoned an established industry that used Australian resources, employed many Australians, and brought significant economic return, for an industry that might employ a few thousand, at huge expense, making military hardware designed by foreign companies that will probably only ever be used for war games.

If the shipbuilding is anything like the Rheinmetal contract to build the LAND 400 vehicles, there are no guarantees about benefits to Australia.

The $5 billion contract was supposed to create 350 new long-term jobs in Ipswich with the government claiming that “Overall, the contract could support more than 1000 new jobs” in the area.

That’s only $5 million per job – except we don’t have the expertise to build them so “the first vehicles will be built overseas to train staff in construction before the operation moves to Australia” – or maybe if it moves to Australia?

And they claim to be better economic managers.

The ABC has no Friends left

After Tony Abbott, in his first budget, broke his promise to not cut funding to the ABC, a new cross-party lobby group called Parliamentary Friends of the ABC was formed to advocate for a well-resourced and independent ABC.

It was reported at the time:

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave a passionate defence of the public broadcaster in a speech to the 50-plus attendees, who included Senate powerbroker Clive Palmer. Mr Scott and ABC Chairman James Spigelman also attended the event.

Western Australian Labor MP Melissa Parke and NSW Liberal MP Craig Laundy are the co-chairs of the group. Nationals MP Bruce Scott, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and independent Senator Nick Xenophon are the deputy co-chairs.

Since then, the ABC management has changed and, of the politicians mentioned, only Turnbull and Laundy survive, both seemingly having been bought off by promotions.

The “small ‘f’ friend” Turnbull, who once launched the Saturday Paper quipping “You are not some demented plutocrat pouring more and more money into a loss making venture that is just going to peddle your opinions” has long since disappeared.

From the minute the Coalition took control, the ABC has been under relentless attack – funding cuts leading to programming and staffing cuts, boycotts by politicians, endless reviews, accusations of bias and of being unpatriotic, attacks on individuals for perceived criticism of the government or “Australian values”, legislation threatening jail time for journalists.

We even had that meglomaniac Dutton, in a very Godfather-like way, saying the ABC was “dead” to him.

PHON are happy to trade their vote on entirely unrelated matters in order to decimate the ABC.

Pauline Hanson is filthy with them and out for revenge for two reasons.  Whilst she was happy to appear everywhere taking the publicity, she certainly didn’t want any reporting on dodgy donations or internal party dissent, and she didn’t want to be made to look like a fool, though how you avoid that last one is beyond me.

Even David Leyonhjelm used his vote for the union-bashing ABCC to leverage for the ABC and SBS to remove themselves from the “goat’s cheese curtain” by holding community forums paid for from their own depleted budget.

The IPA, despite continually appearing on the ABC, have made many submissions to Senate committees calling for its dismantling, this one from regular ABC panel member Chris Berg in July last year:

Currently the government directly provides journalism through the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This is not desirable, nor should such further direct state provision be seen as a desirable solution to the economic problems the committee seeks to address. The reason for this is that the ABC is neither as free or independent as it and its supporters proclaim

As with the marriage equality debate, conservatives seem to completely misread public sentiment where more than 80% of Australians trust the ABC, compared to average trust of 57% for commercial media, and 71% of Australian adults watch, read or listen to ABC content every week.

Perhaps the only way we can get the message through is to vote these bastards out and demand that Labor protect our national broadcaster.

Make your opinion known.



NAB’s opinion of the budget

The National Australia Bank, in their assessment of the 2018-19 budget, described the government’s commitment to a tax to GDP ratio of 23.9% as “largely political but probably means that without significant spending restraint (unlikely in our view) future surpluses will be marginal. Hence there is little to no room for the Budget to adapt to any economic downturn while retaining the projected surplus – and indeed little macro policy flexibility.”

On the infrastructure spend, they point out that two thirds of the $75 billion came from previous announcements and, of the new funding, “Much of this is back ended and some may not go ahead (e.g. the Victorian Government has not committed to matching funding of the $5bn Melbourne to airport rail link).”

The “modest” personal tax cuts for 2018-19 “are unlikely to add much to growth” and the company tax cuts, should they go ahead, “in the short term really involves a switch from corporate to personal taxes (given our imputation system). Hence in many macro models the impact of corporate tax cuts on domestic demand are generally found to be relatively small.”

They “remain somewhat sceptical about the [surplus] projections – if nothing else there is clearly an ‘election cycle of promises’ still to go” and a $21bn Contingency reserve to fund it.

“It will be interesting to see how much further spending will be rolled out in the election cycle. Already it has been confirmed that there will be a “Women’s” Budget in the spring.”

Despite Scott Morrison’s assurances that they will no longer need to borrow to fund recurrent expenditure, the NAB says “we don’t really return to structural – as against a nominal- surplus for some time- i.e. post 2020/21.”

“Put differently revenue continues to be the main driver of the Budget and the medium term surpluses rely on more strict expenditure control than anything we have seen recently.”

While the bank sees infrastructure spending, non-mining business investment and, in the very near term, LNG exports adding to growth, they “still worry about the consumer who we expect will remain very cautious.”

“Going forward we see limits on how much more consumers will be willing to run down savings. As a result we still see consumer caution in the face of higher electricity prices, low wages growth, stalling/ falling house price wealth and high debt levels.”

Businesses, on the other hand, are doing well.

“While business conditions remain at very high levels (trend conditions of around +19 vis long run averages of +5.5) business continues to use better profits to pay down debt and balance sheet strengthening.”

The Business Survey “continues to point to a strengthening labour market – with growth in jobs around 24k (or more) for at least the next 6 months” and unemployment falling to around 5 per cent by year’s end – though they warn that is dependent on the participation rate not continuing its “puzzling rise.”

ScoMo would have us believe the improvement in projections is due to their sound fiscal management and their restraint.  The bank thinks otherwise.

“The improvement in the underlying cash balance in 2018-19 and 2019-20 is entirely due to parameter changes – principally revenue. This reflects in part the flow on effects of higher commodity prices to mining sector profits, but also more general strength in business activity and employment growth. In contrast, policy decisions detract from the underlying cash balance in each year…. while the forward estimates have a degree of spending discipline from 2019-20– it is noteworthy that growth in spending in the prior three years is more rapid…. the real expenditure constraint in the Budget is from 2020/21 onwards.”

The only new announcement for the childcare and education sectors was “an additional $247 million over four years from 2018-19 to extend the National Schools Chaplaincy Programme.”

The only contribution to affordable housing was “$550 million over the five years starting 2018-19 to improve access to housing for Indigenous residents in remote Northern Territory.”

The bank was silent on the lack of any funding to address climate change and the continued freeze on Foreign Aid, inexplicable decisions considering the existential threat posed by the former and the national security benefit of the latter.  When will big business get on board about the economic benefits of these essential investments in our future in this region?

Coalition religious values are increasingly unrepresentative of most Australians

The growing percentage of Australia’s population reporting no religion has been a trend for decades, and is accelerating with almost 7 million people (30%) describing themselves as having “no religion” in the 2016 census.

The figure is even higher amongst young people with 39% of people aged 18-34 reporting no religious affiliation.

Yet the Coalition is going in the other direction.  In the last couple of days, we have been shown just how far.

Nationals MP George Christensen is set to be ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church in July.

It appears George has been religion shopping until he found the right fit for him.

He spent a few weeks in a Catholic seminary when he was 21 but quit.  Then in 2014 he joined the Antiochian Orthodox Church.  Now he’s become an Anglican, attaching himself to one of the few Anglican dioceses in Australia that does not ordain women priests, The Murray, in South Australia.

He won’t be moving to South Australia, but rather is expected to be attached to a parish in Mackay, in his home diocese of north Queensland, where he will assist with services and other activities.

“I am humbled to have my vocation to ordination in the church discerned,” George proclaimed.  Though it hasn’t stopped him from reaffirming he will contest the next Federal election.

Mr Christensen has been studying theology through the Sydney College of Divinity and says he could be ordained a priest in the future, but only once he leaves parliament.

Then down in Victoria, at least five Mormons were elected as party officers at last week’s Liberal Party state conference, notably a doctor who blames ungodly love for HIV, as well as a prominent campaigner against the Safe Schools program.

They are part of a group of ultra-conservatives and religious activists who are centred around 28-year-old Liberal factional leader, Marcus Bastiaan, who has been accused of branch-stacking, actively recruiting Mormons and other ultra-conservatives to the Liberal Party.  The Bastiaan faction’s push for power paid off when it won 13 of 19 seats on the powerful administrative committee last weekend.

In NSW it gets even more bizarre with the head of the Carlingford branch of the Liberal Party calling for Sharia style caning for crimes.

The notoriously hard-right Carlingford branch, under its colourful president George Popowski, will discuss a push to “straighten out the law and order system” by handing sentencing powers to a panel of 20 members of the public, with no more than 30 per cent from the legal fraternity.

He proposed 10 lashes for theft of a T-shirt, 1000 lashes for stealing a car (2000 if the vehicle is damaged), 5000 lashes for punching a police officer and 20,000 lashes for murder.

The floggings should be “delivered at 10 lashes per hour – every hour from 9am to 5pm, with one hour for lunch”, Mr Popowski wrote. The sentence would be doubled for second-time offenders.

It’s nice they get time off from the flogging for some lunch.

There is also a push on from “dozens of Liberal MPs” to renew, and significantly boost, the “absolutely essential” school chaplaincy program in this year’s budget.  They want to increase the $250 million funding by 25% and make it a permanent, indexed commitment.

We shall see if ScoMo’s magic pudding extends that far when he “goes live” this evening.  (It’s a little bit tragic when your Treasurer posts on Facebook “Today at 7:30pm ScoMo plans to go live.”)

The sooner we separate religion and state completely, the better.  That will entail getting rid of a Coalition who is so far out of touch with mainstream Australian values that they have become an irrelevant anachronism who should have no place in the halls of power.

The Liberal Party’s list of “key achievements”

For those of us who wonder what this government has actually achieved, the Liberal Party have provided a handy list of “key achievements”.

They begin by telling us that “403,100 more jobs were created in 2017.”

Aside from using the seasonally adjusted figure rather than the more commonly used trend estimate (393,400), they left out the part that says “The number of unemployed persons was largely unchanged, increasing by 100.”

Next comes the small business tax cuts “for 3.2 million businesses employing 6.7 million Australians.”

Firstly, according to the ABS, at the end of 2016-17, there were 2,238,299 actively trading businesses in the market sector in Australia in total, not 3.2 million, and they aren’t all small businesses as that would imply.

Secondly, 61.2% of all businesses don’t employ anyone else. Of those who do have employees, 70.1% employed between one and four people.

As Adam Creighton pointed out, those small businesses created 5% of the growth in private sector employment since 2010, while businesses with more than 200 employees (0.5% of employing businesses) created 65% of that growth.

Small business tax cuts might sound nice, but they do little to boost employment.

The next “achievement” on the list was the instant asset write-off “used last year by 300,000 small businesses to invest in new equipment and machinery.”

According to Treasury data, in the first year of the scheme, 99,000 businesses took advantage of the write-offs, claiming a total of $415 million, up from the $165 million claimed in write-downs before the scheme was introduced.

In October 2017, then Small Business Minister Michael McCormack said the most recent Treasury data revealed another 50,500 businesses took up the scheme in its second year, with the average amount claimed increasing from $4000 to $9000.

Aside from 300,000 being a fabrication, if it’s such a good idea, why are they scrapping it on July 1 this year?

The next claim of “affordable, reliable energy” is more a wish than an achievement.

“National Energy Guarantee will ensure reliability and reduce bills. More gas supplies have been secured. Snowy Hydro 2.0 feasibility study has been completed.”

Anyone’s electricity bill gone down yet?  And how are those emissions going?  One part of the “trilemma” seems to be missing.

Then comes the “record infrastructure investment” of “$75 billion” which hasn’t actually happened yet but is sure to some time over the “next decade”.

Do promises count as achievements?

Next, they claim to be “fixing the budget” by “halving the growth in spending”.

That is double-speak for we are still running deficits and increasing the debt.

Then we move on to “more exports” which are “locking in benefits from landmark trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.”

Budget papers estimate the loss of revenue from tariffs over the forward estimates to be $6.375 billion.

The Productivity Commission released a scathing report on the value of free trade agreements, saying they just added to the “complexity and cost of international trade through substantially different sets of rules of origin, varying coverage of services and potentially costly intellectual property protections and investor-state dispute settlement provisions.”

They were harshly critical of “the continuing absence of two critical areas of transparency.  First, the lack of contemporaneous transparency of the provisions being negotiated. Second, the absence of any rigorous and transparent assessment of the negotiated text of an agreement before signing.”

The report also contains specific criticism of the TPP, which the achievements list boasts “Australia took a lead role in negotiating”, over the risks it poses around issues such as intellectual property.

Of course, what would a Liberal list of achievements be without reference to “tackling union lawlessness”.

“Australian Building and Construction Commission restored to protect small businesses and the economy from CFMEU lawlessness. Secret payments banned between businesses and unions.”

It only cost us a double dissolution election to establish the ABCC whose boss then had to quit for breaching the Fair Work Act, but not before taxpayers coughed up $400,000 to cover his legal bill.

Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the Banking Royal Commission.  Nor any attempt to stop “secret payments” between businesses and politicians or government and media moguls.

They then remind us how they are keeping us safe through “secure borders, fighting terror, deporting criminals, tackling the scourge of ice, a stronger defence force, and cracking down on paedophiles.”

They are good at imposing very expensive reactionary punitive measures but not so good at the compassion and support necessary to forestall problems or to help victims.

Next achievement – “more affordable child care” with “Landmark reforms targeted to working parents.”

The kicker is that, under the new package, to qualify for subsidised care both parents must be working, studying, training or volunteering for at least four hours a week.  Families earning less than $65,000 who do not meet the test will be able to access 12 hours a week of subsidised care but anyone earning over $65,000, regardless of their circumstances, must satisfy the test every week or they are ineligible for subsidised care.

The early childhood sector wanted the 12-hour limit increased to 15 hours and wanted the activity test to only apply to families earning more than $100,000 a year.  After wide consultation and providing compelling evidence for their stance, they thought they had agreement with Simon Birmingham, but they were sorely disappointed.

Simon Birmingham also claims the next achievement, “more schools funding”, which is a fairly easy claim to make because, due to increasing population, schools get more funds every year anyway.  As we have seen, making claims about funding in a decade’s time is meaningless.

His other claim that “Our agreement replaces 27 secret deals and will provide needs based funding for all students” has already been shot out of the water with many disadvantaged schools being worse off whilst a secret deal with the wealthiest schools has already been struck to ease the shock.

The Liberals then claim to have provided “better health care” with “86% of GP visits bulk billed last year, hospital funding at record levels and new reforms introduced to improve private health insurance.”

But according to RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel, the percentage of patients who had all their GP visits bulk billed during 2016–17 was actually around 66%.  While the Federal Government’s Medicare spend has risen, so have patients’ out-of-pocket cost for GP visits, reaching an average of $34.95 over the July–December period in 2017–18. This represents a 4.5% rise in out-of-pocket costs compared to a 0.5% rise in bulk billing over the same period.

Between 2012–13 and 2016–17, additions to public hospital elective surgery waiting lists (patients placed on a waiting list) increased by 3.2% on average each year.

And private health insurance costs continued to soar while the things they covered got less.

The Libs also spruik their immunisation program, saying that “From next year all 12 and 13 year olds will get free protection against HPV virus and cervical and other cancers.”

It wasn’t that long ago that their leader was saying he wouldn’t get his daughters immunised because it might lead to promiscuity.

We are next regaled with the wonders of the Work for the Dole program, new compliance rules, the cashless welfare card and drug testing of welfare recipients, all of which participants and welfare groups agree are soul-destroying.

They then congratulate themselves for removing gambling ads “during televised sports before 8.30pm on free-to-air television.”

This from the party who, as one of their first acts on winning office, wound back the modest gambling reforms introduced by the previous Labor government.  This from the defenders of poker machines as demonstrated in the recent Tasmanian election.

Rupert Murdoch will, of course, still be free to cash in on the lucrative advertising dollars on his pay tv.

And to round out the list of “achievements”, we have same sex marriage where they wasted over $100 million dollars to appease the hard right Christians and homophobes in their own party room.

All in all, we are given a list of aspirations, promises, exaggerations, lies and waste.

If that’s the best they can come up with after two terms in office, they certainly do not deserve a third try to get it right.

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