In 1963, when Martin Luther King articulated his dream for the future of his children, he touched the hearts and minds of people around the world. He spoke of a world of equal opportunity for all, a world where children would be nurtured, a world where people would be safe and free from hatred and intolerance.
He spoke of the shameful situation where, 100 years after emancipation, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
As I listened to this speech again, I could not help but compare it to the vision, or lack thereof, from our current government. “I have a mandate” does not quite have the same ring to it. Aiming to leave our children debt free seems such a paltry goal, one that is naively unattainable and questionably desirable.
Where is the plan for the country we want to be? Where is the path to the world Martin Luther King dreamed of?
Tony’s dream seems to change daily. Early in the piece, stopping the boats was his main aim. Endless hours in Parliament were devoted to a count of boat arrivals and deaths at sea. Countless headlines told us how a few thousand asylum seekers were destroying our way of life.
Since taking office, Operation Sovereign Borders has been the one policy that has an open-ended budget – whatever it takes. Everything is sacrificed to stop the boats – tens of billions of dollars, our relationship with our neighbours, our international reputation and the reputation of our Navy. We are even prepared to sacrifice the lives of those people who have come to us seeking safe haven, and risk the mental and physical health of asylum seekers and their children by incarcerating them indefinitely, even though they are the victims and have committed no crime other than to ask for our help.
In an attempt to appeal to female voters, Tony took an awkward foray into the world of feminism by promising a generous paid parental leave scheme to encourage “women of calibre” to have babies. His caring new persona was backed up by interviews with his female relatives and uncomfortably private revelations from his female Chief of Staff. This very costly and widely unpopular scheme remains in the budget after a slight trim which barely affects its cost.
Closer to election time, it once again became a referendum on the carbon tax. This great big new tax on everything was wrecking our economy and driving up the cost of living for ordinary Australians. Tony promised to save us $550 a year from our power bills because pensioners were having to choose between eating and being warm.
When the carbon tax was shown to be working in reducing demand, and the economy kept growing with low inflation, the focus shifted more to integrity and trust.
“So my pledge to you is that I won’t say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards because fibbing your way into office is what’s brought our public life into disrepute.” – January 31, 2013
“We will be a no-surprises, no-excuses government, because you are sick of nasty surprises and lame excuses from people that you have trusted with your future.” – August 25, 2013
Despite alarmist rhetoric warning of a budget emergency, an economic crisis, and a debt and deficit disaster, Tony promised repeatedly in that simplistic manner he has of counting off on his fingers, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions, no changes to the GST and no cuts to the ABC and SBS.
During one of a million election doorstops a reporter asked him: ”The condition of the budget will not be an excuse for breaking promises?”
”Exactly right” replied Tony. ”We will keep our commitments that we make …” he went on to say for the umpteenth time in the campaign.
Buoyed by an overwhelming victory in the election and being handed the keys to the safe, each Minister seemed to go off on their own path to glory.
Warren Truss was the warm-up act, re-announcing funding for roads that had previously been funded. Apparently, if you close off funding from one source and then fund it from a different source then you can claim it as your own initiative, a strategy they are also using in education.
We then have spokesmodel Jamie Briggs with the big introduction…”It really gives me pleasure to introduce to you, the indescribable, the incompatible, the unadorable…..Prime Minister for Infrastructure.”
Tony has gone on a flurry of spending on roads that have not had the appropriate studies done. They are not high on the list of priorities carefully constructed by Infrastructure Australia. Rather than making voters happy, many of these roads are striking opposition from residents and businesses who are demanding more information. One of the main criticisms is that these bits of roads do not link up to integrated public transport networks. They may provide routes for freight trucks but they are not helping commuters get to work. Endless kilometres of bitumen carrying thousands of cars to nowhere.
Roads seem to be the only plan to address the growing unemployment situation. How many people can it employ? What do these people do when the road is finished? What assets are we selling to build these roads? What employment plans are there for people not suited to building roads?
Joe Hockey devoted his time to strategies to make himself look good. He immediately borrowed $8.8 billion to give to the RBA. He then pulled off the most amazing sleight of hand by convincing people that the figures in MYEFO were Labor’s debt and deficit. Ignore the fact that this document was actually the debt and deficit using Coalition policies, lie about the debt by quoting a possible debt in ten years’ time and attribute it to Labor, inflate the deficit with your own spending and assumptions, and then produce a Budget that reduces your own inflated deficit by taking money from the most vulnerable in our society.
Joe is also future-proofing himself by getting sick people to contribute $20 billion to reduce the deficit. Do not be fooled into thinking this money is going to medical research. It is not. The interest earned by the money is to go to research but the principal will sit there untouched to make Joe’s bottom line healthier, courtesy once again, of our most vulnerable.
Scott Morrison enjoyed the limelight as he went on his relentless campaign of showing just how big a bastard this country could be, spending money hand over fist.
Christopher Pyne immediately began remoulding education to his priorities which seem to focus on our Judeo-Christian heritage and the ANZAC legacy. He also wants more mention of Conservative politicians and the role of big corporations in shaping our identity. Rote learning and teacher-based instruction will replace research, discovery, initiative and creativity.
When you hear Christopher say he has put an extra $1.2 billion into education to sign up the remaining States to the Gonski reforms, he got that $1.2 billion by ripping almost $1 billion out of the trades training centres programme and the rest of it by abolishing the before and after school care program. And now we find that they have ripped a further $80 billion out of funding to the States for health and education.
Andrew Robb has been signing Free Trade Agreements quicker than they can be printed. The reason other countries are willing to sign so quickly after years of negotiation is because this government is prepared to give up so much for so little in return purely so they can say we got the job done.
Our Health Minister is busily dismantling Medicare and our Environment Minister is getting rid of all environmental protections in his haste to approve more coal mines and more logging. Our Social Services Minister is removing gambling reforms, cutting welfare and pensions, and encouraging people to stay married regardless of how bad it is.
Our communications Minister is unravelling arguably the greatest potential boost to productivity this country would have seen, and breaking his promise to protect our National Broadcaster.
The rhetoric has now changed. The main promise was apparently to fix the budget. All other election promises can be sacrificed to achieve this one. I do believe that governments have to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances but I do not believe that the situation has changed so drastically as to warrant the attack we have seen in this budget.
As Hugh Mackay says
“this is a profoundly disappointing budget. It’s not the economics; it’s not the politics; it’s the clear sign that this government has young people, the sick, the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and the marginalised in its sights.”
A joint press release by the cigar-smoking duo of destruction says
“Gross government debt is now forecast to be $389 billion in 2023-24, compared with the $667 billion left behind by the former Government.”
In his MYEFO document produced in December, which included Coalition spending, Joe Hockey said:
“Net debt is expected to be $191.5 billion (12.1 per cent of GDP) in 2013‑14 and is expected to reach $280.5 billion (15.7 per cent of GDP) in 2016‑17.”
I always impressed on my children the importance of telling the truth, especially if something bad had happened. “If I know the truth then I can work out how to best help you.” I would say to this government, you have a mandate to tell the truth. If you are honest with us and prepared to listen to advice, let’s work together to first of all determine what sort of future we want and then how to best achieve it. You need to start from scratch.