A few days ago, we were treated to a photo of Scott Morrison getting a lift in the PM’s car. Apparently Malcolm was going to the same airport as Scott and because they’re such good mates, they thought that the press should be called because – even though, as buddies, they must be sharing things all the time – this sort of moment was exactly the sort of “living within your means” example that was worth a photo opportunity.
A few nasty people in the media suggested that this was to prove that just because Malcolm never tells Scott what’s about to be announced, there’s no serious rift and that the photo opportunity was more about making it look as though there is enough room in the PM’s limo for both their egos. And it’s definitely not true that once the car was out of sight, the driver pulled over and Malcolm told Scott to call an Uber driver.
Anyway, today I’m not at all concerned about that. Neither am I concerned about Peter Dutton’s claim that he’s removed all children from detention in Australia – even the ones that he’s he told us that he’s planning to send back to Nauru as soon as the election’s over.
No, I’m most concerned with the Liberal government’s assertion that the state’s need to “live within their means” after they rejected outright Turnbull’s proposal that they could raise their own income tax to pay for things on the understanding that they weren’t to actually get any more money than they have now.
To recap last week’s events. Turnbull offered the states the chance to get a definite share of tax, in return for getting a reduction of Commonwealth grants equivalent to any money raised. In return for this, they’d have to agree that they were responsible for the running of hospitals and schools and roads and anything else and the Federal government would only be responsible for things like Defence and the sale of CSIRO once it had stopped all that research which it’s been doing for the “public good” and becomes a profitable entity that can be floated on the stock exchange or sold to Liberal donors for half its value. The states rejected this, claiming that two days wasn’t enough time to consider agreeing to one of the biggest changes since World War Two, at which point Turnbull turned the tables and cried: “Aha, you fell for my dastardly plan. Now we can just blame you when hospital waiting lists are longer than the average lifespan and schools are in disarray!”
Anyway, I heard the phrase that the states need to “live within their means” so many times that it began to sound strange. You know that feeling you have when you repeat some words over and over. And I thought to myself do I even know what means means? That’s the second “means”; I know that the first “means” means to express or indicate.
The “mean” in statistics is the average, but I doubt that the Liberals have been telling everybody that they need to live within their averages. And then I realised that they’d be using it in the sense of “resources or income”.
So living within one’s means is to live within one’s resources or income.
Which I find a rather strange thing for the Liberals to be suggesting.
Imagine, for example, when a young unemployed person refuses to go to a job interview because the fare on public transport means that he’s no longer living within his means. I can’t see the Liberals applauding his restraint. Neither can I see them supporting an attempt for an unfair dismissal claim if a hospitable worker wears the same shirt for a week in order to save money on washing to help his quest to live within his means.
Imagine even, Adani refusing to borrow for their coal mine, because, well, they need to live within their means… Actually this last one may be a bad example because there doesn’t seem a bank ready to lend them money for a project where it costs more to extract the coal than they can sell it for. We haven’t seen that sort of logic since OneTel. The banks may insist that Adani live within its means!
Sometimes it’s only by deciding to extend one’s resources and/or income that one actually improves one’s situation. If we go back to the rhetoric surrounding Labor’s negative gearing restrictions, it seems that the Liberals were happy for people to borrow for investment, even though some might suggest that this doesn’t fit the definition of living within one’s means.
In any event, I was pleased that last week, Mr Turnbull was at pains to tell us that the Commonwealth would still need to fund private schools because any suggestion that they need to live within their means was just – as Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, told us – “class envy”, and that we couldn’t have them being neglected by state governments who’d be more concerned with their “own schools”. Of course, Birmingham added later that money doesn’t really make a difference to education, so why government schools should need extra funding was just nonsense. Perhaps it’s just me, but those two concepts seem at odds with each other.
Well, must stop. I think I may have used up my electricity ration for the day and I need to live within my means.