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The Miser’s Apprentice

I recently came across an article from 2009 called The Howard Impact which compares Australia’s performance against seventeen other advanced democracies including the United States, Canada, Japan and the countries of Western Europe. Whilst I have no desire to live in the past, the facts from the Howard era are chillingly relevant as this government is driven by an even fiercer version of the same ideology that created many of today’s problems.

On several central measures of macroeconomic performance (economic growth, unemployment, productivity) Howard’s government scored comparatively well. On some of the achievements trumpeted most loudly at home, such as inflation and interest rates, its performance was actually worse than the average of the selected countries.

Household debt in relation to disposable income almost doubled during the Howard years due to a sharp increase in housing prices. Home loan interest payments were higher than when housing interest rates peaked at 17 per cent in 1989. Despite the relatively good economic growth this created financial stress for many people.

Cutting capital gains tax and giving tax concessions for negative gearing exacerbated a problem already being fuelled by unmet demand, low interest rates and easy availability of money from lending institutions. The influx of investors into the property market, competing with property owners looking to upgrade, drove prices up and the rate of home ownership among those under thirty-five dropped.

Under the Howard government there was an increased emphasis on private delivery of what had previously been public services, often with the introduction of a public subsidy delivered by tax rebates, for example. This was very much the case in health, in child care and aged care. But the most glaring example was in education.

From 1995 to 2005, the private share of education spending rose to be the third highest among the selected countries and the public share fell to 12 points below their average.

The public subsidy of private providers led to a growth in private schools to the degree that one-fifth of Australian public spending on education went to private institutions, almost double the overall average of 10.5 per cent, a particularly high figure when it is remembered that private universities had a negligible presence in Australia.

Spending on tertiary institutions was even worse. During that decade the public share had dropped to less than half, 48 per cent, and Australia was then 26 points below the average.

“This reflected an increased emphasis on private funding, but also –uniquely among these developed democracies – a reduction in real terms in public spending on tertiary education. In 2005, Australia spent 0.8 per cent of GDP compared with an average of 1.1 per cent. In other words Australian expenditure would have had to increase by around 35 per cent to bring it up to average. In the other countries for which we have data, public spending on tertiary education was up by 30 per cent in real terms over the decade 1995–2005. Only Australia’s decreased.”

The article concludes by asking how Howard will be viewed in ten or twenty years’ time.

“As with all governments, the Howard government’s economic management and foreign policy decisions will be central to any assessment. In addition, the aging society, health care, the challenges of the information economy and society, and the environment will be central concerns. In each of these areas, the government is likely to be marked more harshly in the future than it was when in office.”

Well here we are, almost 20 years on from 1995. Arguably the greatest problems facing us are climate change and environmental protection, income inequity, housing affordability, falling education standards, and increasing financial stress for families. These problems were exacerbated by Howard’s policy decisions and will be sent into crisis by the Abbott/Hockey idea of government.

To deal with health care and the aging society, Abbott has chosen a user pays model – the antithesis of everything we have gained over the years to provide these services to all. He wants to cut payments to welfare recipients – make the poor poorer. Make pensions harder to get but tax concessions will be huge for those of you with millions.

The challenges of the information economy and society will be met with aging copper wire.

The environment – isn’t that the place where mines live?

When in doubt, privatise. Who needs profitable assets?

But hey, we may have a surplus in ten years. A surplus is just a number on a piece of paper but it’s WORTH selling everything we own, destroying the environment, cutting funding to health and education, making sick people pay, cutting benefits to pensioners, saddling students with crippling debt, cutting off all income for 6 months of the year to desperate people and all that other heavy lifting our sick, old, young, and unemployed are being asked to do for the good of the country (otherwise known as the grubs).

Society is not a dirty word. It is also not a synonym for economy. The economy is the means by which we achieve the society we desire. It is utterly insane to sacrifice our society for the end goal of nothing more than an accounting term.

The miser’s apprentice has put on the hat but has no control over the power he now has. The puppet masters are in the ascendency … for now.


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  1. June M Bullivant Oam

    I know that the decisions of the Federal Government effects the states, it also affects the thinking of the states, the community has been dealt their hand from a stacked deck of cards, there has been a number of people placed in key decision areas to the detriment of the community they are supposed to serve. It is not improving it is getting worse.

  2. DanDark

    Kaye Lee very relevant,
    The Masters (Howard’s) Apprentice is Abbott
    I am just over it now, chucked all my jobs in yesterday
    This country can get stuffed, I have pulled all resources of mine in now, the fat cats can do their own stuff
    they pay the plebs peanuts to do,
    I am “liberated” Tones favourite word
    I am the best friend the LNP could have, I am just waiting for my severance pay, after being “liberated”
    Thankyou Tones and co, I am a “conservationist” and I have been unshackled from oppression 😉
    List of my liberated
    Has been no formal school for my child for a month, petrol costs money
    I rip all money out of bank straight away = my own bank! controlled by me
    I have dropped Lib friends and family, libs have no brains, no morals
    I have stopped spending money, libs = recession/ depression
    I have quit all jobs = I will sell my assets and live off savings
    I have a feeling, this gov is starting to bite= Rich people will not be able sell their goods
    Leave the country = freedom, freedom, freedom! liberated
    I will survive, thanks to being liberated, I just love that word “liberated”
    He told us we “would thank him” he was right lol
    Who would of guessed, not me LoL

  3. Jason

    A rather bold and less than subtle use of the Shakespeare pun pertaining to “country matters”. Bravo!

  4. Jason

    On second thoughts “c*ntry” – that’s just tacky!

  5. Faye

    THE NEW AUSTRALIA( ghetto)

  6. Möbius Ecko

    “I know that the decisions of the Federal Government effects the states, it also affects the thinking of the states…”

    June M Bullivant Oam. Much more than that. With this government and to a lesser degree the Howard ones before it, the Federal Government is making decisions that don’t just affect the thinking of the States, but are forcing the States to behave in the way the Federal government wants them to even if that’s directly against the wishes of the State and its people. For instance forcing them to sell off all public assets in fire sales to get Commonwealth funding.

  7. Lawrence Winder

    Bereft of imagination, empathy and common sense “Rabbutt-the-Hun” and his Neanderthal economic rabble are hell bent on destroying the social fabric of this country to implement the “Coot’s-With-Queer-Ideas-From-a-Parallel-Universe” (IPA’s) right-wing free-market agenda.
    To what end? I divine no grand scheme for the country, no philosophic reach… there is just as in “Rabbutt’s” utterances, a void.

  8. Trevor

    Who remembers Howards infamous reply to a reporter when quizzed about the sky rocketing price of housing?

    Howard replied that “nobody has come to me complaining about the increased price of their property”. Or words to that extent.

    Howard the suburban lawyer left a toxic mess cause he knew the price of everthing and the value of nothing important.

    And now it’s Abbott with a viscous rabble of toxic oxygen thieves telling us they are the Adults masquerading as a Government.

    Now Clive the Coalminer neutures any payments he as a coaliner will have to make for carbon abatement.

  9. mars08

    The conservatives have been in the driver’s seat…. more or less… since Howard’s first term. Rudd and Gillard didn’t really count as progressives…. only in comparison to the poison dwarf.

  10. corvus boreus

    Antony Abbott MP was not the ‘honorable’ Howard’s apprentice, he was his rabid attack dog, fed scraps and chained until called upon to viciously maul opponents.
    John Winston, no moral giant but a pragmatic politician, is probably writhing in mortification at the travesty and embarrassment his beloved party has become under this slavering dunce.

  11. DanDark

    Q.What is black and brown and looks good on Abbott
    A. A Rottweiler

  12. Kaye Makovec

    “I know that the decisions of the Federal Government effects the states,”

    Dead right June M Bullivant Oam, and as we have a Victorian election coming with the LNP popularity in the polls falling, they are depending on the farmers voting for the Nationals, and have until November to change voter’s minds, but with Abbott putting both feet in his lying mouth I can see a change coming.

    Actually, the Victorian mob may have more of a chance if Abbott keeps his mouth filled with feet 🙂

  13. mars08

    Society is not a dirty word. It is also not a synonym for economy. The economy is the means by which we achieve the society we desire. It is utterly insane to sacrifice our society for the end goal of nothing more than an accounting term.

    And that’s it in a nutshell. We are being pushed into making this sacrifice. And once that society been torn down, it will be practically impossible to rebuild.

  14. Kaye Lee

    Rebuilding will be very expensive. It’s the old merry-go-round …The Coalition cut spending on education and health and services and then the Labor Party have to spend to catch up, but this time the cuts are so bad they will have an immediate and irreversible effect on a generation of people.

  15. Dan Rowden

    Damn, I can’t find where people were talking about Penny Wong and correspondence, so I’m just going to post the latest Labor email blast from her for those people:

    The Australian Senate is a pretty interesting place at the moment and I thought you might want to know what’s going on in here right now.

    Labor is working hard in the Senate to fight against the Budget’s cuts to schools, universities, hospitals, pensions and family benefits. These cuts are not only deeply unfair, they represent bad economic policy because education and health are critical to Australia’s future prosperity.

    Despite all the bluster and claims of Senate obstruction, the Abbott Government has so far only presented a handful of Budget bills to the Senate.

    Here’s the rundown on the current situation:

    Appropriation Bills have passed the Senate. We will never do what the Coalition did in 1975.

    Scrapping the Schoolkids Bonus and the Low Income Superannuation Contribution. The Government sought to scrap Labor’s Schoolkids Bonus and Low Income Superannuation Contribution as part of its bill to repeal the Minerals Resources Rent Tax. Labor voted against this bill in the Senate and it was defeated in March.

    Deficit reduction levy. This increases the top tax rate for people earning more than $180,000 a year. While it represents a broken promise, Labor did not oppose this measure in the Senate because it is targeted at those on very high incomes. The legislation has now passed Parliament.

    GP and Medicines Taxes. Labor will vote against the new taxes of $7 per GP visit and $5 per chemist prescription when legislation comes into the Parliament.

    Increasing university fees and student debt. Labor will vote against these measures.

    Cutting indexation of pensions. We’ll will vote against these cuts when legislation is brought into the Parliament.

    Increasing petrol taxes. Labor will vote against the Government’s plans to increase fuel excises because of the cost of living impact on low and middle income earners.

    Currently the Senate is made up of 34 Coalition Senators, 31 Labor Senators, and 11 cross bench Senators, but from 1 July there will be 33 Coalition Senators, 25 Labor Senators and 18 cross bench Senators.

    The Government is bullying the new cross-bench Senators to vote for its cuts. Labor’s Senate team will work with the cross benchers to oppose the Budget’s unfair cuts. I’ll keep you posted over coming months on how you can help make sure all Senators know exactly what the community thinks of the government’s legislation.

    Until next time,


  16. Steph

    It is a lazy government who’s main solution is to leave it to the private sector to fix our problems. Lazy or incredibly dumb, not sure which.

  17. mars08

    The Coalition cut spending on education and health and services and then the Labor Party have to spend to catch up, but this time the cuts are so bad they will have an immediate and irreversible effect on a generation of people.

    Ahhh… rose coloured glasses, Kaye Lee?

    The notion that a 21st century Labor government would have the courage, inclination and/or resources to properly rebuild those institutions…. is wishful thinking.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any truly progressive thinking from Labor. The neo-liberal approach is solidly entrenched within the party.

    Also…. the idea that there’s some sort of rhythmic to and fro of progressive and regressive ideology in modern Australia is… quite frankly… bullshit! The voters will never elect a leftist government that has the same level of zealotry as the Howard or Abbott governments. Such politicians will never even be allowed anywhere near parliament. There is NO CHANCE of a progressive agenda of the same scale as Abbott’s schemes will ever see the light of day. For a start… the MSM would never give it a chance.

    Hate to tell you, Kaye Lee… but the white-anting of our society will not be reversed by a future, benevolent, kind-hearted, public-spirited Prime Minister. Such a person DOES NOT exist in Australian politics today. Any progressive policies you though you saw under Rudd and Gillard, were only progressive to what happened in the Howard years. Labor is incapable of doing anything more than fiddling around the edges and giving the illusion of change.

    The socio-political pendulum is well and truly broken. There is NO balance. In recent years, the pendulum has been smacked to the right so often… and with such force that the PIVOT POINT has shifted. The “centre” has moved. These days, John Hewson and Malcol Fraser are derided as howling lefties.

    We are already too far down the rabbit-hole…

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