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Plan B

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No courage, no vision, no plan

In 1946, after World War II, gross debt in Australia peaked at 120% of GDP. Despite this, in 1949, the government of the day had the courage and foresight to embark on the largest construction project undertaken in Australia, the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.

The Scheme cost $1.16 billion and was completed in 1974. By then, gross debt had declined to around 8 per cent of GDP.

In the 25 years it took to build, more than 100,000 people from over 30 countries came to work in the mountains to make true a vision of diverting water to farms to feed a growing nation and to build power stations to generate renewable electricity for homes and industries.

The project is often used as an example for multiculturalism, having employed thousands of migrant engineers and labourers. Their influence radically changed Australian culture for the better in the years that followed.

Sixteen major dams, seven major power stations (two underground), a pumping station, 145kms of inter-connected trans-mountain tunnels and 80kms of aqueducts were constructed. Even before the Scheme was completed, it was named as one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation now sells its engineering knowledge overseas.

Today, Snowy Hydro continues to play a vital role in the growth and the development of Australia’s national economy, by diverting water that underwrites over $3 billion in agricultural produce and by generating clean renewable energy.

Snowy Hydro currently provides around 32% of all renewable energy that is available to the eastern mainland grid of Australia, as well as providing fast response power to light up the morning and evening rush hours of Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide. Water flow from dams is much easier to turn off than a coal-fired power station.

Had the government of the day worried about the “debt and deficit” disaster, this nation-changing project may not have gone ahead. Thankfully, they realised the future return on their investment and the immediate advantages of the employment and skills training it provided.

Abbott had his chance to be part of a similar boost to our nation with the NBN. He chose instead to go with the rhetoric contained in the daily talking points provided by the red-shoe wearing Mark Textor and destroy this productivity enhancing reform for no reason other than he wants to be able to say he achieved a surplus just like John Howard. He patently doesn’t understand its potential. Gillard started it so it must be destroyed.

Tony’s wants his big contribution to be more roads whether we want them or not.

He seems oblivious to the heat island consequences of thousands of kilometres of bitumen, the pollution caused by more cars on the road, and the effect on climate change from using fossil fuels.

He doesn’t care about cost benefit analyses or the priorities outlined by Infrastructure Australia or the lack of parking in the cities.

He doesn’t seem to understand that if we got cars off the road by investing in urban public transport it would free it up for road freight or that if we built a high speed rail between Melbourne and Brisbane that it would free up the rail lines for rail freight and the airports for air freight.

Climate change think tank Beyond Zero Emissions found that a high-speed rail network on Australia’s east coast could be built for $84 billion and the system would be faster, cheaper and cleaner than air travel. To put this in perspective, the budget allocated $36 billion over 5 years to be spent “building the roads of the 21st century”. State and federal governments spend a combined $18 billion each year on roads.

HSR would allow people to travel from Sydney to Melbourne in two hours and 44 minutes, and Sydney to Brisbane in two hours and 37 minutes – potentially faster than flying once you take into account time at the airport.

Its design envisages a network powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from regional travel by 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over 40 years.

The rail link would also turbocharge regional development.

“High-speed rail will allow people to live in cities like Shepparton and Goulburn but commute to Sydney or Melbourne for work,” CEO Dr Bygrave said.

“It would allow people to live outside of urban cities but still work in them. It’s a pretty important nation-building exercise.”

This would make living in regional areas more attractive, and in turn alleviate pressure on house prices in capital cities.

“High-speed rail would revolutionise interstate travel, and would also be an economic game-changer for dozens of regional communities along its path. That’s why the politicians need to exercise vision and think way beyond the current political cycle,” Mr Albanese said.

The HSR advisory group was disbanded after Abbott won the election and the funding for long term planning was cut in the budget.

While politicians continue to foolishly and needlessly pursue a surplus, we are committing intergenerational theft by refusing to invest in the infrastructure they will need in the future.

This government has no courage, no vision, and no plan.


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  1. Ruth L

    Common sense drips from every word Kaye.
    Morry Schwartz from the Monthly should offer you a job.You would be worth squillions to him!

  2. Sir ScotchMistery

    I wonder if it’s reasonable to say Menzies was the last Liberal with any vision?

    Certainly Labor built the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with forward thinking to take care of more cars per day than there were on the roads at the time.

  3. Phi

    Excellent points made in this article. Roads are not the future – they are the past. Roads are where vast numbers of Australians die every year. Roads are made from quarried rock (massive fossil energy usage) concrete (massive CO2 contribution) asphalt (massive oil consumption) Yes, roads are one of the worst culprits contributing to urban heat islands.

    But the mega road-transport conglomerates like Lindsay-Fox et al are amongst the biggest donors to the Coalition so roads are here to stay as long as coalition governments have sway.

  4. Sir ScotchMistery

    I guess we can talk about changing of roads, until the cows walk home, (along the road), but the ALP also gets massive funding from the same people, so it isn’t about the ALP/LNP dichotomy. It’s about US deciding WE want change, and doing it.

    #30Independents in every parliament.

    That will bugger them.

  5. Keith

    The East West link in Melbourne was signed just prior to the last Victorian election without any kind of cost / benefit analysis according to the Guardian. As cities grow in Australia it is sensible to assess all options; intuitively, an efficient public transport system suits urban areas better than encouraging more vehicles.
    Of interest something I stumbled on today is that Tesla; the maker of electric cars is planning on developing batteries suitable for storing solar energy suitable for homes.

  6. Glenn

    you make very perceptive and considered commentary on the lack of national vision of the Abbott and Hockey LNP wreaking ball. You are right on all points.
    However, I believe they very much have a vision and a plan, but one which requires bull-shitting the Australian people to make it a reality. Their vision and plan is for small government which does nothing more than facilitate open market capitalism. Their strategy is to knee-cap as many government services as possible, sell off revenue generating streams for government (by default shrinking government), and gag as many avenues for objection and debate as possible.

    They most certainly have a plan. They just can’t share it because the average non-thinking voter would be horrified to learn the truth.

    The only question remaining is how much damage will be done before the next election….

  7. Paul Raymond Scahill

    All OI can say is “lets have as election”{ the L.N.P. certainly know that call! Even bi-partisan Alan Johes, Ray Mitchell, Steve Price and all the other “JERKS”know that call. Kaye I think you are the best and I solemnly believe that the political GRUBS are of the same opinion.

  8. PopsieJ

    So much common sense on this site makes me sad to think we have such a bogan government that is incapable of any logical ideas. . Build the hi speed rail link instead of buying the F35 flying lemon. If we must buy subs go German their technology goes back years. ( or has slimy Abbott already done a deal with the Honourable Japanese WTF. Notice how meta data is now to stop internet child porn on line,not of course to stop TPP action about internet film piracy

  9. Kaye Lee

    The Federal Budget included a $52 million cut to funding allocated by the previous Labor Government to begin the long-term planning process for a link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

    The money was to have been used to begin to secure the corridor needed before it is consumed by urban sprawl.

    It would also have funded the creation of a planning authority including representatives of affected states and the Australian Capital Territory as well as rail experts and council representatives.

    A Labor-commissioned feasibility study into the 1748km line found that for every dollar spent on HSR on the first section between Sydney and Melbourne, the project would return $2.15 in economic benefit to our nation.

    A project of this scale provides vision and long-term commitment and it is now clear that Tony Abbott has neither, even though the demands of a carbon-constrained economy will only strengthen the case for the project in coming years.

    Creation of the authority had been recommended by the previous Labor Government’s High-Speed Rail advisory group, which included former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and Business Council of Australia head Jennifer Westacott.

    Mr Abbott scrapped the advisory group not long after taking office.

    In one of Transport Minister Warren Truss’s first speeches after the election, he told an Australasian Rail Association Conference that he supported high-speed rail.

    But Tony doesn’t DO rail – he’s a roads scholar

  10. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    How do we make this excuse for a government call an early election?

  11. Florence nee Fedup

    One can thank Chifley, Labor for the Snowy scheme. I think Lang for Harbour Bridge. Hospitals and electrification and extension of urban rail system. Was kicked out for wasting money. Later came the Opera House, another Labor endeavour. Cost them power with allegations of cost blow outs. Same as with todays NBNCo, Libs took over, cutting costs, leading to an inferior building, which has cost millions over the last few years to bring up to standard, to enable to fill the original role it intended to fulfilled.

    Labor builds, is always accused of waste and debt, Later generations enjoy the fruit of their so called waste.

  12. Florence nee Fedup

    What did Menzies actually build with the record time he was in power? Many say he wasted the post war boom.

  13. Mike

    Bugger you Kaye, you sure know how to get the blood boiling thankfully it soon COOLed down when you finished off with your own comment entry of
    But tony doesn’t DO rail-
    he’s a roads scholar

  14. Christine Farmer

    Kaye, another of your excellent pieces. High-speed rail is so obviously necessary for the eastern seaboard for so many reasons that to have disbanded the authority set up to advise on the project could be considered a crime against the future of Australia – just one of multitude perpetrated by this government. RET, NBN, Gonski – the list goes on. It becomes obvious just how many positive decisions and programmes the Labor government put into place when we see how many of these Abbott and friends have removed, watered down, or undermined. It seems conservatives have very little imagination and less courage when considering what Australia could be and do.

    Loved the “roads scholar”!!!

  15. bobrafto

    This government has no courage, no vision, and no plan.


  16. mars08

    Lest we forget that this clueless, sleazy, craven, cruel mob was ELECTED by out fellow citizens. And… even today… they have the support of about 40% of the electorate.

    “…As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal.On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    ~H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), American journalist and critic

  17. stephentardrew

    Agreed Kaye. I dream of what could have happened under Labor. Meanwhile we watch the country being torn apart by decisiveness, bullying rampant greed and lying.

    NBN and high speed rail are obvious necessities indispensable to our countries future.

    Our children are going to wander what the hell we were doing while Rome burns.

  18. Roswell

    In a nutshell, they really have no purpose for the common good.

  19. eli nes

    love you florence i began my teens with menzies and into my 30s with whitlam. The one impressive forward move by menzies in all that time CSIRO has been savaged by abbutt.
    Great work kaye the complexity in understanding % of GDP was ruthlessly exploited by abbutt through his debt slogan and unanswered by labor whiteants like the lemon. even now with hockey taking our ratio to 29%??? labor is accepting criticism from cormann with belgium at 100%, abbutt’s home and the yanks are the same but japan is about 200%.
    when abbutt and hockey relates debt to house labor should pounce, use figures like yours and household mortgage to income examples to shame the lying toads.

  20. Kaye Lee

    No courage, no vision, no plans….and no friends

    “Australia’s most senior Muslim leader has said he won’t “repeat the mistake” of voting for Tony Abbott, and publicly advised the prime minister to “work in any field other than politics”.

    The strong comments by the Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed come amid other signs of a serious breakdown in relations between the Abbott government and large elements of Australia’s Muslim communities, ahead of the expected announcement of new security legislation on Monday.”


  21. paul walter

    Of course. And why would the Indonesians, or anyone else, be interested in our bleatings anymore, when we have shown ourselves to be at least as callous as the very worst people we condemn.

    What’s the bet they rofl at our denialism and hypocrisy?

  22. Sir ScotchMistery

    Once there was a man suggested the measure of any society was the way they treated their most disadvantaged.

    WE allow Abbott to get away with lying, with interpersonal violence and with being a person of reduced intellect standing up and representing us as a sovereign nation.

    WE allow the LNP shit-sandwich to hold themselves up as “representatives” of we, the nation – state, Australia.

    WE don’t march in the streets every day the chance arises, shouting from the roof tops that this thing is not us. This thing does not think as we do. This thing cannot string words together in sentences and tell the truth.

    This thing is not us. This thing doesn’t represent WE, the people. This thing represents an elderly american media owner and an overweight, overfunded thief, from her own children. As a side issue, he is paid by gas companies. He has no skin in the game we call our country.

    He is a traitor if he is Australian. He is scum if he is English. No matter which, he is filth.

    We have the ruler we deserve for not fighting hard enough against him and his spawn.

  23. Harquebus

    Like I said, freedom is not free. It comes at a price and sometimes, it is the ultimate price.
    Those that sacrifice liberty for security are, like Abbott and Brandis, cowards who are not prepared themselves to make any sacrifice at all. They are however, only too willing to let others sacrifice themselves in illegal wars in order to ingratiate themselves to their overlords and masters in the U.$.
    From recent polling, it appears that the Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed is not the only one to realize their mistake.

  24. paul walter

    The thing is, the conservatives and neoliberals do not beleive in communities and the nation or a national project involving the paricipation of locales and individuals.

    They beleive the “state”, if you like, is defined through market forces and market economics; is beyond borders. They see things as every rat for themself and what we call society, nothing more than an business opportunity for the cogniscinti and sanctuary for the lazy and untalented.

    They don’t see a role for government except as a means of reinforcing a regime that comes at the expense of the fool masses, rather than something that enables a good life for most.

    They are very capitalist when it comes to property rights, but not so capitalist when it comes to an actual level playing field requiring of creative input from themselves also…It is called market economics but is actually mercantilism and even eventually ultraist feudalism that derives of their cynicism.

  25. urbanwronski

    A timely reminder of the ‘debt and deficit disaster’ myth. It will get another airing when the IGR is released, well past its charter of budget honesty deadline. The myth is part of an effective scare campaign. Public commentators who should know better are joining the growing false alarm. Abbott and Hockey have no economic credentials whatsoever but they are effective at peddling pernicious Neoliberal dogma. Time to counter some of the hysteria with the wonderful example of the Snowy scheme. Thank you Kaye.

  26. Michael Taylor

    Imagine how quickly Tony could mobilise the troops if we had high speed rail. 😉

  27. stephentardrew

    Did I Lie

    Petulant voice of lying persuasion
    Born of righteous indignation
    That only you could know the unknowable
    Selling it as a worn out tome
    Of concocted versus and misguided blame
    Born of stupidity and self delusion
    That you are more than any other
    A light unto yourself and a nightmare in waiting
    And when you lie in truth of falsehood

    For judgments that condemn to hell
    Those who see the lie that only false Gods could tell
    Torn asunder upon the alter of misbegotten nightmares
    Gestating in the precincts of primal fear and hate
    That you in your dread and cruelty
    Could lead us nowhere but to the very hell
    You created to punish those who would not fall for vexatious words
    Extolling the virtues of intolerance and greed
    A politician like you we certainly do not need.

  28. Andre Poublon

    We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to basically borrow free money, due to record low rates, to invest in our country. Yet we do not have the vision or political will to do so. With our commentariat taken over by neo liberal marketeers I doubt we will take the chance to do so.

  29. Florence nee Fedup

    We are now back with paying welfare with card that limits what they spend it on. personally if someone buys grog, good luck to them. They are the ones that go hungry. Truth is, most are capable of stretching what little money they get . Suspect most politicians, would starve during the first week. Where did the notion come from, that anyone forced onto Centrelink to survive are not entitled to any pleasures in life.

    This mob seem to live under the impression, all that are on low income, rip the system off.

    The need to be more honest, bring in food stamps and the workhouse., At least that is honest. Cheaper to, I expect.

    yes, people do squander their money on grog and drugs. yes, they do starve their families, but it is Centrelink role to deal with these people.

    They are health and welfare problems. We have bodies that deal with them.

    Any good DO will use gentle force, to help parents budget., yes, even use Centrelink to deduct essentials as rent and power before paying. Yes, it can be done. Can be enforce by the Children’s courts. That already occurs.

    As for addictions, that responsibility belongs to health. even there, budgeting and income managing occurs.

    Cards restricting what one can spend their benefits is insulting, interfering with ones freedoms.

    The parliamentary secretary to the PM very clear this morning, that it was to apply to all Centrelink clients. Yes, all. Another Tony brain fart, captains picks I suspect.

    Charities used to give out vouchers, restricting what one could buy. Simple, go to Coles, buy groceries. Very easy to sell, at nearest pub or Tab. Some were smarter sold the voucher. Happened regularly.

    Sometimes when in strife, family kick in with essentials, allowing one to use the payment from Centrelink to pay debts. Yes one still as debts when unemployed.

  30. Harquebus

    More debt is not the solution to a debt problem. It only adds to it.

  31. Sir ScotchMistery

    @Harquebus – Specifically what debt? That of Australia, or that of those who can’t get a job because our government/s can’t manage the economy as anything but a corporate bank balance?

  32. Harquebus

    @Sir S.M.
    Energy to produce a goods and a surplus in order to save and buy other goods used to be the way to grow the economy. Economic growth was surplus energy. Now it is debt fueled consumerism that provides growth. Debt is taking away tomorrow’s spending. Just how much debt is too much?
    Unemployment is going up. There is no avoiding it. Peak oil mate, peak oil. Energy makes money. No amount of money, oops, sorry, debt will make energy. The economy is going down.
    All those that pursue perpetual growth will fail.

  33. Sir ScotchMistery

    But the perpetual growth can be based on more than energy. Physically, energy is an issue, but we used to build things, now we don’t. We had a car industry employing 50,000, now we have 50,000 extra on the dole.

    Every manufacturer is looking to off-shore their production and reduce costs, but the costs aren’t reduced to employ more, or to decrease costs to consumers. The off-shoring is about increasing the bottom line and returns to shareholders.

    I’m not sure how we do it, but at some time, we have to invest in the social capital we have. Make those people productive, locally, rather than employing 50 people in India to answer the phones for the banks et al., and hand our access to banks to the sub-continent and others, whilst we lose 20 people who were doing the job.

    We need, as Australians, to make decisions about our suppliers of services, that take into account the need Australia has, to create jobs, after having lost so many as a result of off-shoring.

    I’m not disputing your point, merely adding to it.

  34. Harquebus

    @Sir S.M.
    Sorry mate. Physical realities trump political and economic ideology every time.
    Without abundant sources of cheap energy, we are going down.
    Peak conventional oil was 2005. How has the world fared since? How much has global debt increased in the absurd pursuit of infinite growth? How much more evidence do you need?

    We can try to create jobs or we can reduce the number of job seekers. Population reduction and control will save us a fortune by not having to build expensive energy guzzling infrastructure, will help to preserve our environment and conserve vital finite resources.

  35. Kaye Lee


    If you say peak oil mate peak oil one more time I will start removing your comments again. You WILL NOT take over every thread with your endlessly repetitive negative mantra.

  36. Harquebus

    While we’re talking about debt. Something else I just came across.

    “But debts have to be repaid, or at least serviced by the economy’s output. The thing is, they’re almost always paid back in inflated dollars, or euros, or yen. This is the way the financial system is designed. It has to have inflation to go with the increase in debt. Otherwise you’d have a collapse.”

  37. corvus boreus

    For those wishing to concentrate on methods of population reduction and control of hominids, Swift’s ‘modest proposal’ has already been raised on the “Dinner time science” thread.

  38. Florence nee Fedup

    “More debt is not the solution to a debt problem. It only adds to it.”

    Not sure that is true at all times.

    Yes, the debt that Hockey is creating by massive cuts to low income earners, without addressing the revenue side, is definitely harmful.

    Will leads to more unemployment, lack of business confidence, leading to bigger deficits. Yes, leading to debt.

    Debt that is created by investing in infrastructure and job creation is entirely different. Debt that creates productivity growth leads to smaller debt, greater wealth, a bigger pie to share.

    Debt in it’s self is neither good or bad. Same goes for surpluses.

  39. corvus boreus

    Not hilarious, nor new information, nor anything like a proposal for a solution to overpopulation beyond acceptance of ‘Malthusian principles’.

    Regarding the subject of population control, the most viable method (that does not infringe upon personal liberties) is female education and social emancipation, which has a documented effect in the decline of birthrates within a generation or two.
    Beyond that is the (very effective) ‘Chinese solution’, involving rigid social control and loss of basic personal freedoms.
    Beyond mandatory birth control is extreme measures of ‘enforced depopulation’.
    Your preference or alternatives?

  40. Kaye Lee

    Make contraception and abortions free. Get the Pope to agree….he has a larger audience than Alan Jones, many of them in poor countries. This Pope has said some reasonable things about climate change, income inequality, poverty and the responsibilities of the wealthy, and asylum seekers. Go the next step Pope, give your followers the choice.

  41. corvus boreus

    Kaye Lee,
    Dunno how we’d go on getting the Pope to endorse pre-natal terminations, but him to give the nod for men to start bagging their seed and women being allowed to wield a shield (pill or plastic) would would be a very good start (for the Catholic parts of the world, anyway).
    Sperm is not sacred.

  42. Kaye Lee

    Always ask for more than you expect to get to give them negotiating room, though stem cell research breakthroughs and the dangers of overpopulation vs finite resources may weigh in on my side of the table.

  43. Harquebus

    I agree. Not hilarious and neither was Swift’s ‘modest proposal’. There is nothing funny about people going hungry and starving.
    Modern agriculture is the process of turning fossil fuels into food. Expensive fossil fuels -> expensive food/famine -> hunger/starvation.

    Sorry Kaye Lee. I can’t help myself and do agree with you.

    Mine is a one child policy but, I am open to suggestions. Warfare and/or famine I do not want to see.

  44. Harquebus

    And I add this.
    Restore the liberties and freedoms stolen from us by corporation serving politicians.

  45. corvus boreus

    Kaye Lee,
    Solid (good/bad cop, unappetizing vs indigestible) negotiation strategy.
    I would suggest, after we achieve Papal endorsement of contraception, and we aim for female rights to abortion, we ask the Pontif to consider (given biological knowledge on solo creation of life), that God, rather than “He”, be considered either asexual or hermaphrodite.

  46. Harquebus

    Something I watched the other night. I think this is where we should start first. Education.

  47. corvus boreus

    Swift’s “Modest proposal” was not comedy, but an extremely effective biting satire directed at the cold industrial capitalist economic rationalism of the times (the prototype of our own paradigm).
    Please (for the sake of mutually reasonable communication) do not labour under any misapprehension that I am uninformed or ignorant of the problems of exponential growth in human population and consumption on our finite planet, the parasitic inefficiencies in our global monetary system (currency creation through debt interest), the broad physical (energy and mineral) resource depletion, or, especially, escalating biospheric degradation (my career field).
    I have just chosen (possibly with perverse stubborn-ness) to persist in active engagement towards trying to help push for some hopeful solutions or measures of remediation (partially to alleviate ‘rational’ situational depression and help maintain some semblance of social sanity, partially for some kind of self-redemption through semi-altruistic action, and hopefully also because my worst assessments may be wrong and a difference may still be capable of being made).

    Ps, I always bag my seed.

  48. Harquebus

    Okay cb.
    We’re on the same side.

    Ps. I am just glad I have a bag. I keep losing things.

  49. stephentardrew

    Standard Psyche Hrquebus yet very informative.

    Should be presented in all schools as an example of deception and manipulation.

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