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Per capita or not per capita – what is the question?

Nothing exemplifies the government’s dishonest spin more starkly than their switching to per capita measurements and back again, depending, not on which is the most relevant measure, but on which obfuscates the truth the best.

The Department of Environment and Energy produce a Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

The June 2015 report all of a sudden started including per capita emissions in its summary. Why? Because emissions had increased in the first year after the abolition of the carbon price and they didn’t want you to notice so they said “Emissions per capita were at their lowest levels in 25 years.”

As many people have pointed out, that is because population has increased, not because emissions have decreased.

Plus it is entirely irrelevant as the carbon budget to stop catastrophic climate change doesn’t care how many of us there are, just how much pollution we are pumping into the atmosphere.

But when it comes to GDP, you will never hear the government mention per capita because if they did, they would have to admit that we have not had 28 years of uninterrupted growth and that we were in per capita recession from the second quarter of 2018 until the first quarter of this year.

Population increase is, once again, the thing that is masking the truth. GDP has grown continually mainly because of population growth but individuals have, on average, gone backwards lately which is a far more relevant measure of how our economy is going.

Another way the government tries to muddy the waters is by changing base years for comparison when talking about emissions reduction. Take this beauty from their latest report:

“Australia’s emissions for the year to March 2019 have declined 14.0 per cent since the peak in the year to June 2007 and were 0.5 per cent above emissions in 2000 and 11.7 per cent below emissions in 2005.”

When it came to our Paris commitment, by changing the base year to 2005 we made the numbers look a lot better without having to do a damn thing – 0.5% above 2000 levels equates to 11.7% below 2005 levels. Hey presto!

We have also heard Scott Morrison stir up anger in the community by talking about how much each of us is paying to foot the welfare bill – per capita is back in favour.

But they won’t mention how much we are spending on defence whose 2019-20 budget amounts to $105,853,573.77 per day. That’s over $1,500 a year for every person in Australia.

Don’t let the satisfied smirks distract you.

Australia, you are being conned.

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  1. Ken

    That amount on defence is an absolute scandal and it is not necessary to be so much.
    This money could be put to better use. These politicians have got all their priorities wrong.

  2. John Lord

    “We see what we are thinking and feeling; seldom what we are looking at”

  3. Josephus

    Agree could a savvy reader put this on scomos page plus relevant ministers’? thank you Kaye, we need you.

  4. Kaye Lee

    David Bruce,

    I removed your post because, on an article about truth, your links were entirely inappropriate – gosh you read some crap.

    Great cartoon baby jewels.

  5. Terence Mills

    Arguably, we should include people on Nauru and Manus in the per capita calculation, after all they remain our responsibility.

  6. Keitha Granville

    is there a way that AIMN could set up the widget that replaces pics of smirky face with a kitten, or a polar bear or some other cuddly animal. Just so that there is ONE thing on the page we can be happy about.

  7. Kaye Lee

    The title of this article was inspired by Hamlet’s soliloquy which also may give some insight into why we have been lumbered with this government….

    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
    The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
    The insolence of office, and the spurns
    That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin?

    The undiscovere’d country….puzzles the will,
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pitch and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry
    And lose the name of action.

  8. wam

    It is so easy for dishonest people to fool honest people by the technique of lying by telling the truth.
    If you are able to lie truthfully with the sincerity of a practising christian ‘how good is that?’
    These people are dishonest in deliberately selecting a marriage counsel company and an extremist to chair a review on family court. The former a conflict of interest and the latter just a conflict
    They are dishonest using reviews to justify cash splashes to donors rather than evaluating the projects and discovering the effectiveness
    Perhaps labor can show how much we pay in levies, income tax gst compared to the pollies and the packers?
    Albo a pensioner can get to see the local footie and pay $1 gst for her pie and a drink. Pollies subsidised pie and drink or free pie and drink? They minimise tax to pay less medicare levy whilst packer and twiggy pay no levy?

    I love the morning show women who goo isn’t he lovely over any cute animal. Even when it is a female. The fishers who say isn’t he a beauty when all large barra are females.

  9. Kaye Lee

    Speaking of dishonest reviews…..

    The review into retiree’s income is already being set up to be a waste of time. They appointed Deborah Ralston, chair of the Self Managed Super Fund Association, to the three person board.

    Professor Ralston was also a spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Fairer Retirement System – a group set up to oppose Labor’s franking credit policies in the lead-up to the federal election.

    Good job Deb – here’s your reward.

    They have also set them such a tight deadline – a consultation paper will be released in November, with the final report due by June – that it pretty much assures they already know what conclusions they are expected to come to.

  10. johno

    Our government is a travesty of justice and the worlds continued spending on military hardware and infrastructure is an environmental and humanitarian crime. Well done Kaye on removing David Bruce’s post.

  11. Matters Not


    being set up to be a waste of time …

    Don’t think they can (politically) afford that. While they may ‘know’ what outcomes they want, can’t see how it will be a waste of time in that it will provide a rationale for much needed reform at least in the longer term. It’s what Labor should have done AFTER they won the election.

    History provides some good examples. Whitlam commissioned Peter Karmel to ‘review’ education in Australia (Schools in Australia) after he was elected (circa) ’73. But it wasn’t a grope in the dark given that Karmel had just finished a similar Report for the South Australian Government. Same with the Gonski Report when Labor occupied the Treasury benches. By appointing Ken Boston to the panel, the die was cast. Needs based funding would rise again. (Pity they didn’t follow through.)

    Superannuation in Australia needs some radical reforms. No doubt, the review will make some recommendations that – while sensible in the longer term – will be rejected by the current government riding to the rescue because they are politically unpalatable. What needs to be done stands out like pointer’s test …

  12. Kaye Lee


    As far as I am aware, the review will not make any recommendations. It “will provide a fact base of the current retirement income system” which, if done properly, will be a good thing.

    It will be a waste of time because the government is already ruling out changes that really should be considered. Appointing Ralston rules out any discussion of franking credits, Frydenberg has ruled out any discussion about including the family home in assets calculations. The hatred of industry super funds because of their ties to unions will skew focus. They will not listen to discussion about land tax. Family trusts will also avoid scrutiny and inheritance taxes are off-limits. Kay is from Costello’s Future Fund – the nest sitters. The government is relying on interest rate cuts to stimulate the economy which has hammered retirees with term deposits and savings accounts and they have unrealistic deeming rates still. There is no plan for an increase in affordable public housing. And the backbench is gunning for the superannuation guarantee.

    An honest review will show that everything they are doing is wrong – so we won’t get an honest review IMO.

  13. Matters Not

    KL, if the Review Members confine themselves to compiling a fact base of the current retirement income system, then it indeed will be an opportunity missed. Presumably, they will rely on data bases already generated with any new research decidedly at the margins. What is the point of a Review Panel if it is reduced to a simple compilation? Yes there will be a hidden agenda via the decisions made re what to collect and what to ignore but that borders on the farcical.

    As for franking credits, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that Australia and New Zealand are now the only two OECD countries to operate dividend imputation systems. Countries that have abandoned dividend imputation systems include the United Kingdom (in 1999), Germany (in 2001), Finland (in 2005) and Norway (in 2006).

    There’s no doubt that the current arrangements distort the investment market with company Boards always wanting to court shareholders via dividends rather than take a long-term view. Also worth noting is the view of a very successful investor – Warren Buffett.

    Berkshire Hathaway does not pay a dividend because its chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett, believes it is more beneficial to allocate the company’s earnings in other ways. In particular, Buffett prefers to reinvest profits in things that allow his company to improve its efficiency, expand its reach, create new products and services as well as improve existing ones, and further separate itself from competitors. Buffett, like many business leaders, feels that investing back into his business provides more long-term value to shareholders than paying them directly, because the company’s financial success rewards shareholders with higher stock values. While the company does not pay a dividend, it does, however, have a prudent stock buyback policy …

    As for the Family Home, and other policy levers that should be available in any sensible mix, one can only decry that closure.

    And yes, Industry Super Funds are in their sights but as the recent Royal Commission found – they are the way to go. Shot themselves in the foot with people abandoning Retail Funds and fleeing to Industry Funds. You would think that learning would’ve happened. Nevertheless will watch developments with interest – provided it does not interfere with my investing. (Just jokin …)

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