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Pulled the wrong rein there

After my father was medically retired from teaching, he chose to take a lump sum payout of his superannuation. When he lived longer than expected, he said to me “Pulled the wrong rein there, love.”

Are governments ever capable of, with hindsight, saying the same thing?

So many of the problems we are facing today could be addressed by going back on some of the decisions made in the past if only the government was willing to admit that something is not working as intended.

The Job Active Scheme is one case in point. Introducing a profit motive in unemployment services has been a disaster. Bringing back the Commonwealth Employment Service could not only make the process a lot more user-friendly, it would provide invaluable information to the government about where job vacancies are, skills shortages, identifying areas of disadvantage, referral to and collaboration with support services, educational requirements – and it might actually be able to hook people up with jobs instead of signing them up to ridiculous courses or cutting them off entirely for non-compliance with inflexible rules.

We bemoan the rising cost and deteriorating cover of private health insurance like there is nothing that can be done about it. Had we not sold off Medibank Private, it could have provided a standard that other funds would have had to compete with. The profit it made could have been invested in keeping premiums down.

We complain about rising power prices and the cartel-like behaviour of a market concentrated in the hands of too few players seemingly oblivious to the power we have to control that. We own the resources. We used to own the power generators and distribution network. Instead of the government providing power and thus controlling prices, we handed it over to companies whose aim is to maximise profit. Even so, if the government was truly concerned about energy prices, they could slash them by 10% immediately by making them GST-free to households as they are to businesses who claim the GST back as an input tax credit.

Privatisation and outsourcing was supposed to make so many things better but the reality is that it has led to higher prices, job losses, and poorer service delivery, particularly for those in regional areas.

And then there is carbon pricing which was successful in bringing emissions down and encouraging investment in sustainable practice. Instead of collecting billions from polluters which was redistributed to the community and trade-exposed businesses, we now pay billions for no result and there is no incentive for businesses to change their practices.

Back in 2005, when we still owned half of Telstra, they wanted to move to fibre rather than remediating an aging copper system. John Howard and the ACCC put such roadblocks in their way that Telstra abandoned the idea. Labor valiantly tried to bring the nation’s communications into the 21st century with FttP NBN until Abbott gave Turnbull the instruction to “demolish” it.

Handing over disability and aged care services to for-profit providers has also proven problematic because the government failed to make or enforce an adequate regulatory framework. That there is no required staff-to-resident ratio in nursing homes is a recipe for disaster. As the Royal Commission has shown, staff are untrained and over-worked and unable to provide the care residents need.

When Menzies gave a one off grant to private schools to build science labs, he probably didn’t envisage a time when we would be giving the most elite schools pot loads of recurrent funding to hire Olympic rowing coaches and build sound studios and swimming pools. The rise in public money being handed over to private schools has drained the public system of resources and created a two-tier education system where the disadvantaged must make do with less.

When the Howard government went on its vote-buying spree with tax cuts and changes to negative gearing, capital gains, franking credits and superannuation, not only did they squander the boom and entrench unsustainable budgetary pressure, they skewed investment away from more productive enterprises and made housing unaffordable.

By demonising and depowering unions and stacking the Fair Work Commission with fellow travellers, the Coalition has cut off their nose to spite their face, as unions lose their power to gain wage rises, protect workplace entitlements and secure employment, and to maintain safety standards. Shoddy workmanship in the building industry has become a real problem and tradesmen are brought in on visas that ensure they will remain quiet and compliant.

One of the nastiest political decisions by the Coalition has been to brand people fleeing war and oppression as criminals if they happen to use a boat instead of a plane. Meanwhile, the real criminals are courted by a system that allows them to launder money through buying special visas be they as a gambling tourist or a “special investor”.

The Coalition have deliberately fostered suspicion of “others” be they Muslim jihadis, African gangs, second or third generation Lebanese Australians, Chinese university students, Tamil families. Gays asking for equality have “an agenda” that will undermine society. Unemployed people will be drug tested. Indigenous people asking for some say in their own affairs are engaging in bleeding heart “identity politics”. Environmentalists are anti-job ecoterrorists. Anyone who believes climate scientists is a weak as piss bedwetter.

Why do this? Why divide us? Why seek to marginalise people? Why dismiss people?

It must take a certain amount of ego to run for politics but what seems to be lacking is the actual confidence to be able to say we got that wrong.

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  1. Ken

    Certainly not the current bunch in power

  2. Andrew J Smith

    Related issues of democracy are needing an informed electorate via media, and radical right libertarians need non issues to elicit strong emotions from the electorate to mask action or inaction on investment in shared infrastructure and services.

    If something does not fit the ideology or current zeitgeist it can simply be ignored by politicians or ministers, hence media too (whom are complicit with political and corporate top people and their PR needs).

    In Australia, US, UK and fringe ‘democracies’ constant othering of ‘immigrants’ etc., central to white christian nationalism, is joined at the hip with radical right libertarianism; ‘look over there, not here’ while society is manipulated.

    By coincidence we have Tony Abbott buddying up with Viktor Orban in Hungary where it is far more transparent i.e. inner circle of preferred corporates, hollowed out or cowed media, white nationalist and/or eugenics based tropes vs. ‘immigrants’ constantly promoted and antipathy towards multilateral trade blocs, which have allowed smaller nations to trade on an equal basis i.e. EU.


    Abbott now seems employed as political PR hack to promote nativism and right wing libertarianism nowadays e.g. cooperating with the Koch supported Brendan (former communist) O’Neill at Spiked Online, masquerading as freedom of speech proponents.

  3. Jack Cade

    I have just watched a Fox News item in which Trumps favourite media has criticised his persistence in claiming that Alabama was at
    risk from the hurricane. Trump called the Fox bosses and insisted that they admit that everybody else was wrong and Trump was right, in the face of the bleeding obvious.
    Trumps tactic was the ‘I pulled the wrong rein’, but the horse ignored my orders.
    Australia’s version of ‘I pulled the wrong rein’ is alluded to by all non-Murdoch media, but it takes the form of the Coalition’s ‘ommmmm’ mantra, the customary three-word slogan – ‘ITS LABOR’S FAULT!’

  4. Matters Not


    When Gough Whitlam gave money to private schools to build science labs

    Goes back before Whitlam. Try Menzies circa 1963 who made the promise to build science labs in both State and Private schools which was then actioned in 1964. Prompted by the ‘space race’ era beginning in the 50s.

    An Act to grant Financial Assistance to the States for Science Laboratories and Equipment in Schools and for Buildings and Equipment for use in Technical Training in Schools.
    [Assented to 28th May, 1964.]


    Further discussion here.


    And yes we should have plenty of regrets about past actions. Plus we should have the intellectual courage to fix those errors but it’s most unlikely.

  5. wam

    A great read, kaye. I was crook last century but the senior education boys needed my darling’s skills and let me avoid the lump sum exit for a com pension.
    Those, in my group, who were lured by the large sums and interest rates are all clp men and they took your dad’s route(the office based clp got my piece of luck under natural department first schools second). Their wives worked for many years after to support the investments but they have a health card.
    shoddy workmanship is rife amongst scummo’s mob and albo might extrapolate????
    ps thanks, bobby.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Thanks MN. I will correct that.

  7. Matters Not


    confidence to be able to say we got that wrong.

    Indeed! Then there’s the associated (and perhaps of more fundamental importance) – the ability of politicians to say I don’t know. A statement approaching truth that applies to the vast majority of politicians most of time.

    But perhaps the real enemy is the metaphorical voter who expects that those elected are there because they know things that are beyond the comprehension of common folk. Let’s face it, most aspiring politicians get elected because of a particular party endorsement – far removed from talent or particular expertise. A clear case of who you know – not what you know.

    Given the technology now available, it’s time to move from a representative democracy towards a participatory democracy where those who really want to exercise their right to vote can so do on a regular and ongoing basis.

    But it’s not going to happen any time soon.

  8. Keitha Granville

    why? divide and conquer.

    Continually lying to the populace ensures that many will eventually believe everything they are told, being that many are not smart enough to work out the lies. Eventually you have a truly Fascist state.

    Sadly the Labor party seems to have decided that because they lost the election they have to throw out all of their ideology and become a quasi conservative party. I am deeply ashamed of their lack of guts.

  9. RosemaryJ36

    Power is the name of the game.
    And to gain it and hang on to it requires the seekers to abandon integrity, lie, cheat, blame others and abjure all signs of humanity, empathy and compassion.
    Those following this path have the ready support of the Murdoch media and they gain further support from a public hooked on reality TV and seduced into putting popularity before suitability.
    Most of the developed world has lost its moral compass.

  10. Bronte ALLAN

    What a great & sadly so bloody true saga of lies, deceit, money grabbing, hopeless lot ALL these COALition mobs have been for Australia. And how bloody disasterous for ALL Australians. After reading the litany of crap etc his fcking mob have dealt us all, for so long now, & realising just how crap is our “existence” under ALL the various, useless bloody COALition mobs, it is enough to make one cry in shame! Really, what hope have any of us if this bloody lying, incompetent, flat earth, climate change denying, happy clapper obscenely over-paid, so-called “politicians” are trying to run (ruin!) our country?

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