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Tag Archives: budget surplus

Surplus to requirements, ScoMo?

Applause, stamping, hoots and catcalls resound up and down our wide brown land as another big week in Oz-politics lives down to expectations, as John Crace says of Boris Johnson, now the incredible sulk, after his inevitable Brexit flip-flop just flops with a not-so-super Saturday vote to delay, a thinly-disguised ploy to sink the whole mad shebang in the middle of the Irish Sea. Brexit continues to make fools of fools, says Crace.

A week when our parliament is actually sitting, despite its increasing rarity, has a similar effect. This week the government tries to fool us that Labor is in government and to blame for all kinds of feckless fiscal ruination.

Like our own populist tosser Morrison, professional political clown, Boris is clueless about what to do – that’s for “girly swots” – and neither narcissists can take advice – so every waking hour is an epic battle with reality.

At home, a fever of anticipation erupts at the chance of being re-tied to Britain’s apron strings with beaut new trade deals, an agile Coalition with economic management in its DNA can whip up in weeks. Or a year. Tops.

“We are match-fit and ready,” ScoMo’s already promised Boris, an MP with whom he feels an immediate affinity. Scott’s got his mandarins all sworn to secrecy and totally Sco-Motivated to all-new levels of public service loyalty and fidelity. It’s not just manspreading or mugging for the camera in Fiji’s Rugby change-rooms, ScoMo channels the blokey banality of the footy coach in his unsubtle instructions to our public servants.

“It’s the bacon and eggs principle – the chicken is involved but the bacon is committed,” he says. Boom-Boom. Somehow, it’s all about how ministers can only set direction by being sensitive to quiet Australians, whose deepest desires can only be deduced through some miraculous phatic communion.

“Look beyond the Canberra bubble” says our PM, who is nothing but Canberra Bubble. A former Liberal apparatchik and player in the game of mates before being called to lead his people as prophet and seer; a high priest of populism and neoliberal revival. As William James and Bertrand Russell said of the turtles who hold the flat earth in its place in creation, for ScoMo, it is Canberra Bubble all the way down.

How good is a well-done Free Trade deal? Our brilliant new Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia has been quietly simmering since 2012. Morrison promised it August last year, when after six years it had progressed to a most promising single page but hopes no-one recalls. Then – as now- the fact of its brevity does not mean that it is not miraculously close to conclusion. He’s doubtless been out praying. And the spirit’s there.

We only have to “paper it”, as President Bone Spurs says, faking a breakthrough in his tariff war with China.

Stealing the show is Gladys Liu, MP (via AEC poll-booth signage simulation) for Chisholm who’s finally sorted her membership of Chinese organisations known to ASIO. She’s clear of them all, “she thinks”. Or is she?

In a flash, Rupert’s Hun is on to her, protesting Ms Liu’s links with top property developer Chen Guo Jing, whom the MP described as one of her “good friends” in her maiden speech. Chinese language sites call Chen the “implementer” of the Australasia Belt and Road Advocacy initiative, The Herald Sun adds helpfully.

Gladys is now well beyond hapless Sam Dastyari’s villainy in the latest instalment of rabid Sinophobia, Yellow Peril 2.0. She’d resign immediately but “Mandate” Morrison’s government has only a one seat majority.

Rushing to assist, is cuddly Peter Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs, whose portmanteau portfolio covers everything best left unsaid. Whilst we love to profit out of China’s coal and iron custom, its tourists and its students, whose insatiable thirst for knowledge causes them to take up full-fee paying places in tertiary institutions, there’s just one thing about our biggest single trading partner. Its government’s values suck.

“Our issue as I’ve said before is not with the Chinese people,” Dutton thunders. “My issue is with the Communist Party of China and their policies to the extent that they are inconsistent with our own values.”

Aussie values include lying, spying, cheating and stealing as the case of East Timor reveals. Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery are still holed up in a secret trial in Canberra where they are not even permitted to know the charges against them – except the bleeding obvious; they have embarrassed the government by reporting the fact that Canberra bugged the cabinet rooms of Timor-Leste in 2004 in order to draw up geographic boundaries which would yield Australia more than its fair share of gas and oil.

Alexander Downer is still pouting. Lord knows how his friendship with ScoMo’s going now he’s promised Trump he’ll snoop on the spy-master; find out just how Downer morphed into a small “L” Liberal; set the Mueller Inquiry on to that fake Russian collusion witch hunt. Be very careful with your bus-travel, Alex.

As fans of Q&A, Sunrise and The Drum would know, freedoms come into (and out of) the grab-bag of Aussie values a fair bit, in what is fondly termed “our national conversation”, (but which isn’t ours or even national – and so often turns out to be a power elite talking to itself in public).

Freedom? Sheesh! It’s right up there with crony capitalism, gambling, racism and elder abuse- yet we are currently debating how we know just how much freedom of speak we are allowed to have? Seriously.

Word comes this week that former Amnesty poster-boy Phil Ruddock’s religious freedom bill which would have restored some of the losses felt by the anti-marriage equality brigade pleases neither church nor state.

Given that it was a solution in search of a problem – religious freedom is already protected in law -it is hardly surprising but will ScoMo’s “top priority” just go? Leave privilege unprotected? Impossible.

But don’t rule out another inquiry. At present the draft bill offends all parties – and cross-bench Tassie Senator, Jacqui Lambie can’t see the need for it. Unlike her sympathy with national security justifying expanding state power even further. We’re world leaders in this field.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Edward Santow, notes Australia has “passed more counter-terrorism and national security legislation than any other liberal democracy since 2001”.

Instead of agonising nightly on The Drum about how we need to “get the balance right”, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier just to ask government permission? A journo with a story that seeks to hold a government department accountable must run the story by the government first. It’s the position favoured by Mike Pezzullo who is the eyes and ears of Dutto’s Home Affairs mega-department. What could possibly go wrong?

In the meantime, Attorney-General Christian Porter confirms, on Sunday’s ABC Insiders, that his government will continue to intimidate journalists by refusing to rule out AFP raids. He pretends that the AFP is at arms-length from government. Hilarious. Lie. The AFP comes under the (big right) wing of Minister Dutton.

Turning the thumbscrews, Porter would be “seriously disinclined”, he reckons, “to sign off on the criminal prosecution of journalists” for public interest journalism, but says he cannot give any guarantees. No-one on Fran’s panel calls Porter on his pretence that the AFP is independent of the federal government of the day.

Canberra Times veteran, Jack Waterford reminds us that never in its forty years’ operation has the AFP come up with a finding which might embarrass a sitting government – apart from Abbott’s Peter Slipper witch hunt.

“The AFP behaves rather more as a department of state, pathetically anxious to please the government of the day. The department seems to lack internal checks and balances, and sometimes seems to put outcomes ahead of process and sound management, and seems to lack people with the courage to stand against any of the enthusiasms of its secretary,” observes the former editor and investigative journalist of 43 years’ service.

We can’t blame Fran Kelly – or any of her guests for not nailing the minister on the furphy of the AFP’s independence or the farcical pretence that as Attorney-General, Porter is led, like a lamb, to slaughter offending journalists.

But don’t shoot the mixed messenger.

Our ABC is under extra pressure in the form of a ripper new bill for silent Australia due in the house early next week. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019 requires the ABC to set up a Regional Council, at a cost of $100,000 PA to help it contribute to a sense of “regional” identity” as well as “a sense of national identity” and to reflect “geographical”, as well “cultural diversity”. Sounds as simple to get sorted as the Nicene Creed.

Accompanying the push to the bush, a second bill is a sop to Pauline Hanson. It’s an ABC “Fair and Balanced” yard-stick-slogan-logo-thingy while the bill also orders Aunty to supply regional content – even though this is totally impossible on a reduced budget. The result is to give the government a new big stick or two to beat the public broadcaster into compliance. Or soften it up before it’s sold off as in the IPA wish-list.

“This regional push by the Coalition government is no benign shepherding of the ABC back to its core duties. It’s actually designed to tie the corporation up in red tape and shift its attention away from national coverage – and the machinations of federal government” warn Sydney University’s Fiona Martin and Michael Ward.

News this week that Dili wants a $5bn refund to compensate for gas and oil illegally taken is likely to be music to Josh Frydenberg’s ears given that he’s making it clear that his government’s surplus fetish does not mean “surpluses are like a trophy in a cabinet,” The AFR’s Jennifer Hewitt reports. But that’s exactly what it means.

It takes genius to con so many Australians for so long that a meaningless line on an annual budget is a sign of good management – let alone the allied bullshit about “fiscal responsibility” and “living within our means”. Yet to claim a budget surplus means anything at all, is a hoax. And a cruel hoax when it means that NDIS applicants, for example, are made to wait or face stricter qualifying tests to “save up” a surplus.

The only reason a budget surplus ever comes in handy is as a brake on inflation,Greg Jericho reminds readers of The Guardian Australia. No danger of that now where even the Reserve is begging the government to do something about a shrinking economy. Would Joe Hockey squander his $80 billion gift/investment in 2014?

The Opposition is addicted to panic and crisis”, Bovver Morrison hollers across the despatch box as he accuses Albo of a stacking a tantrum. Not only is ScoMo a past master at projection, he knows we live in the present. In the eternal now of modern politics, he assumes that few will recall the metanoia of Tony Abbott’s hyper-partisan opposition’s debt and deficit disaster fear campaign when Labor borrowed to get us out of the GFC.

Forgotten, also, he hopes, is Abbott’s brief-lived Coalition government led by “warrior” Peter Credlin with its war on the poor, on indigenous Australia and on workers amongst others. We have yet to recover from its sick militarisation of compassion – the paramilitary Border Force with its ludicrous uniforms and cruel protocols.

Clayton’s PM Junkyard Abbott’s sidekick BJ helped warn us all that Whyalla would be wiped off the map or that we’d being paying hundred dollars for a lamb roast. They rushed to kill off their carbon tax scare.

Their subsequent revoking of a price on carbon has helped lead us to record carbon emissions ever since.

ScoMo opened Christmas Island just for his Medevac scare, an extension of his asylum-seeker paranoia, a rabid and irrational fear febrile of others. Jacqui Lambie may now help him get to revoke the Medevac Bill.

Yet he proceeds with his name-calling, baiting and jeering at Labor for what they might do to ruin us all. It helps create an illusion, as Katharine Murphy of the Guardian observes that Labor is in power -yet by some miracle that Morrison, a solo act throughout his career, is a PM primum supra pares (first above the rest).

In a moment of madness, Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon proposes a bipartisan war cabinet for the drought. Settle down, Fitz. That would be like a union between the arsonists and the fire-fighters. Besides, could you really trust any of them on their past performances? No-one else in the world takes their climate figures seriously.

Australia is a world leader in climate change abatement per capita in the Coalition’s Gospel according to Morrison. Doo wah boy, Gus Grassgate Taylor, Minister for Global Warming Energy and Big Irrigation does backing vocals.

“The comments made by the Prime Minister at the UN, that we are going to meet our emissions targets, was a gross misrepresentation and was staggering for someone in his position,” protests former Liberal leader, John Hewson, addressing the Round Table in Canberra. Global warming heretic Hewson favours regenerative agriculture. Expect his immediate retribution via ridicule in some Rupert rag.

Reverting to wilful ignorance and disinformation, the Australian economy is not tanking a bit, insists the PM, despite this week’s IMF growth downgrade by almost twenty per cent from 2.1 to 1.7. On the contrary, our nation’s growth something to shout about in parliament.

“Australia’s economic growth is the second highest if compared to the major Group of Seven economies, and the government has helped create 1.4 million new jobs,” ScoMo misleads parliament.

Reliant on resources, Australia lacks diversification of exports and its economy is now more like that of a developing country with fewer prospects for growth, reports the Harvard’s Atlas of Economic Complexity. It predicts growth to slow to 2.2% over the next decade, ranking us in the bottom half of countries

Australia is not even in the G7, however much ScoMo loves to boast about his special invitation to observe last August’s meeting; a token of his government’s leading role as hyper-partisan US ally in the ruinous trade war between Trump’s administration and China.

As for jobs, his claim covers six years. Growth doesn’t even keep up with population.

A stoic ScoMo won’t be spooked by international events; or lift a finger to stimulate a stagnant economy. All this – and more – promises the PM’s turd-polish unit, which accidentally emails the media its jumbo economy super-savers’ pack of lies meant for Coalition MPs, this week.

It’s an innocent mistake. And easily made. Our media lead the world in recycling government press releases. No heads will roll this time. The chooks just get an extra feed of MPs’ “talking points”, the rich mix of fantasy, lies, evasions, disinformation and other conversation-stoppers confected non-stop by the PM’s spin doctors.

Australia’s national net debt is now a record $400 billion plus, according to Matthias Cormann’s own Finance Department’s report last Friday. It’s a peculiar type of nincompoopery that can take Labor’s puny $174 billion net national debt and double it in six years, despite some of the most favourable global economic tailwinds in history, yet the Coalition is on track to get to $700 billion in a canter.

The biggest issue for the economy remains the decline and fall of our household incomes. This will not be revered by some slick tax cut. Nor will it show any improvement, whatsoever, if the government having utterly no idea what to do by way of stimulus measure clings to the mantra of a budget surplus.

But that’s not in the talking points.

There’s so much to crow about it’s not funny. Cue standing ovations from the poor, the elderly, the under-employed and those who need wait only a matter of months before they’re trampolined off welfare and back at work at the local widget factory.

Above all, Australia is God’s Own Country and as the PM reminds a national prayer breakfast, Tuesday,

“The only prayers that you can be assured are never answered are the ones that are never prayed.”

Our latter day saints, the nation’s hard-working farmers are clearing land at record rates yet some find the time to take out of helping cause the problem to wax ecstatic over Drought Relief; the Coalition’s most shameless pork-barrelling since its 1700 kilometre Inland Rail boondoggle. No-one’s getting any money for a year and the $7 billion doesn’t add up, former farmer’s lad Alan Jones berates the Prime Minister.

Jones asks how all of the drought relief grandstanding that’s been going on three months is going to feed a cow?

How good’s a Farm Household Allowance worth a measly $250 a week? $5 million for rural financial counselling? $115.8 million that Morrison says “went directly to drought communities”. Morrison finally gets to talk. He embraces the theme of weed eradication. Jones cuts in, “Oh, PM, don’t talk to me. I’m a farmer’s son, you’re not.”

When the IMF tells you the economy is down the gurgler and your own Finance Minister reports the same – When Alan Jones gives you a bollocking, ScoMo, you may need more than a new set of talking points.

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The Coalition money shuffle

One of Joe Hockey’s first acts as Treasurer in 2013 was to gift the RBA $8.8 billion. The main reason for this was to make Labor’s deficit look bigger. As a side bonus, it allowed the RBA to invest in the forex market, banking on the Australian dollar losing value as the mining boom subsided.

And that is exactly what happened allowing the government to draw…wait for it…$8.8 billion in dividends over the last six years. That’s all very well (if we ignore how the Coalition screamed like stuck pigs when Labor took a one-off dividend of $500 million in 2013) except Hockey borrowed the $8.8 billion so we are still paying interest on it.

We have also paid a fortune in “fees for banking services” as investment banks have raked in hundreds of millions in trading fees.

Had Hockey not engaged in this political chicanery, we would be billions of dollars better off.

And then there are the six Future Funds which contained $198.8 billion as at June 30 this year.

The direct cost of managing these funds was over $1 billion for the last three years alone.

The DisabilityCare Australia Fund had $16.4 billion sitting in it, which must be aggravating to the many people still waiting to access services or those who have had their services reduced.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund (ATSILS Fund) was established in February 2019 with a capital contribution of $2 billion transferred from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Account.

The purpose of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, to whom the fund will make payments apparently at the discretion of the Minister if the investment mandate targets have been met, is to acquire and manage land, water and water-related rights so as to attain economic, environmental, social or cultural benefits. One wonders how much will actually be handed over for that purpose now that Peter Costello has his hands on it. I am sure the mining companies would prefer that money to be tied up rather than used.

In July, the government deposited another $7.8 billion into the Medical Research Future Fund. As we were still in deficit, this was a pretty amazing feat which must have come at the cost of other research cuts and/or interest costs for the borrowed money. It’s interesting how they can find a lazy $8 billion when they want to.

The Education Investment Fund, originally intended for new facilities in the higher education sector, had payments frozen in 2013 and it has been accumulating funds since. These have now been taken to create the government’s new $4 billion Emergency Response Fund.

Then, on 1 September 2019, the assets of the Building Australia Fund were transferred to the newly created Future Drought Fund.

The original Future Fund was established in 2006, funded in part from budget surpluses but mainly from the sale of Telstra. As at June 30, there was $162.6 billion sitting in it.

Kevin Rudd, as Opposition leader, suggested using $2.7 billion of it to invest in a National Broadband Network with profits being returned to the Future Fund. The Howard government screamed blue murder, claiming that Labor intended to “raid” the Future Fund for their own means. Gee, that has worked out well for us hasn’t it.

While legislation permits drawdowns from the Future Fund from 1 July 2020, the Government announced in the 2017-18 budget that it will refrain from making withdrawals until at least 2026-27.

What on earth is the point of sitting on that pile of money when only 20% of it is invested in Australia?

The ten year return has been 10.4% for the Future Fund which might sound good until you look at Infrastructure Australia’s High Priority Project list where every project has a cost benefit ratio of better than that.

We could be employing people in productivity enhancing infrastructure construction. We could be increasing primary healthcare and reducing hospital waiting times to save money and improve quality of life. We could be investing in research and education, both of which bring a far greater return than 10%.

But the Coalition are obsessed with accumulating cash and apparently have zero understanding of the value of actually using the money for the benefit of our economy and our citizens.

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That was then…this is now

In 2011 Joe Hockey said “No qualifications, all the excuses that Wayne Swan talks about – falling commodity prices, a high Australian dollar, nominal growth not being up to standard. Somehow the GFC is ongoing all the time. So yes, we are upset about this … they think the Australian people over summer will forget the solemn promises.”

This week, when admitting that MYEFO will show the deficit has deepened and the promise of a surplus in 2018-19 has been abandoned, Hockey said “We have faced some significant headwinds this year. Obviously the global economy has come off a bit, iron ore prices have dropped dramatically and we have had some opposition in the Senate that has made it harder.”

After rubbishing the Rudd government’s stimulus spending, Hockey now says the delayed surplus was a deliberate measure to avoid dampening economic activity with a sharp withdrawal of public money.

“We want to keep the economy going, we want to keep it strong …we want to keep that momentum going.”

And he isn’t the only one finding governing is a tad harder than bagging out the other guy.

When the Labor government sought a seat on the UN Security Council, Julie Bishop said “There really has been no justification for the benefit that will accrue to Australia by pursuing a seat at this time.”

Then, in a press conference in New York in November, Ms Bishop delighted in taking an extra minute to remind journalists who’d failed to ask about Australia’s achievements on the Security Council of the “successful two years” our membership had delivered.

Julie has rather enjoyed basking in the limelight but she has also had her problems.

In an interview with the ABC in 2012 while in opposition, Ms Bishop said climate change funding should not be “disguised as foreign aid funding”.

“We would certainly not spend our foreign aid budget on climate change programs,” she said.

In an interview with the Australian in November last year, Mr Abbott said “We are committed to dismantling the Bob Brown bank [the Clean Energy Finance Corporation] at home so it would be impossible for us to support a Bob Brown bank on an international scale.”

After a meeting with Angela Merkel in November this year, Tony Abbott said of the Green Climate Fund “We also have a Clean Energy Finance Corporation which was established by the former government and there is $10bn in capital which has been allocated to this. In addition to those two funds a proportion of our overseas aid, particularly in the Pacific, is allocated for various environmental schemes including schemes to deal with climate change. So, we are doing a very great deal and I suppose given what we are doing we don’t intend, at this time, to do more.”

Less than a month later, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government would take $200 million from Australia’s foreign aid budget over four years to put into the Green Climate Fund.

“I think it’s now fair and reasonable for the government to make a modest, prudent and proportionate commitment to this climate mitigation fund,” he said, adding that the $200 million would be “strictly” invested in “practical” projects in the Asia Pacific region, even though he has no part in the administration of the fund.

Keeping up with Christopher Pyne on education funding is harder than working out Dutton’s GP co-payment or Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave scheme.

One thing Pyne has continually stressed is the need to improve teacher quality yet the budget tends to indicate he only wants to do that in private schools.

“The Government will achieve savings of $19.9 million over five years from 2013‑14 through efficiencies in the operations of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) including a refocus on core priorities. This includes savings of $9.5 million over five years from 2013‑14 from funding allocated to AITSL by the former Government for its National Plan for School Improvement.

The savings from this measure will be redirected by the Government to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities.

The Government will provide $4.9 million over two years from 2013‑14 to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership for the continuation of the Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme (AGQTP). The AGQTP provides funding to non‑government education authorities in each state and territory to improve the quality of education through projects and activities that offer teachers and school leaders opportunities to develop their skills.”

If I was to try to list all the inconsistencies, backflips, and hypocrisies being committed on a daily basis by this government it would be a full-time job requiring daily updates. And they will be forced into more because their entire approach to governing has been just wrong.

Tony Abbott sees negotiation as weakness and compromise as failure. He is utterly incapable of admitting to being wrong – “We had a good policy, now we have a better one”. He must blame others for any problems because it couldn’t possibly be that he is doing anything amiss, even as we have Hockey now grudgingly realising the benefits of stimulus spending.

Tony Abbott is so woeful even his most ardent admirers are forced to report their disappointment. Fluff pieces with morning show hosts even turn into fiascos as Ben Jenkins reports.

It’s actually just a case of the PM suffering from a phenomenon political scientists call “being extremely shithouse at interviews”.

While Abbott tries valiantly to smash the ship of state through the iceberg of public opinion, it’s easy to forget that our prime minister is, and always has been, a terrible interviewee. His complete inability to change tack renders any interview a stilted exchange with a distressingly sinewy random word generator, in which an answer matching a question is purely a matter of chance.

True, it’s better than his previous strategy of “wordlessly stare into Mark Riley’s soul until he leaves you alone out of pure awkwardness”, but not by a huge margin. Abbott is so unwilling to back down on any matter at all that when he calls David Koch “Chris” for a second time during the interview, the PM doesn’t even acknowledge it, let alone apologise.

When the script stinks and the lead actor is a ham who cannot improvise who is supported by a cast of theatrical sycophants directed by Rasputin in animal print our government is now a farce waiting to become a tragedy.

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