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Tag Archives: John Howard

How about some other political witch hunts, Mr Abbott?

Malcolm Turnbull and John Howard (image from nws.com.au)

Malcolm Turnbull and John Howard (image from nws.com.au)

Tony Abbott promised to do many things if the LNP won the 2013 election. One of these, which was no doubt driven by populism and not policy (like everything else), was his promise to hold a judicial inquiry into Julia Gillard’s actions as a lawyer. He hammered this issue relentlessly during the campaign. Not content to simply ‘ditch the witch’ he wanted to conduct a political witch hunt of his own into irrelevant matters that were played out almost twenty years ago; matters that meant absolutely zero to the country. Most of us know of course that those matters mean absolutely zero in this present day as well, but that’s another story. Twenty years later, on this irrelevant issue:

Mr Abbott insisted again that Ms Gillard had committed a crime in her role of providing legal advice to incorporate an association for her then boyfriend and Australian Workers Union Victoria state secretary Bruce Wilson.

Abbott had no doubt been buoyed by poll after poll showing that voters questioned Ms Gillard’s explanation of the matter, hence his race towards tacky populism.

He of course ran the risk of being exposed as an utter fraud if the judicial inquiry turned up nothing to support his favoured exercise of fear and smear. But it would never deter him from practicing current day populism. History now shows – or is presently being played out – that the inquiry has turned into a ‘monumental failure’, as reported by Peter Wicks. It joins Abbott’s ‘own goal’ with his farcical Royal Commission into what he shrilly keeps calling the ‘pink batts fiasco’. He loves the smell of blood.

Given that he is keen to exert his time and money on judicial inquiries – witch hunts – I have a mere handful of instances of where he might want to hold witch hunts on whose episodes are more recent than Julia Gillard’s alleged criminal behaviour 20 years ago and whose outcomes would certainly be of national interest.

Below are some of the witch hunts Mr Abbott should take the time to pursue (as the man displays an obvious fetish with them). Long-term readers might recognise that I have raised these before, but given that witch hunts have been dominating the news over the last few days, raising them – and the manner in which they were quickly and conveniently swept under the carpet – further show that the current witch hunts are nothing but political opportunism.

So, Mr Abbott, what about these?

Our illegal war

Please take a look at John Howard’s lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We entered into an illegal war based on that lie. We ordinary Australians are more interested in the lie that cost this country billions of dollars and the thrashing of our national pride. We, as a country, are still shadowed by that war, whereas Ms Gillard’s alleged actions were almost 20 years ago. Let’s have some priority.

AWB

The AWB Oil-for-Wheat Scandal refers to the payment of kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein in contravention of the United Nations Oil-for-Food Humanitarian Program. AWB Limited is a major grain marketing organisation based in Australia. For much of the twentieth and early 21st century, it was an Australian Government entity operating a single desk regime over Australian wheat, meaning it alone could export Australian wheat, which it paid a single price for. In the mid-2000s, it was found to have been, through middlemen, paying kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein in exchange for lucrative wheat contracts. This was in direct contradiction of United Nations Sanctions, and of Australian law. Mr Abbott, please take a look into how the Howard Government – of which you were a member – were entangled in this reprehensible act. Please also ask your former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who knew ‘nothing’ of the affair, if it is true that his staff removed 11 wheelie bins filled with shredded documents from his office the morning after losing the 2007 election. Perhaps you could put an end to the rumour that circulated Canberra about the contents of those mysterious bins.

Dodgy deals – Malcolm Turnbull

Mr Abbott, do you remember this?

In a speech that Mr Turnbull gave in Perth it was reported he “ . . . decried the state of political discourse in Australia, saying it had deteriorated to such an extent that the nation suffered “a deficit of trust” and there was an urgent need for honesty in politics.”

Despite all that preaching he then refused to answer a number of questions in relation to a grant he gave when he was Environment Minister in the Howard government to his friend Matt Handbury. Mr Hanbury, co-founder of the Australian Rain Corporation and nephew of the News Corporation chief, Rupert Murdoch, you might recall, contributed to Mr Turnbull’s electorate fund-raising machine (which was set up in 2007).

Mr Abbott, do you remember Mr Handbury’s company receiving a $10 million grant from Mr Turnbull when he was Environment Minister not long before the 2007 election? $10 million of tax payer’s money.

A witch hunt may jog your memory. And what an amazing coincidence that he is related to Rupert Murdoch.

Dodgy deals – John Howard

Mr Abbott, in 2000 your old boss decided to help the retrenched workers of National Textiles to recover their entitlements after the company, of which Mr Howard’s brother Stan was Chairman, was placed in the hands of an administrator.

It was reported at the time that it was Prime Minister Howard:

. . . who proudly announced that the cash-strapped National Textiles’ workers would receive their full entitlements. It was the Prime Minister who said they would be the first to recover wages, leave and a redundancy payout under a new National scheme and it was the Prime Minister who urged the creditors to accept a Deed of Arrangement so that the $6 million in State and Federal funds would flow.

. . . the Australian newspaper claimed that acceptance of the scheme would prevent an inquiry into National Textiles’ management and Directors, of which Mr Howard’s brother, Stan, is one. The editorial was scathing, raising questions about the government’s probity and calling the taxpayer funded bail-out improper, and policy on the run.

The then Opposition called for an inquiry but it went nowhere (naturally). Mr Abbott, given your carried-out promise of a witch hunt to dig up Julia Gillard’s past perhaps you’d be moral enough to do a bit of digging dig into this shady deal as well. Strike while the witch hunt iron is hot!

Future governments will no doubt be in overdrive holding Royal Commissions into the wealth of material this current government is providing us with – hopefully some of those might get to the truth behind Ashbygate or dodgy donations – but as I have pointed out, there is a lot of old stock to clear off the shelves first.

Mr Abbott is not the only one who smells blood; so do I. His. And his party.

Never-ending story

In April I wrote an article about the Coalition’s history on superannuation.  This is an updated version.  Keeping up with their ever-changing promises is turning into quite a saga.

1972

Compulsory national superannuation was initially proposed as part of the 1972 Whitlam initiatives but up until the 1980s superannuation was solely the privilege of predominantly male professions, clustered in the public sector or available after a long qualifying period in the private sector.

1985

In 1985 then Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, said this:

“That superannuation deal, which represents all that is rotten with industrial relations in Australia, shows the government and the trade union movement in Australia not only playing the employers of Australia for mugs but it is also playing the Arbitration Commission for mugs”.

Howard was commenting on the deal between the government and the ACTU which saw the trade union movement forfeit a claim to 3% productivity improvement as wages to instead be paid in compulsory superannuation – endorsed by the Arbitration Commission and managed by superannuation funds with equal representation of the unions in the industry and the employers.

The Coalition has steadfastly opposed every increase in compulsory superannuation since that time, whether it be from 3% to 6%, or the 6% to the current 9.25%.

1995

In the 1995 budget, Ralph Willis unveiled a scheduled increase in compulsory super from 9% to 12% and eventually to 15%. It was to be one of the Keating government’s major legacy reforms.

1996

In its superannuation policy for the 1996 election, Super for all, the Coalition, which had hitherto been implacably opposed to Labor’s policies, promised it:

•Will provide in full the funds earmarked in the 1995 — 96 Budget to match compulsory employee contributions according to the proposed schedule;

•Will deliver this government contribution into superannuation or like savings;

•Reserves the right to vary the mechanism for delivering this contribution so as to provide the most effective and equitable delivery of the funds.

1997

So why don’t we have 15% superannuation now? Because John Howard and Peter Costello nixed it in the 1996 budget barely six months after it released its policy, insisting it was too expensive. They didn’t “vary the mechanism” so much as halted it.

2007

Significant changes were also made to superannuation policy in 2007. The majority of workers could now withdraw their superannuation tax-free upon reaching the age of 60. Most self-employed can claim their superannuation contributions as a tax deduction. In addition, semi-retired people can continue to work part-time, and use part of their tax-free superannuation to top up their pay.

Despite the relatively generous tax treatment of capital gains, the new superannuation tax treatment led to the selling off of some assets, particularly rental housing, as people sought to take advantage of the opportunity to add funds to their superannuation accounts and claim them back later tax-free.

People were allowed to transfer up to A$1 million into their superannuation accounts before the June 30, 2007, after which an annual maximum of A$150,000 of after-tax contributions could be made. The effect of this change in the rules was enormous. In the June quarter of 2007, A$22.4 billion was transferred to superannuation accounts by individuals. This compares with A$7.4 billion in the June quarter of 2006. June 2007 was the first time in Australia that member contributions exceeded employer contributions.

2010

The Coalition’s superannuation policy  has drawn mixed reviews, with several major industry bodies expressing disappointment at the policy for being unsubstantial.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and the Financial Services Council (FSC) said in a joint statement that a failure to increase the superannuation guarantee (SG) to 12 percent, the failure to raise the concessional caps for individuals over 50 and the failure to provide a super tax contribution rebate for low-income earners would adversely impact Australian workers.

ASFA chief executive Pauline Vamos said that the majority of Australian voters would be disappointed that the Coalition’s only plan for superannuation was the promise of more reviews and delays.

AIST chief executive Fiona Reynolds said: “Australian voters are entitled to expect more than a policy document that has no concrete plans or even fresh ideas on how to address retirement income adequacy and the challenge of Australia’s ageing population.”

2011

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott has pointedly put down Victorian Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer after she questioned his controversial decision to keep Labor’s higher superannuation guarantee if a Coalition government inherits it.

Ms O’Dwyer asked at yesterday’s party room meeting about the process by which the Coalition’s previous position was reversed – saying it was her understanding such issues should go to the party room.

Mr Abbott said the party room had the right to change policy at any time. But there was no rule – and there should be no expectation – that every policy decision be brought to the party room.

“Mr Abbott, who several times made it clear he did not want to talk about the backflip, said the Coalition would have more to say on superannuation later, but repeated that it would not rescind the higher guarantee.”

Feb 2013

JOURNALIST:

So you would cut all those initiatives?

JOE HOCKEY:

Absolutely, you can’t afford them.

So there it was in black and white – the Coalition was cutting the increase in the super guarantee.

Except, apparently not so: a couple of hours later, Hockey was complaining on Twitter about being misrepresented. “What an MRRT debacle… Despite Govt’s failures we remain committed to not rescinding the increase in compulsory superannuation from 9-12%.” Hockey tweeted. After the Nine Network had accurately reported his remarks, he followed it up with:

Would be nice if Nine News had checked the facts…Coalition remains committed to keeping increase in compulsory superannuation from 9-12%.

Crikey understands Tony Abbott’s office moved immediately after Hockey’s doorstop to indicate there was no change in the Coalition’s support for the move from 9-12%

May 2013

Tony Abbott’s plan to delay the compulsory superannuation guarantee increase for two years and do away with top-ups for low income earners sets the tone for the Coalition’s policy on retirement savings to be announced in coming months.

The Liberal Party’s superannuation policy is likely to encourage individuals to make more voluntary contributions while scaling back government-directed super contributions.

The Coalition seems to be struggling with the concept of superannuation. The Coalition has lost a lot of their super knowledge over recent years with the retirement of many senior MPs, including Peter Costello, who was the architect of the 2007 changes that brought in tax-free super for over-60s, introduced caps on non-concessional contributions, reduced the caps on concessional contributions, and removed limits on the amount of super that you could withdraw at concessional rates. They have promised not to make any unexpected negative changes to super, but hey, a few weeks after making that promise, they announced they were freezing the Superannuation Guarantee increase for 2 years.

November 2013

Labor went to the election promising a 15 per cent tax on superannuation pension earnings over $100,000.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said on Wednesday the policy was too complex and it would be scrapped.

The Treasurer has also decided to cut superannuation co-contributions for low income earners

According to the chief executive of Industry Super Australia, David Whiteley, this would result in 3.6 million Australians on low incomes being out of pocket $500 a year, while just 16,000 of the nation’s top earners will benefit from the scrapping of the 15 per cent tax.

May 2014

Mr Hockey said the discussion on what age people should be allowed to access superannuation had begun inside the Coalition.

When asked if raising the superannuation access age was being considered, Mr Abbott said the government was keeping its commitments regarding superannuation.

”We went into the election saying that apart from a couple of very small already announced changes we weren’t proposing to make any changes to superannuation in this term of Parliament,” he told reporters in Canberra.

”We think that there have been lots and lots of  changes to superannuation over the years. Some which we were enthusiastic about, some which we were unenthusiastic about, a period of stability in respect of superannuation is right and proper and there won’t be any changes in this term of Parliament.

September 2014

Under a deal negotiated with the Palmer United party to repeal the mining tax, employer superannuation contributions will be frozen at 9.5 per cent until 2021 when they increase to 10 per cent.

After that, contributions will increase by 0.5 per cent annually until they reach 12 per cent.

As a result, Labor claims that a 25-year-old Australian earning $55,000 a year will be more than $9000 worse off by 2025.  Industry sources say the impact over a 40-year working life could be as high as $100,000, taking into account compound interest.

With the rise of influence of the IPA within our current government’s policy making, this article by John Roskam from 2012 should sound warning bells to us all.

“Compulsory superannuation offends practically every principle of what should be Liberal Party philosophy. If an Abbott government does keep compulsory superannuation it must, at a minimum, make drastic changes.”

Sweeteners

porkbarrel-e1409295205387“Australians don’t want another election”, says Tony Abbott. Naturally, this reflects both his own achievement of the goal – personal power – and the government’s standing in the polls. For Tony Abbott, elections are not about fulfilling the will of the people. They are about putting the right people into government. The “right people” are already there, job’s done, so there’s absolutely no call for another election – even one that might strengthen the government’s own standing.

In any case, a new election at this point in the cycle would not suit the Coalition. It is standard political operating procedure. In your first year in office, you do the “Mother Hubbard” trick and use it as an excuse to bring in the most unpopular and difficult of your priorities. To some extent you can still trade off this dialogue for your second budget as well.

By the time you get to the third year in office, you need to start thinking about another election, which means you focus on what little tidbits you can feed to a battered population. John Howard was a past master at this cycle and it bought him three terms despite the most egregious betrayals of the electorate – including a “never, ever” GST. It was only the continued focus on Workchoices – introduced midway through a cycle and still “alive” at the time of the 2007 election – that ended his run. This was despite Howard’s late attempt, in mid 2007, to introduce a “sweetener” to his toxic IR platform, in the form of a fairness test.

This is actually a crystal clear example of the way the Coalition works: impose your ideological position early, and if required, water it down slightly by the time of the election. You still end up with most of your goals intact.

A couple of days ago Kaye Lee related the experience of a senior government official, who was confident the Coalition would win the next election: “The sweeteners are coming and that is what they will remember.” If this is true, then Australia needs an election NOW – before the Coalition gets the chance to bring about its full electoral cycle of “hit hard, then give ’em back some of what you took to win votes”.

This statement leads to consideration: what kind of sweeteners can the Team Big Australia realistically offer come 2016?

It is certainly true that the toughest changes in the recent budget are expected to come to pass later rather than earlier – either ramping up over the next few years, or budgeted to become active after the next election. In part, this is Tony Abbott’s self-limitation: his unwarranted promises not to impose changes to education, health, the ABC or seemingly anything else before another election. Those promises force Abbott to adopt a largely status-quo approach: no major changes for the first few years. How that must smart.

Politics operates on a long-term forward-planning basis, but it’s often not good at communicating that. See, for example, Labor’s MRRT, the proceeds from which are expected to ramp up significantly in the next few years. That won’t save it from the Coalition’s “barely any revenue” rhetoric or its intractible desire to repeal it.

Therefore, much of the pain of Joe’s budget, the budget that we’re all squealing so loudly about, doesn’t actually kick in until after the next election. Notable exceptions are the changes to Newstart / Youth Allowance eligibility, which start on 1 January 2015, and the medicare co-payment, scheduled to begin 1 July 2015. (Both dates presume the legislation can be successfully passed before those deadlines.) But many of the most painful elements, including the indexation changes to the age pension and the $80bn cuts to health and education payments to the States, aren’t expected until after 2016.

All of this indicates that come 2016, the Coalition has more pain in mind, not sweeteners. But lately, the conversation has notably changed tack.

Joe Hockey has previously stated that the 2014 budget is just the start. We don’t hear much said about this any more – the idea that the Coalition wanted to go further, cut more harshly. Instead, the promise of doing more, with the implication that this is necessary and good, has transmuted to an amorphous threat that more will come if Labor and the Greens don’t play ball and pass this budget. The conversation has changed. Instead of being the first step in a long-term dialogue with the Australian people, “starting a national conversation about how we can live within our means” as Hockey said at the time, the 2014 budget is now the magic pill that tastes bad but will make it all better by the time the next election comes around.

It seems like not too far a stretch to expect that the Coalition plans to begin handing out its incentives by the time the next election comes around. Again, what kind of sweeteners can it actually offer? And is there any possibility that they might be successful? Will the Coalition really “romp home” in 2016?

Having run so hard on the concept that “Nothing is for free… nothing can continue to be free,” it seems unlikely that they will offer to restore the social support structures they’re currently fighting so hard to dismantle. Changes to unemployment benefits, healthcare funding, and pensions are long-term structural changes. The intent is good even if the methodology is not; these are areas where ongoing expenditure must be controlled for fear of them outstripping the government’s ability to support them. It would be counterproductive for the government to offer to retreat from its changes, so it’s fairly certain that, once legislated, the six-month furlough of payments, the medicare co-payment, and the changes to eligibility and indexation of support payments will be here to stay.

They could offer more infrastructure. But Tony Abbott’s repeated mantra of being “the infrastructure Prime Minister” appears to be falling on deaf ears. This is partly because of the Coalition’s intent to artificially restrict the kind of infrastructure projects it will engage in, and partly because of a range of State Liberal governments backing unpopular or inefficient projects that lack the populist chops except amongst people who are already their strongest supporters.

Thus the Coalition is likely to find itself constrained by the time of the next election. Building more schools and hospitals will not be helpful if the funding for existing schools and hospitals has been gutted. By the time of the next election the promise of more toll roads is unlikely to be a big draw-card, and the Coalition doesn’t want to be engaged in building rail.

This leaves tax cuts: the perennial stopgap of conservative governments and darling of John Howard’s appeal to the battlers. Tax cuts are within the Coalition’s DNA – their raison d’etre is to reduce taxes, reduce government offerings, and reduce community support. For those who can’t prosper under those conditions, the Market Will Provide.

Past Coalition election sweeteners have included a succession of income tax cuts, company tax cuts, and bonuses – for instance, the baby bonus was introduced by Howard in 2001. The 2007 election campaign carried all manner of sweeteners – 9 billion dollars worth – if we would only give the Coalition another chance. In many cases these offerings were “me-too” responses to promises already made by Labor.

So any incentives the Coalition can offer are likely to come in the form of tax cuts. They might be named “bonuses” or “supplements”, and they might be one-time only, but effectively the government will offer cash, hand over fist. Labor’s offer to increase the tax-free threshold to $18k and adjust the tax brackets, effectively giving tax cuts to large portions of the electorate, will be entirely forgotten in the rush of joy we will all feel at the government’s largesse. Expect many congratulatory statements from Team Abbott about how we all “pulled together”, bore the pain, took our medicine and reached a point, thanks to the Coalition’s careful management of the economy, where we can afford the rewards.

But will sweeteners be enough to secure the Coalition another term? It’s been repeatedly said that elections are lost, not won. It’s certainly true that the past two changes of government have occurred in spite of offered sweeteners, rather than because of them. In 2007, as mentioned above, Howard offered more incentives to electors in addition to a concession of watering down his beloved WorkChoices regime, but that didn’t save him; public opinion was far too set against his government and Kevin Rudd led Labor to a resounding victory. In 2013, too, Labor had far more on the table than the Coalition, including the aforementioned adjustments to income tax that would have seen millions of Australians no longer needing to pay tax at all. Ironically, Tony Abbott’s repealing of this legislation means that many more people are paying more tax than they otherwise would. Regardless of the sweeteners on offer, voters resoundingly voted Labor out of power. Unfortunately, the corollary is that they voted Tony Abbott in, without ever necessarily being won over by his ideological intentions on policy. Labor warned the electorate, at length, about the likely outcomes of an Abbott victory. Tony Abbott blithely dismissed these warnings as political alarmism and promised that he wouldn’t be like that at all. So now that his reassurances have proven hollow, could the Australian people be hoodwinked a second time?

We’ve never seen a government with the trajectory of the Abbott government. Already it languishes in depths of unpopularity not traditionally seen until several terms into government and, usually, preceding an electoral loss. It would seem at least possible that One-Term-Tony could be a predictive term. Historically, Australians don’t vote governments out after only one term, but this government may prove the exception. It seems likely that the only thing that could save them would be an electorate that still thinks that Labor is unelectable by the time of the 2016 election, which is why rejuvenation and reform of the Labor party is so critically important.

If the Coalition is able to retain government at the next election, the faint consolation will be that it won’t take long after the election for them to tighten the screws further. Then we’ll be having this discussion again, three years later, and with each successive election the chances of Labor regaining power improve.

The question then becomes, how much damage will Tony Abbott and his fellows do to Australian egalitarianism and society?

Abbott’s ‘Team Australia’ has a tinge of Howard about it

‘Don’t migrate to Australia unless you want to join “Team Australia”’, declared our chest-beating Prime Minister. “Everyone has got to be on team Australia” he carried on.

Now I really don’t know what ‘Team Australia’ is. I suspect it is nothing more than a slogan aimed at stirring up patriotism. And/or votes.

Either way, I don’t like it.

It reminds me of John Howard’s famous (and stunningly racist) comment that “we will decide who comes to this country . . .” – which he used rather effectively to set up his 2001 election win.

Tony Abbott appears, on the surface, to be channeling John Howard. What might he have on the agenda?

Let us be reminded of what Howard’s was. It might tell us something.

In 2007, as the then Prime Minister, Howard officially scrapped multiculturalism. Need I say more?

In 2012, more willing to embrace a multicultural Australia the Gillard minority government established a Joint Standing Committee on Migration.  Some of the key issues addressed were: the role of multiculturalism in the Government’s social inclusion agenda; the effectiveness of settlement programs for new migrants, including refugees; how Australia could better utilise the skills of migrants; and incentives to encourage small business development.

Focusing on the economic, social and cultural impacts of migration in Australia, the Committee made further recommendations to maximise the positive effects of migration.

Initially, the inquiry was commissioned to examine and report on:

Multiculturalism, social inclusion and globalisation
  • The role of multiculturalism in the Federal Government’s social inclusion agenda; and
  • The contribution of diaspora communities to Australia’s relationships with Europe, the UK, Middle East and the immediate Asia-Pacific Region.
Settlement and participation
  • Innovative ideas for settlement programs for new migrants, including refugees, that support their full participation and integration into the broader Australian society; and
  • Incentives to promote long term settlement patterns that achieve greater social and economic benefits for Australian society as a whole.
National productive capacity
  • The role migration has played and contributes to building Australia’s long term productive capacity;
  • The profile of skilled migration to Australia and the extent to which Australia is fully utilising the skills of all migrants; and
  • Potential government initiatives to better assist migrant communities establish business enterprises.

Not surprisingly, this appears to have been scrapped. Well, the link is dead, so I can only assume it’s been scrapped. Can I also thus assume that Abbott has it somewhere in his agenda to follow Howard and also attempt to scrap multiculturalism?

I certainly hope not, but I fear that he will. The fictitious ‘Team Australia’ and what it is trying to represent has that distinct smell about it.

I quite like a multicultural Australia.

With over 6 million immigrants since the end of WWII, we have one of the most successful culturally diverse societies in the world.  The Inquiry into Multiculturalism in Australia provided a framework for strengthening community harmony and promoting the economic, cultural and social benefits of Australia’s cultural diversity for all Australians.  Australian multiculturalism also embraces the heritage of Indigenous Australians, early European settlement, our home-grown customs and traditions and the experiences of new migrants coming to this country, and promotes mutual respect and equality, aiming to enhance social cohesion.

Image by meetville.com

Image by meetville.com

Our multicultural policies have also affirmed that all Australians have the opportunity to be active and equal participants in society, and are free to maintain their religious and cultural traditions within Australian law.  There are other benefits of multiculturalism for Australia – we are not only considerably richer in experiences, but we enjoy much closer economic and social links with other nations as a direct result of our diverse multicultural population.

John Howard didn’t like it that way, and Tony Abbott’s ‘Team Australia’ has a tinge of Howard about it.

I wrote recently that the Abbott Government has been a very easy one to predict. I could be right again.

 

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.

 

Abbott’s road to widening inequality

Image courtesy of rendezvousofme.blogspot.com

Image courtesy of rendezvousofme.blogspot.com

“In the end, we have to be a productive and competitive society and greater inequality might be inevitable” – Tony Abbott 2013.

It’s no surprise that the Coalition are polling rather poorly at the moment. As the electorate is beginning to realise, pre-election Tony and post-election Tony are two very different creatures. Either that or we’ve all been subjected to a mass alien memory wipe and he really did campaign vigorously to scrap the payments to war orphans, re-index HECS and introduce a $7 GP charge. With even Liberal backbenchers decrying Hockey’s fiscal ambitions and Abbott’s signature Paid Parental Leave policy as unfair, one has to wonder if this vindictive budget might not perhaps betray some sinister ulterior motive?

Are massive cuts to health and education just the lever needed to force the states to sell off assets? Or do they point to an inevitable increase to the GST? In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Australia currently has practically wall-to-wall Liberal state governments, and Abbott seems to be taking aim at the Federation through massive changes to funding. Meanwhile, as we tread through the smouldering ashes of what once was our manufacturing sector, the path to a third world resource based economy has never seemed clearer. The live export trade has been given the all clear, Tasmania is preparing to tear up the Forests Peace Deal, and Queensland is set to start dumping dredge spoil into the Great Barrier Reef for a new coal terminal. Exploitation would seem to be economics a la mode.

In his latest adventure our fearless leader has jetted off to the far away land of Canadia spruiking once in a lifetime investment opportunities in our wide brown land (read: sale of public assets). But while he trumpets that Australia is open for business, make no mistake, the Abbott/Hockey agenda is about privatising profit and socialising cost.

In 1949, Robert Menzies’ Liberal Party was to be one of small government with limited impact on the lives of individuals. Befitting the post war mood, individual prosperity was high on the agenda.

Following 20 odd years of more or less stable government, the public mood had changed considerably by the early 1970s and Australia’s involvement in the war in Vietnam had become increasingly unpopular with voters. The Whitlam Government was swept to power promising a different take on foreign policy and bold new ideas for sharing our prosperity. Whitlam legislated an unprecedented raft of reforms during his single term in office, but faced a hostile Senate and eventually a constitutional crisis led to a double dissolution. Malcolm Fraser was appointed caretaker and served three terms as Prime Minister.

Fraser rolled back a lot of Whitlam’s reforms and hobbled Medibank. His time in office was marked by modest growth and rising unemployment, but I would be remiss not to mention Fraser’s support of multiculturalism, establishing the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), expanding immigration and allowing more refugees to enter Australia. In Whitlam’s own words “Multicultural Australia exists because of the Whitlam Labor Government’s initiatives. It will endure not least because of Malcolm Fraser’s endeavours“.

While Abbott may lament the sins of the Whitlam era, Labor has long been closer to the centre right. It was Keating who made the permanent structural changes that redefined our economy through the 80s and 90s; introduced us to the global market and saw us through its birth pains; floated the dollar; sent interest rates skyward; lowered wages and tipped us into recession: all paving the way for 22 years of continuous economic growth. (We had a lot of catching up to do). He also set up a superannuation scheme which had extraordinary benefits for the very well-off.

It’s hardly surprising that by 1996 a few people were starting to think Keating was a bit too right-wing and voted for John Howard instead. Howard went to the polls with the promise of NO GST, NEVER, EVER (at least until his second term of government). The Howard Government grew fat off the profits of the mining boom and threw some scraps to middle income earners through family payments. Howard campaigned tirelessly against unionism, persecuted the unemployed through polices such as work for the dole, and unequivocally backed Bush’s invasion of Iraq in the face of massive public dissent. Where Hawke had introduced mandatory detention for asylum seekers, Howard in true neo-liberal style outsourced it. WorkChoices was his crowning achievement, and a bridge too far for the electorate. He was rolled in a landslide victory to Labor in 2007, in which he lost his own seat.

Enter Labor Mk III. Kevin Rudd was an adept policy engineer and a great apologist but not well liked for his narcissism. Julia Gillard was competent and amiable but dogged by a minority government and internal division, and not well liked by the press. The carbon and mining taxes were poorly executed compromises and not well liked by anyone. GONSKI, the NBN, and NDIS were the three big policy initiatives which might have been the legacy of the Rudd/Gillard years, had they been realised.

My point is this: Whether you lean to the left or the right of the political divide, you should at least know where the centre is. Abbott and his band of white shirt and blue tie wearing thugs aren’t conservatives – they are radical libertarians; a government of, by and for the very rich. If Sir Robert Menzies could see today’s Liberal party he’d turn over in his grave. Honestly, this mob are so on the nose a rotting corpse would run the other way.

They speak of ‘cutting tape’ and ‘taking the chains off the economy’ as they dismantle the legacies of previous governments. one policy at a time. Even their much beloved John Howard has not been spared, with family payments and the renewable energy target sent to the scrap heap. ‘Smaller government’, ‘Stop the boats’, ‘the Age of Entitlement is over’ they chant, while sticking a knife into the backs of the young, the unemployed, the sick, the homeless, pensioners, war veterans, and anyone else they deem undeserving. Because let’s face it, we’re a wealthy country where everyone has equal opportunity, so if people are living in poverty it must be through choice, right?

Unfortunately these mantras don’t bear close scrutiny. It is one thing to say the age of entitlement is over, but what does this really mean at a time when Australia’s GDP per capita is at an all time high? How is it that one of the IMF’s top rated economies can suddenly no longer afford staples such as free education and universal healthcare? Hockey bangs on about the moral depravity of burdening future generations with debt, but he’s quite happy for them to pay three or four times more for their HECS. loans. Twenty somethings are told they must earn or learn, while funding is cut from apprenticeships and more 457 visas are flagged. Do you ever get the feeling you’re being lied to? Or are they doing such a good job selling their spin that it all sounds reasonable? As reasonable as selling off public assets that have taken decades to build up in order to service a relatively small short term debt. Get ready for the fire sale. Mike Baird is already talking about selling off power lines and poles in NSW (because that worked out so well in Victoria, didn’t it?).

I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb to say that Labor’s NBN was less about providing fast affordable broadband than breaking Telstra’s stranglehold over the telecommunications industry. Remember that great national company Telecom Australia? What do you suppose happened to it? Oh don’t tell me, it was one of the first things to go in John Howard’s fire sale, and with it went the copper network.

I am reminded of this quote from Hugo Chavez: “Privatisation is a neoliberal and imperialist plan. Health can’t be privatized because it is a fundamental human right, nor can education, water, electricity and other public services. They can’t be surrendered to private capital that denies the people of their rights”.

Think about this. When you privatise prisons, prisoners become capital. That’s why the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. The states spend millions enforcing punitive laws and waste resources on a ‘war on drugs’ whose sole purpose is to create yet more prisoners. When you privatise health, sickness and disease become capital. That’s why for all the hundreds of cures for cancer discovered in recent decades we still don’t have any effective treatments. Newsflash: The cancer industry is worth $160bn annually in the U.S. alone. Do we really want to go down this path?

Sure, markets are good at supplying goods and services, and consumer choice should be respected. But some things; health, education, communication, correction, have proven disastrous when left to market control. Sometimes you don’t just want to deliver the most efficient outcomes, but the right outcomes. In these instances it is incumbent upon governments to make sure the job is done properly. Whether that be through provision, regulation or merely oversight of essential services, the role of government is to look after the interests of its citizens. I’m not talking specifically about a welfare state, or even a social safety net. Such ideas are not the end, but rather the means of sensible and proper governance.

The Resource Super Profits Tax was a 40% tax on mining profits over and above normal company tax. The fact that Rudd failed to sell it to the electorate was probably the single greatest failure of his political career. Why should the Commonwealth not be paid a royalty when mining companies which are 80% foreign owned dig up our coal and iron ore and sell it to overseas markets? Why instead are mining interests the biggest recipients of corporate welfare, receiving $4bn annually in diesel rebates, while the rest of us are told we must do the ‘heavy lifting’? Andrew Wilkie has the right idea when he says the banking sector should also be paying a super-profits tax. Policies like these could ensure that the cost of healthcare and education never have to fall on those who can least afford it.

Economic management is about adapting to changing conditions. To assume that policies which worked 30 years ago should and must work today misses the point. Thatcherism may have been appropriate, even necessary, for Britain in the 70s, but this is Australia 2014 and we are facing a different set of challenges. Global markets, rising inequality, and climate change are just a few. The Abbott/Hockey response seems to be to drive the resource sector down through oversupply, send the economy into recession to force down wages, and take an opportunistic stab at those who contribute and consume the least. Abbott keeps telling us that average families will be $550 a year better off when the carbon tax is repealed, but surely this is cold comfort when low and middle income earners will face a 12 – 15% rise in the cost of living under the proposed budget measures.

Meanwhile middle class welfare will continue as usual, and those in the highest income brackets will contribute virtually nothing to the so-called budget repair job. The property market will remain inflated due to negative gearing, keeping young families out of the market while the rich buy up investment properties. Big business will continue to be under-taxed and we will all pay more for basic services. Lack of early intervention will lead to an overall decline in our health and a greater burden on hospitals. Deregulation of the education sector will be a disincentive to higher learning and those who do graduate will face years of debt.

Hockey is reading the ledger book upside down. Health and education are assets, not liabilities. Action on climate change now is essential if we are to have any sort of future at all. These are the real tough choices we should be making now.

Alas, we seem to be headed in the opposite direction, gathering pace as we speed down Abbott’s big new road to greater inequality, paying more for our health and education, whilst hemorrhaging money on weapons of war for which we have no foreseeable use. Not to mention those pesky asylum seekers. We hand over billions to lock them away in other countries in private prisons with private security guards and turn a blind eye when they are raped and beaten to death, as long as they never come here. Hey Tony, here’s a thought, why not privatise the armed forces? In 12 years the U.S. has poured trillions into the war in Afghanistan, while Halliburton has made a fortune. Australia has just pledged $58bn to Lockheed Martin for the new F-35 which is by all accounts a lemon, while sending our navy ship building offshore. One thing is certain; war is good for business, but who are we going to war with? Indonesia? China? If so, God help us, because the U.S. certainly won’t.

Speaking of the U.S., Obama seems somewhat more relaxed now toward the end of his final term and is talking about real action on climate change. China is also taking the problem of carbon emissions seriously, leaving us pretty much on our own. As the Chinese economy slows the price of iron ore is in free-fall, and the world is waking up to the environmental cost of thermal coal. This does not bode well for our economic future. How blinkered do you have to be to not even consider other options? At least there should be a plan B, right? When questioned by Greens MP Adam Bandt in parliament recently as to what his plans were for the future of Western Australia at the end of the mining boom, Abbott responded that his plan was “to restart the mining boom”. Apparently his plan A is his plan B.

In contrast, Germany now gets 30% of its energy from renewables. Imagine that in terms of job creation. Norway has set up a state oil fund which has made all of its citizens crown millionaires; Finland’s state funded education system produces the best education outcomes in the world; Iceland responded to the global financial crisis by sending crooked bankers to gaol and now has a thriving economy; and Sweden is about to introduce a 30 hour work week.

These are some of the highest taxing and highest servicing countries in the world. They are not socialist states, they are not third world countries. They are the world’s best performing economies. Economics isn’t rocket science, but it is a science, and policy decisions tend to have predictable outcomes. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Abbott is really not the sharpest tool in the shed, and as for Hockey, really, would you buy a used car from this man? Never mind, if it all goes tits up I suppose he could always get a job in real estate. I’m sure there’s plenty of money to be made selling beachfront retirement homes. In Antarctica.

Other great articles by Sean Stinson:

Catholic Schoolboys Rule: Neo-Conservatism and the Sociopathy of the Religious Right

The Wheat and the Chessboard

The toll road to serfdom

The romance of the retro PM

The more we see of Tony Abbott the more we are see of a person to dislike and distrust. And what we see emerging is a Prime Minister who would be more suited to leading a country in the 1950s – not the 21st century, writes Ricky Pannowitz.

The 1950s were a time of great cathartic change in everything from design to popular culture. Owning a 50’s retro car is more about perception than functionality. The regressive experience may be romantic, but it is ultimately expensive to maintain and less functional for the modern imperative. Can Australia afford a retro prime minister in a modern age?

It is no accident that Tony Abbott is a man who has gone from being the romantic notion of a simplistic bygone era to uncomfortably impractical. Like a shiny old reconditioned car in a showroom reminding us of a reminiscent past, there are many impracticalities and hidden issues that were not apparent beyond a new paint job and the aggressive sales pitch. After Tony left the showroom his transgression of trust saw a fickle voting public, transfixed by the mantra of sales spin, hit by the reality of something impractically different from what they were sold. The sagacity of wisdom from experts experienced in the realism of such decisions was barely audible beneath fervour of pitched hype. People were told across the board, the real Tony Abbott is a radical religious neo con, not this guy they are selling as centre centric. Any old school mechanic would tell you this ride will be uncomfortable, unreliable and ultimately expensive. Was Australia sold a lemon by crooked salesmen or is it a case of the buyer beware?

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote; “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”

Just as we look back at the attitudes from another less progressive and enlighten time as cultural cringe, equally cringe worthy is the attitude to Abbott’s regressive assault on the hard fought rights of ordinary Australians. The very fact that the ideals, which have been fought and won with bipartisan acceptance long ago, are in Abbott’s sights is in itself a glaring example of his reckless judgement in embarking upon a politically suicidal assault on social cohesion. The sociology of political change tends to occur after a slow conciliatory process which culminates in a glacial shift that is usually in step with changing attitudes of contemporary society. Reconciliation, gender equality, sexual equality, racial equality, universal heath care, superannuation, equitable quality education, anti discrimination, protection from vilification, humanitarian responsibility, equitable immigration, a healthy public broadcasting sector, freedom of press, freedom of speech, the minimum wage, fair industrial relations, economic sustainability, research and technological capitalisation and welfare for the disadvantaged, affordable healthcare to name a few are all measures of Australia as a progressive egalitarian society. Then there is Tony Abbott; a radical ideologist who maintains a narrow centric view embodying the current pendulum swing to the furthest right axis of the social divide. Abbott is putting it all or nothing out there at once in an expedient assault of his ideological will with indifference to consequence. There is no doubt that this is all propagated by a free ride on the populous news cycle which is afforded far more democratic weight than its current erroneous substance should allow. It’s also punctuated by a heavy agenda as there are much money and favour behind Tony’s assault. A 880 million dollar tax bill payed to a media proprietor who supported him during the campaign that could possibly be a down payment to purchase the soon to be privatised telecommunications infrastructure which would monopolise delivery of his future content. Abbott has many such scores to settle in his rise to the top job.

John Avlon who wrote; “A wingnut is someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum – the professional partisans, the unhinged activists and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They’re the people who always try to divide rather than unite us” Partisan Division is a tactic that has served Tony Abbott well, until now.

Abbott represents the remnants of everything that connotes an old world view of a young, rich colonial power trying to punch above its weight on the world stage. A nation struggling with the shame of its arrogant colonial past whilst seeking to define the identity of its future as a progressive independent multicultural nation.

To understand Abbott one must look at the ideology of that which shaped him in his formative years as a student on the SRC at Sydney University. Deeply religious, highly opinionated and in contempt of anything that he considered to be of lesser social value or challenged his moralised ideological thinking; Abbott was a radical religious conservative chauvinist. Where others use university to explore, test and challenge convention through the development of critical thinking, Abbott was a defiant sycophant of ultra conservative class elitism, preferring to oppose and demonise progressive social thinking flippantly as a ‘socialist disease’ or ‘communist propaganda’. He dogmatically shoehorned all philosophy into the supposition of his inflexible world view. Tony Abbott was a political operative of Bob Santamaria, an ultra conservative religious anti communist in the 70’s who was the voice of catholic ultra conservative right. Santamaria groomed Abbott as the new charge of ultra conservative Catholicism which would ultimately come to embody the neo conservatism of the Tea Party movement and Toryism.

Abbott sees himself as a man of great morality, however this is at odds with his actions which define him as a bare knuckle combatant moralist who will say or do anything to win political advantage. Abbott is consistently a contradiction of his christian values, even when the issue on the table is at odds with the best interest of Australian society. Abbott demonstrates hypocrisy by virtue of his past and present actions. A fundamentalist catholic who entered the priesthood but ultimately failed due to the constraints of ethical dilemmas presented by his burning political ambition driven by a dogged lust for power at any cost. Abbott’s views are those of a religious conservative Australia in less progressive times that most Australians would rather forget than revisit. A dark age of xenophobic ardour, coercion of challenge to conventional institutionalism, suspicion of sociological advancement, political tyranny, scaremongering, corruption steeped in misogyny and the bigotry that maintained an indefensible position of religious faith over personal choice. Abbott believes there is no case for the separation of Church and state, in fact his religious beliefs consistently promulgate Christian influence over his Prime Ministership and publicly funded programs.

It was apparent to anyone that knew anything of Abbott’s politics and ideology before the election that he was incapable of governing for the majority as Tony Abbott knows no middle ground. Abbott’s view is all black or white; for or against as compromise is just not in his DNA. Tony is a poor negotiator who treats everything as a political game to win rather than a bipartisan outcome for the common good no matter what’s on the table. Abbott gives no quarter considering anything but ‘all or nothing’ weak and effeminate, irrespective of what the fallout or social consequence may be.

Image courtesy of the conversation.com

Image courtesy of the conversation.com

Abbott’s general tactic for even the most extreme obstinacy is usually to deny or offer a conditional, insincere apologetic acknowledgement to minimalise political capital before reloading to maintain assault. This is a man who has strategically manoeuvred to make his move at a time when political discourse in the country has arguably hit the lowest ebb in the nation’s history. Abbott has taken Howard’s most extreme regressive policies that tapped into the dark underbelly of prejudice, racism, hatred, misogyny and class welfare; then amplified them one hundred fold into a sensory assault strategy based on divide and conquer. The new ‘Minister for Women’s Affairs’ has long held grudges and his retribution can sometimes appear contemptibly childish to prove a point. Simplistic language dispenses a bitter pill administered with faux spin that is manufactured for the political expedience of powerful ideological encroachment rather than any visionary social progression. Tireless three word sloganism as a grinding, unrelenting mantra for political sleight of a back hand to his detractors.

This continuing language of deception is evidentiary in a budget that is little more than a manifesto of social engineering rather than a statement of prudent economics. Every thread of the Australia’s social fabric at odds with neoconservative ideology is attacked as unsustainable, unwarranted, superfluously unimportant or irrelevant. We all must do the ‘heavy lifting’ as Australia just can’t afford anything that Tony is opposed to and anyone who questions the budget with conflicting factually inconvenient critique is a ‘fiscal vandal’. The message behind the transparency of the language is arrogant, insulting and rhetorical ‘heavy grifting’ at best. The process of implementation of the budgets methodology was a prequel led by the “Commission of Audit”. This was a series of warning shot across the bow of middle Australia designed as conditioning for the predictable shock and awe of an unnecessarily tough budget to come. “You will thank us”, he reiterated, “we’re making the necessary hard decisions”. “Budget Emergency” “Big Black hole” Tony’s fire truck had arrived and its full of gasoline.

Under the scrutiny of experts across the political divide and with superficial micro explanation by the architects, both the audit and budget just don’t add up. Abbott is not a good orator with a fundamental understanding of economics at best. His subsequent response affirms he is in fact an “economic simpleton”. When pressed to explain himself he resorts to the rhetoric of slogans, outright lies and attack, all tactics that served elect him. This may well work in a election campaign but as a PM under the microscope in clear air, its a different proposition. The treasurer delivered the budget, tried to explain it and his approval together with his confidence rating severely tanked just like Abbott’s. Abbott and Hockey are not good performers under pressure, especially when thrown to the wolves without a script. The sheer weight of this ideology is drowning Abbott and Hockey and may well sink this government. Abbott’s freestyle oratory incompetence has seen a series of gaffs unbecoming and unworthy of his high office, further eroding his already dismal relationship with the Australian voting public. The mean spirit, retribution, hash cruelty, and inequality coupled with lack of detail, poor salesmanship with the absence of any qualified evidentiary substantiation underpinning the methodology constitutes a the budget bordering on amateurishly incompetent at best. If an election was held now this government would be deservedly decimated into political wasteland. The harsh critical analysis from all corners of society is a resounding vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Abbott Government ‘trying it on’. Such fervent discrediting asserts Abbott’s first budget to be nothing more than the wish list of corporate interest, free market capitalists led by assumptions from a socially disconnected elite. A doctrine of those who shape the ideology machine of the controlling neo right of the LNP.

Australia underestimated Abbott and his ability to tap into a festering reserve of underlying hatred, intolerance and political apathy that has polarised political debate in Australia. The reality of political lies is when they are exposed the voting public’s retribution is brutal and unforgiving. John Howard is testament to this fact and he was popular, a luxury not afforded Tony Abbott. Consequently Abbott may well be the most hated Prime Minister since Billy McMahon. History will not be kind to this government, especially now the cloaked reality has lifted and the sobriety of the real Tony Abbott’s rhetorical lies hits his enticed aspirants in the hip pocket. The voting public have began to realise they have been conned, surprised and subject to the will of a man that has no plan other than rhetorical propaganda simplified to three word slogans as a means to impose his extremist ‘retro’ ideology. Everything that Abbott said he was not and would not do, he is doing or has done. He has abandoned the people who believed his lies hoping to win them over with more of the same medicine show. This is of no surprise to those who understood Abbott before he was hastily reinvented. The real Tony Abbott is a man who embodies the personification of everything that he professes to be against such as entitlement, dirty deals, subterfuge, character assassination, slush funds, political perks, corruption, nepotism, racism and misogyny. This is evident by his words and actions. The real Tony Abbott has no shame whatsoever. When faced with the prospect of being caught in a lie, he compulsively qualifies the lie with another. The real Tony Abbott has the auspicious honour of being unpopular when elected and descending lower in the polls, all the while selling himself by claiming a mandate.

There aren’t many people left for Tony Abbott to upset. As thick skinned and unfazed by being disliked as Tony is, there is not much possibility of Abbott riding this out unscathed. Abbott and his cohorts have been very sloppy along the way, with a trial of political impropriety that is lying in waiting for the next headline. Abbott’s biggest miscalculation may have been to arrogantly open a can of worms that his machine will not be able to control. The bygone political operatives of the time they wish to emulate had the benefit of controllable information, however in an instantaneous information age nothing is controllable. The process of lighting a fuse to test credibility and competence with show trials, may well see Abbott with nowhere to run. Tony was born to rule and has fulfilled his ambitious quest to do so against all odds, but for how long and at what price? The gloss is washing off the car, the tyres are flat, it’s overheating, blowing smoke, this lemon is breaking down on the first leg of the journey. It may have seemed like a romantically good idea at the time but ultimately this bomb is an impractical rusty relic destined for the political scrap heap no matter how you paint it.

When you reduce the complexity of consequence down to the simplistic, the devil is always in the detail and the detail is most certainly in the devil they didn’t know.

Time to end Tony Abbott’s deceitful debt scare campaign

Let’s get real here and start talking facts. Cold hard incontrovertible facts.

I have already outlined the truth of the situation in, Facts speak for themselves, Australia still lucky country. Now to get into the details.

$44 billion worth of net assets were inherited by the Labor Government in 2007 from John Howard’s Liberal Government.

This is after a strong period of economic growth and private investment following the dot com crash, from 2002 to 2007. Not to mention, ever surging commodity prices and resources demand, mainly from a booming China.

$70 billion of government owned assets were sold off under by Treasurer Costello, most of them at bargain basement rates. Incidentally, as an aside, he now wants the Queensland Government to engage in such reckless practices.

This means the net assets on the books (63% of the overall cash generated from asset sales) were as a result of selling our assets, without a mandate, for much less than they would now be worth if they had been retained.

Almost every other benefit from the mining boom was squandered, as there was abysmal investment in education, health, infrastructure and productivity over 11 ½ years of Coalition rule.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) recently stated Howard was the most profligate Australian Prime Minister in history. If you take issue with that statement, talk to the experts.

Howard was defeated when there were very few signs of the credit crunch and GFC in evidence.

Since Labor came to power in late 2007, there has been $160 billion in tax receipt write-downs as a result of a weaker global economy.

Between 2004 to 2007 the Howard Government saw $334 billion of upward revisions yet still under invested in crucial sectors and sold off public assets.

Every developed nation entered recession . . .  except for Australia that is.

Image courtesy of the Australian Labor Party

Image courtesy of the Australian Labor Party

Australia took decisive action to stem the impacts of the GFC on jobs and economic growth. The economy is now at trend growth and 926,000 jobs have been created since the GFC. An outstanding result no matter how you slice it.

This meant stimulating the economy with a significant stimulus package of around $52 billion (3% of GDP in today’s terms). A response that was heralded as a model targeted and effective response by the IMF, OECD and World Bank. The OECD praised the package stating it would save 200,000 jobs.

World experts such as Nobel Prize laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz also said the stimulus “served Australia well“.

Without this stimulus, as the world was sinking into a crisis, growth in Australia would have stalled and unemployment would have spiked above 8% leading to a prolonged period of economic hardship for many Australians.

Australia chose to support jobs and growth and to maintain levels of spending in order to support services for the Australian people.

To maintain surpluses over the GFC period – as some in the Coalition seem to suggest Labor should have done – would have been irresponsible.

The Liberal Party's attempt at a counter graphic with no mention of the context of the GFC or that $150B is close to the amount tax receipts have dropped off.

The Liberal Party’s attempt at a counter graphic with no mention of the context of the GFC or that $150B is close to the amount tax receipts have dropped off.

It would have led to the requirement to unleash austerity on all Australians at the worst possible time in the last 80 or so years since the Great Depression.

Cuts would  have been in the realm of $32 billion a year over the last five years. That is 2% of GDP annually, in today’s terms.

This kind of program would have put Campbell Newman to shame and led to further hurt in the Australian community.

The other major contributor to our debt position is the $37.5 billion investment in the NBN. Broadband was an area Howard neglected for his entire term in office.

He didn’t understand that this expenditure is an investment in our future; an asset, not an expense. It will create jobs and growth.

Tony Abbott admits he doesn’t understand broadband either:

The remainder of our gross debt is about $50.5 billion over five years. This is equal to 0.6% of GDP each year in today’s terms.

The numbers sound big, but in the context of our almost $1.6T trillion economy, they are small. The Coalition try to take interest payments and debt out of the wider context because they are large by historical standards. However, to do this without reference to the wider economy, the global scenario and the GFC is just plain deceptive.

They know it too.

I ask you to look at how much debt you personally carry on credit cards and in car and home loans. I can tell you right now it will be more than 10% of your household income (on a net basis). In fact, private debt is a much greater issue than public debt.

Respected economist Stephen Koukoulas called out the scare campaign recently in an e-mail to Labor members and supporters.

Australia has a AAA credit rating from all three major ratings agencies. If we were in such a bad fiscal state we would not only not be one of only seven countries with that honour but we wouldn’t be the only one with a Stable rating from all three. Under Howard and Costello’s so called “Golden Age” this was never achieved and to do it during such turmoil must be acknowledged.

Another graphic showing the growth in the Australian economy compared to others. Now at somewhere in the range of 15% since the GFC. (Courtesy of Independent Australia).

Another graphic showing the growth in the Australian economy compared to others. Now at somewhere in the range of 15% since the GFC. (Courtesy of Independent Australia).

This was only recently reinforced by Fitch when they affirmed their AAA rating for our economy.

A point only further underlined by Dun and Bradstreet’s recent release entitled Australian economy ranked among world’s safest, in which it says:

Solid GDP growth, relative to other developed economies, contributes to Australia’s status as one of the world’s safest trade destinations. Likewise, the nation’s unemployment rate is low, and its annual average inflation remains within the Reserve Bank’s target band. Terms of trade at historical highs and solid commodity prices have also helped Australia avoid much of the turbulence experienced within other advanced economies.

It continues:

Australia’s relative economic strength, which is supported by the country’s mining boom, and its comparatively limited exposure to European markets are key reasons for the nation’s ranking as one of the most attractive trade and investment destinations globally.

This is the reality Tony Abbott and the Coalition want hidden from view. However just because you repeat it, getting louder and louder each time, doesn’t make it true.

Abbott’s deceptions and flat out lies on the economy are even more mind blowing when one considers he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and studied, of all things, economics at the University of Sydney during which he commenced his much fabled entry into student politics.

Former Treasurer Peter Costello has himself, in private conversations, been reported as calling the man that wants be our Prime Minister an “economic illiterate.”

Time we got real.

This government has to invest in your future, your jobs and your country.

The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

Just ask Queenslanders.

(NB: This article rounds our gross debt up to $300B. So in fact our position is currently actually better than presented).

This article was first published on Independent Australia.

The master of deception

Image courtesy of 4bc.com.au

Image courtesy of 4bc.com.au

I’m growing increasingly and unbearably exhausted by the track one reckless and irresponsible man is taking our country.

The man: Tony Abbott.

A man I would consider to be one of the most destructive and deceptive politicians in our history.

I’ll make my case and you can make your own judgment.

Tony Abbott is dangerous and completely captured by corporate interests.

He’s a populist politician with no policy interest or conviction. A “weathervane” that does and says whatever he thinks he needs to to acquire and keep power.

It’s not just me saying this. Ask those who have seen him up close.

John Hewson, Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating. The list goes on. Their views are on the record.

I’ve spoken to people who went to university with him. The stories are true. He’s a complete and utter disgrace.

I’m not sure if he knows what he’s doing but he must be removed democratically as soon as possible.

He is ripping up all the hard work of the last 40 or so years.

Ripping up the progress that has made us the envy of the world

But first we need to go back a few steps.

Since he was first elected in the mid 90s he has developed a reputation for being an aggressive brawler and his history up until his time as Opposition Leader serves as witness to this.

When he became Opposition Leader in 2009 his quest for power ramped up dramatically as he sensed his preordained destiny.

He lurched the Liberal Party to the far right and all of a sudden you are hard pressed to find a moderate among them.

They all fled knowing Abbott’s Liberal Party was not the Liberal Party they once knew and loved.

Menzies must be rolling in his grave.

Abbott ran around the country like a mad man spouting cheap and tacky three word slogans for years.

Anything he thought would play well in the public’s mind he used.

Anything.

The ultimate master of deception.

He was and is ably assisted – as we know – by the likes of Alan Jones, Steve Price, Ray Hadley and their fellow far right shock jocks. They too spouted and continue to spout his lines as if they are being fed to them by the Liberal Party.

Rupert Murdoch was onside with him from day one. News Corp Australia never wavered in its support and Murdoch irresponsibly used his vast media interests to create a sense of chaos in Labor’s ranks.

Tony Abbott was given a free pass by the Murdoch press.

The spotlight always firmly on Labor.

It was a highly successful smash and destroy campaign by big media vested interests.

Murdoch, however, didn’t do this for no reason. He surely, as with previous governments, expects something in return.

The Tony Abbott recipe has a few main ingredients.

Create fear of asylum seekers, as Howard did successfully in 2001. Make them a ‘border security’ threat and a financial burden, not a humanitarian issue. Stop the Boats!

Attack the Labor Party for introducing a price on carbon after allegedly knowingly lying. Big New Tax!

Attack the mining tax in order to look after rich mining interests and keep his donors on side. Axe the Tax!

Attack Labor relentlessly everyday and say “no” to everything no matter what, making it as hard as possible to govern the nation.

Create chaos and dysfunction by constantly suspending standing orders during Question Time, in order to rant and rave as he ran his focus grouped political lines for the day.

He used his media friends to ramp this up of course. They willingly obliged.

Chaos! Dysfunction! Tainted vote!

He desperately sought to take down the government with his blind recklessness but he failed.

The confidence of the nation in politics was damaged and remains so. It is now at record lows and shows no signs of bouncing back.

He destroyed the joint.

Labor aren’t faultless but Tony Abbott conducted himself in his own interests, not the nation’s. He should be condemned for such deplorable conduct.

Now he’s reached his goal. He has his own government. He quite frankly has no clue what to do next.

What do you do when you finally catch the seagull?

What does a dog do when it catches its tail?

He has wasted no time continuing his seek and destroy mission. Going after Labor Party policies vindictively, attacking and smearing unions relentlessly, making international news for all the wrong reasons and severely weakening key international relationships.

The carnage is intimidating but this is the man people supposedly voted for.

It’s my opinion people naively voted against Labor to restore stability.

Sadly they didn’t research this man as I have.

If they had informed themselves we might not be enduring this nonsense.

All of us who did do their research are shaking our heads, shrugging our shoulders knowingly, looking at each other and sighing in exhaustion.

This isn’t news to us.

Many who made the foolish decision to vote for Tony Abbott are starting to feel regret.

Social media of all kinds is full of anger and people at breaking point.

I see hardly anybody inspired now this man is our leader.

Sir Tony Abbott is yesterday’s man for today’s Australia.

His government so far has been an omnishambles. He has barely managed to keep his caucus in line. Lurching from drama to drama, crisis to crisis.

The 18C Brandis “Right to Be Bigots” line repulsed the nation.

Members of the government backbench have been actively speaking out against the stupidity of the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

Some are willing to cross the floor for the vote on the issue and some government members are drafting their own changes to put to the caucus because they reject the draft exposure amendments completely.

The community are rightly outraged at this ideological and unnecessary change. 88% are against it. It won’t pass muster.

The issue of GrainCorp being taken over by US multinational Archer Daniels Midland showed up fault lines in the National Liberal Coalition. Hockey was forced at last minute to reject the bid as Truss and Joyce ramped up their public dissension. The Nationals are completely disregarded with the Coalition ordinarily. A rare win for them.

Numerous critical leaks have occurred from caucus and anonymous critical assessments of the Abbott Government and it’s processes are common place.

Tony Abbott unilaterally deciding that he wants Sirs and Dames again sparked incredulity among colleagues. Even John Howard called the move “anachronistic”.

Peta Credlin, his Chief of Staff, controls the entire government media message. Abbott leaves it to her. She’s the most powerful woman in the nation. Leering over Abbott at all times. She decides who speaks to the media and when.

More often than not they aren’t allowed to speak, allowing the Opposition willingly into the void.

When it comes to not speaking Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has made it an art form. Every part of the Operation Sovereign Borders policy is secretive to try and kill it as an electoral issue.

Despite their best efforts to avoid accountability of what they are doing to the world’s most vulnerable in our name, leaks are occurring.

People are speaking out. I’ll bite my tongue on this issue because I think Morrison is a scourge.

He uses chest beating, thinly veiled racism and bullying rhetoric to attempt to achieve acceptance within a tragically bigoted section of the community.

Somebody died at Manus on his watch. The truth will come out. He will face his day of truth in good time.

I could go into all the crises of this government – and thus the country – has endured but the list is incredibly long.

Let’s just say it’s not all “methodical”, “calm” or “considered” as Abbott tries to claim unconvincingly.

No matter how many times he tries his doe-eyed, slow talking plea for people to accept the words out of his mouth people know better.

This brings us to the latest development: the Commission of Audit.

Tony Abbott once again appointed mates and sectional interests to give him the big bad scary report he wanted.

He has done this in other areas of government.

He appointed vested interest climate sceptic friends, Maurice Newman and Dick Warburton to key extremely high paying roles, in this the end of the “Age of Entitlement”.

Tony Shepard, Amanda Vanstone and a few other acolytes make up the Commission of Audit.

The report, dropped recently, was a complete and utter stitch up.

Hidden from view until after the Tasmanian state election and WA Senate by-election. Having read it, I can see why.

It’s a blueprint for the destruction of the social safety net in our nation.

Who’s surprised? Tony Shepherd is the former head of the Business Council of Australia. A big supporter and ally of the Liberal Party. He has donated to them before.

One donation was to a fund being investigated by ICAC in NSW.

The least well off are told to take the full burden of what the Abbott Government term “heavy lifting”.

The reason? We’re in a supposed “budget emergency”.

Once again, they use fear to herd the masses. Or so they hope.

The “distinguished” panel of the Commission of Audit loyally delivered the exact outcome they were told to deliver by the Abbott Government. This is Liberal Party 101.

I won’t go into all aspects but it can be read at www.ncoa.gov.au. Brace yourself to be stunned if you dare read it.

They will use this “independent” report to say how supposedly bad things are. A cover for massive cuts to the least well off that will risk recession.

In a rare episode, the big business community has spoken out about massive cuts. Why? Concern for the community? Nah. They are worried about their bottom lines and recession.

Oh well, I’ll take what I can get.

The government – supposedly scared about the state of economy – is now at risk of plunging us into recession by cutting too hard and too fast against all the best advice.

Why? They are reckless and deceptive ideologues.

Let’s go into the idea of a “budget emergency”.

It’s a calculated lie.

No rational economist believes this to be true. Not one!

For goodness sake! Even Tony Shepherd admitted there is no emergency. Begrudgingly.

The facts point to there being a revenue problem, not a spending problem. The roots of which go back to John Howard.

John Howard blew the income from the mining boom with eight consecutive tax cuts.

He created the “Age of Entitlement” and “middle class welfare”.

The only reason his government left “money in the bank” was because of the sale of public assets.

In 2004, Costello, flush with mining boom money created the Baby Bonus in an election year to keep voters happy.

It was manageable when times were good but when the GFC hit and revenue plunged, you have another huge black hole.

People became accustomed to this payment and it became hard to take off them or even reduce.

What was also politically very difficult was the massive Howard tax cuts floated in the 2007 campaign. A blatant wedge issue by Howard.

Labor was all but forced to match them against their better judgement.

This was another massive black hole when the revenue vanished during the GFC.

I have spoken to an opposition federal MP who thought that was  one of Labor’s biggest mistakes.

Labor has no doubt contributed to the need to raise increasing revenue but Howard contributed substantially to the so called “budget emergency”.

Don’t forget this fact.

A recent International Monetary Fund report said that the Howard government was the most profligate government in Australia’s history. The IMF know what they are talking about.

All the Abbott Government’s blatant lies are being used once again to create fear so people will hopefully swallow the poison pill of attacks on their way of life.

Attacks on the very people who voted the Abbott Government into power. What gall. What arrogance.

A true nightmare for those of us that saw this man and his ways coming a mile away.

After years of saying politicians should never lie and breach faith with the people he has done just this.

He is further eroding people’s trust in politicians.

He will be mucking with the disability support pension and the aged pension despite specific commitments to the contrary.

He lied.

You can’t make not lying such a virtue before an election then flip around after you win and say “Yeah but  . . . “. It won’t fly.

The biggest betrayal is that he now looks like he’ll be imposing a  “levy” or tax on incomes over $80,000 of $800.

A complete and utter broken promise.

He ran on the mantra of “lower taxes”, scrapping certain taxes and imposing no new taxes.

$80,000 is not a lot these days. These people aren’t rich. They are middle Australia.

Imposing a tax on them to pay down debt unnecessarily and in a rushed manner is foolish and highly resented.

The “budget emergency” is spin and this new tax will hurt our economy.

They knew the situation before the election and made pledges in that light. They have no excuse for breaking commitments or backflipping.

It is indeed frustrating to see the level of debate online. Liberal supporters are on high alert and highly defensive.

They refuse to acknowledge that this government is a shocking display and highly unpopular.

At every opportunity they spout the same lines they have used against Labor for the last 6 years.

It’s time they acknowledged they were elected based on certain specific commitments.

They will be held to account for the years they spent spouting populist talking points instead of engaging in constructive debate.

People are offended. People are indignant. People are mad as hell.

Myself included.

Those who love our country and do not want Abbott destroying the middle class based on blatant lies, while giving the rich a free pass, will be publicly standing up to him and his disgracefully inept government at every single opportunity. Every single one.

Hopefully Abbott’s deceptive and offensive betrayals that are by far worse than anything they claim Labor ever did will be a bad memory after the next federal election.

Here’s to this happening sooner rather than later.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eai3eKPEV5I&feature=youtu.be

Matthew Donovan (pictured) is a former Labor candidate for the seat of Surfers Paradise in Queensland as well as a political commentator and freelance journalist. He’s an active Labor campaigner from Burleigh Branch on the Gold Coast. His interests are progressive politics, policy development and media/social media strategy. Matthew’s studied Journalism, International Relations and History at the University of Southern Queensland. He plans to study Political Science in the near future.

 

Merchants of Hypocrisy: Open for the Business of War

As the situation between Russia and Ukraine deteriorates to the brink of war, is our government entertaining the thought of joining in on this war, asks Loz Lawrey.

“Nothing is free. Someone always pays”, says Joe Hockey, “we must live within our means”.

Much has been made of the two simultaneous messages appearing on one newspaper’s front page: severe cuts to pensioner entitlements and the extravagant outlay of some $12.4 billion on weapons of war.

Accusations of hubris and hypocrisy are mere water off a duck’s back to this Coalition government, who are convinced they can do whatever they wish whenever they wish, regardless of public opinion.

Tony Abbott still claims an irrefutable mandate to make choices and decisions with little consideration, consultation or advice. As with John Howard, ‘instinct’ and ‘belief’ are enough. In other words, unfettered open slather prevails: “You elected us, so we’ve won and we’ll do as we please. About anything. And everything. Because we can”.

The joint strike fighter jets will, according to Abbott, “ensure our edge as a regional power . . . you just don’t know what’s around the corner . . . the world remains a difficult . . . and often a dangerous place”. Confrontational, assertive language. Some might call it the language of a warmonger.

Weasel-speak, flung about like a certain proverbial substance, is used to distract us and disrupt our analytical thinking before we reach any conclusions, a sort of bait-and-switch operation which leaves us ignoring important issues and giggling at trivia.

A slogan is uttered, a camera flashes, a ‘gotcha’ moment happens, and in the confusion important questions go unasked and unanswered. The media pack moves on.

Meanwhile the warm fireside tone of the delivery belies the harsh message aimed at preparing us psychologically for the kicking and beating this brutal government intends to consciously, deliberately, inflict upon Australian society.

Hockey’s psychobabble continues: “It is about the we, not the me” (sounds a bit like socialism) . . . “more use of co-payments must be made” (definitely conservatism).

But is it babble? Or well-crafted spin to prepare us for war? Australia’s apparently irreversible engagement with the U.S. and subservience to its foreign policy seems really stupid and ill-advised whenever the sabre-rattling between the U.S. and China or Russia begins.

Isn’t this how it works? Step one: encourage recession by talking down the economy and defunding everything. Step two: follow through with austerity measures to ensure across-the board misery. Step three: encourage minority-blaming, thuggery, social dislocation. Step four: mission accomplished: the people are crushed and ready for war.

I was born several years after the conclusion of World War Two. During my whole life war and conflict have been constants on the world stage, and Australian soldiers have died overseas in Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

One thing you can count on with the human race; we’ve always got a war going on. And Australia has always been prepared to send its young men out as cannon-fodder at the whim of the U.K. or the U.S. on the flimsiest pretext.

Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction which never were? There are many who wonder why John Howard hasn’t been tried as a war criminal for committing our country to the U.S.’s unjustified invasion of Iraq in which so many Iraqis, Americans and Australians died.

What is war other than schoolyard bullying writ large? A line is crossed, battle is engaged, and the reason for it all is forgotten in the heat of the action. Bait and switch, again. And again.

The invasion of Iraq was not sanctioned by the United Nations. At the time, Howard justified the action by saying it had “a sound legal basis” in previous decisions of the security council. As usual, clever language was used to deflect questions and criticism about the lack of U.N. support.

Today both Howard and George W. Bush are happily retired while a country lies in ruins, her people struggling to subsist within a legacy of destruction and conflict.

Is this what we can expect from Abbott? Another neoconservative bequest of misery, poverty and unrest? Blind unthinking subservience to the megalomania of a foreign power which believes it owns the world? Young Australians scattered about the globe to die for nothing? Young lives to be chewed up and spat out by a global military-industrial complex that prevails to this day, the same one Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the world about in 1961?

How does the lie prevail, the lie that tells us something good is accomplished by slaughter and destruction?

As far as the Iraq war went, here’s how Howard justified it: “The government strongly believes that the decision it has taken is right, it is legal, it is directed towards the protection of the Australian national interest and I ask the Australian community to support it”. And support it we did.

Well, perhaps not all of us, but if we didn’t speak out then we too supported the invasion. I’ll declare myself here: I felt the outrage, but I didn’t express it. To my shame, I didn’t speak out.

Divided and conquered, we bury our misgivings and swallow the bitter pill of nationalism. We allow ourselves to accept the necessity for a conflict we don’t even comprehend. Then we participate in that conflict, convinced of the righteousness of our purpose. And history repeats.

That’s how they get away with it. By our silence we give consent. John Howard will never be brought to trial, because we would also be judging ourselves.

The huge government spend on fighter jets can only be seen as a “toys for the boys” indulgence by Abbott and Co. It’s hard to imagine our little airforce taking on Russia, the U.S. or China. And if we’re to ride on the coat-tails of the Yanks, don’t they have enough jets already? And what’s the real context of this? Defence? We’re hardly a match for a superpower, with or without jets.

Yesterday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stern warning to Russia over the situation in Ukraine, saying “Whatever path Russia chooses, the United States and our allies will stand together in our defense of Ukraine”. More sabre-rattling. And what did Abbott say again? ” . . . you just don’t know what’s around the corner . . . the world remains a difficult . . . and often a dangerous place”.

Is it simply that there’s a mood in the world for war?

 

The Superannuation saga

Joe Hockey (Image by brunchnews.com)

Joe Hockey (Image by brunchnews.com)

While a pained Joe Hockey tells us his “truth” about the mess Labor has supposedly left, and that the old age pension is no longer affordable so we must work till we drop, it is worth remembering the Coalition’s history on superannuation. Had they listened to Whitlam, had Keating won, had Howard kept his election promise, had Abbott and Hockey stuck to their word, the future may not look so bleak for those who have worked for a lifetime yet still face a retirement dependent on the pittance the government chooses to give them.

1972

Compulsory national superannuation was initially proposed as part of the 1972 Whitlam initiatives but up until the 1980s superannuation was solely the privilege of predominantly male professions, clustered in the public sector or available after a long qualifying period in the private sector.

1985

In 1985 then Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, said this:

“That superannuation deal, which represents all that is rotten with industrial relations in Australia, shows the government and the trade union movement in Australia not only playing the employers of Australia for mugs but it is also playing the Arbitration Commission for mugs”.

Howard was commenting on the deal between the government and the ACTU which saw the trade union movement forfeit a claim to 3% productivity improvement as wages to instead be paid in compulsory superannuation – endorsed by the Arbitration Commission and managed by superannuation funds with equal representation of the unions in the industry and the employers.

The Coalition has steadfastly opposed every increase in compulsory superannuation since that time, whether it be from 3% to 6%, or the 6% to the current 9.25%.

1995

In the 1995 budget, Ralph Willis unveiled a scheduled increase in compulsory super from 9% to 12% and eventually to 15%. It was to be one of the Keating government’s major legacy reforms.

1996

In its superannuation policy for the 1996 election, Super for all, the Coalition, which had hitherto been implacably opposed to Labor’s policies, promised it:

•Will provide in full the funds earmarked in the 1995 — 96 Budget to match compulsory employee contributions according to the proposed schedule;

•Will deliver this government contribution into superannuation or like savings;

•Reserves the right to vary the mechanism for delivering this contribution so as to provide the most effective and equitable delivery of the funds.

1997

So why don’t we have 15% superannuation now? Because John Howard and Peter Costello nixed it in the 1996 budget barely six months after it released its policy, insisting it was too expensive. They didn’t “vary the mechanism” so much as halted it.

2007

Significant changes were also made to superannuation policy in 2007. The majority of workers could now withdraw their superannuation tax-free upon reaching the age of 60. Most self-employed can claim their superannuation contributions as a tax deduction. In addition, semi-retired people can continue to work part-time, and use part of their tax-free superannuation to top up their pay.

Despite the relatively generous tax treatment of capital gains, the new superannuation tax treatment led to the selling off of some assets, particularly rental housing, as people sought to take advantage of the opportunity to add funds to their superannuation accounts and claim them back later tax-free.

People were allowed to transfer up to A$1 million into their superannuation accounts before the June 30, 2007, after which an annual maximum of A$150,000 of after-tax contributions could be made. The effect of this change in the rules was enormous. In the June quarter of 2007, A$22.4 billion was transferred to superannuation accounts by individuals. This compares with A$7.4 billion in the June quarter of 2006. June 2007 was the first time in Australia that member contributions exceeded employer contributions.

2010

The Coalition’s superannuation policy  has drawn mixed reviews, with several major industry bodies expressing disappointment at the policy for being unsubstantial.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and the Financial Services Council (FSC) said in a joint statement that a failure to increase the superannuation guarantee (SG) to 12 percent, the failure to raise the concessional caps for individuals over 50 and the failure to provide a super tax contribution rebate for low-income earners would adversely impact Australian workers.

ASFA chief executive Pauline Vamos said that the majority of Australian voters would be disappointed that the Coalition’s only plan for superannuation was the promise of more reviews and delays.

AIST chief executive Fiona Reynolds said: “Australian voters are entitled to expect more than a policy document that has no concrete plans or even fresh ideas on how to address retirement income adequacy and the challenge of Australia’s ageing population.”

2011

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott has pointedly put down Victorian Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer after she questioned his controversial decision to keep Labor’s higher superannuation guarantee if a Coalition government inherits it.

Ms O’Dwyer asked at yesterday’s party room meeting about the process by which the Coalition’s previous position was reversed – saying it was her understanding such issues should go to the party room.

Mr Abbott said the party room had the right to change policy at any time. But there was no rule – and there should be no expectation – that every policy decision be brought to the party room.

“Mr Abbott, who several times made it clear he did not want to talk about the backflip, said the Coalition would have more to say on superannuation later, but repeated that it would not rescind the higher guarantee.”

Feb 2013

JOURNALIST:

So you would cut all those initiatives?

JOE HOCKEY:

Absolutely, you can’t afford them.

So there it was in black and white – the Coalition was cutting the increase in the super guarantee.

Except, apparently not so: a couple of hours later, Hockey was complaining on Twitter about being misrepresented. “What an MRRT debacle… Despite Govt’s failures we remain committed to not rescinding the increase in compulsory superannuation from 9-12%.” Hockey tweeted. After the Nine Network had accurately reported his remarks, he followed it up with:

Would be nice if Nine News had checked the facts…Coalition remains committed to keeping increase in compulsory superannuation from 9-12%.

Crikey understands Tony Abbott’s office moved immediately after Hockey’s doorstop to indicate there was no change in the Coalition’s support for the move from 9-12%

May 2013

Tony Abbott’s plan to delay the compulsory superannuation guarantee increase for two years and do away with top-ups for low income earners sets the tone for the Coalition’s policy on retirement savings to be announced in coming months.

The Liberal Party’s superannuation policy is likely to encourage individuals to make more voluntary contributions while scaling back government-directed super contributions.

The Coalition seems to be struggling with the concept of superannuation. The Coalition has lost a lot of their super knowledge over recent years with the retirement of many senior MPs, including Peter Costello, who was the architect of the 2007 changes that brought in tax-free super for over-60s, introduced caps on non-concessional contributions, reduced the caps on concessional contributions, and removed limits on the amount of super that you could withdraw at concessional rates. They have promised not to make any unexpected negative changes to super, but hey, a few weeks after making that promise, they announced they were freezing the Superannuation Guarantee increase for 2 years.

November 2013

Labor went to the election promising a 15 per cent tax on superannuation pension earnings over $100,000.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said on Wednesday the policy was too complex and it would be scrapped.

The Treasurer has also decided to cut superannuation co-contributions for low income earners

According to the chief executive of Industry Super Australia, David Whiteley, this would result in 3.6 million Australians on low incomes being out of pocket $500 a year, while just 16,000 of the nation’s top earners will benefit from the scrapping of the 15 per cent tax.

With the rise of influence of the IPA within our current government’s policy making, this article by John Roskam from 2012 should sound warning bells to us all.

“Compulsory superannuation offends practically every principle of what should be Liberal Party philosophy. If an Abbott government does keep compulsory superannuation it must, at a minimum, make drastic changes.”

Could I suggest, Mr Hockey, that this problem is very much of your own making and your decisions to date are doing nothing to help.  Stick to your word, increase the SG, and encourage lower income earners to contribute to superannuation.  They are the ones more likely headed for the old age pension than your mates who have over $2 million tax free dollars invested with an annual retirement income of over $100,000 a year!  Your lamentations lack credibility as do your ever-changing promises and actions.

It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

Hubert H. Humphrey

Wherever I lay my hat that’s my home

Image from Flickr.com

Image from Flickr.com

In 1996 John Howard became the first Prime Minister to make Kirribilli House in Sydney his prime residence. Over the next 12 years, this decision cost the taxpayers $18.4 million in flights between Canberra and Sydney.

According to the Department of Defence’s Schedule of Special Purpose Flights for the second half of 2002, Howard ordered 43 flights between Sydney and Canberra. Ten of those flights flew empty between Canberra and Sydney. Each flight cost $7500.

The RAAF’s No. 34 Squadron operated the VIP fleet of five aircraft, which, in those days, cost $60 million a year to run. The lease on the current RAAF fleet of two Boeing 737 business jets and three smaller Challenger 604 aircraft cost $600 million and will expire this year when Tony Abbott intends to opt for bigger and better planes.

Last week, a ‘reluctant’ Tony Abbott became the second Prime Minister to opt for living in Kirribilli House. He said he would prefer to stay in his home in Forestville but Skynews suggested there were security concerns.

To accommodate Mr Howard’s family, renovations were done at Kirribilli House. Two sets of stairs were installed and a bathroom was refitted at a cost of $185,000. In their third year of residence a new dining room table and 20 chairs were ordered, a cost of $82,000. A door required widening to get the table inside. Tony has said he has no plans for expensive alterations and I think Margie is a very different woman from Janette so hopefully we won’t have to shell out even more for that.  I wonder if they will move into the Lodge after its expensive alterations.

In May 2007, it was reported that John Howard’s department had spent almost $110,000 on alcohol for The Lodge and Kirribilli House in the previous four years with over $30,000 spent in the first 4 months of 2007. It was an election year after all – the schmoozing bill was bound to escalate.

He was accused of using Kirribilli House for Liberal party fundraisers, something he claimed was not a breach of propriety as the Liberal Party were picking up the tab. It was the taxpayer however who picked up the tab for lavish Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties for “a cross-section of Sydney society”.

Tony used Kirribilli House for a similar function when he held a soiree to thank people like Piers Ackerman, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Miranda Devine for their contribution to journalism (cough).

Mr Abbott said “when you take on a particular job, a particular residence goes with it and you do have to go with that particular flow.” Well normally that would be the Lodge but it is currently undergoing repair works. That is why the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet signed a 12-month lease on a house in August, during the caretaker period.

Mr Abbott, for reasons known only to himself, refused to move into this house which will cost taxpayers $3000 a week for 12 months unless they can negotiate to terminate the lease, something they had been unsuccessful in achieving so far according to an ABC article from late November last year.

I wonder if Tony Abbott has considered what this decision will cost we taxpayers. Aside from maintaining several residences, the flights to and from Canberra, often empty one way, add up to a lot of money. Tony’s decision this week to hold a Cabinet meeting in Perth, even though they were all in Canberra together a few days earlier, shows he doesn’t really care about the cost of flights or accommodation. Why would he – he never sees the bill.

Perhaps Margie and Bridget wanted to stay in Sydney. If that was their choice then they should do as so many other families do when one partner has to travel for work – meet up when and where your schedules allow. That is the price you pay for the employment decisions you make. There are generous family travel allowances to facilitate this.

I presume that by making Sydney his principal place of residence, Abbott is entitled to claim $268 per night travel allowance when he is in Canberra among the many other entitlements that politicians receive. Their travel bill is astronomical. One would have thought that in these days of teleconferencing and e-communication we could cut this bill by a huge amount. There would be less photos (a side bonus) and it would be far more productive, saving time and money.

As I think of people on the dole being forced to accept jobs that are more than 90 minutes from their home and wonder about the cost, both financial and social, that they will have to pay,  I will be checking with interest how much this government is spending on Parliamentarian’s entitlements and on the Lodge, Kirribilli House, the empty rented mansion, and wherever it is that Tony actually stays when he goes to Canberra. In my opinion it would be far cheaper and more productive if our Prime Minister lived in Canberra. What would be even more productive would be if he lived in Tristan de Cunha.

Tony Abbott stuffs it up . . . again

tony-abbott-baby_pe

Compilation by the AIM Network

Fairfax’s Friday offering is from Chief Political Correspondent, Mark Kenny and comes accompanied by this impressive headline:

Tony Abbott’s pre-budget fortnight of blunders and stuff-ups

My first impression was, what only a fortnight?  Where has Mark Kenny been during the rest of Tony Abbott’s term in parliament?  Quote:

Friday is a red-letter day for the Abbott government.

It marks 100 days since any successful people-smuggling venture has made it to Australia.

But wait a moment, isn’t the article meant to be about “blunders and stuff-ups”, but suddenly and in the leading sentence Kenny introduces his article with today being “a red letter day” for Tony Abbott.

Tony Abbott’s people-smuggling “venture” a success?  Does Mark Kenny not count the previous stuff-ups?  Is the last fortnight where there apparently have been no boat arrivals, this serves as the only marker on what counts as success or otherwise?  A strange way in which to talk about international incidents, people’s lives put in danger; as “a venture”.

  • The countries’ existing co-operation has been extended, with Australia giving Sri Lanka two patrol boats, so that asylum seekers might be intercepted before they leave Sri Lankan waters.  (The inconvenient truth that navy sailors have been arrested and charged with running the biggest people-smuggling ring in the country is being, publicly at least, downplayed.)
  • Tony Abbott and the Papua New Guinea government plan to shut down a human rights inquiry into human rights abuses in the Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre.
  • Cost of Abbott government’s orange lifeboats to tow back asylum seeker trebles to $7.5 million.
  • The Senate has voted to strike out the government’s latest attempt to place refugees on temporary visas.

The government has not been shy about its Operation Sovereign Borders milestone nor for that matter the 30 or 40 daily increments leading up to it.

Not shy?  Perhaps a better description is still pumping 3-word slogans out to the public, while denying any accuracy of information, thereby making an informed decision almost impossible.

  • The absence of public information on exactly what resources are being deployed makes estimating the exact financial cost difficult . . .
  • Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has indicated he will no longer hold a weekly press conference to update journalists about the Government’s border protection operations.
  • The (Senate) inquiry will look into Mr Morrison’s claim of “public interest immunity” from requests to tell the public what the navy is doing with asylum seeker boats on the high seas.  Senators will also examine the Abbott government’s turn back policy, the recent violations of Indonesian sovereignty and the government’s perceived lack of transparency.

It comes ironically enough, at the fag-end of the most mistake-laden fortnight for the government since the travel entitlements debacle marred its first weeks in office.

Therefore according to Mark Kenny, the debacle of this government’s asylum seeker policy which is costing the Australian public unknown millions of dollars for an impossible-to-ascertain result, is somehow “a success”.  No boat arrivals, but what’s the price Mr. Morrison and Mr. Abbott . . . care to enlighten us?

Back then Tony Abbott had been strangely absent, his minimalist approach erroneously designed to position him as the opposite of the news cycle-obsessed Rudd-Gillard outfits.

I find that extremely difficult to believe, and I would challenge Mark Kenny to compare how many times Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard fronted the cameras in lycra or budgie smugglers proudly holding aloft a dead fish.  Poor old Con the Fruiterer could barely leave the front door of his shop without media tart Tony Abbott trying to grab one of his melons.

What it actually conveyed was a government without a message and a prime minister without a firm hand on the wheel.

Perhaps it’s because Abbott doesn’t have a firm hand on the wheel . . .

  • Prime Minister Tony Abbott refers to her as ”the boss” and Peta Credlin is proving why, stamping her authority on the make up of the government.  Fairfax Media has learned Ms Credlin, who steered Mr Abbott’s path to The Lodge as his chief-of-staff, is deciding every government appointment from top ministerial aides right down to the electorate staff of new MPs.
  • Senator Ian Macdonald’s public accusation that Mr Abbott’s office, led by senior aide Peta Credlin, has instilled a culture of “obsessive centralised control” in the government has struck a chord among sections of the Coalition.
  • OK, hands up all those that voted for Peta Credlin?

Opinion polls reflected this vacuum and by the close of 2013, press gallery journalists were being backgrounded to the effect that things would change in 2014.

Another opinion is that the actions of this government since the election has lead the public to realise that they were fooled, tricked, deceived, conned and duped by the mainstream media in the lead up to the election via their complete and utter failure to report on, much less analyse the implications of the ideas which Tony Abbott took to the election.  If anyone in the msm cares to peruse the list by Sally McManus, her excellent research provides a summary (with links).  Ms McManus is currently up to #123 of broken promises, lies and deceptions.

Abbott’s performance since has been more positive and the government had looked to be settling in.

See above for broken promises, lies and deceptions.  Mark Kenny blames the Abbott government’s unpopularity on Tony Abbott’s “minimalistic approach” which is now “more positive” and “settling in”.  Kenny might care to take a small glance at what precisely the Abbott government has been doing, and among the many are:

Cuts welfare payments to orphans of soldiers – Cuts hundreds of jobs at the CSIRO –  Reopens 457 visa loophole to allow employers to hire an unlimited number of workers without scrutiny –Pays hundreds of indigenous workers in his Department up to $19 000 less than non-indigenous workers doing the same job and cuts the budget for the representative body the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples causing two-thirds of the staff to lose their jobs – Scraps food grants program for small farmers – Unemployment rate jumps to highest in more than 10 years – Cuts the wages of Australian troops deployed overseas by almost $20 000 per solider – Withdraws funding for an early intervention program to help vulnerable young people –Starts dismantling Australia’s world leading marine protection system . . .

But the sitting fortnight just concluded, the last before the May budget session, has been anything but impressive, starting out badly and getting steadily worse.

And deservedly so . . .

And with each day, the prime minister’s normally confident body language in parliament has chronicled that slide.

That would be a noticed and much commented upon pattern of behaviour, and has in the past been the precedent to “doing a runner”.  This pattern will obviously be difficult for Abbott to maintain now that he’s PM, therefore it is expected that he will “go to ground” following mistakes, errors, blunders and confusing plus contradictory statements made by himself.

Mark Kenny then goes on at some length about the Sinodinos issue.

First came the storm over the past business dealings of his assistant treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos.

. . . but it wasn’t Abbott’s doing. He continued to enthusiastically spruik the imminent return of Sinodinos to the ministry.

In any event, the voluntary suspension has failed to defuse the issue amid new testimony at ICAC that Sinodinos was expressly warned of governance problems including the possible insolvency of AWH, when he was chairman in 2010.

This has become a running sore for Abbott. Colleagues worry that Abbott’s support will make it harder to cut the minister loose if needed, but it might actually make it easier, allowing the Prime Minister to explain the dismissal as anything but a personal preference.

Clever politics eh from the PM. . . wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

On top of these problems came Attorney-General George Brandis’ ham-fisted sales job for his changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. His legally correct yet politically insane observation, that people have a right to be bigots, was an horrendous own-goal.

Under the proposed legislation, “intimidate” is defined as meaning to “cause fear of physical harm” and “vilify” is to “incite hatred”.”This is an extremely narrowly defined protection, an extremely narrowly defined prohibition of racist speech,” Mr Dreyfus said.

He has also pointed to a clause in the Government amendments that appears to allow vilification or intimidation if it is “in the course of participating in the public discussion”.

“One could drive a truck through that provision,” Mr Dreyfus said.

I agree with Mark Kenny, yes Brandis’ draft legislation was “legally correct” but with the proviso that it was deemed unworkable (A third minister present at the meeting said the original bill had been ”terrible”); a very poor and amateurish effort from Australia’s Attorney-General.

Simon Rice, professor of law at Australian National University, said that Mr Tobin’s comments (concerning holocaust denial and ordered to be taken from Tobin’s website in 2008) would not be banned in Australia if his situation were to be tested by the government’s new exposure draft.

Then came the Prime Minister’s stunning return to old empire via the restoration of knights and dames in the Australian awards system.

While Abbott’s decision might easily be categorised alongside that which are known in the venacular as Abbott Brain-f*rts, and as per other ill-considered offerings from Tony Abbott have given journalists and the Australian public much cause for mirth . . . and puns, it does also represent as Bill Shorten expressed it, an example of Abbott’s “cruel and twisted priorities…awarding knighthoods but cutting the wages of cleaners”.

One Liberal observed that not even John Howard had wanted to turn the clock that far back and right on cue, Howard himself confirmed it, telling Fairfax Media, that even conservatives would view the move as ‘‘somewhat anachronistic”.

Howard used to rail against Labor’s tendency to govern for section interests.

Well that’s a surprise given Howard’s introduction of WorkChoices, and who can forget that which came to be known as “Howard’s Hand-outs”.  Yes John Howard used to rail against Labor’s “tendency”, but wasn’t that slightly hypocritical?  From 2004:

  • The money is a clear attempt to placate what are currently some of the more vocal sectional interests in the community.  On Sunday, we also saw the Government pledge another bag of money to Catholic schools.
  • Just months before the election, the Government’s populism had eaten up the expected budget surplus, leaving the Beazley opposition in a corner with either no money to spend or having to cut government programs to find money for their own agenda.
  • Howard’s extraordinarily blatant targeted hand-outs to particular groups to shore up votes is a further indication of how far he is prepared to go in appealing to self-interest rather than national interest.

Mark Kenny however, is spot on with his conclusion:

But this week, it was the Abbott government which turned its back on mainstream opinion to pander to a couple of mouthy conservative commentators wanting to legalise hate speech, a cloister of protected banks wanting to reintroduce skimming, and a tiny cluster of 19th century monarchists.

Little wonder the Prime Minister has been ashen-faced in parliament this week.

 

Springtime for Abbott and Processing!

Image from mamamia.com.au

Image from mamamia.com.au

A term that originated on Usenet, Godwin’s Law states that as an online argument grows longer and more heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazis. When such an event occurs, the person guilty of invoking Godwin’s Law has effectively forfieted (sic) the argument.”

Urban Dictionary.

A few days ago, I rather facetiously suggested that journalists could be rounded up as “illegal immigrants” and sent to Manus Island or Nauru if they asked too many difficult questions. Someone suggested that I should remember Godwin’s Law, and that I shouldn’t be comparing Abbott and the current front bench to Nazis, because once someone started evoking the Nazis, then one has lost the argument. (Actually, Godwin’s concept was that comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis frequently trivialised what they had done when compared to what was under discussion. For example, whether you believe speed cameras are revenue raisers or a safety measure, you can hardly compare their use to the Gestapo.)

Even though I wasn’t actually comparing Abbott and the Keystone Cabinet to the Third Reich, the comment did get me thinking. Yes, it’s true that people draw parallels with Nazi Germany far too frequently and that we certainly enjoy much greater freedom in Australia. Although the VLAD laws and certainly anti-terrorism laws lack the safeguards that would prevent me using them – should I become Prime Minister or Premier – to lock up Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott. And anyone who objected to me locking them up.

However, I find the idea that we have nothing to worry about because the Nazis ended by exterminating several million people rather naive. We should always remember that the Final Solution was the Final Solution. It wasn’t where they started. And, while I believe that we won’t end up with death camps where we exterminate large numbers of people, I think that it’s wise to step back and look at what one is arguing.

One of my enduring memories was a man being interviewed on the radio at the time that Howard announced the restrictions on gun ownership after the Port Arthur Massacre. This person had been objecting to the proposals as a knee-jerk reaction and assuring the listeners that gun-owners were a responsible law-abiding group and that there was no reason to impose greater control on these people. Criminals and law-breakers would still obtain their guns illegally, so why punish these fine citizens who could be trusted. (So far, so good!) But then the interviewer mentioned that John Howard was going to tour country areas to explain his government’s position. At this point, the “responsible” gun-owner suggested that Howard shouldn’t come to his area because there was a lot of anger and there was no guarantee he’d be safe!! Mm, so can be trusted to only use guns appropriately, except when someone has made them very, very angry . . .

And recently, we’ve had a lot of similar stuff about the military. On one hand, we accept that they’re human beings who may occasionally stray. Stories of bullying, rituals, bastardisation, and sexual misconduct have all appeared in the media in recent years, yet when some people who are “attempting to break Australian law” accuse them of misconduct, we’re told that they’re just claims and if somebody makes a claim, there’s no need to investigate it unless we have evidence. Normally claims are investigated in order to discover if there is any evidence, but this seems to have been changed to a system where the proof needs to established before anyone looks into it – this principle should make police work a lot simpler. “Unless you bring us some forensic evidence that your house WAS broken into, we’re not going to open a file on your so-called burglary.”

Now I’m not making a judgement on the guilt or innocence in the burning hand claims. I’m merely trying to ascertain how one can dismiss an accusation so quickly. But the Liberals have been good at that. As Alex Downer argued when the AWB scandal was uncovered, he’d heard the rumours about bribes and corruption, but when he asked the AWB if they were true, the AWB said that they weren’t involved in bribes and corruption, so what more can you do.

And now we have the Liberals demanding Senator Conroy be sacked for suggesting that Angus Campbell was involved in a political cover-up. For those of you who don’t remember exactly what Conroy said.

Senator Conroy – It is a movie, and we’re living it, Colonel Jessup. I mean seriously, you can’t tell us the truth, you can’t tell the Australian public the truth because you might upset an international neighbour. That’s called a political cover-up,” 

General Campbell – Senator, I feel I’ve explained the basis of my decisions

Senator Conroy – That’s a political cover-up. You’re engaged in a political cover up.

Now, apparently General Campbell was “extremely offended” by the comments. And Michaela Cash stormed out. For those of you don’t know or who’ve forgotten Senator Cash click here.

And someone commented the other day that Conroy shouldn’t go into any bars where ADF personnel are drinking. I don’t see why not. Then, for some reason, I remembered the interview with the responsible gun-owner.

Yes, we’ve entered a world where ADF personnel can’t be questioned or criticised, where we’re meant to adopt an Anzac Day/Remembrance Day attitude to the defence force all year round. We should just remember their sacrifices, be grateful and remember that they’re the ones in the front line in this war to protect our “sovereign borders”! This is not the time to show disrespect to our servicemen (and women).

So, to sum it all up.

  • We can’t compare anyone to the Nazis until they’ve killed six million, and that the argument that it was their ability to offer people up as scapegoats and to place the military above criticism that enabled them to do that isn’t something worth considering.
  • Defence personnel never do anything wrong and it would be dangerous to suggest to any of them that they do.
  • People have a right to free speech and people don’t have the right not to be offended, but only when we’re taking about racism or sexism. Journalists, for example, should be allowed to publish incorrect information without giving people the right of reply. However, when an elected Senator suggest that a general who refuses to give answers to a Senate committee is involved in a political cover-up, the general has a right to be offended and the Senator should be punished in some way.
  • Tempting though it is, if elected to be supreme leader of Australia, I should repeal the laws that enable me to lock up Bolt, Abbott and company without trial rather than use them, because if I go down that path, I can hardly be surprised if others do even worse, when they gain power. Safeguards are needed for the powerless; the powerful find ways of persecuting their enemies anyway.

FYI – Mike Godwin, of Godwin’s Law, has apparently tweeted that comparing Australia’s asylum seeker policy to the Nazis is not a trivialising comparison at all. I have not verified this so I’m only reporting rumour. If I’m not careful and continue to do such things, I’ll be a Canberra based political journalist working for a mainstream newspaper.

“The Beadles” – a sensational new group featuring Joe Bumble, Tony Fagan, Scott Sykes and Malcolm the “Artful Dodger”

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

“Around the time of Oliver’s ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking oakum at the main workhouse. Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel.”   Wikipedia

From time to time, it’s suggested that the school curriculum is too left wing and that we should go back to the “classics”. John Howard was particularly concerned that we no longer studied Dickens. So for your consideration, I offer this excerpt from “Oliver Twist”.

For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematic course of treachery and deception. He was brought up by hand. The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish authorities. The parish authorities inquired with dignity of the workhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciled in “the house” who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist, the consolation and nourishment of which he stood in need. The workhouse authorities replied with humility, that there was not. Upon this the parish authorities magnanimously and humanely resolved, that Oliver should be “farmed,” or, in other words, that he should be despatched to a branch-workhouse some three miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under the parental superintendence of an elderly female, who received the culprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny per small head per week. Sevenpence-halfpenny’s worth per week is a good round diet for a child; a great deal may be got for sevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload its stomach, and make it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdom and experience; she knew what was good for children; and she had a very accurate perception of what was good for herself. So, she appropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own use, and consigned the rising parochial generation to even a shorter allowance than was originally provided for them. Thereby finding in the lowest depth a deeper still; and proving herself a very great experimental philosopher.
Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher who had a great theory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he got his own horse down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to have had his first comfortable bait of air.

Of course, Oliver Twist fails to realise that the Age of Entitlement is over.

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

“What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.

“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”

Not only is Oliver failing to understand that he’s not entitled to more, he fails to see that he’s not entitled to any. If he wants food, what’s he doing in the orphanage? Personal responsibility and all that…

But some of Dickens is far from appropriate for today’s youth. Take the old idea of the workhouse, which. of course, is very much an outdated one. For those of you whose history is rusty, the workhouses were where those unable to support themselves were forced to go for accomodation and support. Life in the workhouse was meant to be harsh in order to deter all but the most destitute from using it.  It was rather like a work-for-the-dole scheme except that – in the those days of entitlement – they actually provided you with a roof over your head. We don’t want today’s unemployed expecting luxuries like that.

However, many of Dickens’ tales will be ok with a rewrite. For example, in “A Christmas Carol” when Scrooge is shown the scene at Bob Crachet’s table by Christmas Future and notices that there’s a place missing, well, obviously, he’ll understand that with the abolition of penalty rates, there’ll be no problem in asking Bob to work on Christmas Day.

Of course, not all the concepts from Dickens’ time have no potential application today. For example, the “Bastardy Clause” in the Poor Law effectively made children the responsibility of the mother until they were sixteen. If she were unable to support them, she would have to enter the workhouse. Perhaps, we could apply this principal now – but only in relation to single mothers, of course – and raise the age to thirty, thus removing a large number of people from the dole.

Yep, with so much I’m sure that we can find a place for Dickens in the curriculum. I think I’ll leave the last word to John Howard who said in 2006

“…we also understand that there’s high-quality literature and there’s rubbish.”

Unfortunately, nobody has since asked him if he considered the Liberal “Our Plan. Real Solutions for All Australians” high-quality literature, or whether it’s part of the latter category. Or, indeed, whether he considers the coming publication: “Zombiechoices – dead, buried and cremated, but still it rises!” one of the classic works of fiction this century.

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