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Tag Archives: Liberals

The Education Union is spreading shocking misinformation; ask Christopher Pyne

Hands up all those who don't believe what Christopher Pyne says (image from asopa.typepad.com)

Hands up all those who don’t believe what Christopher Pyne says (image from asopa.typepad.com)

From Lateline November 25th, 2013

STEVE CANNANE: So what do you believe? Is there an equity problem or not?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I don’t believe there is an equity problem in Australia. I think we are very generous to our students in public and non-government schools as a wealthy country like Australia should be.

From The Pyne Online August 21st, 2013:

AEUS (sic) DISHONEST CAMPAIGN

The Australian Education Union (AEU) has this week been caught out distributing blatantly dishonest claims on school funding in South Australia.

At primary schools in South Australia, the AEU has distributed misleading campaign material entitled ‘A message from local principals and teachers’. This ‘message’ is actually from the AEU and is authorised by its Federal Secretary in Melbourne.

The AEU’s dishonest ‘message’ claims that the Coalition would deliver only one third of total funding agreed to in the South Australian school funding agreement.

This is false.

Tony Abbott and the Coalition have confirmed that they will commit the same amount of federal school funding as the Government over the forward estimates. Every single school in Australia will receive, dollar for dollar, the same federal funding over the next four years whether there is a Liberal or Labor Government after September 7.”

From Yesterday’s (December 1st 2013) The Pyne Online:

“It appears everyone in the Labor Party is willing to admit $1.2 billion was cut from school funding for Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland before the election except for the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.

“Questioned today on Meet the Press, Shadow Minister for School Education, Kate Ellis confirmed the $1.2 billion was removed from the Budget, leaving three jurisdictions with no additional funding for 2014.

“This was an unforgivable act of sabotage on the part of Mr Shorten and Labor, but why can’t Bill Shorten admit he allowed it to happen?

“Mr Shorten also hid the fact that both Victoria and Tasmania had not signed bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth and systemic Catholic schools had not sign up either, despite Labor’s claims at the time.

“The Coalition has been working hard to fix Labor’s mess, putting in more funding than Labor, with $230 million going to the states that have not signed up guaranteeing funding certainty for 2014.

“We will then be in a position to work with the states and territories over the first half of next year to bring in a new national, fair and equitable funding model for Australia, fixing the Shorten”

That’s where it stops. I haven’t cut anything out.

I presume that his next word would have been “Shambles”, and I’m tempted to ask why – apart from his tabloid-like obsession with alliteration – is the alleged shambles Shorten’s? I mean, even if you accept that Education funding was a shambles, Shorten had only been Education Minister from June. Three months is hardly enough time to create a shambles, but Chrissy Pyne himself is evidence that against that argument.

Ok, everyone out there,for anyone who’d like to make some money: if you send me $10, I will send every single one of you back $20. Of course, by every single one of you I just mean that I’ll send out twice as much money. To someone. Probably most of it to my wife, but some to my friends. But that doesn’t mean that I was trying to mislead you when I said “every single one of you” because that means the total amount of funds, right?

Put like that, the Liberals’ position is more ludicrous than the possibility of Barnaby Joyce being our Deputy Prime Minister, which thankfully is… um. Warren somebody.

The other argument that somehow $1.2 billion is “missing” because it was removed from the Budget is such a ridiculous proposition that it’s almost as blatant as the actual Liberal lie that “every single school” just means the same as total funding.

To explain this in simple terms: If you were, for example, planning a wedding, and you invite ten guests at $50 a head (I know, cheap wedding!), and it got to the day that the RSVP’s were due and only six people had replied, most people would ring the other four and ask them what their plans were. In terms of Gonski, this more or less what Labor did. Now, if two said they were coming and two said, “Your partner was rude to me last week, so stick your invitation!”, I suspect that you’d feel that it was reasonable to reduce your budget from the $500 to $400 with the idea that if they make up, you’ll put it back later. This is, more or less, what the Labor Government did.

And given the whole thing was going on “the credit card” anyway, the money isn’t missing at all!

No, it’s not really going on the credit card, but some of the Gonski money would have to be borrowed. And borrowing is not really the problem that the Liberals and Paul Sheehan make it out to be. Debt – where it increases one’s future earning capacity = isn’t a problem. Take, for example, a negative gearing or a HECS debt. And for a Federal Government, ensuring that its citizens are better educated and, therefore, capable of more skillful and higher paying jobs is better than sending some to the revenue drain of unemployment.

Some are quick to be concerned about saddling future generations with the repayment of debt, using Greece as the cautionary tale, and, yes, naturally one should take on debt prudently. However, the idea that we can just put off spending on infrastructure and education ignores the fact that we are, in fact, saddling future generations with the necessity of paying more to do the things we should have done ten years ago. While Abbott was making political points about rising electricity prices being because of the Carbon Tax, it was easy to overlook that the bulk of the rises were because of a previous lack of spending on the aging infrastructure.

In a blog a few months ago, I wrote that it was interesting that whenever it’s suggested that maybe some of the richer private schools could get less, we hear screams of “class warfare” and we’re told how some parents on low incomes struggle to send their kids to these schools, but when anyone tries to increase the money to the Government sector, the same people assure us that money doesn’t really improve educational outcomes. (I particularly liked someone who suggested that there’d been 44% increase in Education spending for no demonstrable improvement. Sounds impressive, until you consider that at three quarters of that would be a result of inflation.)

In the end, I don’t know what’s more worrying. Is it that the Liberals are lying to the Australian people when they talk about things like $1.2 billion has “gone missing” from the Education Budget? Or is it that their understanding of economics is so simplistic that they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying?

(For those of you who feel like an interesting read on the economic situation, I recommend “End This Depression Now!” by Paul Klugman.

Amanda Vanstone, “Illegals” and the stampede of elephants.

Amanda Vanstone: image by loonpond.com

Amanda Vanstone: image by loonpond.com

A few weeks ago, I talked about The Elephant in The Room in relation to the lack of women in Abbott’s Cabinet. The idea of the elephant in the room is, of course, something very obvious which nobody seems to be mentioning. Well, I’m beginning to think that before Abbott’s term is over, we’ll have such a large herd that we can start making piano keys out of ivory again.

Let’s start with Joe Hockey’s comment on Wednesday.

Well that’s because Labor created the debt. It’d be the height of hypocrisy for the Labor Party which started the fires in relation to the debt, to complain about us trying to stop the fires, to start to pay down the debt, to start to back-burn and get back to surplus.

Adam Bandt was attacked for trying to link the bushfires to climate change. Yet here we have Hockey trying to link the ALP to the fires and I haven’t noticed any criticism. Or aren’t we meant to draw any link between the NSW fires and his metaphor? Is it just an unfortunate coincidence that there happened to be bushfires and Hockey had forgotten all about it? Or was it a deliberate, pusillanimous statement from a man who now wants to distract us all from his “budget emergency” rhetoric. Back-burning? Next we’ll hear that a rise in unemployment is because the economy is doing so well that more people are seeking work!

Then we have Scott Morrison’s determination to have asylum seekers refered to as “illegals”.

Now, for just one second, I’d like to accept Scott Morrison on his word, because being a Christian, I know that he wouldn’t be deliberately lying. After all in this article from Misha Schubert on February 15, 2008, he declares his views on “righteousness”, which surely would mean a reluctantance to lie.

“Declaring his faith was not a political agenda, he said it would, however, shape his political agenda based on values of kindness, justice and righteousness.”

http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/lib-defends-role-of-religion-in-public-policy/2008/02/14/1202760494839.html

The Liberals often present themselves as being tough on “law and order”. Yet apart from some time in “remand” (the detention centres), not one of these asylum seekers has been charged with a crime. Yet – we’re told – they have entered the country “illegally”. Why are they not being charged with this “crime”.

It seems strange to me. Surely, if they’ve done something illegal, there should be charges. Perhaps someone should ask Morrison about this failure of our justice system. After all, he does say his political agenda is based on justice. But he also says it’s based on kindness, so perhaps he’s just confused.

As for the committee of audit, there have been some eyes raised at the inclusion of Amanda Vanstone and querying her qualifications to be there. (She does have a column in a newspaper, and as Andrew Bolt will assure you, that makes you an expert on everything!) So let’s have a look at Vanstone’s career.

Prior to politics, she attained both Law and Arts degrees, and further qualifications in Legal Practice and a Marketing Studies Certificate, and she was as a retailer in a large department store. She ran her own business selling prints and pictures frames, before working as a legal practioner.

As a politician, she held numerous portfolios none of which where in Treasury or Finance. But she was Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. Her achievements as a minister included abolishing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). As Immigration Minister, she was showed her humane side by overturning a deportation order and granting a visa to Francesco Madafferi, in spite of alleged criminal connections, and, in spite of alleged donations to the Liberal Party from members of his family. She was twice dropped from Howard’s cabinet. But she did show her creative side in February 2007 with Under Southern Stars.

So why would Amanda Vanstone be chosen to be on the Commission of Audit? Well, when she was Minister for Family and Community Services, her opposite, Wayne Swan described her as “a political hyena who takes delight in attacking society’s most vulnerable”. And this audit commission certainly needs someone with that sort of expertise in looking at Centrelink.

As for the inclusion of Peter Boxall, you might find this quote from an interview with him which appeared in The Canberra Times in 2006 instructive:

Asked if in cutting the first deficit there was anything that caused him anguish, he says, “No. I don’t recall actually. It was quite interesting that the public service didn’t seem well prepared for it and a lot of it was driven by the new ministers.” In doing this he says they met resistance, including from central agencies. He agrees that he has wielded the knife for a fair bit of his career and, when asked if he prefers this to doling out money he says, “I would not prefer to be doling out money because I have great respect for taxpayers’ money and I don’t like supporting programs which I don’t think are good value for the taxpayer.”

I guess it reminds me of “Yes, Minister.”

Minister, two basic rules of government: Never look into anything you don’t have to. And never set up an enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be.’

Let me just cautiously predict the Audit Commission will recommend selling Medibank Private, Australia Post and one of two other things. It will also find that the Government needs to cut spending in some sensitive areas. It will not use the words “cut spending” prefering to talk about “eliminating waste”. Hockey will say this means that we need to be harsh in the Budget, but it’s Labor’s fault.

I also predict that the “back-burning” may get out of control.

The Economy is Like a Giant Blancmange, Except that it’s Not.

Many people see the economy as like a household budget. You need to keep it all neat and orderly and manage it. Others see it as like the weather. There’s nothing you can to do change it, so you just have to adjust as it happens. I could find plenty of analogies for what the economy is like, but I think it’s worth quoting George E. P. Box here: “All models are wrong; some are useful.”

As far as the economy goes, here in Australia, we’ve often been encouraged to see it similar to the “weather” model: Lots of things beyond our control dictate how well it performs and beyond having an umbrella handy, there’s nothing much we can really do about it. We’re a small country and we don’t have the scale or clout to affect things very much.

Of course, this is partially true, which is what makes it compelling, but let’s not forget that all models, all analogies, all comparisons are arbitrary and man-made.

An economy is – well, an economy. And while there are various ways we can look at it, break it down into sub-sections and individual parts such as the local economy or the world economy, in the end these are just to give it meaning and structure. When Margaret Thatcher said that there was no such thing as society, she may as well have added that there is no such thing as “the economy”.

I make this point, not as a sort of first year philosophy discussion, but because a lot of convention wisdom about the economy is just that. It’s an agreed set of beliefs that economists generally agree about (and disagree, within certain perameters). A few years ago, for example, I heard an economist explain that China was doing the wrong thing by not floating their currency. Apparently, the reason China wasn’t doing this is because it was to their advantage. But it was the wrong thing to do.

Australia has been doing the “right thing” for years – opening borders, privatising, floating the dollar, reducing Government spending in certain areas. And it could be argued that this has served Australia well, but that’s a rather large debate and not completely relevant the point I’m making.

The Labor Government copped both praise and criticism for the way it responded to the Global Financial Crisis. The strongest comeback for Labor is that Australia was one of the few countries in the world that didn’t go into recession. To counter this, the argument that the Liberals have been running for years is that the money they spent was too much, and mismanaged. Of course, it’s always easy to argue hypothetically about something past. (I can argue that if Melbourne Football Club had appointed me coach two years ago they’d have been in the finals now, rather than near the bottom of the ladder. Nobody can prove me wrong!)

Labor did what it did, borrowed what it borrowed and spent the money on identifiable things. But let’s not take up the politics of this, or the convential economic view that Labor were wise to get into as little debt as possible, let’s take a totally “irresponsible” view. What if Labor had borrowed twice* as much, and awash with funds set up a state of the art, world class research facility which would have attracted the best scientific minds in the world. Or something long-term to help our competitiveness in the future. Like improving the availability and speed of the internet. Oh, yes, I forgot. When’s that stopping again?

The thing is Labor were in Government. They had control. They could have spent more, or less. They could have lowered taxes, or raised them. They had lots of ways in which they could affect the economy. The debt itself wasn’t the issue. …

The debt was political. The Liberals would have squawked about things getting out of control under Labor. Whereas now, a 66% increase in the debt ceiling is ok. Except that we’re not meant to be hitting it for ANOTHER THREE YEARS. That’s three years of “responsible” economic management.

Responsible economic management that may include the sale of Medibank Private, which was mentioned before the election, and the sale of the HECS debt, Australia Post and a range of things that weren’t. Imagine if Labor had tried even selling one of these to pay off debt or to bring in the NDIS.

Of course, the real reason that Hockey is increasing the debt ceiling by so much, I suspect, is so much that he expects to hit it, but that he doesn’t want to have raise it again before the next election, and that not hitting it will be used as “sign of good, responsible management” as in Labor raised the debt ceiling more that once, but we just did it the once and look we haven’t hit it, aren’t we good?

I think that’s about the size of it, economically speaking. As the economy is like the weather, I’ll end with this analogy:

Labor was blamed for the rain. They then bought too many sand-bags to use in the levy bank to protect us from the flood. We didn’t need that many sand-bags because no water got over the levy bank, so we put the Liberals in charge. It’s stopped raining. We put in an order for nearly twice as many sand-bags. When the next lot of rain comes, the Liberals will claim credit for the fact that they didn’t use all the sand-bags.

So Labor went $285 billion into debt to save us from the GFC, what’ll be the Coalition’s excuse?

*Someone I’m sure will point out that funds were not easy to obtain in the GFC, even for Governments. I’m conveniently overlooking that because it’s not relevant to the points I’m going to make later on, and as this is hypothetical, I can – like Tony Abbott – completely ignore reality when it doesn’t suit me.

Carbon tax

We were wrong on Joe Hockey And Debt Ceiling. Correction Follows!

A few days ago, I posted a blog suggesting that Joe Hockey was planning to lift the debt ceiling by 33% to $400 billion.

Hockey To Lift Debt Ceiling by 33%, and the Hypocrisy Level to an All-time High

I was wrong.

When you make a mistake I think the best thing to do is admit it and apologise.

It’s just been announced that Hockey is seeking to lift the debt ceiling by 66% to $500 billion. So obviously, he’s concerned that Labor will continue to waste money in Opposition. After all, the Liberals had a pretty good go at doing that.

Treasurer Joe Hockey says the Federal Government is increasing the Commonwealth debt limit by $200 billion to provide “stability”.

Mr Hockey announced the increase after Federal Cabinet met today to consider the debt limit issue and the details of the Government’s commission of audit.

“I announce today that the Coalition Government will have to increase the debt limit for Commonwealth Government securities to $500 billion,” he said.

“We are increasing it to that level because I’ve been advised that on December 12, the current debt limit of $300 billion will be hit.”

Joe Hockey said the last Treasury assessment, provided in the pre-election fiscal outlook, predicted debt would peak at $370 billion.

But he said recent trends showed it would instead exceed $400 billion.

The ABC, 22nd October, 2013.

Of course, this is to provide “stability”, whereas Labor raising the debt limit to $300 billion was a budget emergency. $40-60 billion of it is just “a buffer” according to Joe. Why we need a buffer when the Liberals are back in charge is yet to be explained. I mean, there was no black hole in the costings and every promise was accounted for, so why do we need to keep on borrowing money at an even faster rate the Labor Government.

But anyway, sorry everyone for misleading you the other day.

Usually, they wait till you’ve signed the contract before revealing the fine print!

Who else received a Contract from Tony Abbott? Just wondering, because I misplaced mine and I’ve been searching for it on the internet, and I can’t seem to find it there either. Perhaps, it was an individual contract…

”You’ll notice we haven’t said we’re going to get to a surplus by a particular date.” Tony Abbott

“But missing from the independent costings will be the analysis on three of the Coalition’s key policies: broadband, Direct Action and the plan to stop asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat.” The Sydney Morning Herald

Anyway, I was searching for it, because I couldn’t remember if it said anything about surpluses, but as I can’t find it, I guess he’s off the hook.

Still, I wonder whether it was such a good idea to send me a contract at all. I mean, I hadn’t asked for one. And if I was going to ask for one, I’d expect that I would be consulted as to what I wanted in the contract.

But I guess that was the idea behind WorkChoices – people being given contracts and told that was what they were getting.

And I wanted to check that it said that it was “A” contract, because if it was a verb and not a noun at the top of the page, it may have been what they expect to happen to the Australian Economy.

But I can’t seem to find the document anywhere. I did tell my wife that I wanted to keep it so that I could keep the Liberals to their promise to build “Modern” Roads, as opposed to the ones we’ve built in the past. And they intend to build more of them.

It’s unclear whether that’s more than we have now or more than are usually built in a given period. Or indeed, more roads than we actually need.

Likewise, it promised a “stronger” economy. Stronger than what? I would have like that cleared up before the contract was signed. Nietsche’s, “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” comes to mind, for some reason.

The contract didn’t actually indicate what penalties would apply should Tony Abbott fail to live up to his end of the bargain.

Samuel Goldwyn is alleged to have said that a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

I’m left wondering the point of giving someone a contract when all you can do is say that they broke a promise that they wrote down as opposed to something that was just said…

Oh, that’s right:

”I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say but sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark,” Mr Abbott said. ”Which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth [are] those carefully prepared, scripted remarks.”

If someone finds the Contract on the internet can they post a link in the comments?
I’d like to sign a copy and send it back to him.

The government that doesn’t want to govern

this-school-closed

On 1 October, the Affordable Health Care Act comes into force in the United States. It has split the US down the middle – by some polls, over half of the population hates the Act. Detractors call it “Obamacare” as if to identify it with a single person is to devalue the raft of policy and the nation-changing effects it will have. Republicans, quite simply, hate it outright.

I recently requested clarification from a right-wing, evangelical Christian blog as to why, if the Act is of so much benefit to the poor and downtrodden of America, the right oppose it.

I received in response a bullet list of seven reasons “Obamacare” is a disaster for America. Of these seven objections, one is a moral statement: the argument that some aspects of the law don’t suit all people, but will apply to all people. The argument was made that funding for abortions may be made available through the Act. This is highly arguable, at least in the law as enacted, but fair enough; this seems like a valid objection.

It is entirely legitimate to oppose legislation on the basis of disagreement with the moral outcomes. Two of the objections question the effectiveness of the legislation. Similar to the Australian Coalition flatly stating that Labor, even when in possession of a good idea, cannot turn it into effective action, opponents of the AHCA point to other countries with national healthcare systems and claim that they’re not perfect.

They argue that such systems will be open to abuse, rorting and fraud. You could argue that all systems are open to abuse, rorting and fraud and that this is a good reason to refine the legislation to progressively remove these opportunities; however, it’s not an entirely invalid objection.

And three of the objections boil down to the basic assertion: “We can’t afford it”. The policy will cost the US government, and thus the taxpayer. The US is already debt-ridden. The government ought to concentrate on paying down debt before engaging in further expenditure. Fair enough. That does seem a valid, and eerily familiar, objection. Except…

“We can’t afford it” has become a catch-cry of conservatives the world over. The Affordable Healthcare Act? Can’t afford it. National Broadband Network? Can’t afford it. Public servants? Can’t afford them. Social support and welfare? Can’t afford them.

Government is a case of competing priorities. All governments work within limitations of resources, in terms of finance and political goodwill and legislative time and personnel; every potential advance in society which government needs to enact comes at the expense of other needs. To evaluate whether “can’t afford it” is ever a valid objection to policy advances, let us take a step back and examine what it is that we have a government for.

The human species is gregarious by nature. Since the formation of the first agrarian communities, we have instituted some kind of authority structure. All governments throughout history have entailed a personage, or group of personages, to which the people voluntarily surrender power and authority. The people sacrifice their autonomy, their time, and their taxes, for the sake of the benefit of the whole.

For many centuries, the fundamental purpose of government was law and order, and peace/protection from invasion. In other words, government’s areas of responsibility went no further than setting the legislature and maintaining a standing army which, in addition to its function of protecting the people against hostility from outside, also enforced the law.

Some empires also dabbled in infrastructure. The ancient empire of Rome is famous for its network of roads; after the fall of the Roman empire, significant expenditure on roads would not be seen again in Europe until the 1800s. Rome also built aqueducts to service its wealthy citizens. The Roman empire was centuries ahead of its time, but in modern society, we expect governments to spend some resources on infrastructure. Roads, water, sewerage, power, telecommunications – these things that modern society relies upon are part of the bread and butter of modern government.

Governments of old, however progressive in their approach to infrastructure and law and defense, had no interest in some of the areas we currently consider to be expected parts of civilisation. Rome implemented a “corn dole” for citizens too poor to buy food; the Song dynasty in China (circa 1000 AD) managed a range of progressive welfare programs. Apart from a few stand-out examples such as these, however, social support was nonexistent.

Modern-day welfare came into being in the 19th and 20th centuries. We now consider a certain level of unemployment benefit, disability benefit, aged care benefit, etc. to be a reasonable imposition on society. Before the 1900s, the unemployed and the aged (and unmarried women) were the responsibility of their families, not of society as a whole.

It wasn’t until the 1700s that history saw the first public, secular hospitals being created. Prior to this, health care would have been taken care of by organisations other than government; primarily, in Europe, by the Church and the monasteries. Education is a similar story. Before the emergence of universal education for the populace – as early as the 1700s in some parts of Europe, but not widespread until the 19th century AD – education was reserved for the elite and provided by the churches.

It is important to note that for all of this time, the churches and other bodies responsible for providing these services – education, health care, welfare – were accepted and fundamental parts of society, and society contributed to them regularly and generously. Everybody gave alms to the churches. The monasteries were at the center of landholdings in their own rights and levied taxes upon their surrounds. In a way, these organisations were analogous to government – they received support from society as a whole, and in return, they provided certain necessary services.

In the modern world, the social bodies that would have been responsible for education and healthcare are declining or have died. Catholic schools and hospitals still exist, but not to the extent required to support our population. For the past 200 years governments have taken on these responsibilities, as the world gave way to secular sympathies, and governments took on these responsibilities as key determinants of national progress and success. A healthy, educated populace was the key to national prosperity.

Which brings us to the present. In 2013 we have conservative groups and political parties wanting the government to get out of the way while the market takes care of these things. On infrastructure – for example, the NBN – let it be driven by market forces. Environmental action, likewise: rather than a carbon tax operated by the government, a “direct action” policy will find the emissions abatements efforts that already exist and support them, rather than mandating change from the outside.

We have Republicans and Liberals wanting the government to get out of the business of mandating healthcare because it ought to be driven by market forces. We have governments of all persuasions pursuing privatisation and outsourcing of previously fundamental responsibilities in the name of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. And we have governments preferring to return the community its taxes in the form of tax cuts (to individuals; to business) and infrastructure spending. All of this comes with a wave of the hand and a “we can’t afford [whatever]”.

But can the government really abrogate its responsibilities in these areas? Without other bodies or structures to take on these responsibilities, it’s not ethical to stop providing them. So can the free market be relied upon to do this?

Money to pay for education, fire services, health, broadband, has to come from somewhere. The social structures – primarily church – which previously might have supported these things no longer have the resources or the popular support to be able to take up the slack. Charities around the country are crying out for support and berating the government for not providing enough basic resources/support; something has to give. In this environment, the idea of “small government” doesn’t make sense.

The government has to be big enough to do the things that the monasteries aren’t around to do anymore.

The Republican right in the US and the Lib-Nats in Australia run on a platform of “individual empowerment”. With the exception of a few big-ticket items, where they have specific, active policies – policies towards boat people come to mind – the Coalition’s ideology is to get out of the way, reduce government’s interference in society, reduce the tax burden on individuals and corporations, and let the free market have its way. It believes that everyone will benefit if there are lower taxes and more money moving.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Even in some fictional world where successful humans were altruistic enough to plough their profits back into providing more employment and more productivity, rather than squirreling away the proceeds as profit, we still need these other functions to happen.

And these other functions – hospitals, schools, heavy rail, telecommunications infrastructure – don’t happen at the behest of successful capitalists. They happen because the community needs them and the community as a whole will pay for them.

Individualism is what you have when you don’t have strong governments. Individual empowerment is what you get when the strong ride roughshod over the weak.

Now we seem to be on the verge of voting in a Coalition government which will be forced to cut back on all sorts of areas of service provision and expenditure if it is to meet its overriding goal of bringing the budget back to surplus.

A government whose budget figures and estimates we’ve not been allowed to see, which is promising to repeal several sources of revenue and increase expenditure in several areas, whilst not increasing taxes. Something has to give. It seems certain that “We can’t afford it” will come into force after the election in a big way.

“We can’t afford that” is never a valid excuse. That’s what government is for: to find a way to be able to afford the basic things we need our government for. If that involves raising taxes in an equitable manner, then that’s what you do – it’s exactly why we pay taxes in the first place.

If it involves an imposition on businesses to achieve an end that the community desires – for example, a carbon tax – then that is why we have a government. The whole purpose of government is to place impositions on the strong to benefit the weak and to regulate the individual to offer benefits to the whole.

A government that doesn’t want to do these things is not governing.

A government that doesn’t want to provide these things is a government that doesn’t want to govern.

I may not be consistent, but I’m Right!

Malcolm Turnbull (image from smh.com.au)

Malcolm Turnbull – far from consistent (image from smh.com.au)

“This is the problem, the NBN is just happening too slowly.”

Malcolm Turnbull February 19th, 2013 Link to Article

“Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said the rollout had been “super-charged” beyond the normal pace of the industry and this had caused guidelines not to be followed, similar to the disastrous pink batts insulation scheme.”

June 6th, 2013 The Daily Telegraph Link to Article

This was posted on a discussion site by someone called Alain.

“Which of these economists have a knowledge of science? Most economists are preaching about the financial mechanisms than the science. Most economists have never been involved in business particularly their own where they CREATE wealth & prosperity for themselves & others. Most preach their left wing ideology hoping that people believe them because they have a degree on their wall & in some cases have appeared in the media. I think Australians need to ignore these economists most of whom want Australia to be part of some world wide carbon trading system so they & their banker mates, like Malcolm Turnbull, can get rich at the expense of the hard work masses. The carbon dioxide tax debate has shot down their credibility & shown what most economists are, socialists!”

Now I’ve heard some strange things from people on the Left side of politics too. But, generally, even where I’ve heard a Lefty ranting like some crazed loon, there’s been a consistency in their peculiar view of the world. At least their conspiracy theories involve people who might conceivably conspire together.

But “Alain” just about captured all that disturbs me about the Ridiculous Right (my term for the equivalent of the “Looney Left” – do you think it’ll catch on?). The fact that they’re impossible to argue against because they present a moving target. “Alain” complains that economists shouldn’t be commenting on climate change policy because they’re not scientists, yet seems to have no trouble commenting on it himself. And I suspect he has no problem with Andrew Bolt’s comments either even though Bolt lacks a science degree. (Or any degree, considering he was a university dropout). But economists commenting on carbon tax are outside their area of expertise.

They are just out to help their banker mates, like Turnbull, because, that’s right, they’re socialists! Economists and bankers, hiding their socialist colours by making huge profits, are actually plotting the overthrow of the capitalist system.

And we could all have a good laugh at “Alain” and the absurdity of his inconsistency. Except that this is the sort of strange logic we hear all the time from the Liberal Party. OK, perhaps not quite as bad as “Alain”, but Julie Bishop’s assertion that Indonesians were actually saying different things behind close doors seemed to show a similar disconnect from reality. Here are a few more examples:

When the budget surplus didn’t eventuate, we all know because revenue wasn’t as big as expected. The LNP jumped all over this, and said that Swan was dreaming to expect the revenues predicted. They, of course, have a plan to return the budget to surplus. It involves cutting revenue. They intend to cut that ENORMOUS tax on everything, the Carbon Tax, but continue to give us the compensation. (And I presume, the compensation for companies, too.) This REDUCTION in revenue is how they’ll return the Budget to surplus.

Cracking down on the misuse of 457 visas is attempting to demonise foreign workers – “disgusting and racist” according to Murdoch, but it was ok to suggest that asylum seekers are likely to throw their children into the sea. An honest mistake, we know, and I wish I could remember the apology.

Similarly, if one looks at the pink batts installation, Labor was criticised for their lack of oversight by the LNP, but that hasn’t stopped the Opposition calling for a reduction in government red tape and make demands that we should allow private operators to just get on with it in nearly every other area of business. Rather than a discussion about how much government regulation is desirable, it’s asserted that the government should have had more checks and balances in this instance because people died, but at other times, we’re told that self-regulation is just fine. When the wall collapsed in Melbourne, the unions were terrible people for linking this to workplace safety, because the people killed weren’t workers. Trying to make political capital out of an tragic accident is just wrong, unless it’s a Labor Government that’s being blamed. (An interesting perspective on the whole pink batt saga can be found at Crikey.)

So, I’m gobsmacked that somehow the NBN is being linked with the asbestos which Telstra is digging up. Somehow, it seems to be Gillard’s fault that there is asbestos there. As though it’s not something that would have been uncovered sooner or later; as though it’s the people installing the NBN that are the ones who’ve failed to take proper precautions.

Surely they can’t blame the presence of asbestos on Labor. Surely, everyone knows who’s really to blame: Turnbull, the bankers and their socialist mates!

 

“Thinking, Fast and Slow”

“Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound.”

“Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman

In “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman talks about System 1 and System 2 thinking. Wikipedia describes them thus:

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious

System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious”

Kahneman goes on to make the point that often human beings make decisions quickly, then rather than thinking carefully about a hasty judgement, they use their System 2 thinking to justify their System 1 judgement. For example, Tony Abbott announces a policy to improve Aboriginal Health Services in remote areas. Instinctively, someone anti-Abbott says that it won’t work. After that, rather than look at the individual components of the policy, the support it has amongst indigenous leaders or any arguments for the merits of the scheme, the person’s System 2 thinking will keep finding ways to support the initial System 1 reaction.

This partially explains the Gillard Government’s inability to gain traction, and to receive support in areas where people would actually support the idea itself. It’s not totally about the inability of the Government to “sell its message”, or even the MSM’s bias. Of course, it doesn’t help when the first time people hear a proposal that it’s framed in negative terms, or that headline portrays a change in policy as a “broken promise” or a “backdown”.

Kahneman also talks about the “sunk costs fallacy”. Again from Wikipedia, “In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a retrospective (past) cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with prospective costs, which are future costs that may be incurred or changed if an action is taken.” In simple terms, once you’ve invested time, money or energy into a course of action, it’s hard to simply say that’s it, I’m going to do something else. Rather than admit the car we’ve bought is a “lemon” and spending another couple of thousand getting something fixed, we might be best to just leave it where it is, and put that money towards taxis. Similarly, governments are reluctant to say, for example, that the ticketing system they’ve spent a billion developing is inefficient and that it’d be cheaper to make public transport free and pay people to ask for donations to keep the system running.

I can’t help but think about the notion of sunk costs in relation to coming election. As I suggested in a previous blog, some people seem to see elections solely in terms and winning and losing. It’s probably symptomatic of being one of the major parties. Smaller parties like the DLP, the Democrats and the Greens have always been more concerned with what they can achieve before and after elections because they know the won’t form government.

Both Liberal and Labor should be aware that they won’t keep winning elections. The issue for them shouldn’t be what will win the election, but what will they be able to achieve. How can they – in terms of the “sunk cost fallacy” – stop the other side undoing what they’ve done?

Should Gillard be twisting and turning in the hope of winning a few votes here and there, or should she accept that staying true to the things Labor want to achieve is the better way to go. They’ve let the Liberals set the agenda on asylum seeker policy only to find themselves unpopular with both sides of the debate.

The quote from “Thinking, Fast and Slow” at the top of the page talks about framing, and, of course, if Gillard has made any mistake, it’s been that they’ve allowed other people to frame the debate in the wrong terms. By constantly moving the focus forward to the next election, the question issue becomes about how to ensure a win, not about how to make best use of their time in government. When the dust settles, will Labor be saying we grabbed a few votes here and there with populist policies? Or will the say that in these six years, we managed to set in motion many things that Tony couldn’t unwind.

To take one example – most schools were happy with the money “wasted” on their school halls. Not even the Liberals have a policy of to knock them down.

$110,000 done, $69 billion to go