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Tag Archives: Paul Keating

Hasta la vista, baby! I won’t be back.

I noticed a marked shift in sentiment this 4th of July. I admit to being a reader of tea leaves and a man who pays attention to stellar alignments. As a self-confessed hard-nosed rationalist I don’t know why I seek out these signs in the zeitgeist. But the resignation of Matthias Cormann and the ALP’s victory in the Eden-Monaro by-election, summarised in this ABC News clip, convinced me a cosmic flux is underway.

Despite a painfully obvious and ongoing kowtow by the ABC to the LNP, this news does not bode well for Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Rupert Murdoch was convinced ScoMo had it in the bag, but somehow Scotty from Marketing got it wrong. As we all know the Dirty Digger does not like his plans to go astray. More on the Murdoch/LNP cabal later.

The man who bungled the numbers for Peter Dutton’s tilt at Malcolm Turnbull, Matthias Cormann, knows only too well that the Queensland hard man is gunning for the top job. The LNP’s failure to win Eden-Monaro especially with the Prime Minister’s personal popularity ratings at an all-time high, (if you can believe Newspoll) gives Dutton a rationale for a spill in the not-too-distant future

Here is why.

In 1992 US Democrat spin-meister James Carviile came up with the phrase “the economy, stupid.”

Since his appointment as Finance Minister Matthias Cormann managed Australia’s economy, for better or worse, thanks to his knack of being able to do deals with some of the most stupid senators ever to impart their skid marks onto the chairs of the Australian Senate.

With the Cormannator’s departure, the LNP loses the only politician in its ranks capable of successfully sooling Paul Keating’s “unrepresentative swill”. And this is a serious problem for a Government financed in part by the Murdoch Shilling. Cormann, who does not blink, is the only senior Government Minister with the smarts to strong arm a Bill through the Senate. This Bill — yet to materialise — would fulfil Murdoch’s goal of selling-off the ABC.

With Cormann’s departure and the status quo in place in the Lower House, the demise of the ABC will not happen in the foreseeable future.

Instead Australia is about 10 weeks away from an economic precipice.

As of September 1 Job Seeker and Job Keeper are at risk of being withdrawn from the Australian economy. With the Covid-19 outbreak in Victoria looking in every practical sense like a page from Albert Camus’s novel The Plague, the LNP has no credible replacement for Cormann to either run the nation’s finances or negotiate tricky legislation through the Senate.

Not that Cormann was particularly good at his job as Michael Pascoe points out in this scorching indictment in The New Daily.

But with Cormann’s departure from Australian politics, no amount of spin by News Corp can save the LNP from losing the next election which will be held in the depths of a severe recession, if not a depression.

News Corp’s spin of an essentially status quo by-election made the former ALP Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, gasp. As for the ABC, despite the rude sneers of Patricia – Follow my Twitter Feed – Karvelas during an interview with the ALP Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, and the talk-over-the-top-of Labor-spokespeople, and ex Sky News presenter David Speers, its saving precept remains embedded in its Charter.

No government of any political persuasion can outwit this cornerstone of our nation’s identity,

When I worked as a producer for the ABC I learnt a fundamental lesson, namely the ABC is divided into four divisions. Each competes with one another for its share of the Budget. The divisions are:- News, Current Affairs, Sport and Regional. There are numerous name variations, but despite different sub-sectors of the ABC bureaucracy, the divisions are how the ABC conforms to its Charter. So whether it’s a collapse in the price of wool or bush fire coverage or sports reporting in rural Australia, the ABC will continue to make it uncomfortable for politicians, no matter how many of its staff are made redundant.

Staunch support for the ABC in rural Federal seats such as Eden-Monaro, and National Party stalwarts of the ABC like John Barilaro reinforce the feeling in my bones that the ABC will survive.

Gawd help us if Rupert Murdoch gets his way.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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A restless muddled class

With one word – zeitgeist — Germans manage to describe two complex metaphysical concepts:- time and spirit.

Zeitgeist as adopted by the Anglophone world means the spirit of the age and defines seminal points in history.

I detected a shift in the zeitgeist over these last few weeks and I suspect the middle class to which I belong noticed the flux as well.

But the majority, who aspire to a middle class life, seem more muddled than middle. The outcome of the last federal election underscores the point.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating focused on Australia’s middle class during an interview on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. Among topics raised by Laura Tingle, Keating outlined the ALP’s woeful failure to communicate with the middle class, a corps largely created by him and Bob Hawke.

As Keating’s band of baby boomer brothers and sisters retire from the work force at an unprecedented rate, they take with them swags of money unimagined by their parents.

Baby boomer wealth, enterprise and business acumen, underwrite the success of the Australian economy, and the stellar performance of the ASX – Australian Stock Exchange.

And so to the second shift in the zeitgeist; the extraordinary attack on China by Andrew Hastie, Federal MP for Canning.

So powerful is Hastie within conservative ranks, Prime Minister Morrison laughed off his comments as the observations of a mere back bencher. If this is so, perhaps the PM might check whom Hastie voted for in the recent Liberal Party nastiness.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s appeal for reticence by his colleagues on ABC TV Insiders on August 11 2019, is too little, too late.

A recent essay published in The AIM Network by Dr Binoy Kampmark, illuminates the vacuity of Hastie’s intemperate remarks.

Hastie’s comments underscore the inability of the current government to manage the national economy, let alone conduct cordial relations with a significant trading partner.

Indeed the government’s misreading of China per se, date back to Andrew Robb’s mind boggling rubber stamping of the 100 year lease of the Port of Darwin to China.

South Australian Labor MP Nick Champion attempted to revive the Port of Darwin fiasco, but to no avail.

Of the two criticisms of Chinese dealings with Australia, we know the issue to which Beijing responded.

The conservative Liberal Party is fiscally clueless, and the nation’s muddled middle class is finally realising its wealth is under threat from a Wunch of Bankers who came together last week for a right wing back slapping orgy known as CPAC.

Keating’s critique of Labor’s failure to communicate its policies with all Australians but especially the middle class, flushed out an old left wing warrior who sprang to the party’s defence.

But Kim Carr’s swipe at Keating proved that neither the right nor left wings of the ALP know how to craft a meaningful dialogue with a bemused middle class.

This conundrum is a major challenge for both Anthony Albanese MP and the trade union movement which conducted one of the worst political campaigns in its history during the last federal election.

Thus it is fair to ask where to now for an increasingly restless middle class.

The answer might be found in another German word, Mittelstand, which roughly translates as “a statistical category of small and medium-sized enterprises”.

In German Mittelstand is expressed as kleine und mittlere Unternehmen or KMU.

Mittelstand companies typically have a maximum of 499 employees. According to an internet definition, “the term is not officially defined or self-explanatory, hence in English linguistic terms, SMEs are not necessarily equivalent to the Mittelstand. In fact, even larger, and often family-owned, firms claim to be part of the Mittelstand”.

In his heyday Prime Minister Bob Hawke touted European social and economic models. This admiration, aided and abetted by Paul Keating as Treasurer, led to the Australian society we enjoy today.

Perhaps a shell-shocked ALP might deploy its brightest thinkers to evaluate Mittelstand as a way forward for both the Party and the nation.

Sadly the non-aligned Dr Andrew Leigh has a lot of spare time on his hands.

Dr Leigh possesses the intellectual clout to craft an Australian model of Mittelstand which is increasingly popular in a faltering United Kingdom where it is known as Brittelstand.

Perhaps the ALP might scrape up some money for a couple of air fares to send Dr Leigh and Paul Keating to a Brittelstand symposium next month at the University of Reading.

As changes to the spirit of the age develop, Australia’s muddled middle class will again look to the ALP for answers. And if Labor manages to craft a new way of doing business with business – including Howard’s Battlers — and communicate simply and clearly with a suspicious middle class, it can win government.

But if Labor fails to craft policy for the future, the nation remains at the mercy of a conservative clique, who for no apparent reason, is determined to bankrupt and impoverish every class of Australian society.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here

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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.”

Exposing the lie of politics

Image courtesy of tomohalloran.com

Image courtesy of tomohalloran.com

It is no surprise that when it comes to trust, collectively politicians rate very lowly. And individually there are many politicians that we definitely do not trust. Yet they continue to win our votes, if not our trust. In this guest post, Sir Scotch looks at this baffling phenomenon.

The well-known and quite rightly often maligned Readers Digest, over several years, have surveyed Australians, for the 50 professions they trust most. The list goes like this from the 2013 survey:

1. Firefighters 26. Builders
2. Paramedics 27. Alternative health practitioners
3. Rescue volunteers 28. Plumbers
4. Nurses 29. Mechanics
5. Pilots 30. Accountants
6. Doctors 31. Shop assistants
7. Pharmacists 32. Truck drivers
8. Veterinarians 33. Charity collectors
9. Air traffic controllers 34. Professional sportspeople
10. Farmers 35. Bankers
11. Scientists 36. Financial planners
12. Armed Forces personnel 37. Airport baggage handlers
13. Police 38. Clergy (all religions)
14. Dentists 39. Lawyers
15. Teachers 40. Tow-truck drivers
16. Childcare workers 41. CEOs
17. Flight attendants 42. Taxi drivers
18. Bus/Train/Tram drivers 43. Journalists
19. Locksmiths 44. Talkback radio hosts
20. Hairdressers 45. Real estate agents
21. Postal workers 46. Sex workers
22. Waiters 47. Call centre staff
23. Computer technicians 48. Insurance salespeople
24. Security guards 49. Politicians
25. Cleaners 50. Door-to-door salespeople

What does the list say about us as a country, as voters and as human beings? What are we able to learn from the way people vote, compared to the way people give credit, to people who would generally interact with them at some stage in their lives, though not necessarily, all that often, that politicians are only above door to door salesmen in those “trusted professions”?

Likewise, the most trusted people list, has several politicians in it, and that really is what we are about here. Why do Australians vote for folk they don’t trust, enough to admit to a survey taker, that they don’t trust them?

The first on the list is Malcolm Turnbull, at number 68, who is more trusted than Julian Assange. A funny outcome considering the normalcy of us, as voters expecting politicians to also be liars, since the two go hand in hand, and on any reading of the work of Julian Assange, who if one is to be completely fair, is the exact opposite, despite what is said by Rupert Murdoch and his tame typists, doing everything they are told.

It was Assange who brought to us the actual truth of the governments we elect in terms of their activities, after having spent years being told by politicians what they think we want to hear. Kevin Rudd appears just after Assange, again, a supreme obfuscator and liar, certainly in league with the Murdochracy, yet his trust rating is below that of Assange. Do punters actually know what Assange represents or are they dependant on the lies of the tame tabloid typists? The answer to that in simple terms appears to be a resounding “yes”. Without Murdoch and his co-conspirators, we are uninformed as a country. What a worrying situation!

Worrying, I’m thinking? Perhaps that’s why ethical politicians feel some control over media access makes sense.

Less ethical politicians of course, who tend to pop off to New York on the Murdoch cheque account, from both sides of the political divide it has to be said, don’t see it as an issue if the only paper/s in a whole state, come from one single self-absorbed egotistical octogenarian nabob, who isn’t even an Australian, (to avoid taxes not because of some high moral objection to Australian law or system), and the punters (you and me it could be said but I don’t buy his bullshit rags), is the framing device used to manage the entire Australia Conversation. And we accede to this? We are fools. Another correspondent a couple of weeks ago took me to task on the subject of the hyper generalisation inherent in “we get/have the government we deserve”. I have thought long and hard about how to assuage his disquiet at my generalisation, especially when I talked about the “water cooler conversation”, when we who see ourselves as “activist” in terms of our displeasure at the work of that failed priest currently occupying The Lodge, are given an opportunity to actually have a say to colleagues about the state of the nation.

My view is we don’t care to expose our distrust in case someone reports us to the boss, or holds us up as “agitators”, though in reality, that is what we need to be. We need to expose the negativity of a government for the corporations, such as we have had since Paul Keating first wound a French clock in an Armani double-breaster.

Lincoln, at Gettysburg opined, “. . . and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” But what are we, Australia, left with of that great hope?

Government by people we don’t trust, of people they don’t know, for people they don’t care enough about, to listen to, or ask what do we want from them. And we fail to call them to account!

Rather in secret little circles in darked back rooms in carefully managed blogs and fora, we cry out for “justice” but fail to act for those afflicted in PNG as a direct result or our inaction. We call for transparency, but ask little of the plans for the “TPP”, which stands ready to strip away more of our rights as members and citizens of a sovereign state. We ask for honesty, and then vote for Clive Palmer “because he offers some alternative to conservative politics”. I am yet to see an example of that.

We lie to ourselves as Australians. We lie to others, wearing the same cloak of humanity we had earned after Vietnam, failing to see the similarities between two wars fought for the US, with no other purpose, than to feed the industro-military swamp, which is the American economy.

Even our national anthem is a lie, but we still sing it at the football. We are afraid of change, a normal state for a conservative voter.

We are afraid of the pitfalls a new direction may bring. We are afraid of everything, but we still vote for people we don’t trust, who have proven themselves to be liars, time after time, we allow the same biumvirate of accession to the will of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to “guide” us on our way to hell.

Some vote Green, but the vote is meaningless we are told, even though almost 12% of the population vote for them. Why is the 12% so meaningless? Labor gets into bed with Bob Brown and
others with ethics and vision, and are immediately held up as some sort of traitors. But no one, even Antony Greene, of the ABC, can explain why that vote is wasted.

It appears to me that there is seems no offence that can be committed by our current government and opposition, which can be held up as an example of outrageous and egregious conduct. We are now seeing some of the minutiae of the goings-on in foreign affairs in the Carr/Gillard regime, where it was important enough to diarise that the carrier of choice had the effrontery to not provide pyjamas. We find the old Foreign Minister holds himself up as the success of the day when Australia got a spot on the Security Council of the United Nations. He fails to mention in his memoir that the process of getting that seat took longer than the time that the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd process was in play, but is happy to accept responsibility.

I am moved to remember, that Rudd himself also held up his hand as being responsible. All lies.

So we’re left with the question “what does the government have to do to get to a point where Australia realises that we’ve been had?” The short answer is exactly what they are doing now, without having to worry about the question being asked in the first place.

At what point will Australians realise that government is not being conducted for them, for their families, for their futures, for their country or for much else with anything approaching value. Government is in fact being conducted for the betterment of United States corporate interests and the re-election of the main offenders and little else.

 

Dark days ahead

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

A guest post by John Kelly

He’s a relieved man today. The debt ceiling will be abolished. He has been given the breathing space he needs. But, deep down, Joe Hockey knows the problem hasn’t gone away; getting rid of the debt ceiling won’t get rid of the debt. In fact, the Greens may have added to his woes. Each quarterly budget update will now, by agreement, bring the national debt to the forefront of parliamentary and press gallery scrutiny. And, as the debt keeps rising, the sweat on Joe’s brow will intensify. Joe Hockey thinks he’s won a small scrap here, and he has, but it is minor when compared with what’s coming. Christine Milne has placed climate change and the Coalition’s ‘Direct Action’ policy right in the firing line by forcing the quarterly budget updates to include reporting on monies spent on climate change initiatives, i.e. Direct Action. It sounds like she doesn’t believe it will ever happen. And I’m inclined to agree. She says, “Direct Action doesn’t exist, it has no shape, it’s not an alternative to what we have in place,” she said and added, “It is not a plan, it’s basically an idea and that is all.”

But that is not all that’s happened.

The debt ceiling event in the early life of the new government has firmly embedded one crucial economic fact in the mind of the electorate: that the national debt, prior to the Coalition coming to power, was less than $300 billion. This will be important when the voters come to judge the economic credibility of the new government in 2016 when the national debt will be in excess of $400 billion. They will have an undeniable reference point. Normally your average voter hasn’t a clue how much the nation owes when they go to vote. This time, however, they will remember that figure.

The debt ceiling deal has also revealed the hypocrisy of earlier statements by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott when in opposition. “No real friend of the workers of Australia would want to do a deal with the Greens. We can never build a better future by doing cheap and tawdry deals with the Greens”, he said in August.

Well, now it appears, we can.

So, just four months into the new government, an interesting scenario has developed. Joe Hockey is on the record as saying Labor will never produce a surplus. That opportunistic call will most certainly come back to bite him. It is entirely conceivable that Joe and his government won’t deliver a budget surplus either; possible for ten years, should it still be in government. But, the bigger issue will be the likelihood of a recession and the resulting unemployment.

Australia has had a stunning run of good economic fortune resulting in 22 years of uninterrupted growth since the last recession in 1991. It has been brought about for two reasons. It was the Keating economic reforms of the 1980’s and 90’s coupled with the mining boom of the first decade of this century that have made us the envy of the world. The first was a master stroke of forward planning and pragmatism, the second was the rise of China as an economic power and our capacity to be ready for it. In reality, China was just a stroke of good luck. We were in the right place at the right time. But it is pretty clear the good days are over now. Unless we suddenly experience a resurgence in manufacturing or another country’s industrial expansion creates a shortage of ‘stuff’ we have in the ground, there’s not much else that we have to offer to avoid dark days ahead.

The previous Labor government saw this coming. Revenue from the mining boom was in decline. Treasurer Wayne Swan tried to cut back on some of the Howard/Costello excesses, including the $300 private health subsidy. The then Opposition would not support that. Perhaps now, Joe Hockey wishes they had. To his credit Joe has moved to end some of the Howard/Costello vote buying excesses, but they won’t amount to much. Christopher Pine tried to contribute by flip flopping on the Gonski education reforms only to make himself and Tony Abbott look stupid. Cory Bernardi wants to cut funding to the ABC and Scott Morrison is finding new ways to persecute asylum seekers but as yet is not offering any cost savings. In the meantime we waste billions trying to keep asylum seekers from coming to our shores when economic pragmatism says managing the problem on our own shores is the better option.

The danger facing Joe Hockey now is that the government might inadvertently hasten those dark days by a savage reduction in spending without a corresponding increase in private investment from overseas. Their obsession with debt and deficit and the fear of being seen as the very architects of the economic vandalism they attribute to Labor, could result in a premature recession of their own doing. When you combine this with the closure of Ford, the likely closure of Holden, and the parlous position of Qantas, the small manufacturing businesses that these giant employers support are the ones that will take the hit. These small industries are the home of Howard’s battlers, the very people who kept the Coalition in power for 11 years. If Holden stays, it will, most likely, be as an importer, similar to Nissan. Ross Gittins in the Melbourne Sunday Age (Sun. Dec. 8) says “Hockey is right when he says retail sales, building approvals, business and consumer confidence – have improved since September. And it’s reasonable to hope this will lead to a modest improvement in consumption, home building, business investment and other aspects of the non-mining economy.”

Well, Ross might reasonably be ‘whistling dixie’ on that last suggestion but he goes on to say, “But we know there will be big falls in mining investment, which could offset most of the gain. There’s not a lot Hockey can do about that between now and then. Even infrastructure spending takes a long time to get going.”

Leaders today get elected on the basis of three-word slogans; they become the people’s choice for the time being. They use catchy little phrases to attract ignorant voters. They borrow most of them from past, equally unimpressive, leaders and have nothing original to contribute. But, we anoint them as our Prime Minister until their weaknesses surface and we look to someone else. Few can show the courage and conviction of a Paul Keating when they know what is needed, even if it costs them government. Few have sufficient intellect for that and those that do, like Keating, are generally despised for it. John Stuart Mill once wrote that not all conservatives are stupid, but most people who are stupid are conservative. That is probably because they are afraid of what they don’t know. They seek guidance at every turn and accept the time honoured practices and formulae of the past; they view such a strategy as safe. In short, they don’t know any better and don’t want to. They just want to be reassured. Conservative politicians are good at offering policies of reassurance. But that is not going to work in the present and near future economic environment.

The challenges of the near future require something of the Paul Keating brand of courage. Joe Hockey has not shown us yet, that he is up to the challenge, but if he is, he will have to cast off the conservative Coalition mindset and risk being very unpopular. His decision to block the sale of GrainCorp on the grounds that it would have been very unpopular shows that he is, thus far, not willing to do this.

John Kelly is 68, retired and lives in Melbourne. He holds a Bachelor of Communications degree majoring in Journalism and Media Relations. He is the author of four novels and one autobiography. He writes regularly on his own blog site, covering a variety of social, religious and political issues.

John Kelly

 

The Coalition and Financial Management … an Oxymoron

Poor Joe Hockey! One could be sucked in to feeling sorry for him … not! The Government’s election promise, the much touted public service staff cuts of 12,000, has vaporised. Joe can’t implement this promise because Labor beat him to the punch. The public service efficiency dividend, a mechanism governments of both persuasions have been using for the past 30 years, has already factored in cuts of 14,500. There is no more efficiency room left unless huge chunks of government delivered services are contracted out to private companies. What a blow! You would think Joe would be happy about that. Labor has inadvertently fulfilled one of the Coalition’s election promises. Is he happy? Not our Joe. He now has to look for other cost saving measures to avoid an increase in the budget deficit and further borrowings. You would have thought the Coalition, these economic gurus, would have known this long before they announced their pre-election promise. It’s not as if it was a secret. It was in the previous government’s budget papers. Someone in the Coalition was sleeping on the job.

So, where to now?

Sooner, rather than later, Joe and the Government are going to have to own the budget. They will have to accept responsibility for the state of our finances. By next May when the next budget is handed down it will belong to Joe and blaming Labor just won’t wash anymore. Then we shall see the cut of his jib. The May budget will certainly show yet another deficit of around $40 billion; one similar to what we have become use to under Labor. I suspect, also, it is going to contain some unpopular cuts involving broken election promises for which there will be a myriad of excuses. Why? Because Joe and the Coalition will be seen to be no better at raising revenue than Wayne Swan and Labor and that’s going to hurt him, personally. Joe spent a lot of time and energy telling us about fiscal mismanagement, budget emergencies and other bits and pieces. To be cast as just another Wayne Swan won’t go down well.

Economics is not an exact science. It relies on a whole host of uncertainties. There’s a lot of guesswork, estimating, crystal ball gazing and most important of all, events not yet known. Kevin Rudd learned that the hard way; his unexpected event was the GFC. Perhaps another GFC-like event is just around the corner, who knows. But whatever happens, it will belong to Joe Hockey. He won’t be able to blame any subsequent economic ills on Labor. It will be a good test of the false public perception that the Liberals are the better economic managers.

Who started that rumour anyway?

Matt Wade from the Sunday Age in his article, ‘Our National Journey to Prosperity‘ (24 Nov ‘13) highlights the beginning of Australia’s rise to world prominence in wealth, health and education which began when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister in 1983. Just prior to that, we were a basket case under the former Coalition Treasurer, John Howard. Paul Keating became the new Labor treasurer and over the next decade restructured our economy in five critical areas. It was the floating of the Australian dollar, which Reserve Bank governor Glen Stevens recently described as, ‘‘one of most profound economic policy decisions in Australia’s modern history’’, together with tariff reductions, de-regulation of the banking system, the trade union and labour market accords and the independence of the Reserve Bank that changed the Australian economic scene and our way of life, generally.

When talking about events, the next foreseeable one is the Indonesian Presidential elections in 2014. By the time that is decided, Tony Abbott will know just how good a friend President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was to us and how difficult it is going to be with the incoming president, whoever that might be. None of the candidates are particularly disposed toward us. This will create additional problems for Joe Hockey because he will have to re-visit all of our foreign aid commitments and find some grovel money albeit after just cutting the foreign aid budget to the bone. Tough times lay ahead for Joe and they have nothing to do with the six years Labor was in office. The repeal of the carbon tax might get through the senate next year although that is not a certainty. If it does, all revenue from that will cease as will the pittance coming from the mining tax. This is, of course, the government forsaking revenue to honour a promise they think helped win them office. But, most painful of all, as the Indonesian economy continues to gather strength and our near neighbour becomes the third Asian tiger, Australia will be denied access to valuable markets in favour of other friendlier nations. That is going to hurt us … big time.

So let me do a little crystal ball gazing of my own. Joe Hockey is the new John Howard (the 1982 version). Over the next six years the Coalition is going to systematically stuff up the Australian economy and re-define the parameters of fiscal ineptness pushing the national debt out beyond $500 billion. Why? Because they don’t have a vision for the future. They govern for today; they think tomorrow will take care of itself. Well, this time they won’t have a mining boom to mask their collective lack of ability which will translate economically into a probable recession and massive unemployment. Consequently, around 2019, if not before, Australia will be back where it was in 1982 and Labor will once again be invited back into office to clean up the mess.

And those misguided voters who thought the Coalition were the better financial managers, will scratch their heads and seek psychiatric counseling. History doesn’t lie.

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