The phoney war has started. Josh Frydenberg’s budget speech, Tuesday, is a fraud. It’s more a campaign launch than a real budget. Yet when Barrie Cassidy, on ABC Insiders, Sunday, asks the Treasurer to confirm Laura Tingle’s tip-off that the government is spending $600,000 per day on advertising, Frydenberg demurs.
“The process is transparent” is the best he can manage. “So transparent”, Barrie persists, “that you can’t tell me.” Exposed is the essence of Coalition accountability.
And why the delay? A government which dips into the nation’s housekeeping kitty to conserve its campaign war-chest will alienate voters before the official launch. Dud judgement and poor politics dog Morrison’s every move. Frydenberg is challenged to defend the Morrison government’s spending $185 million to open Christmas Island. And close it again. “It’s a deterrent” is the best the Treasurer can manage. “It prevents refugees gaming the system.”
Gaming the system? Seriously? You have to flee your homeland. You spend thousands to risk your life on an unseaworthy boat to travel to Australia knowing that you will be caught by Border Force; put on Nauru or Manus. Then you fake an illness serious enough to get yourself transferred to a soon to be closed Christmas Island?
The explanation has as much plausibility as Frydenberg’s promises and projections pretending to be a budget.
“Back in black”, Josh Frydenberg’s budget fantasia is a pack of lies. In part it’s a specious hymn to thrift, self-reliance and the God-given right of the rich to be selfish. Pay less tax. Our everyday heroes, the story goes, are those who can stand on their own two feet. They have a go. Hence they merit the lion’s share of “tax relief”.
Wealthy people will pay less tax, because the government is “incentivising and rewarding hard work”. The uplifting narrative is marred only by the nagging afterthought that some voters see the poor as deserving. Hardworking. “Incentivised”, whatever that is. Flat taxes, in fact, continue the war on the poor. The problem is fixed a day later by promising unemployed workers and pensioners seventy dollars, a “one-off” energy supplement; a handout Genius.
“We are delivering a surplus. In 2019-20, the surplus is $7.1 billion. Over the forward estimates, surpluses will be $45bn.” The Treasurer lies to The National Press Club in Canberra this week. How does he get away with it?
Delivering? Try projecting. ScoMo lacks the bottle to deliver a budget; risk putting his rubbery figures to a vote in parliament. Everyone knows you can’t trust Bill Shorten. Shorten obliges by outwitting the government on its tax cuts in his well-pitched budget reply speech which invokes hope, promises fairness and a big boost to Medicare.
“Do you want the best health care system in the world? Or the biggest tax loopholes? Do you want your children to get a world’s best education? Or the world’s most generous tax subsidies? Do we want a fairer, more equal country where the economy works in the interests of everyone? Or do we want another three years of drift, with the top end of town profiting much better than everybody else?”
Labor cleverly frames the election as a contest about fairness. It’s quick to repudiate the radical flattening of the tax system proposed by the Coalition, which would slash $95bn from public revenues in five years, while enriching covetous, upper-income earners in inner-city electorates, according to National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) analysis.
Research by The Australia Institute, reports Max Grudnoff, shows that when the tax rates are flattened in 2024-25, a third of the benefit of these tax cuts will go to the top ten percent of taxpayers and more than half go to the top twenty percent. By comparison those on the bottom twenty percent only get three percent of the tax cut.
Lies? Everyone knows budget projections are bodgie. The last decade’s budget projections were out by $12.76 bn on average; half the budget balance. Alan Kohler notes, “The 2019-20 fiscal balance could end up being anything. We’ll find out in 18 months, and the only thing we definitely know is it won’t be a surplus of $7.1bn.”
But Frydenberg’s on a roll. He gives out racy photos of himself in tennis rig back in 1984 when he had a mullet and Labor was in the black. Laugh? It’s another hilarious dig at Bill’s apostasy over surpluses if not the neoliberal faith itself. Just another reason not to trust Bill Shorten. The stunt confirms Frydenberg’s narcissism to anyone in doubt. Number one funster, ScoMo, just about wets himself. Calls Frydo “The Member for Mullet”. What a crack-up.
Poster-boy for post-modern conservatism, Josh and his mob love their hyper-partisan avatars and emotions far more than truth and reason. As the Coalition climate change debacle shows, what matters is their version of reality – not what experts say is happening, contend Deakin University’s Geoff Boucher and Matthew Sharpe in their prophetic 2008 work, The Times Will Suit Them. Postmodern conservatives turn our culture into a war zone.
What is unlikely to happen is whopping growth say NATSEM. “The budget predicts an average growth in revenue of 6.2% over the next four years. To put this into historical perspective; that is almost double the average revenue growth experienced by the Labour governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and the Abbott government.”
Our record is fabulous. Frydenberg insists.” Growth is higher. Unemployment is lower … fewer people on welfare. There are a record number of Australians with a job. School and hospital funding are at record levels. And the budget is stronger.” It’s all spin and cherry-picked puffery. A few examples will suffice to illustrate.
Growth? Annual GDP growth was 2.34 per cent for 2018. This ranks 112th out of 183 countries in the world, and 19th out of the 36 OECD members; Australia’s lowest rankings ever, reports Alan Austin
Unemployment lower? 664,000 workers are unemployed. Over one million are underemployed.
Record jobs? Since the Coalition came to office, TAI chief economist, Richard Denniss points out, population growth of 1.7 million people (over 15 years old) during the same period “created” those jobs.
Lack of evidence does not stop Frydenberg’s spruiking. Again we hear the Coalition’s favourite fantasy about wages rising in a flood of prosperity that will bucket down as rich bosses get buckets of money to tip all over the poor.
Trickle-down trickster, pin-up for narcissistic personality disorder ScoMo, provides Dooh-wah-diddy gospel fusion backup. Belts out one hell of a hallelujah chorus for those who stand on their own two feet. Having a go. Unlike the rest of the nation’s wage slaves, or the multitude trapped in welfare and pension penury.
Even Peter Van Onselen is disgusted with the Coalition’s budget hoax. He provides an acid critique.
“It crows about a surplus it hasn’t actually achieved yet. The forecast surplus for next financial year is built on the back of better-than-expected commodity prices and less spending than was anticipated on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, while the out year forecasts predict wages growth that won’t happen and economic growth numbers that certainly won’t be achieved. Throw in the dodgy numbers projected for the birth-rate and immigration flows, and clever accountancy is as responsible for the “return to surplus” as any claim to “strong economic management”.
Brazenly, the Coalition rolls out a massive pork barrel. An eye-watering $22 million is splashed out on the bijou Bundanon arts foundation, Arthur Boyd’s old joint, a sandstone prison for art, set on the lower NSW coast amidst 1100 hectares of bush-land, stolen from the Yuin nation, along with their fishing rights, near Nowra in the Shoalhaven region and smack dab within Gilmore, the Coalition’s most marginal seat.
Captain’s pick Warren Mundine, Gerard Henderson’s son-in-law, a former Labor Party President and newly re-birthed Liberal has been parachuted into the contest, much to the chagrin of Alby Schultz’ son, Grant, who will stand as an independent, narrowing Wokka’s chances, although he has emailed all electors with his manifesto,
“I’ve spent my entire life in regional Australia, helping to create jobs and build communities. I’ll fight for you and stand up for our region’s needs.”
Curiously in his autobiography, Warren Mundine, in Black and White, Wokka says he’s lived variously at Auburn, Cabramatta, Darling Point, Haberfield and Lidcombe. A spin on “regional Australia” worthy of a Frydenberg?
Soft corruption upstages the rubbery figures that fluff up the rest of the Budget 2019. Two billion dollars for a Very Fast Train is promised to the lucky punters in Corangamite where Liberal Sarah Henderson, the nice lady who used be on the 7:30 Report and who won a Walkley for her 1999 coverage of the Port Arthur massacre, faces a challenge from Labor’s Libby Coker, a former teacher, making her second bid.
The promise is too little, too late – not because the redrawn seat may shrink former News Corp lawyer Henderson’s estimated margin to 0.3% – but because the funding will not be available for two years and work may not begin until the mid 2020s.
Former Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks is adamant that $20bn is a fraction of what a VFT would cost but let’s not confuse spin with substance. Sadly the VFT memo doesn’t seem to have got through to all MPs on the Coalition team.
Alan Tudge insists the VFT could start in eighteen months but Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews shunts Tudge into a siding by noting that forward estimates allocate only $50 million. Geelong will be lucky to get a VFT feasibility study group.
Yet Budget 2019 is more than an outrageous assertions built upon false assumptions and shameless pork-barrelling. A surplus is not inherently good. It’s a failure to invest responsibly in the greater good. Our nation was built on deficit spending. Labor and Liberal. Menzies’ deficit spending in the 50s and 60s stimulated economic growth and built public assets.
Budget surpluses, moreover, increase private debt and are a bugger to run. Ultimately they are unsustainable. As Per Capita economist Warwick Smith reminds us, somebody’s surplus is always someone else’s deficit – and this includes the federal government.
At the end of last year, household debt was equivalent to 127% of GDP, or 189% of disposable income. Both ratios are near record highs and are very high on any global comparison, reports Michael Blythe.
Given that Australia’s private sector debt is at least 200.00% of GDP compared with government debt of around 30%, the Coalition needs to explain why they think we should increase the record level of debt we already hold in our homes and businesses.
Surplus fetishists pose as virtuous, responsible civic-minded money-managers. It’s a hoax. What does it mean to run a surplus? The budget papers say it requires ‘continued fiscal discipline’ a bit of self-congratulatory jargon.
What it should say is, “Our plan is to tax you eighteen to twenty billion dollars more than we need just to cover government spending,” as The Australia Institute’s Dave Richardson translates the budget’s econobabble.
“Fiscal discipline” is rich from a government which says it will blow five billion dollars just on getting re-elected. Or $185 million on its Christmas Island back-flip. Or is said by Laura Tingle to be now spending $600,000 a day on campaign advertising.
Back in black? This government’s never been in the black. Flattening the tax system, moreover, is not “highly progressive” as Frydenberg proposes, It’s regressive; a retreat from fairness. It abandons the principle that how much tax we pay depends on how much we can afford to pay. A flatter, simpler, tax system, as the government chants, is a recipe for creating a more unequal society with fewer hospitals, roads and schools.
The unvarnished, unspoken truth is that every tax cut means less government spending on health, education, aged care and all other services that Australians have every right to expect. Along with the right to fair dealing.
Abandoned also is good faith. Frydenberg fudges; adds last year’s tax cuts to this year’s pocketful of promises.
Few notice. We are Waiting for Godot as the forty-fifth federal parliament fizzles out and we begin the protracted, ritual theatre of the election of its successor. The process is a spectacular distraction. It includes incessant guessing when the PM will call on Her Majesty’s representative, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, General, The Honourable, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
Pete was due to retire last month; make way for David Hurley, another old soldier, ScoMo’s captain’s pick, but will now be kept on and on for the election, which pundits predict could be called next weekend, with polling day either 18 or 25 May. Hurley’s appointment is keenly awaited, especially given his wife Linda’s revelation.
“I hula-hoop every morning and I like to read the Bible or a devotional book while I’m doing that.” Don’t we all?
Polling day, meanwhile, is rapidly morphing into polling days and weeks, a “Netflix effect” which taxes our politics and media’s capacity to get and keep our attention. The Australian Electoral Commission speculates that,
“… electors consider the inconvenience of ordinary voting at a polling place on the Saturday as an infringement on their time and are prepared to avail themselves of other voting opportunities that may be more convenient.”
It’s not just convenience. More than a third of Australian workers now work weekends. And workers are busier: at least two million Australians now work two jobs. Little wonder that in 2016, 4.5 million votes were cast prior to election day — a stark increase on the 26% (3.6 million) early votes in 2013’s general election. Postal votes also rose from 1.1 million in 2013 to 1.2 million in 2016. Then there’s convenience, The Netflix Effect, which means that political campaigns must not only gear up quickly to reach early voters, they must be “always on”.
“Politicians need to shift and understand that they need to sell to voters at every moment in the campaign, especially in the early days,” argues Marcus Phipps, lecturer in Marketing at the University of Melbourne.
So does media need to shift. Our mainstream media often resemble those hired actors who hold up placards flattering Trump at his mass rallies, an ancient tradition which includes such potentates as the wanton, profligate Nero, who paid groups to applaud his singing. Yet a few lynx-eyed independents such as ABC’s Laura Tingle scoff at the Morrison government’s vapid yet “spectacular pretension”; a budget is not a budget until enacted in law.
Dazzled by the sound and light of Frydenberg’s forecasts – for that is all his budget amounts to – most of our ABC struggles to keep up; its editorial independence crushed by budget cuts and relentless government bullying – reduced, after long abuse, to “a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests”, as former Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, Michelle Guthrie laments. Look over there! Frydenberg cries.
All miss his duplicity; how our P-plate treasurer inflates projected tax refunds by adding in cuts from Budget 2018.
Intrepid investigative news-hound, Michael West, alone, is on to Frydenberg’s fiddling. Low income earners, he writes, “really get a boost of $55, not $255, as $200 has already been legislated. The Treasurer’s trick is to inveigle the press into counting the tax cuts in last year’s Budget in their numbers for this year’s Budget, a ruse which inflates tax cuts for low income earners by a factor of five and medium income earners by a factor of two.”
Of course, it’s not a real budget until it passes parliament and Morrison’s government is not up to that. The budget is a bit of puffery, a campaign pitch about as real as Frydenberg’s guarantee of transparency around funding and election expenditure Sunday. Or the government’s chances of having to follow through on its pledges.
Bookies quote the ScoMo government a one in five or 20% chance of being returned. Labor, by contrast has, on average, an 80 percent chance of winning next month’s election. Tony Abbott, on the other hand, looks set for a defeat if what Nine Newspapers’ Michael Koziol reports is “diabolical polling” proves an accurate indication of his vote. Abbott’s currently lagging independent challenger, Zali Steggal, by twelve percent.
There is no doubt overall, however, that the Netflix Effect, which extends voting in ways parties have yet to fully adapt to – if they ever can, combined with the weaponising, the ruthless pragmatism of campaign strategies by our hyper-partisan postmodern conservatives will make this election harder to call and more savagely contested.
The dirt unit deployed so successfully in the recent NSW election is already being mobilised for the Coalition.
The emergence of an organised, disciplined Labor Party with a platform which lures the Coalition on to Labor strengths, education, health and low income earners can only increase the government’s sense of desperation. The phoney war will soon go ballistic.
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