On the Australian Election

I know I said I wouldn’t mention it but just like the politicians themselves are prone to doing, I changed my mind. We have an election coming up in four days and I’ve got a few issues. I apologise to regular readers here, but I’ve got to get this stuff off my chest.

I’ve voted for both sides of the political spectrum over the course of my life but it’s fair to say I’m leaning one way much more than the other in this election. There are policy reasons and historical reasons for this. For what little they’re worth, here they are.

I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible (fat chance!).

The Wrecking Ball

Everyone wants to hold Labor’s record against them, which is fair enough. No-one seems to have any recollection of Tony Abbott’s record over the last three years, however. (Never mind his long-standing record as a Liberal Party back-room headkicker).

Tony Abbott presided over the most damaging wrecking-ball campaign ever waged by an opposition. He hid this behind mealy-mouthed words about “holding the government to account” but his actions were more akin to holding an elected government to ransom. As of January this year, Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne attempted to suspend standing orders in the parliament 72 times. The time wasted means that more than 400 questions were not asked of the government. That’s the equivalent of 18 Question Time sessions up in smoke (with 150 reps sitting around, getting paid for doing nothing). All of those attempts to suspend standing orders failed. They were doomed to failure and Tony Abbott knew it. It was all bluff and bluster designed to do nothing more than make an impression.

Put short – Tony Abbott treated the parliament and therefore, the Australian people, with no small amount of contempt. It’s been completely overlooked by most but people should be mindful of this behaviour, especially as Abbott now demands that a future Labor opposition respect his mandate (should he win one).

The Debt Obsession

For the last few years, Australia has had a confected obsession with debt and deficit. Australia endured the global financial crisis that started in 2008 thanks in no small part to the government taking action to stimulate the economy via actions such as stimulus payments, the Education Revolution funding and the ‘Pink Batts’ scheme. That we continued to dig up our backyard for China didn’t hurt, either.

Those actions cost money – a lot of money – but they saved the economy. Australia has had budget deficits for the last 6 years and we do have a national debt where we didn’t have one before. These were the right actions to take, however, because we can afford it. It’s the duty of a government to borrow and stimulate when the circumstances call for it and the capacity to repay exists. It doesn’t mean you throw caution to the wind, but you do have to act.

Much is made in political press conferences of the government having to manage its finances just like a small business or a household has to. It’s populist pandering and a complete fallacy.

If a family wants to build/buy a home (like a government might like to build a highway or a broadband network, for example) then they can either save up for two decades until they have the cash in the bank or they can do what nearly every family does – they can borrow. Credit exists for two reasons: it makes money for the lender and gives freedom to the borrower to invest in parts of their life that they otherwise wouldn’t have had the immediate funds for.

The correct analogy would be that a government, like a family or a small business, has to borrow wisely and only when it can afford the repayments. Australia clearly can afford the repayments, which is why we’ve got all those AAA ratings hanging around.

This obsession with debt and deficit is a smokescreen. Sadly, it’s one that a majority have fallen for without questioning the underlying premise.

Asylum Seekers

I sincerely believe that the Liberal/National coalition (the Coalition) would cease all refugee admissions into Australia if enough of the electorate found that palatable. You can hear it in their language (illegal arrivals, when it is not illegal to seek asylum at all) and you can see it in their policy.

The conditions surrounding asylum seeker policy are undoubtedly difficult, but Australians became more and more sympathetic to their plight under the harsh rules imposed by the Howard government. It was a major issue during the 2007 election. Australians have hardened their hearts on this issue once again thanks largely to prominent media mostly in Sydney and I think we’ll regret this insular, xenophobic attitude as a country in years to come.

The Coalition plan to stop boat arrivals, which is a fair goal given the danger that asylum seekers take on when they travel that way. They don’t stop there, though. They also plan to deny the 30,000 asylum seekers already here any hope whatsoever of settling here. They will make them work for welfare in a form of indentured servitude with no indication as to when they might finally be shipped ‘home’ – and ship them they will, regardless of any threat of persecution.

The Boat People are apparently clogging up Sydney’s highways. Just try driving on the M4, says they Coalition’s candidate with sex appeal, Fiona Scott.

The Labor Party would like to raise Australia’s refugee intake to as much as 27,000 per year from legitimate camps in world trouble spots. This would mean we do more to pull our weight in the international community. The Coalition wants to wind the refugee intake back to 13,000 people a year. As mentioned, I think they’d go lower if it didn’t make their heartlessness on this issue more apparent.

The Coalition will also deny asylum seekers legal advice. They have also said that they will hide the number of asylum seeker arrivals from the Australian public. Transparency much?

These are real people and the vast majority of them have genuine reasons to flee the country where they live. Afghan Hazaras. Iranian and Iraqi minorities. Yes, some game the system and they should rightly be denied their applications. But we are a rich country that should carry its load. We are, and should continue to be, a compassionate country.

Both sides have got this area of policy wrong at different times and both seem incapable of entering into a proper regional solution. It’s a blight that needs to be fixed.

Climate Change

The Coalition will achieve little with their Direct Action plan. They know it. Just ask Malcolm Turnbull. Actually, you can even ask Tony Abbott, who has said publicly that they won’t put a cent more into Direct Action if it doesn’t achieve it’s emissions reduction goals. Even he doesn’t want to throw good money after bad. Once again, however, it’s a way of appearing to do something in the hope that eventually, the people who voted you in will stop caring about the issue and won’t notice that it didn’t work. I still find it astounding that the conservatives in this election are so opposed to a market-based solution to address this issue.

Tony Abbott once called climate change “absolute crap” and the carbon tax first used to address it “a toxic tax based on a lie”. The emissions trading scheme that should succeed the carbon tax was described by Abbott as a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one”.

Tony Abbott claims publicly to now believe in climate variation and the possibility of human contribution to it. Again, it’s a tacit concession to try and woo borderline Coalition voters with an environmental conscience. That some people can’t see through it astounds me.

Australia and Australians should do their bit to address emissions. Yes, we’re only a small part of the world’s emissions but it’s important that everyone plays their part. Building efficiency into our businesses and our lives is no bad thing (unless you own an electricity company).

The Labor Mess

I could write another thousand words on the Coalition’s duplicity, fear-mongering, straight-up falsehood and what I think is going to be a much different future than Howard’s golden years that Tony Abbott would have you believe are going to return. They aren’t. But those thousand words would hold off writing about the wreck that is the Labor Party.

It was wrong that Julia Gillard took over Kevin Rudd’s Prime Ministership in 2010. If he was to be sacked, he should have been sacked by the people who elected him, not by the party. Sacking Rudd led Labor into a minority government calamity and the national environment and attitude have both taken on a toxic hue. Julia Gillard opened herself to her fate when she took over the leadership. It is right that Rudd faces an election as Prime Minister so that the people can decide his fate.

Labor won a massive victory and an impressive mandate back in 2007 on the back of genuine progressive policy – classic Labor nation building. They then proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot so many times it made a mockery of the office that they held.

I believe in the importance of the National Broadband Network (the Coalition’s “Fraudband” policy is beyond laughable and will leave Australian households $3800 worse off, according to Deloitte Access Economics). I believe in the importance of tackling climate change. I believe in Australia carrying its weight in the asylum seeker issue and giving hard-up people a fair go. I believe in the education of our future workforce and fair pay and conditions for the current workforce. I believe in a robust healthcare system and more assistance for people with disabilities. All of these are progressive policies introduced or furthered by the Labor government since 2007.

Whilst I believe in their policies, I don’t believe in any of the shenanigans or stupidity that’s characterised the Labor Party in the last six years. This might be the one thing I agree with Tony Abbott on: for the good of the country, they need some time in opposition to sort themselves out.

I don’t support Kevin Rudd but I do support the idea of progressive government that advances the difficult decisions that benefit the most people. I think Tony Abbott and the Coalition bring with them a real risk of taking this country backwards. Australia has become a very ‘me’ oriented place in the last 3 years and the Coalition seem ready to feed that obsession by ‘protecting our borders’ (from what?) and giving us a paid parental leave scheme that is neither fair nor affordable (in a time when they proclaim we have a budget crisis).

Perhaps this election is best characterised by the fact that in Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd, we have a pair of major party candidates that offer us plenty to vote against but very little to vote for.

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  1. “…major party candidates that offer us plenty to vote against but very little to vote for.”

    Sounds like the last several federal election cycles here in the US. Every time it seems like I’m forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. I’m so tired of holding my nose when I go into the voting booth.

  2. “He hid this behind mealy-mouthed words about “holding the government to account” but his actions were more akin to holding an elected government to ransom.”

    Sounds a lot like the 40 times House Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare in the US and other, similar antics. Far, far easier to critique, decry and ridicule the other side than actually engage in creating policy.

    Perhaps the electorate in both countries will turn out those who engage in these shenanigans.

    Or not.

    1. Sadly, the main protagonist is very likely to be given an election win this weekend.

      We’re in a weird situation here where up until 3 months ago, the most popular ‘leader’ in each of the two major parties wasn’t the actual leader, but a former leader. One side of politics installed that person as leader and the other has kept their #1 guy in the background. I think everyone here would feel much more confident about who they’re voting for if they actually had the choices available to them that they wanted.

      The current PM, who was once extremely popular, was sacked by his own party in 2010 because he was a dysfunctional manager. He was reinstalled as leader a few months ago because of his popularity with the people. Now the people are set to dump him, too. Personally, I like his side of the game but he’s caused a hell of a lot of division and has gone super-negative in this campaign (in contrast to his first campaign in 2007, which was quite visionary). Time for him to go.

      It’s a long and sordid story.

  3. I find myself agreeing with everything you’ve written, as I would hope any sane and thinking person would.. the fact that it does appear a majority may think the opposite is a genuinely frightening prospect. Any time that fear-mongering beats out brave vision is sad, but in this case it’s not only sad, it’s a sign of regression and a society that is all about the self rather than building a better nation for all of us.

    And, just like you, the notion that a conservative government reject a market-based solution to a genuine problem is just astounding to me.

    As an aside, It’d be so interesting to see how different the plans for the future would be under a Greens majority. It might not all be sensible, but it would be right and moral! Imagine that.

  4. pretty simple over here in WA, were paying the bills for everyone else, our gst revenue is projected to fall to 33c in the $ leaving us with little $$$ to build much needed infrastructure, were constantly referred to as cubs, sometimes i think I’d be better off on the dole in tassie but i couldn’t bear to be in the same state as the greens leader [thats my simplistic cub outlook]…

  5. It is ‘compulsory to vote’ in this fair country. So compulsory that if you don’t you get fined. Don’t get me going as to how this is democratic. However, I will vote, and like you SW, I have vacillated depending on the party, its policies at that time and what will be good for the country.
    Tony and Kevin recently went so low as to use the ‘shut-up’ Reagan line from all those years ago in their recent staged debate that one could call a school(ed) stage play. I couldn’t believe it.
    The Faceless men and their machinations in recent times, leaves many of us politically cold shouldered and very demoralised. Since Bob Brown retired, I think I have lost interest and the Greens may well have lost their way. Bring back Don Chipp and let’s keep the …..honest!

  6. You touch on some very valid points Steve. Unfortunately this election will not be a case of voting in who you think best represents you and your vision of Australia, but merely keeping out who you can’t stand. Mind you, most of our elections tend to be that way, so perhaps we shouldn’t act so shocked? 😉

    As a once steadfast Labor voter I’m quite frankly horrified at how the party has destroyed itself over the past few years. It is kinda difficult to overstate how badly they’ve damaged their reputation and turned off their core support base. After the euphoria of finally seeing the backside of Howard (who’d been in power my entire voting life up until that point) Rudd’s star fizzled abruptly, and we got to see the true ugliness of party politics.

    Gillard’s second government did the real damage though. The deal with the Greens to hang onto power was, in my opinion, the ultimate betrayal of Labor’s original working-class support base. Some might excuse it as real world pragmatism, but the ‘worker’s party’ pairing up with one hell bent on destroying our main economic sectors was never going to work, as evidenced by the failure of the Carbon Tax, Mining Tax and so forth. Why Gillard gave Brown such a long leash boggles the mind. In the end she put the knife in her own back, and all KRudd had to do was give it a twist.

    Speaking of Rudd, I was surprised that he jumped back on the sinking ship. I’d have thought it far more beneficial to his own career to bide his time, let Gillard take full blame for the upcoming loss, let Shorten et. al. cop 18 months of opposition before challenging again as Labor’s saviour just as Abbott starts getting on the nose with the electorate. I was discussing this very thing with a friend a few day’s back, and his answer was on the money – “ego”. Needless to say, I don’t expect Rudd to stick around should he lose on Saturday.

    The LNP don’t deserve to win, but Labor definitely deserve to lose. A few years in opposition might teach them to not treat the Australian voting public with such contempt again.

    Side note… I’m surprised that everyone is so up in arms about Abbott’s paid parental leave program. Given that every population boosting handout offered so far has only resulted in a bogan breeding explosion of future Centrelink recipients, reasonably compensating working women from taking time out from their careers to pop out some sprogs comes across as, well, somewhat enlightened. Yes, I’ll grant you the details are fuzzy on how it will all be paid for, but the same criticism can be levelled at the NDIS, NBN, and well basically every program and policy either party has proffered thus far.

    What was the ol’ Bjelke-Petersen quote? “Don’t you worry about that…..” :-/

  7. Just as with any election… for any office…in any country…one must vote for the candidate who sucks the LEAST.

    They ALL will lie to get elected…just the way things are.

    But you can always do what I have done at times. Go to the polling place…close your eyes…hold your nose…and cast your vote for the person where ever your finger lands. Never really seems to matter in the long run who ends up in office.

    Me cynical? Nahhh. 😉