Bleeding Heart Lefty: Verb The Noun – #Auspol

It’s been very hard to concentrate on cars the last week, so it’s time to blow out a few of the week’s cobwebs….

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From 2007 to 2013, Australia was governed by a leftist government – the Labor Party. The leader for much of this time, Kevin Rudd, was very popular with the electorate but his leadership style was loathed within his own party. The solution: they ousted him in his first term of government and replaced him with Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

An election followed that delivered a hung parliament but Gillard won the day by successfully negotiating with the cross benches. The cost was a deal with the Green party that saw a carbon tax introduced in stark contrast with Gillard’s pre-election statement that “there would be no carbon tax under a government that I lead”.

The hung parliament, while remarkably successful in passing legislation, was a public relations disaster and the carbon tax was a giant albatross around Gillard’s neck. So the party decided to kick her out, replacing her with her predecessor – Kevin Rudd.

In September 2013, the Australian people were sick to death of the in-fighting and more than sick to death of the hung parliament, so they voted in quite possibly the man considered the most unelectable candidate of them all, a guy named Tony Abbott.

Abbott had two great strengths working for him in the election campaign (aside from his relentless negativity, which some saw as a strength when his primary job as opposition leader was, of course, to oppose).

The first strength was his chief of staff and her political strategist husband, who instilled a clever set of three-word-slogans – stop the boats, axe the tax, fix the budget, verb the noun ad inifinitum – as well as iron-fisted discipline that provided a stable contrast to the instability of the Labor party.

His second great strength was that regardless of his own considerable personal stench, he wasn’t the other mob. It didn’t really matter what the alternative was, the other mob HAD to go.

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Last week, the government’s Commission of Audit report was made public. The government has made sure that the line “this is not a report of government, but a report to government” was repeated quite a lot. Repetitive catchphrases are a sure sign that they’ve got something to sell. That something is that they want to distance themselves from the ideology behind the report.

Of course, that’s a load of crap.

The panel behind Commission of Audit was stacked with people that were specifically selected for their big business background and/or small government philosophy. The panel were given specific guidelines by the government as to what they could and couldn’t look at. They were specifically told not to look at the biggest fiscal problem Australia faces – falling government receipts. Their job was to look only at expenditure and see what could be reduced, cut completely, or privatised.

The result? I think Ben Eltham from the Guardian summed it up best:

The prescriptions advocated by the Audit are stock-standard 1980s-era neoliberalism. Privatise government assets. Cut red tape. Abolish or amalgamate government agencies. Charge citizens more for government services, like visits to the doctor. Slash government benefits, especially for the most vulnerable. Make students pay more for their education. Reduce foreign aid. Abolish national protections, like a national minimum wage. Halt Commonwealth support for the homeless.

This is a recipe for a poorer, nastier and more brutish Australia. If implemented, it would mark the beginning of the end of the Australian fair go.

Yes, some people do abuse the offerings of government and some of the conditions for those offerings should be tightened. Yes, there is some red tape that needs to be cut.

Ben Eltham’s analysis and conclusion are generally fair, however; this Commission of Audit report, framed deliberately by the terms of reference dictated by the government, is their ideological dream. It’s a dream that would sacrifice the Australian notion of “a fair go” and even the general social idea of mateship on the conservative high-altar of economic rationalism – and the use of that very 1990’s term is quite deliberate. The financial rot was set in motion by decisions made by the Australian Prime Minister whose shadow began it’s lurk in the back half of that decade: John Howard.

The Green’s Richard De Natale correctly stated in response to the Commission of Audit that the government seems hell bent on turning Australia into a Little America, into a dog-eat-dog society that removes our traditional safety net and exposes the most vulnerable in our community to greater social and financial isolation. Australia has a proud tradition of mateship, of figuring out what we can do for one another in times of need, which is a stark contrast to figuring out how we can screw one another in times of need.

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I wonder how long it will be before Marketing degrees and Political Science degrees will be taught together as part of one course?

As mentioned earlier, the government was elected primarily because it wasn’t the other mob. But the government also made a big point of telling people exactly what they wanted to hear, which is Marketing 101 (unity ticket on Gonski funding, anyone?). Tony Abbott has already confessed that “it’s sometimes better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission”. He duped his own colleagues that way when he announced his overly-generous Paid Parental Leave policy without consulting them first.

During the election campaign, Abbott made all sorts of promises that he will inevitably have to break. Of course, the objective was to get into power. The cost didn’t matter because he can always break his promises, blame the previous government and seek the forgiveness of the electorate prior to the next election.

During his four years as opposition leader, Abbott made a great deal of mileage on his criticism of Australia’s budget deficits. If the government of the day had proposed a post-GFC tax levy to reduce those deficits – even a temporary tax levy – the Abbott-led opposition would have torn the roof off Parliament House.

And yet, along with the Commission of Audit report last week, we also got news of a proposed ‘deficit reduction levy’ that would be applied to middle- and high-income earners. As you would expect, the opposition is opposing this measure.

Such is the farce of Australian politics in 2014 – you have a deeply conservative government proposing a tax on the wealthy and you have a leftist opposition saying it’s not a good idea!

Personally speaking, I don’t mind the idea, although I strongly object to the lying manner in which it’s being proposed. I’m not opposed to tax as long as it’s used responsibly. I don’t trust this government to use it responsibly, but that’s another issue all together.

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What interests me is whether or not people are willing to give the Abbott government a pass on this. There are plenty of people – I’m quite convinced – who did not vote FOR an Abbott-led Coalition government. They voted AGAINST Labor as punishment for their leadership troubles and as a reaction to the hung parliament. Abbott was merely the result.

I don’t think they voted for this new tax. I don’t think they voted for austerity measures as a response to a fabricated “budget crisis” (a crisis that even the defacto Coalition newsletter – The Australian – admitted last week does not exist). I don’t think they voted for the idea of ripping the guts out of the Medicare system or making higher education less accessible or less affordable. I don’t think they voted to have the Science ministry in the government abolished. I don’t think they voted for the mass cutting of government agency or had any remote idea that the government might consider changes to our model of federalism. I don’t think they agree with the government’s proposition that “people have the right to be bigots”. I don’t think they voted to have Knights and Dames reintroduced.

A very small proportion of them voted for up to $75,000 in paid parental leave, I guess. Money talks.

I don’t think too many of those swinging voters realised the potential change that could happen to the fabric of this country if Abbott and his mob have their way.

Hopefully Clive Palmer will pardon the pun, but I think Australian voters were sold a pup at the last election. The former independent MP, Tony Windsor, spoke in the last parliament of Tony Abbott’s willingness to sell everything except his arse to get into power when the 2010 election ended with a hung parliament. The speech is worth watching if you haven’t seen it. Tony Windsor wasn’t convinced in 2010, but the Australian people were in 2013.

Tony Abbott will seek forgiveness for the damage he does in the next few years, but hopefully the Australian people will realise what they did in 2010 and maybe they’ll resolve to do it again – kick this mob out.

And hopefully there’ll be an alternative government that’s actually ready to govern and initiate the national conversation we need to have about the role of government in this country, but in an honest, up-front and compassionate way.

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13 Comments

  1. Steven, as I’ve noted before, here in America I would be classified a Right-Wing Conservative, the polar political opposite of your personal beliefs. Not being from Oz I cannot and will not comment on the state of politics there except to observe and lament that from a global perspective it seems that the only interest of politicians and the parties they represent is to do whatever is necessary to get in power and stay there, the public be damned.

    Sadly, there do not seem to be any statesmen left in the political arena, at least on the national level. Those men (and women, let’s be fair) who were concerned members of the communities in which they lived, who would give up a measure of their time and leave their business affairs behind to represent and legislate for the people. It was not a career choice as it seems to be today since they would return to their communities and their own affairs after a time, leaving the position to be filled by another community member voted in by the people. When you have “career politicians” there is a detachment that occurs from the common man and the representative bodies turn into an elite society, ruling because they feel they are the only ones with the answers and that the people they represent could not possibly help themselves.

    Here in the States this attitude is commonly referred to as Beltway Syndrome (Washington, DC, is surrounded by interstate highways known as The Beltway) or alternately, Swamp Fever (DC was originally built on swampland). It is, unfortunately, an affliction common to all political parties in the US.

    I greatly appreciate your willingness to share the state of things Down Under from your own perspective in a way that does not shout down others who may disagree. You have always been willing to entertain opposite points of view and engage in free and open discourse on your blog. Thank you, Steven, for providing a refuge for those of us who prefer to be in the world but not necessarily of the world. It’s very refreshing.

  2. we got the same sh** going on here in the USA! Plus media that is totally crooked, in the tank and bought by these liars.

  3. And as craigsu’s polar opposite, politically, here in the US, I continue to be amazed that, at the very least, Australia has, for better or a worse, a party that’s actually of the people. The US political debate was, long ago, reduced to a battle of a pro-business center right party and a pro-business far right party. There is no meaningful debate or representation on the left, save for a small handful of state and local governments.

    The funny thing is that far right conservatives have been exceedingly successful in painting the less far right conservatives as socialists. If it weren’t so tragic, it’d be comical.

    As for the career politicians, we’ve done a great job at eliminating them here. Certainly at the state level (with term limit rules) and, to a lesser degree at the national level. Of course, the net result is that the resultant class of newbie politicians is forced to rely on lobbyists and other unelected apparatchik for guidance, as they constitute the only continuity in DC and state capitals. Good times!

  4. Will Abbott’s “No New Taxes” mantra be the millstone that “No Carbon Tax” was for Gillard?
    Without Murdoch’s cheer squad running multi-page stories everyday about how some poor pensioner in Useless Loop (look it up) having to eat her own knickers because of rising power prices, probably not.
    As you rightly point out, the last Parliament was a relatively successful one in passing well-argued legislation, but that made little difference, because the perception was one of dis-unity and uproar, as promoted by the dominant press.
    The proposals currently mooted are likely to be part of a softening up process which will leave many voters thinking, “Well, that could have been much worse” while making some fundamental changes which many will accept because of the acceptance that things are so bad, someone should do something.
    I fear that we are destined to live in a world of Murdoch’s own making, because of our acceptance of the untruths peddled to us day-in, day-out. Most of us lack the discrimination (or determination) to find out the truth.
    Ultimately we get the Government we deserve.

  5. ts a strange & frustrating time indeed. There are some clever people in government but they don’t seem to get their hands on the steering wheel too often.
    As for Tony, its hard to know if he’s sold his arse to Gina, Rupert, Eddie Obeid, the NSW property developers – or all of the above. Time will tell.

    1. Gina and Rupert are both single now, aren’t they? That’d be a marriage made in …….. somewhere.

  6. not looking too good for the lucky country going forward, on the west side of the country our state debt has gone from $4 to $21 billion since the election of a liberal government in 2008, don’t believe our kids are looking forward to being homeless or stuck with mega mortgages due to our crazy house prices, mega bills due to the privatisation of everything, unfortunately we are stuck with Abbott and his Sydney Mafia mates for the next few years but hoping someone will drop some thing on him during the ICAC hearings….

  7. “The US political debate was, long ago, reduced to a battle of a pro-business center right party and a pro-business far right party.”

    “don’t believe our kids are looking forward to being homeless or stuck with mega mortgages due to our crazy house prices, mega bills due to the privatisation of everything”

    “our acceptance of the untruths peddled to us day-in, day-out. Most of us lack the discrimination (or determination) to find out the truth.
    Ultimately we get the Government we deserve.”

    These are all excellent points.

    Adam Smith himself came to recognise that the hidden hand must be supported by regulations and laws when necessary.

    I’m not talking about old-school communism/socialism. Marx was a self-centred middle-class playboy who failed to practise what he preached, or articulate a desirable alternative proposition. His brilliant critique or capitalism was a starting point. But we need a better destination than either the Soviet Union or the narcissistic posturing with banners and slogans in front of the riot police and the cameras by the Western student left over the past 40 odd years. Both are a dead end.

    A reboot of classic social democracy is what’s needed, I reckon. And when I say reboot, I mean it better know how to fight on the digital doorstep because the online world is already being taken over, Soviet style, by megalomaniacs posing as progressive forces for good.

  8. To be fair Swade…. if memory serves me correctly, it was Latham that started the whole insipid sloganising of election policies, with “ease the squeeze”. And we have Rudd to thank for the whole PR-approved, on-message answer, otherwise known as “answer every question with the party message of the day. Even if it doesn’t answer the question….” All parties were equally guilty of this at the last election, and while it may well represent a dumbing down of politics in this country, if it works – and there’s ample evidence to suggest it does – then I’d suggest it reflects as poorly on the electorate itself as it does on the politicians and their media machine.

    If the people do indeed get the government they deserve, then maybe we need to all stop being so idealistic and selfish, and think beyond our own small lot in life?

    1. I think both our memories are far too short, Ben. I’m sure that sloganeering has existed for decades. “Keep the bastards honest”, for example. The modern media cycle and people’s short attention span has emphasised the need for soundbite-sized policy, however. Who started it is a moot point. Ambivalence is the real enemy.

      Who falls for believing the veneer without scratching the surface? That’s the issue as I see it. I’ve got intelligent friends in their 40’s, with plenty of life experience who, when questioned about their beliefs in conversation, are surprised to see that their personal ideals don’t actually align very well with the party they voted for.

      Idealism and hypocrisy are surprisingly intimate bedfellows and no strangers to any of us. But idealism is the platform on which people can start to build a belief. It’s the ability to recognise a need to shape that belief with the occasional compromise that seems to be deserting people now that everyone’s got an opinion to share in comments, on their FB pages, etc.

      1. In that regard you’re probably right, though I’d suggest the likes of “It’s Time”, “Keep The Bastards Honest” and “Fightback!” were more general, party/campaign mission statements, designed to give the electorate an overall vibe for what said party was about and – hopefully – get the voter to latch onto that vibe.

        These days every major policy point has its own catchphrase and/or set of carefully chosen key words; as you mentioned, an easily digestible soundbite to be repeated ad infinitum so that it sticks in the most politically disinterested voter’s mind. I’d say the relentless persuasiveness of modern advertising through online and social media channels does amplify the effect considerably, over what voters were exposed 20, 30 and 40 years ago, when you had only 2-3 TV channels, your local newspaper, no internet and definitely no politics at the dinner table 😉

        Idealism is perfectly fine for the individual; the beauty of freedom of speech is that we can define ourselves through as broad or narrow a world view as we wish, and be as flexible or rigid with it’s application onto our lives as we care to.

        Government, however, isn’t an individual. It’s a mechanism upon which elected officials represent the collective will of society – and that ‘will’ has to cover (within reason) the full spectrum of political ideology. One would therefore deduce that a functional democratic government would be more or less centrist in nature ie. walking the middle ground, delivering practical, realistic policy based on reasonable mutual benefit to most – if not all – of society. The realpolitik, if you will. Such a system can’t please everyone absolutely, obviously, but it can please most people at least a bit.

        Instead we’ve seen the party system develop to the point where the likeminded have banded together to impose their own ideological views on the entire populace. Worse, we’ve seen the houses of Labor, Liberal and even the Greens factionalise themselves. As such, we don’t simply get a broad “Liberal” or “Labor” (or “Labor/Greens”, for that matter) government, but that particular faction’s more narrow ideological view, and their attempt to deliver 100% of the wishes to their own, usually small power base that got them there.

        Great if you’re part of that base – enjoy your time at the controls – but pretty lousy if you’re not…. as I’m sure you’d agree, as a self confessed bleeding heart lefty amidst an unashamedly conservative government 😉

        Of course, your political opposites felt exactly the same during Gillard’s tenure. Which is why we as a country seem to swing between Labor and Liberal like a pendulum on a Grandfather clock. Clearly, neither major (or minor) party offer a political platform that pleases a majority of voters for the medium/long term. A party and their leader get into power, chase their ideology as far as they dare for as long as we let them, we the voters get sick of them and eventually replace them with someone who does the exact same thing in the opposite direction, the voters eventually get sick of them, wash, rinse, repeat ad infinitum. After all, Abbott is a direct reaction to Gillard’s policies, Rudd’s a direct reaction to Howard’s, Howard’s to Hawke’s/Keating’s, and so on and so on.

        Throw in the three-year election cycle and the increasingly personality driven, disruptive opposition politics to the mix and you end up with a rather short sighted political motive, one based solely around short term wins to ensure the party prevails after each election. It’s just my opinion, but I think it is pretty lousy system that does a poor job of actually governing the country. The fact that most Australians are quite disengaged and indifferent from politics, especially outside of election time, is evidence of this.

        So what would be better? Maybe some form of direct democracy, perhaps. I’m not sure really sure, to be honest, but anything that decreases the influence of unions and big business and increases the influence of regular voters, holds individual politicians directly responsible for their actions and helps the country walk a median path between socialistic, capitalistic and libertarian viewpoints would be a good start. Unfortunately those attached to the existing system have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, evidenced plainly by the hostility the majors show towards new political parties and their unrestrained use of legislation to quash them.

        Alas, I don’t foresee a genuine Statesman (or woman) with long term plans who falls somewhere between the Labor Right and Malcolm Turnbull, and even if I did, his party’s opposing faction would cut his head off the moment the opinion polls dipped.

        Such is the sorry state of politics in Australia.

  9. Sounds a lot like what is happening in Canada. The folks in power are there out of voter frustration with the previous ruling party – more voted against them than for them and many voted for them for lack of anything else. The result is a massive reshaping of our national fabric: cuts to science, arts, social programs, environmental programs… lower tax rates to a small degree, though mostly strategically misplaced in the opinions of most economists! The net effect is deficits and higher debt in contrast to their less conservative predecessors… the “more conservative” party squandered a huge surplus! It’s like everything is backwards.

    Imho, anyone who runs for power should be required to write a series of exams showing they are competent enough to do the job… eg economics 101. On some level, I would love to see that as a requirement for voters also! Ok I’m being facetious (and probably elitist)… but education is the solution to the stupidity of governments… or at least I’d like to think so! Everything has been reduced to sound bites designed to target the less educated… heck, how do you think Rob Ford became a mayor? A brilliant team that marketed him as “the common man – your voice on council”. To a significant degree, he does fulfill that! But is that what we want? Maybe if the common man was smart enough to say “enough of these soundbites – give me a real plan that you will stick to or I vote for the other guy”… maybe they need to show they meet quarterly milestones of their plan… you know, like a business does… heck, we’re the ones financing their organization: we’re their bankers! If I went to a bank with some soundbites and no solid business plan – would they give me any money? would they continue to finance me if I didn’t follow the plan I had put forth initially?

    Periodic shifts in power are necessary and good… perhaps though modern governments should be less able to “rock the boat”. A longer term vision economically is somewhat valuable imho… if we significantly change the course every 4 years (to suit some leader’s ideology), well, the instability is probably not so good for a country.

    The media is also significantly to blame for this. Very few smart individuals would want to run and have their reputation smeared, when they could make more money outside of government without all that fuss.

    good luck with that!