08/04/2010 - 00:00

Policy paucity no laughing matter

08/04/2010 - 00:00


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The state of political debate in Australia is no joke.

A JOKE doing Liberal Party rounds goes thus: “When we left government the bank was full and Christmas Island empty. Now the bank’s empty and Christmas Island’s full.”

The reason it’s funny is because it’s true.

That’s why Polish political jokes, which inflicted such havoc upon Communism, prompted so much laughter.

American and NATO troops never fired a shot to topple Communism because the Poles, via Solidarnosc, where jokes were coined and recited aplenty, toppled it themselves.

Jokes can be more formidable than guns.

Ben Lewis, author of the insightful book; Hammer & Tickle: A History of Communism told through Communist Jokes, makes this point

That said, State Scene is puzzled as to why the wastrel Rudd government seems so immune from being toppled when the bank’s empty, Christmas Island’s full, and so many big spending programs are lemons.

The answer isn’t easily found. Perhaps we’re still too close to events to discern the wood for the trees.

Notwithstanding this, let’s give it a go; let’s try to understand.

Firstly, it’s extremely difficult to name a single Rudd government initiative that can be fairly deemed to having been successful.

What happened to coast-to-coast GroceryWatch and FuelWatch, which would monitor, Brave New World-style, tens of thousands of shops and service stations nationwide?

Both were launched, tens of millions of dollars spent, and they were quietly canned. Why?

Because they were silly, way-out proposals, promised by Mr Rudd at the 2007 election campaign that was carefully crafted to portray him as a caring man when he’s indisputably a hard-nosed calculating politician.

The end play for both was that bureaucrats and computer boffins who were to put these ideas into play finally got up the courage to tell ministers their proposals were too costly, technically impractical, and not worth doing.

What about those promised laptops for every student?

And what of the $16 billion school infrastructure program with the Orwellian title, ‘Building the Education Revolution’, when it’s essentially a school assembly halls and associated facilities spending spree.

Adding that word ‘revolution’ willy-nilly doesn’t make such huge outlays – steadily being shown to involve so much over-charging by contractors – any less painful for dudded taxpayers.

Then there’s the $43 billion National Broadband Network – launched without firstly having a detailed business plan.

And what of the $2.5 billion Rudd-Garrett ceiling batts insulation fiasco?

But despite such failures, the Tony Abbott-led Liberals struggle in the polls. The government’s waste, extravagance, and silliness are seemingly ignored by so many.

It’s been suggested to State Scene this is because Mr Rudd’s media spin machine has convinced enough voters Labor has been managing the economy well.

If one ignores all the pear-shaped Rudd programs started but not completed, or mismanaged from day one, or cost far too much, then okay, let’s, for arguments sake concede that to them.

Mr Rudd, Treasurer Wayne Swan, and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner constantly repeat the claim that they saved Australia from the Global Financial Crisis.

Australian unemployment sits just below 6 per cent and, they stress, that’s about half the US and European levels.

However, the problem with this line is that it’s another case of self and voter deception.

The fact of the matter is that there never was a Global Financial Crisis. It’s a figment of lots of political and other imaginations.

What in fact occurred in 2008, into 2009, was a North Atlantic, not a global, financial meltdown, a sharp economic downturn across Europe and the US.

Asian economies weren’t victims of this non-existent GFC that so many politicians in power love spruiking about.

Asian economies had their own financial crisis beginning in July 1997, soon after the Howard government was elected in March 1996.

Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Laos and the Philippines were most heavily affected, with China, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam less so.

The International Monetary Fund helped some of these with a $40 billion currency stabilising plan. Riots erupted in Indonesia, forcing its President Suharto to resign.

Neither the US nor Europe was adversely affected.

State Scene doesn’t recall the Asian crisis being dubbed ‘global’. So why has the incompetence of American and European governments and banks been accorded exaggerated global status?

From the outset of the crisis in the US and Europe Messrs Rudd and Swan claimed it was global and alleged Australia’s unemployment would skyrocket to 9 per cent.

But it didn’t, primarily because the financial crisis, like the Asian crisis before it, wasn’t global, something they’ve shrewdly covered-up to make themselves look like competent economic managers, which they most definitely are not.

Crucially for Australia, well over half our trade is with Asia, not crisis-stricken North Atlantic economies.

Interestingly, no one hails the Howard government for its handling of the nearby Asian crisis better than the Rudd government has handled the distant North Atlantic one.

That’s something Mr Rudd doesn’t highlight since it would show-up his ongoing wasteful and unnecessary spending.

Spending the Howard years’ surpluses and launching massive borrowings that future generations must repay certainly appears to have boosted Labor’s poll standing.

Why is Labor so attached to big spending, and on the never-never?

There are, no doubt, many reasons.

An interesting one offered by a former Labor leader, the late Arthur Calwell, Labor’s first Mandarin-speaking leader, focuses on the type of people attracted to his party, something all others have tended to ignore.

In his memoirs, (Be Just and Fear Not, [Lloyd O’Neil], 1972,) he argued that “way-out people” were coming to the fore in all parties, but most especially in Labor, as his Canberra career was ending.

He said that, by about 1970, there had emerged what he called a “faction” of (Labor and non-Labor) individuals in parliament that “consists of aggressive, assertive, philosophical, way-out people.

“These people seek to challenge all accepted views and standards that govern our society. Nothing that exists is above criticism to them.

“There are more of them in the Labor Party than any other party.

“But the newspapers, radio and television media have also been the object of similar penetration.”

Not long after those lines were penned, the costly Whitlam years arrived with truly way-out borrowing and spending plans, including secret financial manoeuvres – the Loans Affair – to borrow billions of dollars from unnamed Middle Eastern sources.

Those clandestine attempts led to governor-general, Sir John Kerr, someone with long-time ALP links, sacking that Labor government.

The then Liberals helped expose the secret borrowings.

That’s in stark contrast to the Liberals’ 2008-09 leadership that backed the Rudd carbon tax plan on all energy usage, something designed to pauperise Australia by mothballing large segments of many exporting sectors.

Doesn’t that Liberal decision to back the way-out carbon taxing plan – which the Liberals belatedly and narrowly reversed by toppling their leader, Malcolm Turnbull – more than anything help explain why so many voters continue regarding them as an unappealing alternative?

Clearly more than one joke, no matter how funny, is required to help remove the wanton, wastrel Rudd government.


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