Public Transport in Brisbane…Grrr…

I’m in Brisbane on a short visit at present and I can’t let my experiences on the suburban trains today go unheralded.

The first thing of note was the sign at Central, saying return train fares are no longer sold – fair enough, I thought, but one could always buy a return ticket when I lived here.

Next came the shock – the sheer usury of the ticket prices. I took two trips today – one to Indooroopilly and one to Toowong, both from Central (for the uninitiated, six stops and four stops respectively). The first ultimately cost $9.20 return (after buying a ticket back at the other end); the other $7.80.

And we complain about fares in Melbourne! We have a bargain basement regime weighed against this.

Taking the escalator from the concourse at Central to the platform, I was struck by how grimy, dingy and neglected the whole place looked. OK, so it’s a train station and a public place, but it made Flinders Street, in its notorious state of disrepair, look like a palace by comparison.

Toowong station was even worse, and looked like it hadn’t had a cent spent on its maintenance since I last took a train from there ten years ago.

But back to Central. As the first train went by whilst I waited for my train to Indooroopilly, I noticed a grotesquely crass piece of spin that made anything from our recently-departed Bracks/Brumby government pale by comparison: the carriages were emblazoned “No. 12 of 64 new trains for SEQ,” replete with Queensland Government logo. How nauseating.

Once aboard the newish train that arrived to take me to Indooroopilly, I saw the filth, the ripped velour on the seats, the carpet on the floor of the carriage that was worn through and which had had an appalling attempt at a patch job done on it with ducting tape and what appeared to be Nikko pen to try to match the background colour.

The other three train trips were on equally or more neglected trains; in total all four carriages I travelled on had faulty doors that had been locked and sealed with tape.

And does Queensland Rail pay cleaners? The amount of half-eaten food liberally strewn around the trains, food wrappers, old newspapers and – in one case – what looked like a piece of “utilised” toilet paper, was a disgrace.

Indeed, on the train from Toowong tonight on the way back to my hotel, one fellow passenger noted aloud that the carriage smelt “like spew.” Quite.

Add in the surly attitude I was given by the station staff at Central, the disrepair evident in stations I passed along the way, and even the noxious “Doors closing, please stand clear” recording I’d happily long forgotten ever existed until today, and I can see that travelling by train in Brisbane must incense the unfortunate inhabitants forced to endure it.

I thought the standards on the Melbourne metropolitan train network had fallen far during the eleven years of Labor government in Victoria. The standards would need to fall far further to reach the level of those in Brisbane.

Yes, I took two shortish trips on one of seven suburban train lines: how representative is that? My answer is what is routinely thrown at me by friends who still live in Brisbane and don’t like what they find on visits to Melbourne.

And that is simply that as a visitor in Brisbane, my impressions count, as do those of any visitor. That public interfaces like its trains are opportunities to sell a destination or tarnish perceptions of it. And they are a reflection on those who provide services, in this case the Queensland state government.

Public transport is a modern hot-button issue electorally on so many levels. I left Brisbane at about the time Peter Beattie was becoming Premier of Queensland and would be lucky to have spent a month in total in Queensland in the 13 or 14 years since I headed south.

All I can say is that if the Beattie/Bligh government has applied itself as assiduously and as competently to other aspects of its jurisdiction as it apparently has to Brisbane’s trains, then it is small wonder Queenslanders have been looking for a reason to throw it from office – a reason that the conservatives, for so long until very recently, have been unable or unwilling to provide.

An old mate today asked me what I thought would happen at the looming Queensland state election in light of Anna Bligh’s flood boost and the unorthodox arrangements being undertaken by the LNP.

I said that I thought Campbell Newman would win in a canter in Queensland. The swing in Ashgrove will be nearly double that required to take the seat, and whilst I don’t go along with current polls predicting the ALP being left with as few as 10 of 89 seats, I think a nett loss of some 25 to 30 seats is what the ALP can look forward to in the none-too-distant future.

Based on what I’ve seen today, it’s no wonder the natives are angry. And waiting on their balconies with the baseball bats.

One more word on Malcolm Turnbull

Remembering that I said what I said about Malcolm Turnbull a few days ago, I was baled up yesterday in Collins Street by a (Liberal-voting) acquaintance who had read my post and thought I was way out of line.

Apparently, I was in mortal error, because “everyone” knows Malcolm is right; “everyone” knows climate change is an “irrefutable fact;” and “people like me” will regret it “big time” when the seas rise, the crops die, etc etc etc.

Oh, and the Liberal Party is a broad church, isn’t it? I should welcome his comments.



The latter point first: yes, the Liberal Party is a broad church, but in that context, Turnbull was flying a kite. It isn’t party policy. My position on his comments does not preclude him from holding the views he clearly holds, but as a senior shadow minister he ought to know better and to have kept quiet in the context of the programme on the ABC. Turnbull was flying a kite, and his motives in doing so were perhaps outlined the following day in his “baton in knapsack” speech in Queensland.

But more to the point, the greatest problem with the climate change lobby is that if you have any other position than theirs, and different ideas than the approved ones, you’re an idiot/a mental cripple/a suicidal lunatic/as dumb as dog shit and so forth.

Ice ages and heat ages have been occurring on this planet for millions of years. We have records going all the way back to about 150 years ago. Whooppee!

I stand by my analysis a few days ago of the events surrounding Turnbull.

But I make this point in regard to climate change: for those so deeply ingrained in the “reality” of “irrefutable man-made” climate change, if you disagree at all, even by degrees, you’re not very smart, you’re an idiot, you don’t have any brains, you’re a dickhead.

I’d just wonder what merits their lobby really has, when these are the type of tactics their arguments have to take as a matter of course.

Malcolm Turnbull Rears His Treacherous Head

In the last 24 hours Malcolm Turnbull has made extraordinary comments on Coalition policy and the Liberal Party leadership that must be addressed.

Remembering that Turnbull lost the Liberal leadership in late 2009, partly over the Godwin Grech fake email affair but mostly because of a revolt by his own MPs over the climate change policy he surrendered to Kevin Rudd over, these are unhelpful in the extreme. Yes, I write as a conservative, but for Turnbull to choose this point in time to recommence the airing of his views, and in so doing undermine Coalition policy and by extension the leadership of Tony Abbott, shows appalling political judgement.

Don’t forget, he crossed the floor of Parliament to vote against his Party’s ongoing policy on climate change as a backbencher following his loss of the leadership. Fair enough. He’s had his minute of defiance.

However, this latest outburst, in the context of his role as a senior Coalition shadow minister is, to use a Rudd phrase, a bridge too far.

The first point I would make is that Turnbull is shadow Communications spokesman, not shadow Environment spokesman, and as such he is bound by shadow cabinet decisions on issues relating to Coalition policy.

Further, he is not a member of the parliamentary leadership team, which limits his right to speak freely across a range of portfolios.

I note Turnbull isn’t making statements on immigration policy, or health policy, or industrial relations policy.

No, to make portentous, grandiose and inflammatory statements, always go for the hot button issue — climate change.

And “hot” the button is. Incendiary. Thus far, climate change policy has destroyed the leadership of former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson; it ultimately contributed fulsomely to destroying Kevin Rudd’s Prime Ministership; it will destroy Julia Gillard and the contender to succeed her, Greg Combet; and it contributed to the downfall of the Howard government (but from the “Johnny come lately” perspective there).

Whether you like it or not, whether you believe in climate change or not, one stark truth has emerged from Australian politics in the last three years: people may want to save the environment, and tackle this and that, but at the first sign of it costing a red cent from the back pockets of voters personally, support for the whole thing vanishes.

Like it or not.

Turnbull treated his audience on Lateline last night to some genuine pearls of wisdom. For instance, who would have guessed that “the virtue” of Coalition policy on climate change “from the view of Mr Abbott…is that it can be easily terminated…”

“COALITION CARBON PLAN AN EXPENSIVE CON,” Melbourne’s Herald Sun predictably screeched.

“DIRECT ACTION A SHORT-TERM FIX,” headlined The Australian.


Out came the statement of support from Abbott’s office.

Malcolm Turnbull is no fool; he would have known the explosive headlines that would follow his remarks in contradicting Coalition policy so blatantly.

Not content with this success, however, today he fronted the Queensland Media Club, refusing to rule out a desire to return to the Liberal leadership. “Every member of the House of Representatives has a field marshal’s baton, or the leader’s baton, in their knapsack, so nobody can ever discount that sort of ambition completely,” he informed his audience.

Today, Turnbull’s colleagues were justifiably livid. “It was a disgrace. He’s never been a team player, he never will be a team player,” said one MP. “It’s probably frustrating for him to see Tony (Abbott) going so well. I can’t imagine he would have too much support this morning from his colleagues,” said another.

Well, quite. I guess if you were in Turnbull’s shoes, and saw the voting intention ratings Abbott is generating — enough for the Coalition to reduce Labor to 40-50 seats in the 150-seat lower house, mind — you could understand him thinking, “grab the leadership, win the election, be Prime Minister, roll out the pet projects…”

The problem is that under Turnbull — and I’ll use Newspoll from The Australian although all the polls were very, very similar — the best two-party vote the Coalition could muster was 48% (enough to lose by a fraction less than Howard did in 2007); the worst was just 41%, low enough to wipe the Coalition out for three terms.

On average under Turnbull, the two-party Coalition vote was about 43-44%. To put this in context, Paul Keating was slaughtered in 1996 with a tick over 46% of the two-party vote.

As preferred Prime Minister, Turnbull mustered 26% against Rudd’s 54% in October 2008, and 16% to Rudd’s 66% in July 2009. (Recently, Tony Abbott trailed Julia Gillard on this measure by just 3%).

As strange as it sounds today, and despite already beginning to lose control over the Labor Party in private, had Rudd gone to a double dissolution over climate change in late 2009, Turnbull would have led the Coalition to annihilation. So much for his “principled stand” on climate change. A similar stand on the same issue by Rudd killed the latter off just as it did Turnbull.

For Turnbull to return to the leadership, it would be a game-changer all right: the Gillard government would receive instant capitulation from the opposition on climate change policy, far less rigorous scrutiny of its policies, the benefit of the policy differentiation between government and opposition beginning to blur, and the emergence of a sense within the electorate that perhaps “the devil you know” is worth sticking with. Turnbull has already championed the concept of a sovereign wealth fund being established on the back of mining revenues. Just as the carbon tax would be introduced without opposition, so too would the MRRT.

Malcolm Turnbull is an impressive individual; Rhodes scholar; highly successful merchant banker and lawyer; and, frankly, quite a great guy to have conversations with. I know — once upon a time, in the early 1990s, with Malcolm heading the Australian Republican Movement and myself a precocious young monarchist, our paths crossed several times.

However, just as Turnbull has little electoral appeal, he also has form for undermining his colleagues and party policy.

Shortly after being deposed by Abbott, Turnbull couldn’t resist speaking out on climate change policy. Whilst a backbencher, my view was that he was undermining the new leader and that it had to stop — and whilst I didn’t believe for one minute I would be listened to, and that I would be dismissed outright, I nonetheless sent Turnbull a private letter on Facebook. For now, I do not propose to publish that here, but the upshot was, and I used these words: Malcolm, please, SHUT UP!

It is time for Malcolm to shut up, or go to the cross benches. The third option, a leadership challenge almost guaranteed not to succeed, would not be worth the political damage it would do to the Liberal Party just for him to try to prove the point that Malcolm is right, and that what Malcolm wants, Malcolm should have.

Analyse the polls, Turnbull. Like it or not, Tony Abbott is in tune with the mainstream majority of Australians. Just as Gillard and Labor are not, neither are you.

Alternative Leaders of the ALP

The subject of what is irretrievably wrong with the Labor Party, and Julia Gillard’s government in particular, is going to take a number of posts to deal with.

Tonight I want to talk about who might take her place.

After all, the whisperers are whispering; the problem now is that chastened by the experience of last year’s election, and emasculated by the eventual outcome of the leadership lottery that was the Labor government in NSW, the stomach to replace Gillard is…well, empty.

Julia Gillard has been an abject failure as Prime Minister; this will be the subject of my next post, but as gun-shy as the ALP might be to do something about it there are serious problems with virtually all of the potential replacements — real or unbelievable.

We’ll start with the deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan…this guy wouldn’t inspire mould growth in a crypt, let alone inspire anyone to vote Labor. It isn’t clear that Swan stands for anything other than the carefully-scripted Hawker Britton lines everyone in the ALP spouts these days, and other than those inspired words, he sounds like a carping whinger and more than a little envious of the political skills of Tony Abbott.

Then there are the Union Boys, Bill Shorten and Greg Combet.

Shorten, aside from the fact that he simply isn’t ready yet, has a clear conflict of interest when it comes to party leadership for as long as his mother-in-law, Quentin Bryce, remains Governor-General. Further, apart from his triumph as a union official in seeing trapped Beaconsfield gold miners safely to the surface in 2006, Shorten’s list of undisputed, indisputable and publicly-acclaimed wins is zero. Yet he has vaulting ambition, and rumours emanate periodically from reliable sources that he checks his numbers every once in a while.

Just rumours, mind, but recurrent ones…

Combet is the better candidate, yet the poisonous option: having been given charge of Gillard’s carbon tax policies, Combet will be the fall guy when the entire edifice crashes down around Labor and destroys its government. Yes, it will destroy Gillard too. But Combet will never recover.

Chris Bowen is spoken well of in Labor circles as a leadership candidate. If you’re outside the political class and take no interest in these things, you’re probably asking, “Chris who?” Well, quite. The immigration minister might be well-regarded in his own circles, and that regard may be coloured by the portfolio he holds, but the ordinary voter wouldn’t know him if they fell over him.

I have a lot of time for the Defence minister, Stephen Smith, and I always have; a thoughtful, warm and decent individual, Smith went to Canberra in 1993 with “leadership prospect” written all over him. As Labor politicians go he is one of my favourites, and he did himself no harm in his dealings with the naval sex scandal recently. However, an astute judgement says he will never lead the ALP. The colleagues don’t rate him, the voters barely know him, and he makes no effort to suggest he aspires to more than he has. It’s a pity.

Jenny Macklin would never be a serious contender, Lindsay Tanner is gone, Martin “Marn Ferson” Ferguson — recently touted in some quarters as a viable leader, and regarded in all others as a joke when mentioned in the same breath as the words “party leadership” — happily exudes no interest in the role, and Mark Latham, thankfully, is both long gone and taken seriously by nobody.

There is his old sparring partner, whom he used to call “ol’ knucklehead.” I talk, of course, of Kevin Rudd. I could write a ream on the guy and still not be finished, not least if I talked about his track record in Queensland working under then Premier Wayne Goss.

I will simply say that former Prime Minister Rudd, whilst attempting to build public sympathy for a return to his old job, will never be Prime Minister again. His colleagues detest him so deeply, based on his arrogant and abusive treatment of them when he held the position, that I suspect more than a few would at least contemplate supporting a no-confidence vote in him on the floor of the House of Representatives should he ever hold the office of Prime Minister again.

Oddly, having been such a catastrophe in the role when he held it almost ten years ago, the best existing prospect for the ALP leadership right now is Simon Crean. Remember that wagging finger, the accusatory look, the schoolmaster’s mien? Crean as an elder statesman of the Labor Party is probably what the ALP needs right now, but the world has passed him by.

At least, the Labor world has, with its culture of spin and spivs, backroom boys and backroom dealings, nihilistic values and midnight executions, apparatchiks and insiders, poll obsessions and “advisors” (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Not the party Crean led ten years ago. At least it stood for something meaningful then, even if what it stood for, by and large, was misguided.

All this leads us back to…


…who is dead in the water.

The coup was a failure; technically the ALP lost the election she was meant to romp home in.

Gillard is a failure, as Prime Minister, and the Labor Party have nobody viable, feasible, and/or willing to to turn to.

Deep and deepening trouble..We’ve looked at the history of coups, and now the complete absence of alternative leadership options open to the ALP to replace Gillard.

Next time I’ll talk about Gillard as Prime Minister. I’ll be called a sexist for no other reson than giving an assessment on the professional performance of an elected female, and it won’t be flattering or complimentary for the simple reason that as Prime Minister, she has been dreadful.

Let’s face it: if Gillard were a man, she’d be judged just as harshly as she is being judged now. Indeed, the lady has benefitted unduly from the deference of many, many people wishing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

If she were a man, she would have lost to Abbott last year.

See you all tomorrow…internet connection permitting…

A Historical Perspective On Gillard Labor

Having for the first time been able to log in at home, I thought it worthy to talk about Julia Gillard’s government in the historical context of leadership coups and their consequences.

Previously, I described Gillard’s government as being in deep and deepening trouble. I won’t cover that in one post. However, the problem logging into my blog has had an unintended consequence: it has rendered the recent federal budget irrelevant.

And politically, irrelevant it is. The issues with Gillard’s government are identical after the budget to what they were before. Reinforced, but identical.

Looking through the history of federal government in Australia, what happened in the ALP in 2010 is an anomaly.

Since the two-party system stabilised 100 years ago, a coup attempt against a Prime Minister by a member of the same party has only ever succeeded outright once: in 1991, when Paul Keating beat Bob Hawke.

There were only three other attempts: in 1982, Andrew Peacock’s challenge was defeated by Malcolm Fraser, but the consequent blow to Fraser’s authority was one of many factors that led to his defeat the following year.

In 1969, after a swing of 7% against the government — which survived the election despite losing most of the (then) largest majority in Australian history — Bill McMahon unsuccessfully challenged John Gorton for the Liberal leadership.

Of course, McMahon succeeded on his next attempt (by virtue of Gorton’s dubious casting vote) eighteen months later, which probably put the last nail in the coffin of the ageing Coalition government and helped gift power to Gough Whitlam.

In recounting history, a pattern emerges: the voting public don’t go along with this sort of thing.

In Australia, whilst we don’t vote for a Prime Minister directly, we know what we’re signing on to when we wander into the polling booth and mark the paper. It’s the reason “preferred Prime Minister” polls exist.

People vote for a government and a leader. Whilst the relationship isn’t what, say, the Americans feel for their President, there is still a passive, unspoken consent that the elected Prime Minister is just that.

The concept of tearing down a Prime Minister mid-term, wilfully, with forethought and intent, appears not to sit well with the Australian electorate.

History will judge Billy McMahon on many criteria, but he did himself, and the Liberal Party, no favours in his naked pursuit of his ambition.

Andrew Peacock, by contrast, had reasons rooted, rightly or wrongly, in his view of the conduct of Fraser and saw it as his duty to challenge. He failed, Fraser lost the ensuing election, and Peacock later led the Liberal Party to two election defeats in 1984 and 1990. The latter was the first of two so-called “unloseable” elections.

Keating is a different. Consensus dictates Bob Hawke was finished by mid-1991. In the face of what the commentariat deemed a young and talented liberal leader in John Hewson, he was wrong-footed.

Faced with Hewson’s “Fightback!” package, Hawke was gazumped, and clueless as to how to deal with it.

Enter Keating as PM on the second attempt. He correctly assessed Hewson as a political lightweight and set about dismantling Hewson piece by piece.

It is a matter of history that Hewson imploded under the pressure. A week from the 1993 election, he spent two minutes gibbering, unable to answer an interview question from Mike Willesee about whether a cake would be cheaper under GST.

Keating won in 1993 solely because he was faced by the worst political salesman in at least 30 years to have masqueraded as a Leader of the Opposition (Mark Latham, a decade later, would claim that mantle, but I digress).

The point is, whether by Keating’s guile or Hewson’s incompetence, Keating got away with something nobody had. Of course, not six months later, his treasurer presented the most electorally dishonest budget in Australian history with tax rises, vast public sector borrowings, and contempt for the mainstream in favour of fringe interests, and at that point the 1996 landslide against him was irrevocably sealed.

And Gillard…say what you like about Kevin Rudd (I detest the guy) but he was a first-term Prime Minister who’d won a modestly comfortable victory over arguably the best Prime Minister Australia has had in nearly 50 years.

Then the polls turned sour, the magic disappeared from the numbers, and the hatchet men emerged from the shadows…

Tony Abbott was ridiculed when he coined the term “Sussex Street Death Squads.” Yet to look at the recently-dispatched ALP government in New South Wales (four Labor Premiers in five years), he was right. The same ultimately unsuccessful tactics were transferred to the federal party.

The 2010 election result has much to do with contempt for the type of leadership change, within a governing party, that was ruthlessly executed by Julia Gillard and her minders.

Everyone gets a second term, don’t they? Look at 1931 if you think that. Tony Abbott is unelectable, isn’t he? Look at the polling numbers his predecessor posted for months if you believe that.

Add 1500 votes across three electorates, and Abbott would be Prime Minister today. He achieved a 7% swing on the six-month average poll results of his predecessor. Polls on their own are meaningless, but in a bloc, over time, they are a powerful tool.

Since last year’s election, Gillard’s government has shown itself as incompetent, incapable of communicating anything meaningful, out of touch with mainstream opinion, and guilty of extreme political ineptitude.

The point — long-winded, perhaps — is that mid-term assassins don’t win in Australia.

That possibly the most reviled cabinet-level politician to ever hold office in Australia — Keating — could pull the feat off and win a subsequent election speaks more to his opponent than it does to him or the merits of his coup.

Gillard is a dead person walking; an election would finish her. She knows it, and the independents who prop her up in office know that it wouldn’t just finish her, but it would finish them also.

If the truth be told, she’s already finished.

But there is more to this…and so next time, when I can access my blog at home, we’ll look at some of the other reasons Julia Gillard is in virtually irretrievable trouble.

A Note Of Caution On Pauline Hanson

Reports have resurfaced in the Fairfax press today relating to claims she was “robbed” of a seat in the NSW upper house at the recent election.

Hanson claims to be in receipt of a leaked NSW Electoral Commission email which allegedly substantiates her claim that 1200 first-preference votes cast for her were placed on the pile of blank ballots in a wilful act of sabotage.

She lost the count for the final seat in the upper house by 1306 votes.

Whilst my instinct is to say “whatever” when Hanson’s name is mentioned, I support her right to be heard; to stand for parliament; to avail herself of various rights and protections afforded to her at law (in this case, to challenge to validity of an electoral declaration); indeed, for her to do anything any legally-entitled citizen in this country may choose to do.

Even if she’s a right-wing wacko. Even if she jumps from state to state in her quest for seats in Parliament, and from level to level of government. Even if her views are incendiary, and the simplistic and erroneous logic behind them flawed or non-existent. Even if all she ever does is articulates “problems” with nary a word about “solutions.”

I know Pauline Hanson; she owned a fish shop five blocks from what was then my parents’ house in Ipswich. She was very good at fish and chips, and I believe she should have stuck to it, but that’s another story. I haven’t laid eyes on the woman or spoken a word to her since she entered Parliament in 1996 and I fervently hope that remains the case.

However, she has the same rights as the rest of us as an Australian citizen, irrespective of her empty and idle “threat” to relocate to Britain. Those rights and her entitlement to them must be respected, and this brings me to my point.

Proceedings such as those being undertaken by Ms Hanson in contesting the election result in NSW will inevitably find their way into the press, and rightly so; they are news.

But regarding such matters generally and where Ms Hanson is concerned in particular, perhaps sections of the press ought consider treating her more like a cross-bench backbencher (which she was in Canberra from 1996 to 1998, and potentially could be again in NSW) rather than according her exposure commensurate with a senior government figure or party leader.

It is one thing to report on what she may have to say. It is another matter altogether to provide the political oxygen required, through repeated and excessive allocation of column inches and airtime, to allow Ms Hanson and her odious world view to disproportionately dominate political discussion and debate.

It can feasibly be argued that Hanson’s preference strategies directly contributed to the downfall of the Court Liberal government in WA in 2001; angst over preferences and One Nation played a similar role in the fate of the Borbidge government in Queensland in 1998. Similarly, the near-death experience of the Howard government in 1998, whilst partly attributable to a GST scare campaign, was also the result of many thousands of votes hived from the Coalition primary vote by One Nation which did not return, in full, on preferences. The list goes on, but these examples serve admirably to make the point.

What if people ignored what Hanson had to say? People can make their own judgements. They don’t need sensationalist rubbish from a media endlessly rehashing every last word and conferring a perverse legitimacy upon her ramblings in the process.

There’s an old adage that the worst humiliation is not to be taken seriously. Report the facts about Hanson, and leave it at that. A fire needs oxygen to keep burning, and unless she has anything meaningful or useful to contribute, she shouldn’t be given any.

Does Annual Income of $150,000 Make a Household “Rich?”

Before we get into any detailed analysis of the hard politics of the budget, I thought it might be useful to look at the sideshow argument being kicked around. Is a family earning $150,000 per annum “rich?”

Let’s look at a family with a full-time and a part-time working parent; one child younger than school age; one car; and a dog or a cat.

After income tax and levies, nett annual income is $115,000. This is “The Pot.”

The family I describe, in a mid-tier suburb, spends $20,000 to $30,000 annually on rent or a mortgage. Let’s say $25,000. The Pot becomes $90,000.

They mostly cook at home and eat well. They spend $350 per week on food and items such as detergents, toiletries etc – call this an even $20k, making The Pot $70,000.

The family car (a standard sedan), registered, insured and maintained, and fuelled to the tune of $80 per week, is another $10,000 – The Pot now $60k.

Power, gas and water bills totalling $700 per quarter pull The Pot down to $57,200.

Health insurance, nett of the rebate, at $200 per month reduces The Pot to $54,800.

A nominal $200 per month for out-of-pocket medical expenses, prescription medicines etc brings The Pot to $52,600.

The child is in day care three days per week. After rebates, this costs $50 per day. The Pot is now $44,800.

The pet costs $60 per month to feed and incurs $500 per annum in veterinary bills, reducing The Pot to $43,580.

Fixed and mobile telephony, plus internet access, adds $250 per month to outgoings and reduces The Pot to $40,580.

Clothing, at $300 per month in total, brings The Pot to $36,980.

$10 per day for lunches on workdays adds $80 per week and over a 48-week working year reduces The Pot to $33,140.

A football membership for Dad and a gym membership for Mum cost $1500 per annum and take The Pot to $31,640.

The family eats out fortnightly on a budget of $150. $3900 later, the ever-shrinking Pot becomes $27,740.

Mum and Dad each have $100 per week as “in-pocket” money to cover incidentals (parking, coffees, a bottle of wine, the odd tram ticket), reducing The Pot to $17,340.

In a year, the household spends $5000 on such things as replacing an old washing machine, buying new sheets, or purchasing kitchenware. The Pot is now $12,340.

$2000 is allocated to one two-week holiday each year – The Pot now $10,340.

And if we assume that $100 each week goes to “unforeseens” – a car wash or a domestic maintenance call or a pizza if people got home too late to cook – the grand total left in The Pot is $5,140.

Not even $100 per week left, after reasonable routine living costs are covered.

It’s true that this scenario could yield some savings on a tighter ship, but it’s by no means unrealistic. It is also true many, many people subsist on less than $150,000.

But is a household remunerated at that level “rich?” I haven’t even looked at eventual educational expenses; considered additional children; or allocated for minor luxuries such as a Pay TV subscription. Nor, indeed, for a raft of other things that apply to hundreds of thousands of families in Australia, irrespective of their income.

Wake up, Swan and Gillard. $150,000 per annum does not make a family “rich.” Not in 2011, when inflation overall might be static but the actual basic costs of living are rocketing. Your claims otherwise illustrate how divorced from reality you really are.