Cut Spending To Fix Budget, Not Hike Taxes

I’VE BEEN HORRIFIED this week to read that a so-called “deficit tax” is a key measure to fix the state the ALP left the federal budget in; that urgent and drastic action is needed is beyond question, but introducing “a great big new tax” is no way to take it. The political ramifications of such a measure threaten to be existential, and are an affront to millions of Australians who want government out of their lives rather than cement its centrality to them.

If Australians were genuinely committed to profligate government spending — underpinned by a tax-and-spend mentality — the Rudd government would have been re-elected last September.

The fact it wasn’t derives from many factors, of course, but two of the big reasons the Liberal Party won the election were a) it persuaded a clear majority of voters that the mess the country’s financial affairs were in was genuine, and needed harsh remedial action, and b) because resentment over Labor’s “great big new taxes” — Tony Abbott’s own phrase — cut deep.

The last thing the Liberal Party can afford to do — for so many reasons — is to start slugging all and sundry with hefty new taxes instead of squibbing what should be a straightforward, if brutal, process of spending cuts.

Last week in this column I posed the rhetorical question, in an article: what is government even for? Government in my view has a clearly defined role to play in the administration of various functions of state and to collect and distribute revenue to fund them, but there are some things government simply should not be involved in, and regrettably the fingers of the state have slid further and further into people’s pockets to fund an increasing array of indulgences that are further and further removed from its proper place in everyday life.

Faced with a budget haemorrhaging $50 billion or so per year, and with debt having gone from -15% of GDP in 2007 to 25% now, and set to peak at 46% in a few years’ time if the rot isn’t stopped, it should be obvious that the primary targets ought to be extravagant spending packages designed to buy off various constituencies rather than taxing the living daylights out of all and sundry to retain them.

This column has been supportive of plans to implement a $6 co-payment on GP visits, in part because it fits sensibly within the government’s mantra that it will “spread the pain fairly” in fixing the budget, and because the ballooning public health system requires something to help rein in costs: if such a charge deters people with itchy fingernails and minor sniffles from wasting the time and resources of GP clinics and public hospitals unnecessarily at public expense, so much the better.

But I cannot and I will not support or defend — even in the name of loyalty to the Liberal Party — the plan to jack up income taxes for anyone earning more than $80,000 per annum in the name of a so-called “deficit tax.”

One of the happy consequences of the golden years of the Howard government is that incomes in this country have grown almost exponentially; even in 1996, $80,000 was the sort of salary relatively few employees commanded, and even politicians weren’t paid much more. Today, it’s not much more than the average income.

It’s been reported that anyone earning more than $80,000 will face an increase of one percentage point in tax on every dollar above that level; for those earning more than $180,000, the increase is 2%.

In other words, this won’t just hit a few rich toffs, it will hit will hit hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people.

It might not sound like much of an impost, but the measure will directly and disproportionately target Coalition voters: even in spite of the fragmentation that has occurred in recent decades in the correlation between incomes and political allegiance, those on higher incomes are still far more inclined to support the Liberal Party.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is apparently referring to the planned impost as a “temporary levy” and claiming, as such, that it is not a tax: this kind of argument might fly in selling a tweak to the Medicare levy to cover Ansett entitlements, or even to a $6 co-payment to see a doctor. But it doesn’t cut it when it comes to what is, in brutal clarity, an income tax hike.

This measure directly contravenes the most explicit election promise Abbott made: that there would be “no surprises.” Having campaigned against “great big new taxes” in the carbon tax and the mining tax, he is apparently readying to inflict one of his own.

It is beyond question that savage action is required to haul the federal budget back into shape. People expect that. In fact, there is a compelling argument that to a great extent, Abbott and his colleagues were elected to do precisely that.

But to do so whilst putting a huge additional impost on people’s incomes — whilst nonetheless taking the axe to significant spending that will also affect the same group of people adversely — is akin to committing political seppuku.

Make no mistake, there is much that can — and should — be cut.

“Ending the age of entitlement” is the government’s creed, and to date has attracted it nasty headlines and outraged noise from the Left over everything from lifting the pension age to slicing family tax benefits to reforming the disability support pension. Even so, such measures — whilst painful — are urgently required.

In fixing the budget it is inevitable that a lot of people will be worse off. Tough questions, after all — as Andrew Peacock was once wont to say — demand tough answers.

But from the standpoint of political saleability, the Liberals’ own election campaign was prosecuted in such a way as to ensure that whilst cutting popular spending programs would certainly hurt, there should be no reason doing so would endanger its hold on government provided the budget was properly managed and sold.

That caveat, clearly, does not extend to a rise in income tax when (from a budget savings perspective) there is plenty of low-hanging fruit apparently to be left to flourish on the vine.

Expensive utopian fancies such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme: set to cost $22 billion dollars a year once fully operational, this program — whilst based on a worthy enough idea — is so patently unaffordable it should have been the first thing to be axed.

Labor’s payoff to the teacher unions, the Gonski package — which, in short, throws up a huge pool of additional education funding with no caveats insofar as educational outcomes are concerned — should have been the next. Putting an $8 billion pool of money in front of education unions which will do no more than fund annual pay rises for teachers is foolhardy, and when the same teachers are turning out illiterate kids doesn’t even address the problem it claims to resource schools to resolve.

Certainly, family tax benefits and the like should not be immune; I’m a dad of two little kids and it would hurt my family as much as the next guy’s. But I accept the idea of spreading the sacrifice, and a few dollars less each week seems a reasonable ask.

But not — not — by taking them out of my pay just to fund the kind of extravagances, with price tags running into the tens of billions of dollars, that are set to escape the cull.

I’ve suggested before that the First Home Buyers’ Scheme is past its use-by date: the cost of housing is now so ridiculously inflated that the handout this program offers won’t help a First Home Buyer to buy anything. The historical effects of this very program are partly to blame for this. Yet it still accounts for about $4 billion every year in government outlays. It is time to scrap it.

In fact — from the top of the tree with the NDIS, down through every level of government and encompassing handouts huge, middling and petty (like the one we looked at last year) — there is an awful lot of money gushing like a torrent out of Treasury coffers that shouldn’t be spent at all. The targets for Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey to slash at are plentiful indeed.

Abbott and Hockey are axing, rightly, billions of dollars in allegedly Green spending that the carbon tax was to fund; yet another brown Labor paper bag full of money, this time to buy off the Communist Party Greens. The programs should go: all they are, as a British political figure recently described such measures, is “green bullshit” that forces up the cost of essential services.

But it is one expenditure cut that has been confirmed amid a mountain of others that should have been as high on the list, if not higher, that will be left untouched.

In that context, raising income tax to pay for them is unjustifiable. It is inexcusable. And any conservative government advocating income tax hikes before all available options for spending cuts have been exhausted is, quite frankly, pandering to the wrong constituency.

I hope this dumb measure is abandoned, and quickly.

Because if it isn’t, this will be the issue that costs Abbott government: not after multiple terms in office, but in 2016.

I am amazed that a government led by such an intelligent individual, surrounded by a competent team of ministers and having won office in the backwash of perhaps the most incompetent government in the country’s history, could be so appallingly stupid as to even contemplate the gamble with its very existence the “deficit tax” represents.

The budget shortly due to be delivered by Joe Hockey ought to be the proof of this government’s economic management credentials, and it should — in the ordinary course of events — lead to a trim, tight ship based on lower taxes and lower — properly and efficiently targeted — government spending.

If it includes the “deficit tax,” it could well prove instead to be the government’s suicide note.

It doesn’t matter what you cut: someone, somewhere, is going to be pissed off — and very noisily so. But the Abbott government has a mandate to “eliminate waste and get government spending under control.”

It does not have a mandate for this.

Abbott and Hockey should unilaterally rule out a “deficit tax” once and for all, and get back to cutting out the kind of programs that should never have been legislated in the first place.


Latest “Coup” By Clive Palmer No Bargain Deal

AMID SUGGESTIONS of vote-buying and trying to “purchase” a government — which he not only denies, but says will issue defamation proceedings over — Clive Palmer’s latest bolt-on additions to his Palmer United Party are three disgruntled MPs from the conservative government in the Northern Territory. It represents no triumph, and whilst Palmer may deny allegations of buying votes, his policies are indicative of anything but selflessness.

As ever in politics, there is a fine line at times between reality and spin; Clive Palmer is apparently determined to walk it, however, and woe betide anyone who stands in his way.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman would have the franchise on that singular reality today; apparently awaiting service of a defamation writ from the portly billionaire’s lawyers, Newman — who has sparred with Palmer ever since the latter stormed out of Queensland’s LNP 18 months ago — committed what appears to have been the fatal error of suggesting Palmer had “tried to buy a government” (Newman’s) and that he subsequently “went on a rampage around Australia, trying to buy other people and buy other people’s votes.”

Palmer, for his part, pledged no mercy in the legal proceedings he plans to unleash upon Newman: “There’ll be no settlement, no negotiations, the matter will go to trial,” he said.

All of this has come to a head after three MPs from the CLP administration in the NT — apparently disillusioned with the regime of Chief Minister Adam Giles — joined Palmer’s eponymous party, with Palmer crowing that he was on the verge of controlling the balance of power in NT politics.

Is this starting to sound familiar just yet?

The interesting thing about Palmer’s decision to sue Newman over his “vote-buying” comments is that similar sentiments have been expressed, directly, by virtually every media outlet, commentator and political observer in Australia: none of whom have elicited similar retributive action from the eccentric mining figure and federal MP.

In fact, whilst the precise figures are subject to conjecture, it is estimated that Palmer outspent the major parties in the recent Western Australian Senate election rerun by as much as ten to one, with campaign expenditure in other electoral battles PUP has contested to date similarly disproportionate to what might be expected of a minor party built on protest and disaffection.

But Palmer can’t expect to be received with open arms by those sections of the press and the wider community in which some thought is applied to his actions; after all, about the kindest thing one could say about his party’s “platform” is that it believes in inflicting as much damage on the major conservative parties as it possibly can, and only a fool could fail to spot its implicit get-square objectives.

Palmer campaigned in WA on a mix of oddball populism and a promise to repeal the carbon tax and the mining tax. But away from the ballot box, Palmer’s support for the repeal of either measure is linked to an ever-increasing list of caveats that can only be designed to cause angst for Prime Minister Tony Abbott, for whom Palmer makes no secret of his contempt.

Shortly after the 2013 election, he tried to make the passage of any government legislation conditional on being allocated parliamentary staff and other resources he wasn’t legally entitled to with the number of MPs his party won, although we haven’t heard anything about that for some time.

And it remains the case that he did stomp out of the LNP in suspiciously close proximity to having failed to get something he wanted from Newman’s government, namely the routing of a rail freight corridor close to some of his mining interests.

Even so, when he isn’t threatening the direst of obstructive consequences for Abbott’s government, he openly supports the abolition of the carbon tax — so much so that he wants it made retrospective, which is a matter of public record, and the only logical reason for this is to win refunds for monies paid by his own businesses.

He wants the mining tax repealed, too, for rather obvious reasons.

He is refusing to support the passage of Abbott’s Direct Action climate package through the Senate, which is curious in light of his position on the carbon tax, and whilst I have opined that he might be doing Abbott an inadvertent favour by taking such a stand, it invites the conclusion that he would prefer no operative policy on climate change at all.

In the name-calling and insulting behaviour he now complains Newman has “attacked his integrity” by engaging in, Palmer has shown himself to be no slouch, labelling the Queensland government “a bunch of crooks” and accusing the state’s impressive Treasurer, Tim Nicholls, of “cooking the books” in quantifying the reprehensible level of debt bequeathed to the LNP by the Labor Party.

And for a man apparently affronted by the suggestion he seeks to control governments, his publicly stated political objectives tell a different story.

Putting aside the usual Palmer bluster that at every election PUP contests it will win outright in a landslide, Palmer seeks the balance of power — explicitly — every time.

PUP was going to win the balance of power in Tasmania, he said. It’s going to win the balance of power in Victoria, he claims. Thanks to the defections of three disloyal footsoldiers in the NT it almost controls the balance of power there, he’s stated. And he has made much of his own reality that with three Senators and a fourth who has agreed to toe the Palmer line that he “effectively” holds the balance of power in the Senate.

It should alarm anyone interested in sound governance that a political party set up by one of the richest individuals in the country has as its principle objective a minority crossbench role seeking to disrupt the balance of power.

In turn, there are two and two only useful purposes for holding the balance of power in realisation of such a deliberate and considered objective: to obstruct, punish and otherwise inflict misery on (conservative) governments from whose ranks Palmer stomped out in high dudgeon and/or to extract precisely the policy decisions that suit his own purposes.

I don’t want to comment on any legal action Palmer might actually proceed with against Newman, but when expressed in such terms it does sound suspiciously like Clive wants to pull the strings for his own ends.

Despite the bluster, there is no “revolution” and no landslide of public support for Palmer and his oxymoronic party.

At every turn, Palmer’s only real “appeal” is to foment discord and benefit from apathy and disaffection with the political process: there is nothing constructive, no vision, and what policies do find their way into public view either smack of self-interest or (literally) don’t add up.

All told, the Palmer United Party holds nine seats in Parliaments across the country; of these, five — more than half — are no-hoper turncoats from conservative parties who didn’t amount to much in the big scheme of things beforehand, and certainly won’t under Palmer’s tutelage.

Palmer’s own seat — the only lower house electorate it has won anywhere to date, and thus the only place it has ever managed to put together 50% of substantially other people’s votes — was won with a miserable primary vote of 26%, which is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Two of his three Senators — Glenn Lazarus in Queensland and Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania — took seats that would otherwise have been won by the Coalition, which tends to flesh out my point about inflicting damage and exacting revenge on the Coalition.

Lambie is impressive, and gave a good account of herself some weeks ago on the ABC’s QandA programme — and the independent train of thought she exhibited probably points to a parting of the ways with Palmer at some stage. It is not known what political expertise or policy vision, apart from admiration of Palmer, Lazarus brings to the Senate.

And whilst Palmer polled 13% of the vote in the Senate rerun in WA, anyone with political insight knows that election was a by-election in all but name; Palmer would probably have won a Senate seat in WA anyway. But the 6% it recorded at the federal election last year is a more accurate indicator of PUP’s true support in WA, and Palmer would believe otherwise to his detriment.

As for the rest: enticing two plodders out of Queensland’s LNP hardly amounts to lighting a political bushfire that will burn across the country; in fact, Carl Judge and Alex Douglas are unlikely to survive the looming state election in Queensland irrespective of whose party they wave the flag for. Judge will lose his seat to the ALP and Douglas’ will be regained by the LNP. It will be a small pointer to the vote-pulling “power” of the Palmer name.

The other three in the NT — over whom yesterday’s brouhaha erupted — appear to believe that the Palmer United Party understands and possesses great expertise in Aboriginal matters, and will favour Aboriginal rural communities if elected to office in the NT at the next election.

It’s a fine assertion, but little material exists in the public domain to bear this out.

Whilst I will comment no more on how they came to join the PUP or what Palmer may or may not have said to them in the course of that process, I simply point out one of them — Aboriginal activist Alison Anderson — is now onto her third political party in five years, and if that doesn’t sum up the credibility or otherwise of the Palmer political outfit, I don’t know what does.

And it puts Palmer close — but again, not quite close enough — to controlling the balance of power in yet another House of Parliament, albeit without a single vote being cast by any member of the voting public.

For the Northern Territory, and for Australia, Palmer’s latest “triumph” is anything but.


Budget Porkies Not The Exclusive Realm Of Politicians

A TIMELY HARBINGER of the looming federal budget — and the mountain of vacuous bullshit set to be written about it — can be found in the pages of today’s issue of the Sydney Morning Herald; a non-existent injustice about to be “inflicted” on residents in poorer suburbs is a telling reminder of the fact that when it comes to politics, politicians are not the only practitioners, and it seems the Fairfax press is readying to fight the ALP’s battles for it.

For sheer vacuity — mixed in with more than a little subtle political partisanship — this surely takes the biscuit.

I have been flicking around the news sites (it’s 3.30am in Melbourne) waiting for my baby son to GO TO SLEEP and stumbled onto this little gem in the august pages of the Sydney Morning Herald: a salutary reminder indeed that not everything you see in the paper is true, and to the extent it is, things often aren’t as they seem.

I wanted to post on this because there is going to be an awful lot more of this kind of rubbish in the next few weeks; one of the things that annoys me most about the Left is that its politics are based — to a considerable and disturbing extent — on wilfully deceiving target voters, sometimes to the point of lying to them outright, in what it believes to be the certain knowledge that quite a few of them are stupid enough and gullible enough to swallow anything they are told.

Especially when there’s a sliver of outrage and a “smash the rich” angle on which to serve it.

It now seems certain that the May budget set to be delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey will contain a $6 co-payment for bulk billed visits to a GP; we know this will be limited to 12 visits per year but not whether that limit applies per person or per household, and other specifics — such as the treatment of visits at hospital emergency departments — remain unclear.

Even so, the broad thrust of the policy seems straightforward and readers know I approve of this measure wholeheartedly, both as a measure to help redress the shocking state the Rudd-Gillard government left the country’s finances in, and as a disincentive for people to go to a doctor for minor complaints such as common colds and broken toenails.

And certainly, only a simpleton could fail to spot the errors in an argument predicated on simple variations in population distribution, but presented as an absolute snapshot.

The very clear implication — based on the article I have linked to here — is that it’s an outrage: a monumental injustice is set to be inflicted on the good burghers of Western Sydney in Hockey’s budget; a North Shore silvertail cracking his whip on behalf of the rest of the Northern Beaches gentry to inflict a terrible and regressive hit on poor people that the rich hobnobs in the North will be spared.

The Fairfax article claims that bulk billing rates in “the ten wealthiest electorates” in Sydney sit at 74.8%, with the equivalent figure in “the ten poorest electorates” sitting at 96.05%; the range it presents runs from 61.3% in Warringah (Tony Abbott’s seat) to a bulk billing rate of 89.9% of GP visits in Ed Husic’s ALP-held Western Sydney seat of Chifley.

Shouldn’t this be a triumph of wealth redistribution, a manifestation of the disproportionate benefit of government services to areas of lower socio-economic standing, or even a vindication of Medicare itself?

Not so, it seems; with an unmistakable flavour of outrage, the Fairfax article labours the point that when the co-payment comes into effect, residents of Western Sydney will shell out some $30 million more than their better-heeled counterparts on the North Shore. Those mongrel Liberals! Hang, draw and quarter the Prime Minister, and burn the Treasurer at the stake. The bastards!

The reality, of course, is nowhere near as dramatic, and nothing to get outraged about at all (unless you’re one of those Lefties who like to split the atoms of a hair in your hunt for Tories, in which case God help you — because you need it).

With bulk billing rates some 22% higher in Western Sydney than on the North Shore — and remembering federal electorates all contain roughly the same number of people — it stands to reason that statistically more co-payments will be collected in the West. There’s the extra $30 million the Herald is bleating about, accounted for at a stroke.

What this intellectually contemptible and flagrantly misleading piece of handiwork from the Fairfax press fails to mention is that the number of patients on the North Shore who are private patients — that is, they pay an account for about $80 the day they see their GP and get the standard $34 or so back from Medicare — dwarfs those in the West, who are so few in number on Fairfax’s own numbers as to be statistically insignificant.

In other words, the out-of-pocket cost for a visit to a doctor for more than a quarter of the people living in the North is about $46, and not the $6 that will apply to almost everybody living in the Western Sydney area.

According to Fairfax, “health groups” have warned a co-payment will hit “the poor and sick” hardest, which is patent nonsense: the price will be the same for everyone.

And a hell of a lot more people in “rich” areas will pay a hell of a lot more than $6 per visit, and that higher fee won’t stop after 12 visits per year, either.

I just wanted to highlight the fact that supposedly responsible and impartial reporting — which Fairfax prides itself on, or at least claims to — is likely to be used extensively heading into budget season, and whilst this is one of the earlier examples of how that might be abused, it certainly won’t be the last.

In some respects, the smartest thing to do would be to bypass the ABC and the Fairfax press altogether for a few weeks if you wanted an accurate account of what is in the budget and how it might affect you; based on this nugget it’s obvious that regard for the truth isn’t all the Fairfax charter makes it out to be.

Very simply, I have no reason to doubt the projection that the co-payment will raise more money out of the poor suburbs; there are for more people who enjoy bulk billing than in wealthier areas, where the real cost of a GP visit can be eight times higher. But if Fairfax wants to sensationalise the $30 million differential in raw dollars, it has a responsibility to present the other half of the information as well, which completes a picture that less well-to-do areas are getting a lot more of the health budget poured into their medical services than more affluent areas.

Fairfax’s failure to do so is misleading, deceptive and fundamentally dishonest. Just like the Labor Party its handiwork is designed to benefit.

The other point this article ignores is the obvious fact that not everyone who lives in Manly is a millionaire; not everyone who lives in Mosman is rolling in clover. But bollocks to that: facts get in the way of a good “bash the Liberals” idea like this one, designed to look innocuous, but preying on the assumed stupidity of the reader to make its point. Nice.

There is no injustice being committed here. The poor aren’t subsidising the rich. And whilst others might disagree on whether a co-payment should be introduced at all, the poor aren’t getting ripped off here, either.

And if Fairfax wants to use its publications as vehicles for blatantly dishonest ALP propaganda, maybe they should carry the authorisations required of other partisan election material.

After all, the Sydney Morning Herald was found — by its own privately commissioned survey, no less — to be the leading source of unfavourable press coverage of Tony Abbott and the Coalition during last year’s election campaign.

It seems the federal budget is shaping as just another pretext on which to continue that effort.

Ditch The US: Fraser’s Latest Geriatric Pronouncement

MALCOLM FRASER has emerged yet again from his dotage to make the ridiculous claim Australia should end its military alliance with the United States; the comments show his perspective on world events has slid dangerously toward a far Left view of the world, if further proof of such a movement were required. Alternatively, the former PM has shot his bolt completely. Either way, his remarks are dangerous, ill-considered, and simply wrong.

It’s difficult to know where to begin to comment on Malcolm Fraser’s latest geriatric musings on matters that have clearly slipped from his grasp, but we’ll try: and it ought to be noted that these wild, destructive edicts, dovetailing neatly as they do with the anti-American obsessions of the hard Left, rarely appear outside the pages of the Fairfax press.

Fraser is the subject of an article by Mark Kenny in today’s issue of The Age that betrays an appalling and flagrant disregard for the explosive new realities of the global geopolitical order, and Australia would adopt his octogenarian edicts at its peril.

Fraser’s thesis — that the “(surrender of the) nation’s strategic independence” to Washington risks Australia being “pulled into a disastrous war against China” simply doesn’t stack up; in fact, given China’s increasingly bellicose penchant for confrontation and military mischief in south-east Asia, Australia’s alliance with the US is the best safeguard this country has against being subjected to the same aggressive threats being experienced by others in the region.

I have written in this column previously that the day would come when Australia will be forced to choose between the USA and China; some readers understand the basic premise behind such a consideration, whilst most have ridiculed the idea. Yet I stand by the assertion.

China — increasingly — is throwing its weight around the region, threatening the security of its immediate neighbours, with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines (among others) facing ambit territorial claims from China that are increasingly being backed by military posturing and almost brazenly overt threats of force to pursue them.

Its effort to set up an aviation exclusion zone around the Senkaku Islands has been ignored by most of the international community, and it is true that China has declined to attempt to enforce it. Yet the fact such a move was taken at all is a pointer to the belligerent new stand it appears determined to employ in matters it perceives critical to its interests within the region.

China determinedly and persistently refuses to bring its errant ally, North Korea, to heel: perhaps the only country in the world with any leverage over the errant Communist regime, China has been content to allow the murderous junta in charge of North Korea to push the region to the brink of armed conflict as a proxy, and any doubts around this will be dispelled (again) if the rumoured fourth nuclear test being prepared by Pyongyang goes ahead next month and elicits no more than a few stern words from Beijing in response.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in eastern Europe, as Russia — perhaps in contrast to the Chinese — acts out its long-articulated ambitions of territorial expansion in its bid to recreate in effect the USSR and with it, Russia’s “rightful place” as a global superpower.

That endeavour carries with it the very real prospect of igniting a conflict that could easily escalate into a third world war, with well over a hundred thousand Russian troops apparently poised to invade Ukraine to complete the first phase of this enlargement of Russia’s borders. Sanctions imposed by the West appear to have had no impact in discouraging Russia, and its President’s suggestion that further action against it could result in gas supplies to western Europe being shut off is no idle threat.

It’s true that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry — a figure savaged in this column repeatedly as being totally unsuitable to do America’s bidding on the world stage — is making things worse with his aggressive rhetoric about consequences Russia will face in retaliation for any invasion of Ukraine that are just as unlikely to achieve anything meaningful if implemented.

But Obama and Kerry are tilling the soil for their Republican adversaries, and some kind of change in America is only a couple of years away. China and Russia, by contrast, are totalitarian dictatorships operating on long-term settings that have not changed in decades, and are unlikely to.

It is well known, and generally accepted, that China and Russia have agreed on co-operation should either face military conflict on anything approaching an existential scale: and in the context of the present international environment, this “bottom line” consideration must be central to any assessment of the validity of Fraser’s remarks.

From the perspective of Australian politics, it is necessary to handle China very carefully. It clearly resents our alliance and trade links with Japan and South Korea, and has suggested it expects to be favoured above Washington in the longer term to give any “meaning” to the relationship it seeks with us.

Already, there is evidence enough that China sees value in Australia as a food source and as a providore of raw natural resources, and the trade value of these links is considerable. Yet through its state-run enterprises it is clear that trade in these areas is not enough for Beijing: it seeks to acquire ownership of vast tracts of agricultural land, the rights to mine an increasing amount of the minerals it presently buys, and the means with which to process them. The eventual result of this will be to decimate the value to Australia of any return it might make from what should be its competitive advantage with China.

How does Fraser reconcile these realities with his suggestion we have ceded sovereign control of the country to the Americans?

It remains a fact that had the US not come to Australia’s aid in World War II, this country would in all likelihood have been overrun by the Japanese; this is a historical debt that endures, not something to be dismissed on a whim.

Fraser accuses former US President Lyndon Johnson of “lying” to America’s allies over the Vietnam War, claiming he misrepresented CIA assessments of the North Vietnamese in order to enlist the involvement of allies in the conflict. Yet this is disingenuous, and if true reflects more on Fraser’s poor judgement as Army minister and Defence minister in the governments of Harold Holt and John Gorton in the 1960s than it does on Johnson. Fraser was “all the way with LBJ” as much as any central figure in the governance of Australia at the time, and to suggest otherwise now is a vapid attempt indeed to airbrush the culpability he apparently claims now from view.

And Fraser’s criticisms of US-led conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq do not pass muster either: there are clear benefits to all free nations in eliminating the scourge of global terrorism, a cause which found succour and nourishment under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which, if left unchecked, posed the real threat of making the 9/11 attack simply the opening salvo in a global war against western interests.

As for Fraser’s remarks on Iraq? It’s one of those ironies that those who profess outrage about the second Iraq War point to the UN as the bedrock of their outrage, but this ignores the fact Iraq had systematically and consistently ignored its obligations under a number of UN resolutions to disarm; it was Russia and China, now central to the new global instability that threatens to pull the USA into another conflict, who refused to support action at the UN to enforce Iraqi compliance. America may have taken action against Saddam Hussein, but it was the inaction of Russia and China that sought to allow the Iraqi dictator to continue to perpetuate his murderous outrages unchecked.

Should NATO be pulled into any conflict in eastern Europe in the short to medium term, it’s a very reasonable expectation that at some point China will join the conflict on Russia’s side, particularly if the conflagration lasts for any period of time; and if that happens, the charade of benevolent neutrality Fraser seems to seek to perpetuate will be shown up as the nonsense it is in the most ominous way possible.

There will be no useful purpose to be served by the UN, that debating society used by the global Left to assert Sino-Russian primacy in such matters; in any case, Russia and potentially China would be irretrievably compromised.

Under such circumstances, the luxury of picking and choosing friends — or taking the Fraser option of running off and hiding in the toilet whilst others get their hands dirty — will cease to exist, and in the context of a protracted period of international conflict, China will have little interest in safeguarding Australia’s security.

In fact — as a partner of the US and its NATO allies in every conceivable respect — it would become a matter for contempt.

In practice, the best way to get involved in a war against China is to do exactly what Fraser suggests; stripped of the only real security guarantee Australia has enjoyed for the past 75 years, there would be nothing to prevent the conquest of our strategically and economically pivotal little piece of the planet, and with our inconsequential national defences decoupled from the US military machine, nothing to fight back with.

Perhaps Fraser should focus on being a doting grandfather and polishing his racing cars. After all, when it comes to matters of real weight, whether through philosophical sellout or senility, it’s obvious that his is a very dangerous voice indeed to pay any attention to.



Palmer Palaver: Clive Might Do Tony A Favour On Direct Action

THE OPEN THREAT by eccentric mining billionaire and federal MP Clive Palmer to act to block the Abbott government’s Direct Action policy on climate change — up to and including forcing a double dissolution election over the issue — can hardly be ignored. The fraught subject of “carbon politics” is one on which Australia is a fool to seek to lead the world, not a hero, and in blocking Direct Action, Palmer may be doing Abbott a favour.

The decade-long political shitfight over “climate change” — whether it exists, whether it is natural or man-made, and what (if anything) can or should be done to stop it — has wreaked a trail of political destruction in this country that to date has claimed two Liberal leaders, two Labor Prime Ministers, and ruined a swathe of careers and professional reputations in academia, business, the media and the public service.

This poisonous issue has seen anyone not marching completely in lockstep with those amalgamated in the unanimity of prosecuting the climate change case branded as “deniers” and other insulting terms to suggest they are frauds and charlatans, with disgustingly reminiscent echoes of the language of the Holocaust used to harden the assault; a more recent development has seen the climate change lobby attempt to reclaim control of the debate by suggesting the “deniers” had shanghaied the issue to such an extent that they — purveyors of “the science” — now face the risk of being “burnt at the stake” and similarly quasi-emotive gobbledygook.

That “science” — robustly proclaimed as “settled” by its proponents — looks at least a little shaky, with average global temperatures having failed to rise now for some 15 years, and with some of the wild predictions designed by warriors of the heavily Left-leaning climate change industry (such as Al Gore’s prediction that the polar ice caps will have melted by next year) shown up for the blatant fearmongering and blunt battering instruments they always were.

Of course, to utter a syllable questioning “the science” is to elicit howls of moral outrage from the climate industry and the political Left that make responses to historical moral outrages experienced by Australia and the world look mild; indeed, a couple of weeks ago — in one of the ABC’s routinely offensive QandA expositions of Leftist social thought — there were open suggestions that anyone who did so should be denied airtime on TV or space in print.

Such people were a menace to society and to themselves, the outrage peddlers puffed: some of them, unsurprisingly, senior Fairfax and ABC  journalists. It is ironic the episode considered questions of freedom of speech, with the exquisite oxymoron that the very people chiding those who disagreed with them and suggesting they should be denied the opportunity to air their views were those claiming to be the strongest defenders of the right to speak. With the qualification that nothing they disagreed with themselves was ever said, of course.

I don’t propose to get into a long diatribe on the rights and wrongs of climate change science; that has been more than adequately covered in other forums, and this column — and contributing commenters — has conducted a robust debate on this, intermittently, over the past few years.

What is clear, however, is that whether you are (and excuse me using these ridiculous labels — I do so merely for simplicity) a “believer” or a “denier,” the vast majority of the Australian electorate is in no way supportive of a carbon tax, and it is here I want to make what will be — having laid the background to them out — a fairly straightforward series of remarks.

It is beyond dispute that last year’s federal election provided the Coalition with the clearest possible mandate to rescind the carbon tax inflicted on this country by the ALP and its puppet masters at the Communist Party Greens. After all, Tony Abbott spent at least two years campaigning on very little else.

I have long held, and have said here repeatedly, that the carbon tax is not a market mechanism aimed at reducing carbon emissions, but rather a taxation mechanism: the figures from the first year of the tax’s operation, during which emissions fell by less than a percentage point, bear this out.

I have also said (as have many, many others from politics, the media, academia and business) that Australia (to put it bluntly and succinctly) is barking mad to saddle itself with such ridiculous, economy-destroying measures when the real global polluters sit on their hands, idle, and do nothing.

Whenever you point this out to the “believers,” the standard riposte is that the US, China, Japan et al are “talking about” introducing economy-wide measures to cut global emissions. “Talk” and “action” are mutually exclusive concepts in this context, and whilst the comeback from the “believers” might be correct in its most literal sense, it is — at the very least — disingenuous, and intellectually dishonest in the extreme.

And those who point to the emissions trading scheme in Europe would do well to note that it applies to mostly basket case economies that have been raped and pillaged by European socialism, and the state of those countries is argument enough to leave well alone when it comes to the question of whether their policy settings should be emulated.

One point I would make is that no matter the merits or otherwise of the science relied on by “believers,” climate change has become a political issue in its application, not an environmental one. The proof lies in the fact that the Left’s prosecution of it is identical to the methods and tactics it applies to other pet causes, gay marriage being the other one currently occupying its focus.

And I should simply point out that on climate change at least, those methods and tactics now pose the risk to the “believers” that they will lose the fight altogether: fair-minded and reasonable people are not convinced of anything by defaming, abusing or seeking to vilify them; nor are they likely to be swayed by being compared unflatteringly to the wholesale slaughter of millions of Jews by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s.

Here in Australia, there is now indisputable evidence (hard, rock-solid evidence in the form of votes cast at general elections) that whatever Australians think of climate change and its science, they refuse to support the prescriptive measures of the Left in dealing with it.

Certainly, a Labor government found the political will to legislate the carbon tax when instructed to, bent over and with its trousers lowered, by a Greens party happy to threaten to withdraw the existential lifeblood of critical preference flows to ALP candidates if it refused to do so. But this type of “will” is the worst kind: it isn’t courageous, it isn’t daring, and its self-interested vagaries do not equate to the provision of leadership.

Now, Clive Palmer has described Abbott’s alternative to the carbon tax (and the emissions trading regime supposed to follow it) as “hopeless;” he says it is “gone” — which, in Palmer-speak, means he will direct his Senators to refuse to pass the measure through the Senate.

Not to be outdone, there are reports that Abbott and his Environment minister Greg Hunt are readying to call Palmer’s bluff by embedding the enabling legislation for Direct Action in the appropriation bills for the Budget: effectively daring Palmer to block the budget, potentially setting up a double dissolution over the issue toward the end of the year.

Direct Action, primarily, is concerned with achieving “the same reductions in emissions as a carbon tax, without the carbon tax” at a cost of $3.2 billion over four years, with the payment of incentives to polluting industries to quite literally clean up their act.

Whether it would work or not, the politics of climate change are now so toxic as to render even that consideration moot, in my view: even if it proved effective, the next fight will be over whether the same result could be achieved more efficiently and at less cost to the federal budget by a reimposition of the carbon tax, and then away we go again.

I think Abbott would do well to concentrate on fighting the fights worth fighting; there is nothing in climate change or emissions trading for the government to gain from, and this may be a time when unforeseen circumstance — the intervention of Palmer — opens the door to quietly dropping a silly policy that wouldn’t have otherwise opened.

The easiest thing for Abbott and Hunt to do — knowing they will please relatively few people by legislating their package, and that the glowy-eyed warriors of the Left will continue to hunt* them over the issue no matter what they do — is to announce that the composition of the Senate makes it impossible to introduce the Direct Action package, and for that reason the promise to do so will not be kept because, in the most literal sense, it can’t be.

Any such announcement, of course, ought to be contingent on some sort of binding and non-negotiable undertaking by Palmer to repeal the carbon tax, and one without his self-interested demands of retrospectivity attached to it: meeting such ambit claims will sit even more uneasily with the electorate than retaining the tax would.

Abbott could then redirect some of the money to what used to be simply called an “environmental package” — something on the lines of the Howard government’s Natural Heritage Trust, with some of the aspects of Direct Action factored in to provide incentives for polluters to reform — with the rest of the money, say $1 billion of it, going straight to the budget bottom line to help close the deficit gap Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey urgently need to address in the coming budget.

A promise to revisit some form of emissions trading at a time the US and China do so — perhaps with the objective of everybody acting simultaneously — could then shut the door on the destructive daily  politics of climate change in Australia, and the government could move on to other issues.

The “believers,” whether their cherished science is right or wrong, must confront the reality that their desired political action is so politically explosive in Australia that further pursuit of it is impossible without the large emitting countries on board; and rather than forcibly advocate a regime that will destroy huge chunks of Australian industry while the world sits back and laughs at us, their efforts should perhaps be redirected across the Pacific and the South China Sea.

They won’t do that, of course: Uncle Sam would laugh at them. In China, their views would — very simply — be unwelcome, to say the least.

They could, however, retain the pious and smug sanctimony of “knowing” they are right — something they will do irrespective of the fate of the carbon tax or anything that might follow.

Palmer — for once — may be doing Abbott a favour by refusing to vote Direct Action through the Senate, even if his actions in doing so are unintentional.

It may be that Abbott and Hunt rethink their approach, and quietly let Direct Action be euthanased. It would save an awful lot of grief for next to no result: after all, even the carbon tax — that preferred vessel of the Left — has already been shown to be as good as useless.



*with no pun intended.

$6 Medicare Co-payment: Abolishing The NDIS Should Follow

APPARENT CONFIRMATION that the Abbott government will impose a co-payment on bulk-billed GP consultations, with some limits and exceptions, in the imminent federal budget is sensible policy that may address the issue of ambit and unnecessary over-use of doctors’ services. It must be remembered, however, that this is budget policy, not health policy: the “real meat,” on that score, is a decision the government should take, but won’t.

As the widely touted “horror” federal budget draws ever nearer, its shape is slowly morphing into public view; today it has been all but confirmed that the proposal first floated in December to introduce a co-payment of $6 on bulk-billed visits to GPs — capped at 12 visits per patient per annum, with health care card holders and pensioners exempted altogether — will be implemented, and this column adds its robust endorsement.

I acknowledge that the co-payment will not be universally popular; certainly, an article in The Australian today notes that feedback from various organisations and stakeholder groups set to be affected by the change has been mixed. But as I noted here yesterday, opinion polling at the time the charge was initially floated did not show the issue as an overall negative for the Coalition support, and in stark contrast to the attempt made by Bob Hawke to introduce a similar impost in 1991 it may be that — broadly — consumers have come to accept that the healthcare system is staggering under cost pressures that threaten to become unsustainable.

As ever, there is some detail to be fleshed out. Will the charge apply to those visiting hospital emergency departments and if not, what strategies does the government have to deal with the potential torrent of fee evaders set to descend on already over-stressed public hospitals? Will the co-payment be applicable to the after hours home doctor services that are rapidly growing in popularity — especially with families with small children — that presently bulk-bill, in part to help discourage people from sitting at a public hospital all night with sick, contagious kids?

As I pointed out when this proposal was first mooted, the co-payment being considered by the federal government does not represent a change in health policy, and is not the thin edge of the wedge in some dastardly shift either toward dismantling Medicare or (God forbid) in the direction of the dreaded two-tier US-style healthcare system the noisemakers of the Left constantly rattle on about.

Rather, this is a shift in budget policy, made necessary by virtue of the shambolic state of disrepair the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government left the place in — mortgaged to the eyeballs, to be clear about it — as one of a swathe of measures likely to feature in the budget to shift it back onto a solid, sustainable footing and repair the damage inflicted on the national balance sheet by the ALP.

At $6 per GP visit — and taking into account the clear exemptions and caps for people of limited means, combined with the Medicare figures quoted in The Australian showing an average of 5.6 visits per person per year to a doctor — this initiative fits the mantra of Treasurer Joe Hockey that “everyone will be asked to pitch in” in a way that spreads the burden evenly, and hardly represents a significant impost for most consumers to be expected to pay.

I reiterate the point that this is not a change in health policy: it is a necessary measure to help tackle the $40 billion annual deficit and $350 billion foreign debt levels that the last Labor government left behind; neither of these less than impressive statistics even existed when the ALP was elected in 2007 — the Howard government having cleaned up the last mess Labor left in its wake 12 years earlier — and the fact they need to be dealt with at all continues a solid Labor tradition of economic vandalism and a scorched Earth approach to taxpayer money that has endured since the Whitlam era.

All that said, however, the co-payment is only slated to raise $750 million over four years: other savings have to be found in the government’s quest to repair the country’s finances, and there is no better or deserving candidate for execution (with the possible exception of the Gonski funding package) than Julia Gillard’s so-called National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It is difficult to see how a scheme of this nature — estimated to cost $22 billion per annum in today’s dollars by the time it is fully operational in 2019, with an acknowledgement in government circles that even this obscene number might be undercooked — can possibly deliver value for money, or even satisfy considerations of reasonable and fair value on any criteria of appropriate expenditure of public funds.

Generosity and largesse are not the same thing; compassion and reckless stupidity are not synonymous, either.

Yet the NDIS is set to throw tens of billions of dollars every year at a pool of recipients and beneficiaries that even the most optimistic estimate I have seen suggests number about 130,000 people; it boils down to about $170,000 per year, per beneficiary.

It is a national outrage, not a source of national pride, and when it is considered that a fair portion of that $170,000 will be eaten up by putting more pen pushers in jobs — probably more than 50% of it — it’s actually a national disgrace, and a damning indictment on whoever thought this particular piece of social engineering would be an appropriate whim to indulge.

I wrote about the NDIS last year — readers can revisit that article here — and I should just point out, for clarity, that the $8 billion annual cost I talked about in that article refers to the cost of the so-called trial years between now and 2019 when the blasted thing is fully “operational:” at the time, nobody wanted to put their neck on the line and state the full cost of annual operation of the scheme, and at $22 billion (and possibly more) it is little wonder why.

The NDIS, as I have repeatedly stated and do so again, is certainly a fine idea motivated by noble sentiment and is aimed at a need in society that exists: I think only the most callous cynic would suggest otherwise.

But it is unaffordable, uncosted, and so ridiculously (and prohibitively) expensive that is should have been laughed out of the first cabinet meeting at which it was raised.

The “fix” orchestrated by then-Treasurer and contemptible specimen Wayne Swan looks even more jaundiced now than it did a year ago in light of that $22 billion price tag; ordinary folk now face the triple whammy of a hike in their Medicare contributions, the cost of private health insurance or a Medicare surcharge if they earn more than $70,000 per annum, and probably something far nastier to pay for this package than any $6 fee for seeing a doctor could ever hope to cover.

As things stand, the only place the money can come from — as Gillard and Swan knew all too well — is to borrow it from China, and with the budget settings fixed to push external debt well above half a trillion dollars by 2018 by the time Labor was booted out of office, that unpalatable choice is simply not an option.

Readers will know that I am an ardent supporter of Tony Abbott, both personally and as leader of the Liberal Party, and there are very few issues on which I object to what he is doing. The promise to implement this dreadful waste of money, however, is one of them.

It surprises me that Abbott and those around him could have been so gullible as to have fallen into the NDIS trap, although with an election the Liberal Party was likely to win comfortably already visible on the horizon, one could ascribe it to a case of not “threatening the horses.”

However you rationalise it, what makes it worse is that Gillard explicitly said at the time that she would not pursue the policy without the commitment of the Liberal Party: given the Communist Party Greens were enthusiastically prepared to legislate the NDIS anyway in whatever form Gillard and Swan presented it in, this alone should have set alarm bells ringing in Abbott’s inner sanctum.

Either way, this is a bad package of bad policy and should be jettisoned by Hockey in the budget. As I have said before, it’s a lot less painful to get rid of this kind of spending before it starts; trying to do so once the selected beneficiaries are “hooked on the drug” makes it exponentially more difficult in a political sense to throw them off it.

This was a political instrument designed as a long-term investment in the ALP’s fortunes ahead of an election it knew it would lose badly: it sought a) to lock the Liberals into something no rational case could be made for; b) to buy off the disability community on a permanent basis with a level of state spending not enjoyed, per capita, by any other interest group in the community; c) to create an abyss into which Abbott and Hockey would by necessity stumble in their quest to finance the NDIS beyond 2019, if not sooner, the alternative being d) to render the federal budget completely and utterly unsustainable in time for the 2019 election if the Coalition failed to raise taxes or cut spending adequately, elsewhere, in order to finance it.

Add that to the $8 billion in recurrent annual expenditure for Gonski and the swathe of Gillard-vintage Green programs costing tens of billions of dollars each year, and the real intent of the former government — far removed from compassion or concern about disabled people — springs into sharp focus.

A responsible budget will see the NDIS either abandoned altogether or pared back so far as to slash its allocated outgoings by at least two-thirds. Alas, I fear neither scenario will eventuate.


AND ANOTHER THING: I know (based on past conversations with readers) that this is the point some will raise the Abbott government’s paid parental leave scheme; I support the principle of the scheme, but have already said repeatedly that it isn’t a good look to be introducing something paying out up to $75,000 per year. My preference would be to give the scheme a haircut, perhaps bringing it into line with the scheme presently enjoyed by Commonwealth public servants as a happy medium. I should point out, however, that whatever shape the scheme ultimately takes, it will be funded by a new levy on big business: and whether you agree or disagree with that concept the funding doesn’t have to be found within the budget per se, and is thus immune from the criticisms I have been making in this column of the NDIS, Gonski and the so-called Clean Energy measures.


Entitlement, Cuts, Corruption: What Is Government Even For?

A NASTY UNDERCURRENT in political debate that has been tangible for some time now raises the obvious question: what is government even for? It seems that too many people — voters, commentators, and MPs — have lost sight of what the institution represents, and what role it should play in Australian society. Do we want a high-tax regime that doles out services? Or is government a niche manager and facilitator to otherwise be kept from people’s lives?

I’ve been moved (finally) to write an article of this nature by — of all things — a dogfight on Twitter with a supporter of Clive Palmer that lasted more than 24 hours; it wasn’t especially nasty until close to my third and final attempt to terminate the conversation, by which time she (I think it was a “she” – you can’t be sure with Twitter) had turned abusive against “LNP agents” like me when I refused to start championing her tinpot single issue in this column. After trying wit, sarcasm, an outright declaration of a cessation of proceedings and then giving her both barrels in shooting down her silly arguments — all to no avail — I ultimately told her to piss off.

It’s an obscure way to open my remarks, I’ll grant you; but this kind of conduct — this time on Twitter, which seems to empower people to behave like anarchic oaves without courtesy, ethics, or restraint — is getting to be far too prevalent in our national discourse for my liking. It seems that away from the pristine pages of some of the more reputable organs of journalistic record, it’s not possible to be “honest” or “sincere” any more when discussing politics without being offensive, and it sometimes seems that if you’re not being as insulting or as insidious as possible, then you are not considered to be prosecuting your objectives in an effective manner at all.

It is true that there are a number of people in Australian politics for whom I have little or no personal regard, and readers know that I am upfront about this (Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard, Christine Milne and Peter Slipper being the most obvious). By the same token, there are others who I like enormously on the personal level, and have great respect for — Malcolm Turnbull springs to mind — but with whom I have serious problems from time to time about his stances on certain issues, and who this column has taken to task once or twice (not recently, and not since he stopped agitating against Liberal Party policy).

Even so, a colleague baled me up after one of those columns a couple of years ago: I must really hate Turnbull, he said. Not at all, I replied, making remarks very similar to those I have just shared here. I’ve met him a few times, I said. He’s a really great guy, I said. We agree on most things but differ on a few others we each feel very strongly about, I said. My colleague listened very courteously, a huge grin appearing on his face. “Go on, admit that you hate him,” he said. After all that, I had to be lying: nobody who had taken Turnbull to task as I had — legitimately — could possibly regard the man with anything other than contempt.

This focus on the politics of personal debasement is becoming a national obsession (and if my remarks on Rudd, Gillard, Wayne Swan et al tar me with the same brush then I must plead guilty). Yet this is all part of a broader cocktail mixed around deeper attitudes to politics and government, which is why I’d been mulling over talking about these things well before the Twit from Twitter exhausted my patience yesterday.

If we think back to the last Parliament, there are two images seared into the national conversation that sum all of this up.

The first is a group of anti-carbon tax protesters who travelled to Canberra — some of them from very far away — to confront Julia Gillard over her broken carbon tax promise. They carried placards. “Bob Brown’s Bitch,” one read. “Ditch the Witch,” read another. Then-opposition leader Tony Abbott met with the protesters to support their demonstration.

Later (and in defence of the grub Slipper when his position as Speaker was threatened by the revelation of filthy text messages he had been sending) Gillard rose in Parliament, and gave a confected speech filled with mock outrage and invective aimed at Abbott. “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man,” it began, which was ironic in view of the sexually explicit and disgusting material Slipper had been sending by text message to his associates. That speech went viral, defamed Abbott, and earned Gillard a poll boost from people who heard the reported punchlines, but weren’t even interested in the circumstances in which the speech was made to make a balanced or informed judgement.

All of this — part of the political hurly-burly as it is — is merely superficial.

What it points to, however, is an increasingly aggressive and less civilised manner by which politics are practised in Australia — and, in turn, this points to the issues that the contest is being fought over.

And this, ultimately, raises the question I posed at the outset. What are politics and government even for?

Right now, a conservative government is readying to deliver its first budget since taking office.

It follows a period of Labor government — latterly in alliance with the Communist Party Greens — which left a slew of expensive social and socialist policy packages on the statute books and the federal government’s balance sheet in an appalling state of disrepair, with the national debt slated to rocket above half a trillion dollars within four years of its electoral demise.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has spoken often of the government’s need to end “the culture of entitlement” and whilst I agree, the remark is incendiary in terms of the modern ALP’s standard narrative that “Labor governments build; conservative governments cut to the bone.” It isn’t as simple as that and such a mantra is intellectually dishonest, to say the least, but into the equation come assessments of Abbott as “Dr No” which will be followed, as sure as night follows day, with depictions of Hockey as Scrooge and the Grinch.

There are really two models for governance, and two only, and whilst that will sound to some (like the fool from Twitter) as being incredibly closed-minded, it is the case that most ideas of governance — even those that might be termed “out of the box” — generally fit within one of these two templates.

The first (represented in Australia by Labor and the Greens) involves high real taxes and the accrual of significant national debts to fund new social welfare initiatives, to expand others, and to advance causes in the name of being “progressive” that its intellectual elites and other champions of non-traditional visions of democratic society are wont to push. All of this runs parallel to “crackdowns” on “the rich” to get them to “pay their share,” a proportion that never seems to have been realised irrespective of the increases the Left are able to inflict on that pilloried patrician faction.

The second (represented in Australia by the Liberal Party and reflected, in varying degrees, in the Nationals and Clive Palmer’s outfit) centres on reducing government, cutting taxes, empowering people to take responsibility over their lives and fostering the expansion of choice for everyday Australians to exercise rather than government doing so on their behalf by decree.

As a result of the first of these models, the current Coalition government has assumed office to find a carbon tax in place that damages industry and imposes soaring costs on consumers; a mining tax that is so poorly designed as to raise no money, albeit with a string of electoral bribes (schoolkids’ bonus, superannuation top-ups for low-income earners, etc) contingent on the enabling legislation remaining in place; a package of Education funding (Gonski) that will cost tens of billions of dollars but is not tied to improvements in educational outcomes, and will likely be used as a reservoir to fund the pay claims of  teacher unions; the National Disability Support Scheme, which will also cost tens of billions of dollars simply over the initial rollout of its trial stages; various schemes to pay unionised workers in a number of sectors (child care, government cleaning contractors etc) substantially more than their non-unionised counterparts; a bloated, inefficient federal public service stacked with ALP appointees earning an average of $150,000 per annum; a raft of so-called Green schemes also slated to cost tens of billions of dollars; and the Commonwealth budget haemorrhaging red ink at the rate of nearly a billion dollars a week: this money has to come from somewhere, and right now, it is being borrowed from China.

My list covers only the headline items. I know it’s incomplete. The items in it are enough to make the point.

And still early in the latest incarnation of the second model, the path to its implementation seems fraught.

The obvious major target requiring urgent redress is the state of the country’s finances, yet the method by which politics is increasingly practised in Australia — vitriolic, personal and by no means constructive — sees the new government locked out of the most obvious targets for abolition.

Abandoning the so-called Gonski reforms is a no-brainer, but having flirted with just the suggestion of it, Abbott and his Education minister Christopher Pyne surrendered their handsome “honeymoon” lead in most polls in the face of a vicious onslaught from the union movement and the ALP, and have spent the months since tracking even-stevens on average in the reputable measurements of public sentiment. It is clear that this can’t and won’t be attempted again.

Abandoning the National Disability Insurance Scheme is another: a noble idea that is almost totally unfunded in terms of provision by the Commonwealth to pay for it, the ALP’s chief mouthpieces in the Fairfax media even admitted prior to the September election that when fully operational this scheme would cover just 130,000 people nationally (although there was discussion in other forums about how 15% of the Victorian population might be able to be hooked onto this expensive new welfare drug). The political atmospherics of any attempt to squash this program (or even trim it) remain unclear. But it’s a fair bet that the tens of billions of dollars it will cost are unlikely to be recouped by abolishing it.

Yet Abbott and Hockey were elected in a landslide, in part, because they won the national argument over the so-called “debt and deficits” issue: that is, simply stated, that they convinced a majority of Australians that the country faces a budget emergency.

You bet it does. But those same voters who were convinced of the problem also form part of the bellicose bloc hellbent on shouting down some of the best options for fixing it.

It is true that a potential co-payment regime on otherwise bulk-billed doctor visits set at $5 per consultation failed to elicit the outrage a similar measure did when the Hawke government tried to introduce it in 1991. Even so, unless the charge extends to public hospitals they will be overrun with fee-evading patients, defeating the objective of using the charge a) as a patch on the budget, and b) to discourage ambit use of Medicare for insignificant minor medical symptoms. And even if that hurdle is overcome, the measure is only projected to raise about $700 million per annum, and hardly solves the wider budget issue on its own.

Australians object to higher taxes and charges and hikes in their cost of living expenses that were imposed on them by the Rudd/Gillard government.

Yet so ingrained is the culture of entitlement when it comes to things tax dollars have been paying for (and seem set to pay even more for) that to talk about modest cuts to family tax benefits, or deferring the pensionable age, or abandoning schemes that haven’t even started (Gonski and the NDIS) or looking at things like the First Home Buyers’ Grant is akin to high treason.

The country can’t afford any of this, and the fact remains — as I fervently and passionately believe — that allowing people to hold onto more of their own money through a lower tax take, allowing them to decide where, how and on what their money is spent, with government as far removed from day-to-day life as possible, is the soundest and best model of governance there is.

But the country is in a mess, largely because we’ve spent years robbing Peter just a bit too enthusiastically to pay Paul, and now that something has to be done about it, nobody wants to shoulder the burden.

Instead, we yell at each other; pick fights over “issues” that descend into abuse, whilst the real issues are unaddressed; and our politicians spend more time on dumb stunts and chasing photo opportunities than they do producing intelligent and/or workable ideas that might resolve the root cause of the problem.

Clearly, three into two does not go. Yet that, it seems, is what voters want: their fistful of dollars in one hand, with the other clasping their hip pockets closed to the government to render that handful of handouts irrecoverable.

Ultimately, the bill has to be paid if the order is placed.

Model A — the socialism and class warfare of Labor and the Greens — was clearly unpalatable to the electorate. Model B, whose big moment comes in early May with the budget, isn’t looking like receiving the rapturous reception it might have expected either. What gives?

The animosities and the alliances, the friendships and the enmities, the corrupt bastards and the honest toilers: politics and politicians in every shade and hue, both ugly and glorious.

Readers, you tell us: what do people want? What are our institutions of politics and government even for, from the perspective of community and individual expectation? Because as things stand now it seems they want it all for nothing, and irrespective of whether you sit on the Left or the Right, that approach — quite clearly — is a one-way ticket to nowhere.