BILL SHORTEN AND TANYA PLIBERSEK have provided a rare glimpse of everything wrong with the ALP’s idea of economic management, with an explosive attack by Foreign minister on the deputy Labor leader finding its mark — and providing a glimmer of hope to Coalition voters that their government may yet begin to fire. It was another attack, however, from an unlikely quarter, that sealed a dreadful day for federal Labor.
With time again a scarce commodity this week, I’m going to have to keep this brief; even so, after a poor week for the Coalition rounded out by the humiliating loss of government in Victoria, the federal Liberals may have provided an inkling yesterday that there is indeed a way out of their opinion poll malaise.
For the first time in a very long time, someone from the government was firing live bullets at the ALP on the issue of the federal budget: none of the rhetoric about everyone sharing the load, or pitching in, or doing their bit, but a full-frontal assault on those responsible for the dreadful mess Australia finds itself in.
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the monetary damage the Labor Party inflicted on this country; in the space of six years, government debt as a percentage of GDP moved from -15% to 25% and a gross debt load of some $350 billion, and rather than exercise any restraint or common sense, the legacy of the Gillard years is rampant recurrent expenditure that will, left unchecked, send those numbers soaring far higher.
Remember, to be a Eurotrash-style basket case, a debt load of about 60% or 70% gets you in the door of the EU basket case club: in ALP government terms, that’s only another four years away on a “more of the same” basis.
I want to share three items with readers today — as I said, this is a week in which other factors are severely limiting my time to post here, and so it’s one of those days when I share the source material and comment briefly, and encourage everyone to continue the conversation through the comments facility in this site.
Exhibit A: coverage from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, detailing a head-on attack by Foreign minister Julie Bishop on Labor’s deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek: finally, finally, someone in the government is showing signs of stringing together a consistent narrative linking what the government is seeking to do to repair the federal budget with the economic vandalism of the ALP and those of its MPs who masqueraded as federal Treasurers, with the self-important imbecile Wayne Swan the guiltiest of a pretty shady bunch.
Bishop chose her ground well, with Australia’s foreign aid budget a favourite can of Plibersek’s to rattle. How can this government be so cruel, so inhumane, so hard-hearted, as to slash further what Australia donates to those countries less fortunate in the world? Readers know well the kind of melodramatic twaddle to which I allude.
The issue intersects nicely with Plibersek’s status as Bishop’s shadow, and by virtue of the fact that as Bill Shorten’s deputy, Plibersek is virtually as answerable to the Australian public on economic management and the budget as Shorten himself is as “leader.”
The Hockey budget in May was far from ideal, and I have been a vocal conservative critic of both its contents and its likely electoral consequences.
But as an exercise in stand-your-ground politics in defence of it, Bishop’s blistering attack is perhaps the best proactive attempt seen from the Coalition to date.
It can only be hoped that this is a sign that better handling of this crucial issue is nigh.
And better handling of the politics of the budget is exactly what the government needs, for this is one of those times I link to something from the Herald Sun‘s Andrew Bolt, for the time-saving reason that his article today simply lays out a factual case of just how bad Australia’s financial position is becoming: and this, combined with the delusional pretence of people like Shorten and Plibersek (who really ought to know better) that the good times can roll right on and it’s just Liberal Party nastiness getting in the way of more and more unrestrained social spending, is helping drive the government into a budgetary electoral abyss.
At God only knows what eventual cost, if Labor returns to office.
I’ve made the case before, many times, that nobody likes cutting money out of worthy programs or sensitive portfolio areas. Yet so bad is the state of the budget Abbott’s government inherited that the cuts it has sought to make — even if misdirected and/or mishandled — have affected every aspect of governance in this country.
As they should. The problem is that bad. And if a recession comes (and with collapsing resources prices, a slowdown of economic activity in China, Japan slipping back into recession and the US and the EU hovering dangerously close to it, the potential to be sucked back into the vortex is real), the defensive war chest established on the watch of the Howard government won’t be there to piss up against a post next time.
Labor’s mistake was to spend more on “stimulus” than was required — and then decline to stop the additional spending altogether. After all, if you’re the ALP, pumping money into target constituencies is the time-honoured path to electoral victory. The Global Financial Crisis handed it a once in a generation justification to simply do more of this pork barrelling than ever before. Now the consequences have to be dealt with.
Not that it seems the ALP has any clue of what it might do differently if it manages to tear Abbott down and resume in government in 2016.
I watched a shifty-eyed Shorten front the ABC’s 7.30 programme last night, whereupon its precision-guided host, Leigh Sales, exposed just how vapid Labor’s dialogue on the budget really is.
Shorten simply refused to be pinned down on any specifics of Labor policy whatsoever, and whenever he was challenged by Sales to specify how an ALP government might repair the deficit his party created in office, he changed the subject.
Ambush attacks on ALP politicians by the ABC are rare, but they do happen; this one — and Shorten’s demeanour betrayed the fact he thought he was sauntering into his interview with Sales to record a powder-puff piece that instead exploded in his face — offered irrefutable proof that as unpopular as many might find Abbott and his Treasurer’s budget in particular, Bill Shorten has nothing to contribute whatsoever when it comes to the prudent and competent stewardship of Australia’s finances, and therefore its future prosperity.
Viewers can watch the train smash that was Shorten’s appearance on 7.30 last night here. As insights into Labor’s so-called “leader” go, this one is particularly telling.
Interestingly enough, there were none of Shorten’s (and Labor’s) usual calls to hit the rich for more tax, although he did allude to a couple of half-baked potential initiatives to do that.
Rather, this one was a misery guts performance on the impact on poorer Australians of budget repair measures, and just how cruel and nasty the Liberals really are for “targeting” them.
That might be fair enough, except for one key point: on Labor’s watch, the punitive taxation measures lobbed at “the rich” have already extracted tens of billions of additional tax dollars, and will continue to do so; so bad is the structural carnage Labor wrought upon the budget, even this was insufficient to make much difference to the ground that needs to be made up.
The money has to come from somewhere, and unless Labor wants to risk motivating those who create the wealth in this country (and the proportionately largest share of tax revenues) leaving Australia in search of more favourable tax treatment abroad, there is a limit to how far “hit the rich” can realistically go.
Given there are so many measures Labor is resolutely opposed to — GST reform being the principal one, although there are others, or the abolition of expensive social programs Gillard legislated that cost tens of billions of dollars each year — where does Shorten think the shortfall will be clawed back from?
As I said, just some basic remarks from me today. What do readers think? I will keep track of comments during the day, although I may not be able to interact until late tonight or even the next few days.
In the final analysis, the more things change, the more they stay the same; Labor might be riding high in the polls — on preferences, of course — but it can’t be trusted with money.
Last night, Bill Shorten proved it.