No, Labor Did Not Make “Progress” In Government

RESIGNING her seat ahead of the 2016 election, Anna Burke — in a jab at Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull — cited “progress” made by Labor; Australia is poorer, in more debt, more divided and less civil after the Rudd-Gillard years: issues mishandled, unions put above the national interest, and money flung at whatever might buy votes. Most Australians were treated as irrelevant. Labor’s only “progress” was to instil decline in its country.

It send an unmistakable message when the rats start to desert a sinking ship in droves; the news yesterday that former speaker and Labor MP Anna Burke will vacate her seat of Chisholm, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, brings the tally so far of lower house Labor MPs either departing or likely to depart Parliament at the imminent election to five, with Victorians Alan Griffin and Kelvin Thomson confirmed as leaving, and New South Welshmen Jill Hall and Laurie Ferguson likely to follow suit.

One wonders how many more of the ALP’s 55 MHRs will decide they’re on a ticket to nowhere under Bill Shorten, and also bail out.

But this morning’s article tackles a couple of issues in one consolidated post, compromised as I have yet again been this week for time to write and publish articles, and Burke’s announcement that she will quit next year provides a nice segue into what was wrong with Labor in office, and why — if the Coalition can finally get its misfiring communications and strategy apparatus functioning properly — any claim to adequacy or competence by anyone associated with the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years should be easily dismissed as the fiction it is.

First, one will say something nice about Burke: her politics are not my cup of tea of course, and she comes from a contingent — union hacks — that is far, far too heavily represented within the parliamentary ranks of the ALP across Australia. Even so, she made a reasonable fist of her time as Speaker, and certainly went some way to restoring some decorum to that office after the farce made of it by the appointment of Liberal turncoat Peter Slipper, although her party remains culpable for sacrificing the respected Harry Jenkins to make way for Slipper in the first place.

It was a deal, to buy a vote, that is so indicative of the mentality of “modern” Labor — more on that shortly.

But as both The Australian and The Age are reporting, a characteristic shitfight and carve-up (between competing rival unions, of course) will determine Burke’s replacement as a Labor candidate, and the highly marginal seat of Chisholm — resting on a margin of 1.6% as it is, and with Labor set to be deprived of Burke’s personal vote, estimated at between 3% and 5% — deserves to fall to the Liberal Party simply on account of the ALP’s insistence on installing union hacks into parliamentary sinecures: the practice is insidious, and voters in Chisholm have an opportunity to signal they are not a convenient rubber stamp for some idiot from Trades Hall.

Yet inadvertently, Burke has handed an opportunity to the Turnbull government to renew its assault on Labor’s abysmal record in office under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and their cretinous Treasurer, Wayne Swan; what was meant as a cheap shot at Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott — a jab about them presiding over “the reversal of much of the progress Labor had made while in government” — opens the door to a blistering Coalition assault on the ALP’s credibility and competence, should the government’s spin boffins prove up to the task.

In the wake of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) delivered by Treasurer Scott Morrison yesterday — showing a $26 billion blowout in forecast deficits over the next four years — such an attack is not only justified, but highly appropriate, given the vast bulk of the problem being wrestled with by the Turnbull government is in fact the result of the utter incompetence of Rudd, Gillard and Swan, and the mess they made of governing the country.

Let’s stop to consider the “progress” Ms Burke might be attributing to that terrible Labor government, whose only rival for the mantle of the worst in Australian history is the one it appeared modelled on in so many respects: Gough Whitlam’s.

Was it the wholesale capitulation to the union movement in not just abolishing the Howard government’s WorkChoices laws — honouring an election commitment in the process — but instituting a regressive, inflexible, union-dictated industrial framework that invited criminal union misconduct (through the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission), deterred businesses from hiring, and made the Keating government’s 1993 industrial relations overhaul (itself decried as regressive) look moderate?

Perhaps it was the abolition of the Pacific Solution, throwing open Australian borders and encouraging people smugglers to send hundreds of boats containing thousands of people flooding toward Australia with the signal this country had become an international pushover; the resulting human tragedy — well over a thousand deaths at sea — is one the ALP remains very heavily culpable over, and for which no meaningful contrition has ever been shown by the Labor Party. Nor is it ever likely to be.

It could be the “compassionate” Labor approach to asylum seekers Burke is alluding to: at the cost of tens of billions of dollars and the direct result of the Rudd government’s termination of the successful Howard government policy, hundreds of children were placed in mandatory detention; just this year, Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Trigg — a known socialist — delivered a biased and factually inaccurate report on children in detention, blaming the Abbott government for the incarceration of those kids. Never mind the fact no child was placed into detention under the Liberal government, or that 90% of those detained on Labor’s watch had been processed and released: putting kids into detention then was an investment in the ALP’s gutter politics now.

Could it be the job-destroying (and largely useless) carbon tax Julia Gillard explicitly promised not to introduce, then went ahead and legislated anyway? That measure was an impost on business and on households, and the paltry compensation offered to households was far outweighed by the slug that was added to already rocketing energy bills. If true progress is measured in the difficulty inflicted on people’s ability to pay for essential services, Labor delivered in spades.

Labor in office — like most governments across the world — was blindsided by the Global Financial Crisis, and Australia hit a second time by the collapse in world commodity prices — which commenced on the ALP’s watch.

Yet the tens of billions of dollars thrown around by Rudd and Swan was poorly targeted, inefficient, wasteful in the extreme, and probably had little to do with keeping Australia out of recession: the mining industry, still going gangbusters, largely took care of that.

But Labor had a solution for that too: a mining tax that cruelled investment in Australia’s minerals and energy sector, and which had the practical consequence of helping other resource-rich countries in Canada and South America to encroach on and capture markets that had helped underpin the record boom this country experienced, and which probably contributed (I emphasise, contributed: you can’t blame Labor for everything) to the collapse now being experienced by the very same resources sector.

And when the fall in commodity prices came, Labor was too shortsighted to correctly measure its likely scope (something the current government has also proven guilty of), but unlike the current government, Swan — with the imprimatur of Rudd and Gillard — went on spending money like a drunken sailor.

In that vein, maybe Burke was mindful of the vast increases in spending, on pet Labor projects, that occurred on Labor’s watch.

Yet the simple fact is that within four years, Australian public sector debt is now set to reach $600 billion — 30% of GDP — where just eight years ago it was zero (or -5% of GDP in fact); what is scary is that in just eight years, this country has gone from being the envy of the rest of the world for its sound budgets and prudent management to being halfway toward the 60% to GDP debt ratio that marks the lower reaches of the basket of Eurotrash economies that sit in varying degrees of economic strife, and some of those are close to ruin.

Unless someone gets a grip on the situation in this country, there is only one way to go: and despite whatever vapid bleating to the contrary that emanates from the ALP after two years in opposition, the problem is one entirely of its own making.

Billions of dollars to fund Gonski “reforms”? No worries.

Billions of dollars to boost health funding? No worries.

$24 billion per year (scheduled for a decade after Labor was likely to lose office, of course, to distance itself from the damage) for a National Disability Insurance Scheme? Piece of cake.

Billions of dollars annually to “top up” superannuation accounts for low-income earners? Small fry, nothing to it.

On and on it went, and about the nicest thing that can be said of any of this is that the ALP was prepared to permanently shackle Australia to hundreds of billions of dollars in borrowed money to fund worthy-seeming but entirely unaffordable social programs that just happened to be heftily skewed towards its own electoral constituencies.

The reality, of course, is that it was an open secret whilst Gillard was Prime Minister that Labor, faced with likely defeat in 2013, was hellbent on “booby-trapping” the federal budget and went to great lengths to render it unmanageable to a Liberal government; this “strategy” casts a pall over the rectitude of any of Labor’s social initiatives, and this, coupled with the wholesale obstruction and confrontational, class warfare-inspired rhetoric it has indulged itself with under its present “leader,” has demonstrated that whatever else the ALP might be accused of, being a responsible party of government with Australia’s national interest at heart is not one of those things.

If you have $100, you buy $100 worth of stuff with it; some debt might be manageable, or indeed prudent. But the endless and bottomless debt pit into which Labor legislated Australia is unforgivable. It doesn’t matter what the individual measures were, or how worthy they may have been. If you have $100 every year, and every year you spend $130, then sooner or later you are going to go broke. But permanently spending $130 every year when there is only $100 to spend is the ALP’s legacy to this country.

Labor in office had a long list of intended victims, and it wasn’t confined to “the rich” (although any household earning $150,000 per annum was served notice that “rich” is what Labor thought it was): but families, small businesses, self-funded retirees, the Defence Forces, single mothers, the mining industry…on and on it went. Anyone in these groups was the enemy as far as the ALP was concerned. They were treated as the enemy. If you belonged to any of the groups on the ALP’s hit list, life became an awful lot harder during those six dreadful years.

If Labor thought it could buy you, however, that is exactly what it tried to do. In many cases, it scarcely bothered to disguise the fact.

That isn’t “progress,” and it isn’t even fit to be called “a government” in the proper sense of the word, but if Burke is concerned by attempts to unpick the damage this incompetent, doctrinaire and reprehensible legacy has wrought, then her judgement is sorely wanting.

Today, Australia sits at a crossroads, with rocketing debt as a direct consequence of its dalliance with Labor in power; employment growth is sluggish, and businesses are reticent to hire as a direct result of Labor’s workplace laws; the country is committed to hundreds of billions of recurrent dollars it simply can’t afford, and couldn’t afford when those measures were legislated; and any attempt to fix the situation with piecemeal spending cuts spread as widely as possible to mitigate their impact is screamed down as “cruel” or “unfair” by the very band of charlatans that created the problem to begin with.

Morrison fell right into the trap yesterday: a scattered band of spending cuts to deal with falling government revenues, impacting on frontline health service delivery and some suspiciously semantic-looking revisions to measures such as welfare arrears collection, gave Labor more fuel to blather about slashing welfare and education and health spending whilst doing very little to redress the problem at all.

To be fair to Morrison, until or unless the Senate is overhauled at an election and/or through changes to the voting system that elects it to stop people with a tiny handful of votes getting elected and holding the country to ransom, meaningful attempts to fix the damage Labor inflicted on this country are as good as pointless.

But Labor, which rigged the Senate in 1984, won’t have a bar of that either: the present mess suits it, for cynical reasons that could hardly be described as honourable.

There is a school of thought that the government should slash income and business taxes to stimulate economic activity, the thinking being that revenues would rise overall as more people found jobs and paid taxes, and as more businesses were started; I would bet London to a brick that were Morrison to send a bill through Parliament that duly cut and simplified taxes, it wouldn’t just be torpedoed in the Senate, but that Labor would be leading the charge against it.

Very simply, you can’t win whenever Labor is around the place these days; the only party it believes is entitled to run this country is itself, and it has shown time and again over the past 20 years that it singularly and flagrantly disregards the will of the public whenever that message is that someone else should form a government.

We wish Burke, and the rest of her colleagues who are packing up their toys and leaving the sandpit, all the best in their retirement — whatever they choose to do — but any reference to “progress” under the Rudd-Gillard government is based on a false and deeply defective premise.

Left unresolved, the mess the ALP made of running Australia will plunge this country into decline. The signs abound already. And that’s a hell of a price to pay for self-obsessed, partisan, spiteful incompetence.

Labor, as I have observed in these pages over the years, should be ashamed of itself.

It won’t be. Well all know it won’t be.


AND ANOTHER THING: The article from The Australian states “the 49-year-old who has held the seat of Chisholm since 1998, when she wrested it from Liberal Michael Wooldridge…”

She did not: Burke won Chisholm as a vacant seat; Wooldridge, who had been the member for Chisholm since 1987, transferred to the adjacent, safer Liberal electorate of Casey in 1998 before retiring from Parliament three years later. Some effort to ensure basic facts (and idiot-simple points of electoral history) are correct would be well indicated on the part of some of those masquerading as any kind of repository of political knowledge within the journalistic fraternity. I have refrained from picking this sort of thing up for too long — if “political correspondents” don’t know their briefs, we might have to start holding them to account here. These rudimentary errors of fact are too common in both the Murdoch and Fairfax press. It isn’t good enough.