PRESSURE IS RISING on the ALP and its “leader,” Bill Shorten, to stop their mindless obstructionism and allow government spending cuts to pass the Senate; with Labor legends Bob Hawke and Paul Keating lending their imprimatur to the need to urgently restore the federal budget to health, the cynicism and sheer bloody-mindedness of the ALP’s blocking tactics are stripped bare: not that further proof of their hypocrisy is required.
It must be galling, if you’re Bill Shorten, to find two of Labor’s most successful modern leaders publicly repudiating your entire political strategy; that is what Bob Hawke and Paul Keating have, in essence, done, and it’s time Shorten — and his erstwhile colleagues — woke up to themselves.
Not content to have merely served in a government that did its level best to bankrupt Australia (an enterprise foiled, in no small part, by the solid condition in which the books were left by John Howard and Peter Costello), the ALP has refused to allow a single bill containing expenditure cuts pass the Senate since Parliament reconvened after last year’s election.
To date, this has involved some $20bn in spending cuts, including — damningly — $5bn in cuts the ALP itself proposed from government.
The best we can say about that is that it really does show how much backbone there is to the “conviction” the ALP rattles on about nowadays.
Now — speaking on the occasion of the release of cabinet papers from 1986-87, during the Hawke government — both Hawke and Keating have urged the Abbott government to cut expenditure deeply and rapidly to restore the budget to health, likening the present mess in the nation’s books to that which confronted them in 1986 at the time of Keating’s infamous “banana republic” remarks.
Implicitly, these calls crucify the present incarnation of the ALP and the wilfully destructive course it has determinedly embarked upon.
In the interests of expeditious use of space, readers can access this report from The Australian, detailing the comments of the two former Labor leaders.
It is interesting that the best Labor figures seem to be capable of in response is to bluster and to obfuscate; shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen seems to be the designated driver of the ALP’s response, and his replies speak of “a con” (in relation to the Coalition’s declaration of a budget emergency) and the singling out of a decision to abolish the means testing of the private health insurance rebate that was introduced on the watch of the Gillard government.
Labor’s position seems to be that the Abbott government has no entitlement to make any changes to the revenue/expenditure mix that, in gross terms, increase outgoings; such a position is naive and assumes its audience is stupid enough to be unable to differentiate between individual measures and overall outcomes.
On the health rebate, I would make the observation that if it didn’t exist, the total pool of health funding — comprising federal government monies and consumer expenditure on private health insurance policies — would immediately shrink by tens of billions of dollars as ordinary Australians dumped their policies en masse and strained the already-overloaded public system beyond breaking point.
But in terms of “a con,” Labor is the last party to national events with any moral authority to cast stones in relation to the bona fides of the new government, its intentions or its actions, so woeful is its own recent record in office on measures such as honesty, accountability, or integrity.
A lot of Labor’s approach to politics these days — especially on issues where it occupies extremely shaky ground, such as economic management — is to make bold proclamations of its own competence and the uselessness of the Liberal Party, then stand back — with a bow and a wave — and wait for the adoring masses of voters to swallow every word like wine.
That’s the “con,” if ever there was one when it comes to the state of the budget, and the ALP’s paw prints all over it.
Labor simply can’t be believed, as it seeks to depict “blowouts in spending” as the result of new initiatives announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey, when it steadfastly refuses to allow one cent of the offsetting savings presented by the Liberal Party to the Senate to pass.
And the fact it has refused to even allow the cuts it itself claimed to intend to enact to pass simply beggars belief.
Hawke and Keating have both suggested that a similar amount should be cut from the budget by the Abbott government, as a percentage of Commonwealth outlays, as Keating cut during 1986-87; in 2014 dollars this equates to some $40bn per annum, and — as The Australian notes — such a program of savings would see the budget return to surplus within two years.
In other words, the bills Labor has rejected would have already done half the job; Hockey’s 2014 budget — coming as it will in the wake of the report of the Commission of Audit — can more than reasonably be expected to do the rest.
After all, astute fiscal management and an emphasis on budgetary rigour were the keys to the Howard government’s reputation as a competent economic steward: it’s a record the Liberal Party is rightfully proud of, and a key difference with its opponent to be defended — especially as the ALP appears determined to perpetuate its achievements of economic vandalism from opposition.
The point is that the ALP — not content to have virtually wrecked the structural integrity of the federal budget, and having attempted to enshrine its sabotage by legislating tens of billions of dollars in recurrent spending measures for the Liberals to either fund or try to unpick in the Senate — is happier to run the country into the ground than it is to behave as the responsible participant in national affairs it claims to be.
It seeks to split hairs over semantics; dismiss Coalition savings measures from reality in order to focus on ridiculous claims of a Liberal Party spending binge; and prevent the government from doing what it was elected to do which is, rather quaintly, to govern.
In fact, about the only thing the ALP has to say which contains more than a shred of truth is its oft-stated claim of ownership over the fact Australia retained its AAA credit rating during the six years of the Rudd-Gillard junta: a claim whose truth ignores the fact that ratings agencies adjust credit ratings over a period of years, not weeks or months.
Indeed, the expectation of a change of government may in itself have preserved the AAA ratings Australia continues to enjoy. Conversely, were those ratings to be downgraded during a period of expenditure reduction and fiscal consolidation under the Coalition, it would be only because that process proceeded too slowly: ultimately, something else the Labor Party would have to wear responsibility for.
But with legendary Labor figures apparently now giving public backing to the Abbott government’s objective of hauling in recurrent government expenditure, Labor has few rocks behind which to hide.
The only people who really believe what it has to say — apart from itself — are its hacks and cronies in the union movement, whose only desire is to see a conservative government fail.
Few doubt the enormity of the task Abbott and Hockey face to push the country back onto a sustainable financial footing, and the results from Hockey’s Commission of Audit — which will be forthcoming soon enough — should dispel any remaining doubts that linger.
Budget crisis? You bet there is. Labor knows it, which is the reason it is acting like a group of headless chooks; it knows the true state of the books will soon be laid bare.
And if the redoubtable Bill Shorten were anything approaching a real leader’s bootlace, he would cut short his leave and respond to the situation — and to Hawke and Keating — himself, rather than leaving lesser minions like Bowen to do the dirty work while he hides safely away from the prying eyes of public opinion.