MYEFO: Labor Must Pull Its Head In – And Get Out Of The Way

TREASURER Scott Morrison’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook shows falling revenues and rising debt, but Australia will keep its AAA credit rating despite recession risks; the Coalition may be too tactically inept to hold the ALP to account for damage it caused in office and now perpetuates through Senate obstruction, but unless its aim is to win power in Australia by first wrecking it, Labor must pull its head in, and let the government govern.

The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) released by Treasurer Scott Morrison today (and you can read some of the coverage of it here and here)  paints a slightly rosier picture than many observers (myself included) might have expected; despite falling revenues and increases in both deficits over the next four years and overall government debt, Morrison’s projections nonetheless show the budget remaining on track for a return to surplus in four years’ time.

They have also elicited firm indications from all three of the international economic ratings agencies that Australia remains in a sound enough position to retain its prized AAA credit rating, and to be completely blunt, this news will devastate Labor types, who have spent three years talking Australia down and virtually daring ratings agencies to downgrade its investment rating, in a perverse approach to chasing cheap political gain through national misfortune.

In this sense, today’s announcement is a wake up call to the Labor Party under the charlatan Bill Shorten, which flatly refuses to permit the Coalition to fix the damage the Rudd/Gillard government inflicted on the national finances in office through its obstructive marshalling of anti-government forces in the Senate. More on that later.

But whilst the proof will be in the pudding with MYEFO — as is usually the way with these things — Morrison’s announcement, despite the histrionics and hysterics of shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, is little more than a minor tweak on the figures presented at budget time. Barring anything unforeseen, or a second consecutive quarter of negative growth in February confirming a recession, there is very little that is exceptional in today’s announcement.

Government spending falls slightly, from 25.8% of GDP to 25.2%, as do both employment growth and GDP growth; Morrison is forecasting that no recession will hit Australia which — given the 0.5% contraction for the September quarter was at the upper end of expectations — might yet prove rather heroic.

Nett debt is forecast to peak in 2020-21 at $364bn, which in raw terms equates to gross debt of more than half a trillion dollars; in historic terms, this is a national embarrassment, for in my view it doesn’t matter how well able to service debt the country might be, borrowing to fund recurrent government spending is the wrong kind of debt altogether, and produces no lasting economic benefit whatsoever.

In short, the country should be living within its means. It still isn’t.

And the $1bn+ that will continue to be shelled out every month, in perpetuity, to service that debt would pay for an awful lot of schools, and roads, and hospitals, and dams, and railways if it wasn’t going to line the pockets of international financiers: a fact seemingly lost on Labor, which seems hellbent on stopping the Coalition from balancing the budget through Senate shenanigans for as long as it is physically able to do so.

But the real story here, yet again, is that three years after the Coalition took office with an explicit mandate to fix the federal budget, Labor — in cahoots with its favourite whore, the Communist Party Greens, and other undesirables in the Senate — apparently remains on a mission to prevent precisely that, using various fatuous semantic formulations (such as “fairness” and “cruelty”) to justify its brazen actions in allowing the budget to still be haemorrhaging red ink.

Make no mistake: the Global Financial Crisis is over, and whilst nobody blames Labor for the GFC (even if its response to it was overcooked), the only reason the Coalition has been unable to deliver a surplus budget by now, or to start paying back government debt, is that the insidious Shorten simply refuses to permit it to occur.

To be clear, the Coalition has deeply entrenched shortcomings that don’t help; the woeful inability to sell anything or to frame a convincing narrative for mass public consumption is one of them. The utter inability to pin Labor’s economic vandalism squarely on Shorten, and force him to carry the can for his actions, is another.

But Labor seems content to try to destroy the economy from opposition in is mad lust for power at any price, and whilst that might sound harsh, it’s the only logical conclusion to draw from its behaviour in the Senate. The ALP is prepared to wreck Australia for the criminally petty reason a majority of its people had the temerity to vote it out of office.

The exceedingly low level of regard in which most Australians hold politicians of all partisan hues is increasingly well deserved, and is starkly illustrated by the fact that at the election held on 2 July, almost a quarter of voters cast a ballot for candidates other than the major parties in the lower house. In the Senate, the figure was 35%.

Quite aside from ALP recalcitrance in the Senate — the masquerade of “principle” that is really a fulsome expression of contempt for Australia’s national interest and the betterment of the people who live in it — there are all sorts of other things Labor has done, now and in the past, that feed into the numbers Morrison has released today.

The “booby-trapping” of the federal budget, for instance: a reprehensible scheme cooked up on Julia Gillard’s watch as Prime Minister to load the federal budget up with so much new recurrent spending as to render the budget unmanageable, and that wouldn’t appear on the books until Labor was safely out of office and able to cast indignantly righteous stones at the Liberal Party.

Or the final year of the so-called Gonski education money, which was set to exponentially inflate the Commonwealth’s obligations to the states and which was (rightly) abandoned by the Coalition under Tony Abbott.

Or — with an eye on economic growth figures that are now decidedly treacle-sluggish — the Fair Work regime instituted by Gillard, in payback to the unions for bankrolling the anti-WorkChoices campaign that swept Labor to power in 2007, which has introduced rigidity and inflexibility into the labour market that is now flowing through to tepid employment growth and diminished returns from the small business sector.

And all of this is before we even get to the blatant Labor lies about Medicare being privatised, which would be the most disgusting campaign tactic ever pursued in Australia were it not for other Labor schemes (such as sending fake firefighters to polling booths, and calls from “nurses” to scare hell out of people) to rival it.

It’s little wonder people have nothing particularly nice to say about politicians when this kind of thing is symbolic of their best performance: and whilst the blame in this case lies at Labor’s door, the average voter simply dismisses both sides with a “pox on both your houses” mentality — and is increasingly turning away from the major parties as a consequence.

If Labor truly believes it is a force for responsible government, it has a very big opportunity now to prove it.

If the Liberal Party and its prescriptions are wrong, they will be seen to be wrong, and aggrieved voters will have another opportunity to vote them out of office at an election that could be no more than 18 months to two years away, courtesy of the double dissolution that was held in July. It isn’t as if Labor has to wait for decades for another shot at the title.

But if there is to be a clean fight, and the Liberal Party made to account for what the ALP blathers is “unfair” or “cruel” or whatever other diarrhoea Shorten cares to verbalise, Labor has to get out of the way — and allow the Coalition’s budget repair measures to pass the Senate.

Average voters, in contrast to the way Labor treats them, aren’t stupid: they are capable of making their own judgements and their own decisions, and they should be able to make decisions based on how a particular program works once implemented rather than on the basis of distorted and hysterical screeching about what might happen if the ALP wasn’t there to stop it.

And if Labor isn’t prepared to do that — to let the government pass its budget measures in full — then perhaps we are having the wrong conversation altogether; maybe we ought to be talking about how to reform the Senate in a way governments are able to actually govern once and for all.

Or if that simply proves impossible, about abolishing the Senate altogether.

 

 

Exposing Shorten: Economic Neanderthal, Wrecker, And Thug

WHETHER OR NOT the budget delivered on Tuesday by the Abbott government is popular or adequately sold, a powerful developing theme coincidentally crystallised in Labor “leader” Bill Shorten’s speech in reply; there have been ample recent signs Shorten is no more than a wrecker, a thug, and — economically — a Neanderthal. His real value to Australia, or lack of it, has been exposed: and with it, his party to a snap election it will lose badly.

It didn’t take long, watching Bill Shorten’s address in reply to the 2015 budget this week, for the game to be given away; the horde of cheering morons packed into the public gallery at Parliament was in full flight before Shorten even uttered a word — in flagrant disregard for the convention that silence is to be observed in the gallery, as the Labor apparatchiks who organised their presence well know — and the fixed smirks worn by MPs behind Shorten, as he began to speak, more or less confirmed that this was just another of the vacuous, vapid stunts that characterise the ALP these days, and which are apparently Labor’s answer to the serious problems facing this country under its present puerile “leadership.”

This week has been one that has found me too stretched for time to have commented in a timely fashion on Shorten’s budget reply speech, but in some ways that only feeds into the argument I was going to make of it anyway; back on Tuesday I published a teaser to the effect that he had signed his own death warrant: and the Shorten budget speech on Thursday, with its coterie of simpering Labor stooges breaching parliamentary rules with the explicit sanction of their “leader,” should alarm and disgust any floating voter looking to the ALP to provide an alternative vision for government, or to anyone who expects their political representatives to advocate responsible, affordable and realistic programs for public evaluation.

Nothing that emanates from the ALP these days could be characterised as responsible, affordable, and/or realistic.

But first things first: seeing this article will deal at least in part with Shorten’s response to the 2015 budget, those readers who didn’t see the speech on Thursday night might as well watch it here; make yourself a cup of strong coffee before you get started with it, for this is not the kind of “theatre” likely to stop you from drifting off into a daydream and/or to sleep.

To say that it is offensive in the extreme that Shorten could deliver this particular speech with a straight face — and no apparent sense of irony — is to understate the matter; replete with haughtily and righteously pious drivel, this “attack” on the Abbott government seeks to make a virtue of the disruptive conduct Labor under Shorten has engaged in: and to turn it against the Coalition.

Nobody is naive enough to think that politics is anything other than a contest to win power; as readers have heard me say multiple times, the sole purpose of the existence of political parties is to win elections, for without the ability to govern, it is (obviously) not possible to implement platforms of policy that are built on the ideas that win and lose elections in the first place.

But with governing comes responsibility, and the last Labor government — in which Shorten was a minister — was a poster pin-up of precisely what not to do in this regard; with a vicious class-based attack on anyone disinclined to vote for the ALP came the legislation of tens of billions of dollars in additional recurrent annual expenditure, and this money (characterised before the 2013 election as a “booby-trapping” of the federal budget) has resulted in a structural chasm in the budget to the tune of about $50 billion per year.

The end result is that federal debt now sits at close to half a trillion dollars — where it was ZERO less than a decade ago — and is rocketing.

Some readers may have heard Shorten on Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday, when he refused no fewer than 13 times to accept any responsibility on behalf of the ALP for the criminally negligent mismanagement inflicted on the national finances during the six years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. You can listen to his award-winning performance on Neil Mitchell’s morning programme here. Look for it seven and a half minutes in.

Even so, he was prepared to accuse the Abbott government of “sitting back” and allowing the budget deficit to continue to grow — despite the fact that under his so-called “leadership,” Labor in the Senate has opposed every Coalition measure that cuts expenditure whilst supporting anything that increases it.

Having hounded the Coalition for years over its paid parental leave scheme — “$50,000 for millionaires,” Labor used to rant — Shorten now has the bald-faced nerve to try to rip into the government for abandoning the promised scheme despite making it virtually impossible to introduce, and apparently innocent to the contradiction in his argument that abandoning the scheme is an “attack on families” despite the money effectively being diverted to a package built around childcare: hardly an attack on families at all.

Shorten told Mitchell the deficit inherited by the Coalition was “$16, $17 billion” — an understatement by some 60%.

Inn trying to avoid admitting Labor was responsible for plunging the budget into deficit in the first place, he tried to postulate on the Mitchell programme that Labor sought to get the deficit under control, despite doing everything in its power to blow out spending — and debt — as far as humanly possible thanks to a Senate profoundly hostile to the government.

Shorten “accepts the responsibility for reducing the deficit.” How? He blathers about taxing multinationals and hacking into superannuation for “the rich,” but the first of these ideas has proven impossible to achieve by governments around the world and the latter, if implemented, would pose such a disincentive for better-off people to save as to encourage them to relocate their tax affairs offshore (thus eliminating any benefit from the initiative altogether).

Yet so shallow is his hollow populist pitch — and so brazenly dishonest in view of the megabucks pumped into recurrent social spending by the Gillard government that didn’t even exist a few years ago — that anything that produces a single loser is, in Shorten’s warped and distorted world view, and election-winning issue for Labor to jump all over, making copious amounts of noise in public and causing utter gridlock in Parliament thanks to the complicity of Labor’s ready allies at the Communist Party Greens, the pro-ALP, anti-Australia circus that is the Palmer United Party, and the contemptible turncoats who have slithered from Palmer’s malignant grasp but who nonetheless continue to spit enough of their old boss’ vengeful anti-Coalition venom to poison a nest of tiger snakes with.

I have warned my readers in the past that the only way Shorten can live up to his rhetoric — if he could even be bothered, if and when he managed to get his arse back into a ministerial leather chair — is by legislating enormous increases to income tax; $50 billion per annum is not going to be reaped by shutting off superannuation tax concessions to a couple of hundred thousand wealthy Australians, and it isn’t going to be reaped (on Labor’s own, presumably overblown, figures) from a $7 billion tax on multinationals.

And Shorten’s suggestion he would be better than the Coalition for business confidence when the last Labor government saddled the business community with the union-oriented Fair Work regime, almost untrammelled rights for union access to every workplace in the country, the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (legislating, in effect, for industrial anarchy on building sites), superannuation guarantee charge increases, and a mining tax that killed investor confidence whilst raising no money, is literally unbelievable.

Are my criticisms of Shorten repetitive? Perhaps. But they canvass sentiments and analysis that the man himself has until very recently been largely spared by the non-ABC/Fairfax press. More on that shortly.

But anyone who still wants to accuse me of simple partisanship in trying to tear Shorten to shreds should reacquaint themselves with much that I have published over the past year about the Abbott government: its budget, its woeful ineptitude selling it, and the malevolent and counter-productive forces that for so long after last year’s budget drove what should have been a competently conservative government into the realm of ineffectual me-tooism and impotent desperation, culminating in a botched move on Tony Abbott’s leadership that has somehow rebooted the Coalition and sparked a revival in its fortunes.

How Tuesday’s budget plays out with the electorate remains to be seen, but the early signposts are positive.

Yet whether the budget ignites a sustained recovery in the government’s poll ratings — possibly leading to an election later this year — or flounders is scarcely the point today.

I decided to launch a fresh attack on Shorten upon seeing an article that appeared in The Australian two weeks ago; if there is any positive at all to the extreme limits my media activities have placed on my ability to regularly post articles in this column over the past month or two, it lies in this case in the fact that this particular article is even more pertinent now than when I originally intended to discuss it with readers, and if anything it makes the case against Shorten and his purported suitability to ever be Prime Minister exponentially more potent.

Unlike Shorten, I hold the ALP directly responsible for the budgetary abyss that sees Australia borrowing a billion dollars per week to meet its spending commitments, despite yet another revenue increase for the coming financial year of more than 5%; this country doesn’t have a “revenue problem” but a spending problem: and to the extent revenue is responsible for it at all, it’s only on account of the fact that revenue growth has (predictably) fallen well below the magic pudding levels held out by the Gillard government and its snake oil salesman-in-chief, the self-important reprobate and former Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Unlike Shorten, I not only accept the budget needs to be fixed, but believe a responsible government has no choice but to do so: with debt already at the historic half-billion dollar level once the next four years of deficits run their course, Australia is creeping e’er slowly further and further into the red — to the point another five to ten years is all that stands between Australia surrendering her historically robust position and assuming the same basket case realities that state socialism has wrought across Europe, and which Obama socialism has seen infect the USA with the same insidious disease of borderline solvency staved off only by borrowed trillions from countries not historically well-disposed toward Western interests.

And unlike Shorten, I acknowledge that fixing the problem is inevitably going to produce losers, as monies that ought never have become staples of governance in the first place are at least wound back to place the entire edifice onto a sounder and more sustainable footing.

To this end, the worthy but totally unfunded — and completely unaffordable — National Disability Insurance Scheme, with its looming annual cost of more than $20 billion, should be repealed. There is no case for introducing that sort of program, however commendable, when the full equivalent cost must be borrowed abroad to realise it.

What’s left of the First Home Buyers’ Scheme, which has served little purpose other than to help artificially fuel an unstable and unsustainable domestic housing bubble, should also be repealed.

But in his quest to be all things to all people, whilst parading “solutions” that apparently hurt nobody except “the rich,” Shorten has shown himself to be completely divorced from reality.

That reality, simply stated, is that his “solutions” are likely to blow the hole in the budget wider and deeper, and achieve no more than to encourage indolence and a mentality of state dependence.

In turn, that dependence complex means a shrinking band of taxpayers being hit harder and harder to fund the addiction to handouts for the rest of the population; this isn’t a hard-hearted or cavalier sentiment. But when the people targeted are working families, wage and salary earners and other generators of tax cash earmarked for social spending — as they were in last year’s Joe Hockey Horror Show — there is a very big problem when extravagances like the NDIS are insulated from so much as a red cent in expenditure reductions.

Returning to the piece in The Australian, the thing that caught my eye was Labor Party anger (read: Shorten’s fury that anyone outside the Coalition would dare sabotage his imbecilic populist politicking) over the Greens, Nick Xenophon, and others on the Senate crossbench apparently being prepared to consider a new approach to reining in ballooning costs associated with the age pension, whereby indexation remains linked to wages rather than consumer price inflation — preserving increases at the higher rate demanded by the government’s opponents — whilst increasing the taper rate for anyone collecting a part pension with more than $820,000 in assets over and above the family home.

I’d make the point that if those assets are generating returns of 5%, there is no case for the taxpayer to be forking out more on top; and if irresponsible largesse like the NDIS is to be retained intact, this is exactly the sort of budget cut that needs to be made: yes, the people affected will be “losers.” But no-one can plausibly argue that retirees with their own home, the better part of another million dollars in assets and whatever investment return those assets generate on top of that are either hard done by or living on skid row.

Yet the Greens seem prepared to at least countenance a compromise on pensions, and the interesting thing there is that since the article was published, that party has replaced its sanctimonious battleaxe of a leader with an individual whose stated aim is to double Greens support at Labor’s expense, and to make the Greens a more mainstream party of the Left. It remains to be seen whether the hardcore socialists and Communists in his midst will ever permit this to occur, but an attempt to be responsible on territory Labor under Shorten refuses to be can hardly be criticised.

For perspective, Labor has hit out at the government’s attempts to help millions of middle Australians — most in dual income families earning much less than $150,000 per year — with childcare expenses that can easily exceed the monthly mortgage payment or rent bill (even after government assistance has been factored in). It says more about the childcare sector than anything else, and Labor’s cost-inflating fingerprints are all over this as well, with things like legislated 1:5 staff ratios and mandated minimum educational qualifications enshrined on the ALP’s watch in office.

But childcare is a convenient target because it enables Shorten to hypocritically tear into the government for abandoning its paid parental leave scheme which Labor expressly sought to have abandoned. You can’t have it both ways. But for Bill Shorten, it seems he is content to concurrently have his shit on the one hand, and force millions of Australians to eat it on the other.

The man is a political and economic abomination.

And who the hell does he think he is to be angry the Greens deign to potentially deal with the Abbott government?

Shorten’s political position appears to be, “how dare the government attempt to fix the budget?” It’s a contemptible stance — not least on account of the complete lack of ideas that mean two-tenths of diddlysquat that he is prepared to contribute — that deserves to cost him his career.

The additional, economically fatal, problem with Shorten is that he can be counted on to implement most (if not all) of his irresponsible, half-arsed thought bubbles if ever elected, along with massive hikes in income taxes to pay for them.

Average wage earners are overburdened as it is. Housing and essential living costs have never been more expensive in this country. By the time Labor left office 18 months ago, it was cheaper (on OECD figures) to live in Britain than it is in Australia: an absolute indictment on any Australian government. Should Labor ever be elected on the kind of platform Shorten espouses, the argument for continuing to live in this country will quickly become an emotional and sentimental one only, for there are plenty of first world countries not cannibalising their way of life in the name of the kind of smug expediency Shorten and his God-forsaken party apparently aspire to.

It is for this reason, listening to Shorten accuse the Abbott government of “doubling” the size of the budget deficit when he has directly overseen the blockage of tens of billions of dollars in budget savings in the Senate (irrespective of what you think of the methods used to identify them), the instinct of thinking people to yell obscenities at the moving head on the TV screen is almost irresistible.

It is for this reason that when listening to Shorten’s budget reply speech, pledges to wipe out the HECS debts of 100,000 maths, science and engineering students should elicit a shudder of horror, not excitement; and even if this were a good thing at all, the message such a policy sends to students of the Arts, or Law, or trades such as the manual arts or vocations like being a chef is a terrible one indeed.

It is for this reason that pledges from Shorten to give business a 5% tax cut should be contemptuously ignored: if implemented, such a cut would be unfunded; if reneged upon, Shorten would be proven a liar. Either way, there is nothing in it for Australia, or for Australians. It is just about trying to win power.

It is for this reason that when Shorten talks of ending bracket creep and indexing income tax scales, people can believe it, for even massively raised tax brackets can be indexed. And under Shorten, they would be — once wage earners carried even more of the burden for Labor’s mismanagement and incompetence.

Shorten’s continued ranting about “$100,000 degrees” is ridiculous — there aren’t any — and his blather about an “$80bn cut to education and health” places an obligation on every political  journalist in this country to note that unlegislated ALP election promises are not “funding,” and Liberal Party refusals to match these non-existent monies do not amount to “cuts.”

And when it’s remembered that Shorten’s only other announced policy apart from hitting multinationals (unachievable) and hitting the rich through superannuation (insufficient to fix the budget,  even if feasible) is to abolish the private health insurance rebate, instantly pulling tens of billions of dollars out of the health system through a mix of rebate money and policyholder fees, and causing the collapse of the healthcare sector in Australia as we know it at a stroke, there is no identifiable value to be derived from even having Shorten in Parliament at all, let alone as a candidate for the Prime Ministership.

As I suggested earlier, I think there’s an election coming off the back of Tuesday’s budget; if the reaction is good, and it lasts for a month or so, then once the winter school holidays are out of the way it’s likely to be on.

Despite appearances to the contrary (and earlier judgements based on circumstances that prevailed when they were made), Shorten is ill-equipped to face an election. His party would lose badly, even if a double dissolution failed to clean up the mess in the Senate.

But that consideration is not Shorten’s to worry about. In the aftermath, he would no longer be charged with worrying about it at all.

In the end, the only person Shorten could give a rat’s arse about is himself; the only thing he cares about is becoming Prime Minister. And the millions of people dependent on welfare handouts — most legitimately, as well as some who should be prosecuted for fraud — ought all remember that some day, the endless river of largesse will run dry unless something is done to make sure it’s possible for it to continue to even flow at all.

Happily, some journalists are becoming increasingly open about the cretin Shorten and his faults; these pieces (here and here) are merely the most recent I have seen. Unsurprisingly, neither is from Fairfax or the ABC.

But when you weigh Shorten’s behaviour, the positions his party has taken in the Senate under his “leadership,” and “initiatives” he has announced to date, the truth becomes all too clear: he is nothing more than a wrecker, a thug, and an economic Neanderthal; his “policy” prescriptions add up to a further significant drain on Commonwealth finances at a time they already sit in an urgent, Labor-engineered state of disrepair.

His “leadership,” for the little to nothing it is worth, would guide Australia only so far as further along the path of ruin such luminaries as Rudd, and Gillard, and Swan — and, indeed, Shorten himself — set it on when last they held office.

And yet again, he is a walking, talking embodiment of the old truism that Labor cares about power, not people; the lives of millions of good Australians would be adversely and perhaps permanently impacted by any government ever presided over — God forbid — by William Richard Shorten.

Debt And Deficit: Use The GST To Fix The Federal Budget

THE ABILITY of the ALP and the Communist Party Greens to fudge the true magnitude of their fiscal ineptitude in government will soon be revealed, with the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit progressing steadily toward its conclusion; in the meantime, we advocate raising and expanding the GST as the least painful element of any plan to fix Labor’s budget mess. One way or another, the bill for Labor’s incompetence must be paid.

When government spends money, there are winners; when it cuts that expenditure, there are losers. This equation is not particularly sophisticated.

But when a government spends all of the money at its disposal, then a $45 billion contingency stuffed up a drainpipe, and then a further $300 billion it borrowed from China (with flow-on, recurrent obligations of yet another $150 billion more again locked into legislation), anyone who “wins” from such profligacy can hardly be surprised if they “lose” when the tap it turned off.

It amazes me how the Left — its MPs, its henchmen and its apparatchiks, and even the people on the street that have been hoodwinked by the ALP’s stories of “reasonable and responsible expenditure” — can possibly contend that the asinine mess the nation’s finances are in can justify the engorged state sector spending it initiated, or the rocketing liability it bequeathed to taxpayers and their new government.

The Commission of Audit being undertaken for the government is, as the new year progresses, occupying more space in the country’s newspapers and airwaves; much of this is being presented from the perspective of the Left, jumping as it has from the gate to confect scare campaigns about hidden Liberal Party agendas to destroy healthcare and education, as it seeks to profit politically from the very mire it created itself.

I’m not going to bother rebutting any of these for now; if people are silly enough to listen to the likes of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten and his cronies engage in the telling of flagrantly and brutally dishonest stories, that’s their prerogative.

The truth will out in the end, it always does; when the Commission tables its reports — conducted and compiled by impeccably-credentialled commissioners unable to be accused of partisanship or bias — Labor Party justifications will no more restore it to office in 2016 than they did in 1998 (and however close that election may have been, Labor still lost).

I want to talk generally today: very simply, and in general terms, about the GST, which I think should be the centrepiece of any strategy of boosting government revenues to fix the state of the budget as the key taxation measure to complement what should — and will — be a colossal axe taken to the wasteful, profligate legacy of unaffordable spending the ALP dumped in the Liberal Party’s lap in the belief it was legislating its own political future.

Far from being something to be frightened of, the GST is now an issue that Labor will find very difficult indeed to mount a ruthless scare campaign around of the kind that fatally damaged the Liberals’ prospects in 1993.

After all, GST has been in effect in this country now since 2000: the sky hasn’t fallen in, the sun still rises each day, and the tax treatment of everything that now attracts GST is mostly — mostly — far simpler.

Labor in 1993, of course, had a potent weapon it now lacks: the political nous and real killer instincts of Paul Keating; compared to Keating, the likes of Shorten and virtually every member of his caucus are a joke.

It also had an electoral asset of incalculable value of the unlikeliest kind, the politically useless John Hewson, whose 1993 campaign rendered every conceivable assistance to Keating’s own election campaign.

Labor — until WorkChoices came along 12 years later — fell into the trap of subsequently attempting to fight every election on a GST scare; it almost worked in 1998, but the key thing is that it didn’t. And the result, as we all know, is that the GST is now accepted as an everyday element of the national landscape.

Now, the ALP is sharpening its focus on the GST once more; I say go right ahead, and — for good measure — that Abbott should give them plenty of material to work with.

I think the rate of the GST should be doubled, to 20%, and the base of goods and services it applies to expanded to cover food and everything else currently exempt except healthcare, financial services transactions, and a strictly defined range of educational expenses (such as school fees, HECS fees, and so forth).

This in itself will help to address the issue of the ageing population, as retirees who no longer pay tax on their incomes will continue to contribute to the national tax take by virtue of the increased impact of the GST on their consumption.

It will also ensure, for example, that overseas visitors contribute more as they buy goods, accommodation and services; VAT doesn’t scare Australians off visiting the UK, for example, and the old argument that it would do so here when it doesn’t elsewhere is ridiculous.

The GST also comes with the great inherent advantage that by spreading it as widely as possible the rate can be kept uniform, and relatively low — relative to other, less efficient, means of generating revenue through taxation measures.

Naturally, some of the money from the higher GST receipts should be used to increase pensions and other benefits to ensure the impact on the poorest members of the community is ameliorated (notwithstanding the fact I stand by my repeated calls in this column for eligibility criteria for some of those benefits to be tightened).

Some of the revenue should be used to cut marginal income tax rates: after all, any “tax switch” that furthers the move from taxes on income to taxes on expenditure helps to deliver a more efficient and sustainable means of collecting tax, and that should be reflected in the rates that apply to wage and salary earnings.

And some of the revenue should be used — as a sweetener, unashamedly, as an instrument to help address the politics of the cost of living  — to heavily cut the rate of fuel excise, which Hewson’s original 15% GST sought to abolish altogether.

It is, of course, inevitable that by making the kind of change I am talking about, the GST will raise more than what the additional measures I advocate will cost: and rather than handing the entire pot of money over to the states, as occurs presently, some of it should be retained to help plug the imbalance in the federal budget.

The impact from these changes on consumers will be negligible; the “great food scare” is the one Labor types will zero in on (they always do), to which I simply direct readers to their supermarket bills each fortnight: look at how much GST you pay on what you buy at the supermarket now, and double it, remembering you’ll have more money in your pocket from a tax cut to pay for it.

I think the Australian public is sophisticated enough to understand the government’s books are in a mess, and that something has to be done urgently to fix the damage.

And I don’t think they blame Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey for it, either.

Indeed, there’s a report in The Australian today that now warns of the need to knock the country’s finances into shape, lest another global financial crisis or recession strikes: with the budget now haemorrhaging (borrowed) money at the rate of $1 billion per week and slowly drowning in debt, the gift of economic rigour Labor inherited from the Howard government has been squandered. If the recession comes, this time it will hurt Australia very badly indeed.

Naturally, an extensive schedule of privatisations that includes Australia Post, the ABC, SBS and Medibank Private — for starters, and with the proceeds used to retire some of the debt Labor has accumulated — must be a key plank in any restructure as well, alongside a program of abolishing Labor’s tens of billions of dollars in recurrent “green” spending, a savage attack on wasteful expenditure, the abolition of the mandatory renewable energy target, and as widespread a removal of controls and regulations as possible to free the economy of red tape and encourage economic activity and investment.

As for “Gonski” and the NDIS, they should be abandoned — along with Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme. None of these things are affordable or appropriate at this time.

The point is that if Australia is to go down this path — and given this is the second time in 20 years a Liberal government has had to clean the country’s finances up after a Labor government defecated all over them, it is also likely to be the last time such an opportunity is so readily available to pursue — it should pay the reform of its tax system the attention required to optimise its role at the centre of the system, and to fully realise the efficiencies that can be derived from its GST that even Howard, like Hewson before him, was unable to achieve.

I’ve kept my remarks this morning deliberately general in nature; this is the first time we’ve turned our attention to the looming findings of the Commission of Audit and the likely “horror budget” it will shape, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

What do people think? Am I right that GST changes are saleable now, if properly marketed and explained to voters? Or is the ALP right to think it couldn’t possibly be so lucky as to be gifted the best scare campaign it could ever wish for if a GST increase is put on the table?

I do think that if Abbott and Hockey fail — unlike Howard and Costello, 18 years ago — to pin full responsibility for both the true state of the books and the heavy spending cuts required to correct it that it will be a travesty, and if that were to occur, Australia’s fate would be sealed: no government would ever again dare to try to fix the commonwealth budget if certain electoral defeat was the known upfront consequence of doing so.

Greece and Portugal and Cyprus, were such a scenario to materialise, would look attractive indeed by comparison.

 

GP Visits: Just Stop The Silliness Over A $5 Co-Payment

IT SEEMS CLEAR — using the trusty political principle that a controlled leak is the best way to announce something — that in the 2014 federal budget, the Abbott government will introduce a $5 co-payment on bulk-billed GP visits to help repair the country’s finances and to discourage “doctor shopping” and oversupply. It mightn’t be ideal but it is responsible: whether it is or isn’t, a dose of perspective is required — especially where the ALP is concerned.

I guess it’s a modern phenomenon and a reality of the proliferation of social media that as I set out to write this piece, I’ve had an argument with someone I don’t know — and who doesn’t know me — over this issue on Facebook; I already knew this would be an explosive political issue if improperly handled, and that brief exchange proved it.

The news (and I think we can call it “news,” despite Abbott government “refusals to speculate” on the matter) that the Commission of Audit charged with identifying budget savings will recommend the introduction of a $5 co-payment for bulk-billed visits to a general practitioner — and that that recommendation will be adopted — represents what is obviously not an ideal scenario, but a responsible and reasonable one nonetheless.

Like any controversial change to long-established procedure, this one has positives and negatives, but before we get to those, there is one key point that simply must be hammered home: whether by me in this column, or by the Abbott government figures charged with implementing and selling it.

That, very simply, is that the introduction of a $5 co-payment for a GP visit is not a health policy change: it is an impost to help fix an ungodly economic quagmire, created and presided over by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and represented as far milder than its official presentation in government documentation admitted, and bequeathed to the new Liberal government — which must either fix the Commonwealth budget, and quickly, or risk Australia sinking into the same European-style debt crisis that has virtually bankrupted several once-mighty members of the EU bloc.

And it has to be hammered home because this is not an assault on health, or an evil scheme to rob “the poor” of their health services, or some miserly and doctrinaire policy from a conservative government to demolish Medicare; it is one of a series of measures to fix the federal budget, which is unsustainable as a result of mismanagement by the last Labor government.

The fact that it is already known that pensioners and health care card holders will be exempted altogether from paying the new $5 fee should take an awful lot of the wind from the sails of those who seek to make mischief out of it for petty political purposes. The fact families will be given an exemption for the first 12 consultations each year should disperse even more of it.

Wild predictions of the imminent demise of Medicare and the eternal bogey of “a step towards a two-tiered US-style health system and away from universal healthcare” — always bandied around with such enthusiasm by the Communist Party Greens and the Labor Party should be recognised as just that: wild, and wildly irresponsible at that.

It is true the policy is being crafted with one eye on discouraging the practice of so-called “doctor shopping,” which is to be applauded.

It is also aimed at reducing oversupply: not just by people with runny noses or itchy toenails turning up at GP clinics for consultations (and prescriptions) that will make no difference to their condition, but also by doctors who forward book multiple “progress” consultations that could as easily be handled by a practice nurse, or to pocket a second payment for spending 90 seconds providing the results of completely normal pathology tests, or similar pretexts to charge patients unnecessarily (although I have no problem with a doctor — with abnormal test results in hand — insisting on seeing a patient; in such a scenario it would be negligent not to do so).

A $5 co-payment also reflects the rather brutal reality of an ageing population that the raw total number of GP visits is increasing rapidly — with fewer and fewer people paying the Medicare levy to fund them.

But like any change of this nature, there will be those who are impacted, and for the record my own family may well fit that category. But I return to the point that the change is one of a raft of measures that will soon be implemented to close a yawning chasm in the national accounts that is sucking in foreign money — and racking up debt — at the rate of a billion dollars a week, and that the alternative scenario of the country defaulting on loans and having creditors call in their money is a far more worrisome prospect than being forced to part with $5 to see a doctor.

And it isn’t the abolition of bulk billing; with the gap between Medicare rebates and standard consultation fees currently sitting at an average $36, $5 is hardly an impost to split hairs over.

Doctors’ Reform Society head Dr Con Costa has said that the introduction of a co-payment would result in heavier traffic through the emergency departments of public hospitals, whilst Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton has correctly pointed out that public hospital emergency departments are a more expensive forum in which to see general practice than GP clinics.

I would suggest these gentlemen have overlooked one very big handbrake on the problem they identify: the triage system in place in most public hospitals in this country, where incoming patients are assessed by highly qualified nursing staff and assigned a category ranking from 1 to 5, with 1 being a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate attention and 5 being…well, something that can wait.

I think that most people in category 4 or 5, after their first couple of experiences of waiting three or four hours or longer, will quickly decide it’s not worth quibbling over $5, and go to see their GP the next time a minor medical niggle strikes.

All that aside, however — and to put it bluntly — there is already too much bullshit floating around over this. It is irresponsible and counterproductive, and it should stop.

The Labor Party — ever ready to deploy the cheapest and pettiest of political tactics to score points, quickly waded into the fray yesterday, describing the co-payment as “a tax on taking sick children to the doctor,” which quite plainly, it isn’t.

Senator Penny Wong (who is apparently acting opposition leader at present) described the proposal as a “real problem” despite the real problem being the mess her government made of the books — a Labor legacy which Wong, as Finance minister under Julia Gillard, has some nerve in seeking to deflect responsibility for.

“What we don’t need is a new tax on taking your family to the doctor and what we don’t need is more pressure on our public hospital system,” Wong was quoted in the Fairfax press as saying — and the theme of “clogged” hospitals seems to be one the ALP is readying to run hard on: it’s cheap and easy to spout that kind of rubbish, but it ignores the likely corrective impact of the category 4/5 scenario I have described.

Apparently, according to Wong, the co-payment is also a dastardly, sinister new tax that was dreamed up by the Liberal Party in advance of the September election and hidden from public view: this theory is absolute rubbish, of course, but the ALP has never been an entity to allow the truth to get in the way of its petty political point scoring efforts.

And of course — according to Wong — the status of the co-payment as a hidden tax makes it “a broken election promise.”

This kind of is thing certain to be ramped up in the weeks ahead, and it shouldn’t be. Certainly, a bit of perspective wouldn’t go astray.

As I said to the person who tried to slap me down on Facebook,  the hot air and bullshit factory at the ALP is so obsessed with petty politics to cover its own incompetence as to be utterly divorced from the very realities it seeks to stir up trouble over, and this issue is no exception.

There are good reasons why the nation’s health budget consumes more taxpayer dollars than any other government department (except welfare): it is money well spent on essential services that affect every person living in this country; of course it is an emotive issue — a fact Labor has been using to underpin ridiculous fear campaigns against the Liberal Party for decades — but irresponsible and dishonest ranting with the explicit and sole purpose of causing political mayhem (and at further actual cost to the country) is at best pointless, and at worst downright reprehensible.

Just stop the silliness over paying $5 to see a doctor. There are far less distasteful issues for Labor to act like grubs over if they choose to do so. Recognise this for what it is: something to help keep the rest of the vast array of Medicare services free. The measure might not be ideal, and those without exemptions might not like having to pay it, but the very real alternatives if the budget problem isn’t addressed, in the not too distant future, will have people clamouring to cough up their $5 in hindsight: even if, by then, it would all be too late.

 

 

Newspoll Shock: Labor Ahead, 52-48

A TUMULTUOUS fortnight in federal politics has produced the first real shock in opinion polling for this parliamentary term, with the highly respected Newspoll finding — for today’s issue of The Australian — a four-point movement to Labor in two weeks to put that party ahead 52-48 after preferences. Some of this is the result of typically filthy Labor Party political tactics. For the Liberals, some of it is self-inflicted.

Nobody should get too excited about these numbers, representing as they do a single poll, and nobody over at the ALP should point to the rogue result posted by Nielsen a fortnight ago — with its election-winning lead for Labor — as evidence of a trend, because it isn’t.

Yet the results of the latest Newspoll represent a clear instance of cause and effect influencing the results of opinion sampling; these do not translate into dire forebodings of doom for the new government, but by the same token they do sound a warning note that would be ignored only by a fool.

Newspoll finds Labor’s primary vote rising three points to 38%, with that of the Coalition parties falling by the same amount to sit at 40%; the Greens come in this fortnight on 9% (-1%) with “Others” sitting at 13% (+1%).

As indicated, this translates into a 52-48 result on the two-party measure: enough, if replicated at an election, for the ALP to win a small six-seat majority over all other parties on a swing of a little over 5% since the election.

It simply isn’t going to happen. Not yet, anyway.

Unsurprisingly, however, a movement like this has spilled over into Newspoll’s findings of the leaders, with Shorten (34%, +1%) beginning to gain on Abbott (41%, -3%) on the question of who might make the better Prime Minister.

And it’s the same story on the leaders’ individual numbers; Abbott finds his approval rating in this survey at 40% (-2%), with 45% (+3%) disapproving of his performance; conversely, the overall result has allowed Bill Shorten to record respectable approval (44%, +5%) and disapproval (27%, unch) figures respectively.

There are three big issues that are likely to have fuelled this result.

First, the old Labor principle of throwing as much shit as possible, as hard as possible, in the knowledge at least some will probably stick has been given a solid workout in recent weeks on the issue of government debt and, specifically, the Abbott government’s attempt to lift the debt ceiling from $300bn to $500bn.

It seems like Groundhog Day to make this point yet again, but Labor has deployed one of its trademark dishonesty bombs on this issue, running around telling anyone who will listen that Abbott and his Treasurer, Joe Hockey, are “putting up debt from $300bn to $500bn” and framing the lie in a pantomime of hypocritical outrage over — you guessed it — debt and the deficit.

The ALP knows that its own budget measures — already legislated as traps for the Liberals — will push commonwealth debt well over $400bn without anyone lifting a finger to push it along.

But yelling the loudest ensures being heard, as Labor knows, and even though the debt limit has been abandoned (on a Coalition/Greens Senate deal) it’s likely some of the rubbish Labor peddled over the issue has resonated with those in the community with limited comprehension of national affairs and/or those who take little active interest in politics.

Those groups, despite the increasing sophistication of the electorate as a whole, still include millions of enrolled voters.

Second, the uproar over Education funding last week was ill-contrived, poorly handled, and an object lesson from minister Christopher Pyne in how not to conduct attempted modifications to funding programs that sit not only in politically delicate portfolios but in areas that are Labor’s electoral strong suits to boot.

This column has made absolutely no secret of its distaste for the so-called Gonski reforms — which will amount to no more than a funding packet for teacher pay increases in practice, despite the lofty rhetoric surrounding them — and stands by the call to abolish them, as published here eleven days ago.

I credited Pyne with the smarts to be able to carry such a move through adroitly, framing his case in terms of the soon-to-be-confirmed reality of just how poor the state of the commonwealth budget really is; the fact is that he didn’t, and perhaps couldn’t, and the episode — far from being a passing storm in a teacup — has now placed an unfair and unnecessary question mark over the degree to which Abbott’s government will operate in good faith, to say nothing of necessitating $15bn from somewhere else in the budget to offset the money that could have reasonably and credibly been saved in Education.

As an aside, it probably also had the consequence of marking Pyne out early as a weak link in the government; he can expect to face a far more determined onslaught from Labor now.

And third — to be brutally candid — the horrifying spectacle of the Liberal Party’s dirty laundry being aired publicly will have fed into this current measurement of public opinion, too.

It is has been well documented in the press that considerable internal unrest is brewing over the degree of control exercised by Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, over everything from the recruitment of ministerial advisers to access to the Prime Minister for business leaders to what may or may not be said in a press conference by a government minister.

I do not propose at this time to add anything in relation to these matters beyond what has already appeared in the press, other than to simply observe that I believe the anger and dissatisfaction around Ms Credlin’s execution of her duties to be deeper and more widespread than reported.

Even so, whatever complaints or otherwise exist in relation to Ms Credlin, it is imperative they be confined behind closed doors.

Those closest to her have been ferocious in their defence of Credlin, insisting that what has surfaced in media reports is simply the work of a disgruntled few who have proved why they — personally — have fallen foul of the regime in charge of the new government’s innermost workings.

The fact is, however, that for a government barely three months in office, the existence of such reports at all — and of the Liberal Party leaks that fuel them — is a poor look.

It sends ominous echoes of the chaos presided over by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard ricocheting through a hungry media pack angry at Abbott’s victory in September and more than willing to exploit anything that might move the Liberals — even in increments of fractions of a millimetre — back toward the opposition benches at the earliest available opportunity.

And for those in the electorate who listen to those who yell the loudest in politics — Labor — it “confirms” the story the ALP has sought to propagate since September 8: that the Coalition isn’t ready to govern, it isn’t fit to govern, and it can’t be trusted to govern.

For now, that’s all it is: a story, and a fairly wishful one at that on Labor’s part.

The Liberal Party wouldn’t, in fact, lose an election were one to be held this weekend; of that I am certain.

But Coalition figures would do well to consider the raft of factors that have driven this particular Newspoll into unfriendly territory — we’ve looked at the main ones here, but there are others — and make arighting the ship the top priority in terms of its order of business.

 

Debt, Deficit, And The Abolition Of The Debt Ceiling

TODAY I HAVE SEEN one of the best arguments on Australia’s debt position in quite some time; argued in The Australian, respected economics writer Judith Sloan points out — compellingly — that without radical action, Australia will find itself in a position no better than the basket cases of Europe.

It’s just a discussion starter today to share a really good article with readers; those familiar with my views know that far from being persuaded that Australia’s debt load is somehow justifiable because it is “low” by international standards, I’m a big advocate in curbing government spending until such time as the debt pile has been paid and retired.

You can access Sloan’s article here. A few observations.

I think the Communist Party Greens are going to be sorely disappointed if they believe their deal with Treasurer Joe Hockey to abolish the debt ceiling will somehow garner them bargaining chips to cash later for doctrinaire social spending or similar socialist measures: I would argue the two are mutually exclusive.

In any case, the Greens have simply done a deal to restore the operating environment that existed pre-2008 — with no debt ceiling in effect — with the happy consequence that one avenue for Labor to ply its insidious and vapid brand of hypocritical grimy politics is closed off.

Paul Kelly published an excellent piece, also in today’s Australian, on precisely this subject.

Sloan sets out the case for returning the Commonwealth budget under a range of scenarios; all fraught with risks, of course, given the flow-on effects from moving money around the economy, or removing it from the system altogether.

But it’s clear that something needs to be done to rein in the explosion in the country’s debt; as I have said before, debt as a percentage of GDP doesn’t get to 100% if it isn’t permitted to pass through 10% first, then 20%, and 30%…

It brings into focus the priorities of the Abbott government, boxed in to some extent as it is by the ALP in its contemptibility and a hysterical ABC/Fairfax/Guardian media axis that makes shrill demands of total implementation of Liberal Party election pledges — irrespective of how bad the actual state of the government’s books is revealed to be — and acting on threats to raise merry hell if that doesn’t occur.

I think readers know my preference for reform of industrial relations mechanisms in Australia to at least move the “centre point” of the IR landscape back to its pre-WorkChoices position; as things stand, the reregulated labour market, with its rigidity and inflexibility and its hefty pro-union bias, are a huge drag on the economy as it stifles productivity and escalates wages growth well beyond sustainable levels.

(If anyone doubts this, cast a quick look at two heavily unionised companies I will soon be writing about — Qantas and Holden — and then come back and make a credible case they’re in rude, robust financial health. You can’t).

All of this also ties in to the discussion we have had about Gonski, which should be abolished: in its present form, it is an unaccountable waste of billions of borrowed dollars with no parameters around it to guarantee any meaningful results in terms of educational outcomes.

The NDIS is trickier; it costs an awful lot more than Gonski, but on balance has a lot more to recommend it. Even so, I have suggested in the past the NDIS might be a good idea that is simply unaffordable (at least in its current form) and I don’t resile from that view.

Of course, to make meaningful inroads into Australia’s public sector debt will require either higher taxes, reduced spending, or privatisations.

I argue that there’s no scope to ramp up taxation in any meaningful sense; consumers as a whole are stretched and burdened as it is by record levels of government taxation (especially when fees, charges and other imposts levied by the states are included) and in any case, taxing the hell out of people does not equate to delivering acceptable outcomes in return.

How many people view Centrelink as a lean, efficient contributor to the economic welfare of this country, for example? Enough said.

The other two measures, though, are the key: privatising those remaining enterprises no government ought be conducting (Medicare Private, Australia Post, and a host of others) and using the proceeds to pay down debt, whilst abolishing socialist monuments such as Gonski and (reluctantly) the NDIS, along with the renewable energy target, subsidies for things like wind power and solar energy, and the rest of the wasted money pissed up against a post on Rudd/Gillard-era Green schemes designed to mollify the Greens and secure their preferences.

Generally, and as a basic “mud map,” the greater the outrage Abbott and Hockey generate in Greens’ ranks, the better off the country will be: and in any case, if the hard decisions and actions aren’t taken now, it will be decades before they are.

After all, the next Labor government won’t behave with any economic responsibility or conduct itself with anything other than ineptitude: that much is certain.

So by the time the next Coalition government enters office from opposition in, say, 20 years’ time, the damage will have been done; and ALP hacks who apologise for their government’s wasteful, inefficient largesse will indeed be forced to confront Australia’s name near the fat end of the graphs they so enthusiastically circulate to justify themselves, rather than near the bottom of the debt pile where we rightfully belong.

Just some thoughts on two excellent articles. What do people think?

 

Ban Supermarkets: Greens’ Moment Of Reason A Mirage

JUST WHEN A FOOL might surmise it safe to accord the Communist Party Greens the deference a responsible political outfit might command, their true lunatic nature is again revealed in its ugly glory; their call for Tony Abbott to muster “the courage” to ban Coles and Woolworths from opening supermarkets is so ridiculous as to belong on another planet.

I must say I’m not in the least surprised.

This week, the Greens have given their most trenchant critics something to contemplate, sealing as they have a deal with Treasurer Joe Hockey to abolish the Commonwealth debt cap in return for comprehensive statements to Parliament on the country’s debt position each time government debt increases by $50 billion.

The debt ceiling, introduced on the watch of the initial Rudd government, served little purpose other than to draw attention to the shocking rate of increase in Commonwealth debt each time Parliament was asked to increase it.

And specious arguments from the ALP that Hockey and Prime Minister Abbott “are putting debt up from $300bn to $500bn” are typical of the fundamental dishonesty with which that party conducted its last period in office, and which Labor seems determined to cling to in opposition in preference to a less cynical interpretation of the collective intelligence of the Australian public.

At the risk of labouring the point, Labor knows full well the scale of legislated spending it bequeathed to the Liberals will necessitate well over $100bn of additional borrowing on the Liberal Party’s watch; absolving Hockey of the need to go cap-in-hand to Parliament each time the ceiling needed to be lifted to accommodate it at least removes one ill-gotten opportunity for the ALP to engage in despicable politicking off the back of its own incompetent handiwork.

I thought the deal on abolishing the debt ceiling was reasonable, and the Greens’ asking price of a statement to Parliament each time debt increased past set markers fair.

But I did wonder what it was that they wanted; today, that question has been answered.

Their call for the government to ban all new Coles and Woolworths supermarkets is breathtaking in its stupidity, and neatly illustrates just how divorced from any meaningful grip on reality they are.

Even based on the points raised in that report, it isn’t difficult to see where this latest aspiration to economic vandalism by the Greens might lead.

First, the positive.

I, too, have great reservations about the efficacy of so-called “shopper docket” schemes used by Coles and Woolworths as a tool to drive retail sales of fuel; not just because of their potential to drive independent petrol retailers out of the market — although they certainly have that — but because such discounts have to be paid for, and that price is paid at the supermarket checkout by consumers purchasing the foodstuffs that qualify them for “petrol discounts” in the first place.

Such a smoke-and-mirror show is a farce, and a waste of time — and that’s before arguments about predatory behaviour and abuses of market power even begin.

But beyond that, there is nothing of merit in the Greens’ latest decree.

Whether the Greens like it or not, often the local supermarket forms a focal point in local communities, be they suburban, regional or well away in the bush.

At best, their call to ban the two majors from expanding could be construed as an attempt to skew the market toward the likes of IGA in an act of commercial preferment no better than the alleged outrages they rail against; at worst, the Greens advocate the wilful disadvantage of towns and neighbourhoods that would benefit from having the presence of a supermarket at all.

Their call to ban Woolworths and Coles from investing in agricultural land defies belief, given the Greens also sought to obstruct a well-publicised Chinese investment in prime agricultural real estate during the last term of Parliament.

It’s a truism, I know, but someone has to own these assets: and if private landholders seek to divest them for whatever reason, surely ownership by a major Australian company (when the prospect of such ownership is in hand and on offer as a commercial consideration) is preferable, all other things being equal, to a foreign buyer?

And calls to “rein in the power of the big supermarkets” may make for a clever soundbite, but simply kneecapping them isn’t going to achieve anything constructive.

If the Greens want to engage in a debate about competition, or propose changes to laws that govern the commercial conduct of major supermarket chains, that might or might not be a reasonable thing; yet these calls amount to nothing of the kind, representing as they do a classic presentation of the ideologically driven crusade against business the Greens have always pursued in their utter hatred of the forces of markets and capital.

One deserved brownie point earned this week for actually doing something economically responsible has been incinerated by the renewed pursuit of a characteristically socialist, command-and-control agenda with the crippling of private sector enterprises in its crosshairs.

It seems to be a theme that will feature prominently in this column over the next little while, but market distortions of the kind the Greens advocate in the supermarket retailing space will achieve nothing of benefit, and — like most intrusions of Big Brother into business — would cause a great degree of harm to the very interests the Greens claim to be acting on behalf of.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.