Treasury vs Shorten On “Fairness:” Shorten Is Wrong

THE SPAT between Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson and opposition “leader” Bill Shorten reveals a basic fact: the Labor “leader” would rather indulge in petty, tacky politicking than confront budget problems bequeathed to Australia by his own party’s ineptitude. Perhaps the budget could be fine-tuned, or maybe other measures would be preferable. But Shorten doesn’t want a debate; he wants power. And he will say anything to grab it.

I think readers know that I’m not naive about politics; it’s a hard, rough and dour enterprise in which winners are grinners, and losers can do what they like. After all, no party that loses an election wins what counts most, and those who lose and fight over the spoils of defeat are bound to endure that experience until or unless they wake up to themselves.

Even so, it says a great deal about the true calibre of a “leader” who would masquerade ferociously as a champion of “the poor and the sick” in the interests of short-term political expediency, with the consequences of the objectives he pursues — if realised — to be the wholesale sellout of the living standards, debt position and prosperity of future generations of Australians.

Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson’s pointed suggestion — in a jab at Bill Shorten — that “vague notions” of unfairness were “unconvincing” and a recipe for economic decline throws into stark relief the contrast between the short-term, crazed lunge at power Shorten seems obsessed with and the longer-term view a responsible and sober appraisal of the state of the country’s finances would demand.

Tellingly, Shorten has elected not just to defend what he is doing, but to do so in the same trashy, sloganistic terms Labor’s entire approach to the national interest is conducted in under his stewardship.

To some extent, there are only so many times the same arguments can be made.

In this case, that Labor took Australia from net creditor status to a debt burden of 25% to GDP (a 40-point turnaround) in just six years; left unrepaired, the residual damage would see that blow out to 50% in less than a decade — probably faster — and two-thirds the way to being a full-blown basket case like the debt-addled Eurotrash economies Labor, and Shorten, solemnly protest their economic vandalism and mismanagement could never achieve.

Shorten can’t even nudge his story onto a factual basis before using it to scare hell out of the most vulnerable Australians; as the Fairfax article I have linked notes, he claims that “if you are on a pension your wage will be decreased.” This is rubbish: the rate of indexation will be slowed, precisely to avoid the kind of outright cuts he is running around telling anyone who will listen are being made.

(And the Centrelink construct that pensions are “wages,” and that pensioners have “pay day” each fortnight, is a cultural nuance introduced on Labor’s watch that is fuelling exactly the mentality that is at issue here: they are not wages, and they do not come on “pay day” — they are welfare benefits. Pension payments. But I digress).

The example in the article of whether to send a student to university “and then the cost of a science degree triples” is just as ridiculous: one, the parents don’t pay the HELP fees; that happens later through the tax system. Two, parents don’t “send” their kids to universities — that decision is one they make for themselves. And three, and perhaps most importantly, Labor has pursued a long-term strategy of educating new generations of what it thinks will be its adherents to the detriment of huge swathes of Australia’s skilled and blue-collar labour requirements.

People think such roles are beneath them because they have been taught, by predominantly left-wing teachers delivering a left-skewed curriculum — that they are entitled to be degree qualified. Meanwhile, stories of people with useless or redundant degrees are increasing, as is social resentment that foreign workers are coming to Australia to take jobs that have to be filled, but for which this country has insufficient people willing to do them.

None of Shorten’s arguments stack up. They are a denial of reality. Unless things change, the country will go broke. And the most despicable thing is that whilst he will never admit it to the average voter, Shorten knows it.

“You don’t heal the sick by taxing them,” which of course is a truism in its most literal sense — and one that totally denies the structural funding position of Medicare.

He sniffs at the fact the “deficit tax” (which imposes an effective marginal tax rate of an incentive-destroying 49%) expires in four years whilst whingeing that it’s a broken promise at the same time he refuses to allow the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes, for which the government has a mandate, through the Senate.

On and on it goes. The only position Shorten refuses to take is the one that might cost votes, and without exception that means placing expediency ahead of responsibility.

The hard fact is that the welfare bill in Australia is spiralling; the burden is being carried by a pool of wage and salary earners that is now beginning to shrink as the population ages. There are fewer people paying less money to fund ballooning government outgoings. This is a problem that requires urgent redress.

But that doesn’t bother Shorten, who is content to take the soft option of frightening hell out of people today — even if it means there won’t be the capacity to pay even as much as the government does now, in real terms, when “tomorrow” rolls along.

These problems aren’t unique to Australia; they are making themselves felt in much of the western hemisphere where welfare states — and entitlement mentalities — have been allowed to take root and to fester.

The British government recently legislated to put a cap on the value of welfare benefits paid to individual households; the cap was set at £26,000 per annum ($46,900) — the average earnings of a typical family in Britain — in a country where more than 50% of households claim more in benefits than they pay in tax. That ratio — as it has in Australia — has crept higher and higher in recent years.

Here in Australia, the figure already stands at 50%. If Shorten were honest about it, or in any way principled beyond his mad ambition to become Prime Minister at any cost, he would be offering to find constructive solutions to an urgent problem that is fast becoming dire.

He might examine broadening and/or raising the GST in return for income tax cuts and pension rises; taxing the rate of consumption rather than income provides a far more durable revenue base that is less affected by an ageing population. But no, despite the sky not falling in when the existing GST was introduced, broadening and lifting it would cause — well, it would cause the sky to fall in, of course.

He might propose reasonable, intelligent alternatives to the measures he specifically opposes that would nonetheless achieve a similar outcome. But no, it’s easier just to oppose mindlessly because — as far as Labor is concerned — Tony Abbott did it.

The ALP is incensed by Abbott’s tactics in opposition and determined to ram them down his throat. The difference is that Abbott is seeking to fix a structural problem in government, whereas commitments emanating from his years in opposition seek to reverse the worst excesses of ideological sellout by the Gillard government to the Communist Party Greens. Abbott won that argument. Labor, under Shorten, opposes him honouring those commitments too.

In fact, Shorten seeks to both have his cake and eat it: he claims Abbott “lied” and is breaking election promises despite ample warnings that “things that aren’t popular might have to be done” once the true state of the books was known. Those warnings explode the myth Shorten is peddling. Yet in the same breath, he seeks to prevent Abbott honouring election commitments for which he has a clear mandate. It is sanctimonious hypocrisy at its worst.

If he were fair dinkum about being a leader with Australia’s best interests at heart, he might even stop talking shit. But alas, this commodity is in plentiful (and endless) supply when it comes to Shorten and his self-serving utterances on anything to do with governance in this country.

For another perspective, here‘s an article by Jessica Irvine that appears in the Murdoch press today; it can surely be no accident that the Murdoch press as well as those elements of the Fairfax press that are objective enough not to blindly barrack for whoever isn’t on Tony Abbott’s side are actually saying a lot of the same things. The ABC, of course, would concede nothing of the kind. But only a fool would deny these problems exist; and only fools — like Shorten and his mates — seem determined to argue that there is no need to deal with them.

And if anyone thinks I’m just kicking the conservative can around, here’s more proof again that even some of Shorten’s own people at least recognise the problem, even if he’s too blinded by his ambitions to do so himself.

For what it’s worth, I want to make a final point: the word “fair” is one of those overused and abused terms in Australia, and is used to excuse all manner of sins; it’s a word with heavy political connotations, more often than not deployed provocatively over cheap points — just like Shorten is doing. “Unfair” and “Unaustralian” could almost be interchangeable in the context. Both are off the mark, and both are little more than politico-babble that is essentially meaningless.

I think we should be talking about what is right, rather than what is fair. Is it right to let welfare obligations overrun Commonwealth expenditures to the point they become completely unaffordable without borrowing money to pay for them? Is it right that half the households in Australia pocket more than they pay? And is it right that not simply content to protect the status quo — unsustainable as it is — Shorten seems happy to allow a dangerously flawed budget position deteriorate further, and further, and further in the name of so-called “fairness?”

Shorten is wrong. The budget is not unfair. At some point these problems were always going to have to be addressed. At least the Abbott government is trying to do so.

But then again, when his only objective in life is to break the land speed record to get his backside behind the Prime Ministerial desk at Parliament House, it’s no wonder such niceties as responsible government and the long-term interests of the country are given short shrift by “Welfare Bill.”

What do readers think?