Curses And Silver Linings As Mining Tax Axed

THE ABOLITION — belatedly — of the mining tax yesterday is both a curse and a blessing; it allows Prime Minister Tony Abbott to add another item to the list of election promises delivered, but adds also to the growing list of “wins” achieved by the disruptive forces of Clive Palmer, with no justification and little merit, and at great cost. The outcome is not perfect for the government but it is better than nothing. And there is, of course, a silver lining.

In purely numerical terms — from the perspective of responsible management — it’s a case of getting something less than desired being preferable to getting 100% of nothing.

But in reality, the deal between the Abbott government and the Palmer United Party to abolish the mining tax, at the expense of fiddling around the Low Income Superannuation Contribution, the so-called “Schoolkids’ Bonus,” and the eventual increase in compulsory superannuation contributions from 9.5% to 12% is a mixed bag that will please few people and deliver much less than was intended of it.

Firstly, the good news.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his colleagues can be jubilant (if relieved) to have finally delivered on their key election promise to abolish the mining tax; not only was this an abysmally drafted piece of public policy idiocy, but the savage blow it delivered to investment in the minerals and energy sector (despite barely raising a penny from it) was compounded by billions of earmarked dollars in revenue that were spent but never materialised.

To remove such an abominable instrument from the statute books removes another symbol of the sheer ineptitude of the Labor government Abbott vanquished last September, and gives a much-needed boost to the government’s narrative of undoing the mismanagement of the regime it replaced.

Even so, the deal — to retain the LISC and the Schoolkids’ Bonus over the medium term, whilst deferring increases in the rate of compulsory superannuation contributions — robs the government of many of the savings it intended to book.

That deal, in turn, has been the price Abbott and his Treasurer Joe Hockey have had to pay to win over the Senate votes of the Palmer United Party: without it, the mining tax would remain in effect today for what little it was worth, with the prospect of getting rid of it at all greatly diminished.

Whilst the price of these concessions is less than the $10 billion over four years it might have been — estimates value the hit they will inflict on the budget at about $6 billion — it remains the case that even though there are $4 billion in savings to be banked over four years, another $6 billion in fresh expenditure cuts (or tax rises) must now be found.

For whilst “axing the tax” is a promise that has now been delivered upon twice — in relation to both the carbon tax and the mining tax — fixing the budget and eliminating the deficit was arguably the overriding election commitment made by the Coalition, and being able to meet it became $6 billion further away yesterday.

I can only reiterate my disgust and contempt for the antics of not just Clive Palmer — whose “populism” in the name of doing great damage to conservative governments across Australia is also set to increasingly cause damage to the country itself, if deals like yesterday’s are anything to go by — but also for the ALP and the Communist Party Greens, whose single collective policy seems to be opposing anything tabled in Parliament by the government. We’ll come back to Labor and the Greens in a couple of minutes.

In this case (and this is an old, old story), all three of the ongoing spending commitments that have been the subject of horse trading leave something to be desired, but the LISC and the Schoolkids’ Bonus should never have been legislated in the first place, let alone permitted to continue under any circumstances.

Oddly, given my aversion to spending the money at all, I disagree with the fact the Schoolkids’ bonus is being means tested: it mightn’t sit well with the “hit the rich” brigade, but if you’re going to pay out on a per student basis, it should apply to every student.

But this doesn’t change the fact that both the Schoolkids’ Bonus and the LISC were electoral bribes cooked up by Julia Gillard and the useless incompetent who masqueraded as her Treasurer to fling money at selected groups of people they thought could be enticed to vote for them.

It doesn’t change the fact that there was never any money to pay for these measures, courtesy of the laughable reality of a tax that raised no money.

And it doesn’t change the fact that now — as it was then, when these handouts were dreamed up — they are completely unaffordable.

Deferring increases to the superannuation guarantee levy does go some way to ameliorating the damage this unwarranted spending will cause, with the government set to make some savings as a result. But the reality is that the bulk of the cost of superannuation contributions are paid by business, not government, and those who complain about “reductions to retirement savings” should also consider that employees in line to suffer those reductions would otherwise be in line for flat (or non-existent) real wage growth for several years to claw the cost of them back.

In other words, where ordinary non-government sector workers are concerned, it’s a zero sum game — or one of smoke and mirrors at best when considered against the storm of outrage it is already generating from the Left.

Simply stated, there is little merit and no justification in retaining the LISC and the Schoolkids’ Bonus at all, let alone in the truncated state this deal sees them continue in.

I acknowledge that the reality of numbers in the Senate have conspired to enforce this outcome on the government, and note — after all — that getting part of what Abbott and his ministers wanted was and is preferable to getting 100% of nothing, which is where this would have ended up had the compromise struck with Palmer yesterday not been reached.

That fact in turn presents yet another argument in favour of the pressing need for Senate reform: not something I propose to engage comprehensively in at this time. But as I pointed out yesterday, the Senate in its current state is neither democratic nor representative; it no longer functions as either a “States’ House” or as a genuine “House of Review,” but as a rival political power centre to the elected government of the day.

It has, as such, ceased to serve the constitutional purpose for which it was created, and this has everything to do with the way it is elected after repeated fiddles by Labor governments to render it more hostile to conservative governments. We will come back to this question at a later time, but the problem with the Senate isn’t the Senate itself: it’s the tampering that has been perpetrated upon it, and at some point either the government (or a genuine popular movement demanding change) needs to tackle the difficult but essential challenge of significantly overhauling it, for the Senate is a potent driver of modern public hostility towards politics.

It doesn’t have to be so, and it shouldn’t be.

Still, there is a silver lining.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph editorialises this morning that in the wake of yesterday’s vote to rescind the mining tax, the Greens have been left “fuming over their new and utter irrelevance.”

Apparently their sanctimonious, pious hypocrite of a leader, Christine Milne, is enraged by the fact that government and Palmer Senators walked into the chamber, moved their bills, and voted according to the arrangement they had struck — and that the Greens were excluded from this process altogether.

I would make the observation that if the Greens want to legitimise the clear sense of entitlement they feel to be involved in drafting (and ideologically distorting) every law enacted in Australia, then they should start finding ways to appeal to more than about 10% of the electorate: all they have ever been is a rump, and deservedly so, and until or unless that changes, a rump is all they will ever be.

And without enough Labor bums on seats to give any weight at all to their own, the Greens aren’t theoretically entitled to be involved in anything.

Still, it’s curious that Milne should profess fury at the process deployed by the government yesterday; it is, after all, exactly the approach her party took when it came to legislating the mining and carbon taxes in the first place, and Milne and her colleagues were quite open at the time in their view that anyone who disagreed with what they had done could take the proverbial running jump.

And while we’re on the point, there’s a critical difference, the merits of Schoolkids’ Bonuses and the LISC aside.

What the government engineered yesterday was at least done in the name of keeping an election pledge to abolish the mining tax — whether the Greens agreed with such an outcome or not.

In their complicity in the mining tax and their insistence on the carbon tax as the price for supporting Gillard after the 2010 election, Milne couldn’t even claim that: neither policy had a mandate, the carbon tax had arguably been ruled out by the major parties and that position endorsed by voters, and the Greens’ stated position is one of refusal to ever permit the abolition of either.

In fact, they are already in cahoots with the ALP to reintroduce either or both next time the Left is able to form a government irrespective of the wishes of the electorate at that time; good luck with that.

In any case, if it’s genuine principle or decency voters seek, they aren’t going to find it from the Greens, and Milne — with her petulant tantrum over not being consulted — has proven as much yet again.

The reinforcement of that reality can never occur too frequently, and at some point it’s to be hoped the Greens’ supporters wake up to the fact, and find someone else to vote for.

I’d call that a silver lining, on any measure.


Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister: Then, And Now

WITH THE LAUNCH this weekend of the first Coalition TVCs of the election season, the battle between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd is set to commence in earnest; today we look at Rudd’s first period as Prime Minister between 2007 and 2010, and again since last month as Rudd resumes where he left off.

Before we begin, readers will be delighted (I’m sure) to know that this is one of those posts that comes with a little something from YouTube to listen to whilst they read: entirely appropriate, and I hope everyone enjoys the trip down memory lane.

ON THE MOVE: Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

The pretext for writing this article, oddly enough, came from a discussion I was having yesterday with two splendid fellows I went to school with; I haven’t seen either of them in almost 25 years, but social media is a wonderful way to reconnect with people.

It seems that the Liberal Party TV advertisements will be a positive-negative split; half of the campaign will focus on Rudd’s record as Prime Minister the first time around, hitting hard at the direct and indirect failings of his tenure leading to the train wreck that is the ALP’s record to defend after six years in power.

The other half will emphasise positive messages, focused on Tony Abbott and the swathe of Coalition policies already released, either in full or as measures under development and rolled out progressively (such as the food bowl plan for northern Australia).

The reason I alluded to for compiling this post stems from the fact there seems to be a lot of confusion about who stands for what, who did what, who has policies and who doesn’t: and of course, the deeper into election season we go, the heavier the focus in this column will be on precisely those considerations.

But the discussion yesterday with old school chums simply reinforced what I have been hearing from a hell of a lot of “ordinary” voters: that is, people with an ear on national goings-on but who aren’t deeply immersed and tied up in politics per se to the extent hardcore political junkies (yes, I’m guilty there 🙂  ) across even the smallest detail are.

Everyone knows that courtesy of the attacks he was incessantly faced with from former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Abbott was branded as “Dr No:” a truly “oppositionist” opposition leader who criticised everything but stood for nothing of his own.

It’s a label that has stuck, and unfairly so; under Abbott the Coalition has been steadily releasing policy for well over a year, on everything from tax to (yes) border security, from food security to family policy, and from communications to industrial relations.

To some extent it genuinely surprises me that such a large contingent of the voting population either believes Abbott hasn’t got any policies, or has so little knowledge of them; I’m always keen to gauge people’s thoughts among those removed from the game to keep sense of what Joe Public and his/her mood is at any given time.

These new Coalition ads will help, and as the election draws closer I do intend to focus on the respective offerings of the two parties from an information perspective as much as to comment and analyse.

Once the TVCs are available, I will post them here for readers to access.

The other thing I’m hearing at ground level (which is no surprise to anyone who follows politics even on the most detached basis) is that like a departed lover from a bad relationship, the memory of Kevin Rudd’s first period as PM seems to be etched in the positives; everyone remembers what they liked about him, and the bad stuff they wanted to fight with him over — well, that’s faded away as time marched on after June 2010.

Coincidentally, there are two excellent opinion articles on just this subject in today’s edition of the Weekend Australian that I’d like to share this morning as well.

Henry Ergas provides a detailed and gripping recap of the earlier Rudd years; his critique makes for a compellingly thorough refresher on the great, the good, the bad and the terrible of what Rudd’s first stint in the job looked like — and a more sound basis on which to evaluate his record (and actions now) than some of the misty-eyed and unduly fond sentiments he tends to elicit now, simply on account of the passage of time.

I might add that the fact Rudd was followed by three years of Julia Gillard’s leadership has probably also made him look disproportionately good to many people; smart lady she may have been, but when it came to actual politics (as opposed to policy) and communications, Gillard is easily the worst Prime Minister this country has seen.

Ross Fitzgerald’s column continues the then-and-now assessment of Rudd, focusing primarily on the key area of foreign affairs: and whether you agree or disagree with the respective positions of Messrs Abbott and Rudd, this is a policy area that will feature heavily in the campaigns of the two sides at the coming election, whenever it may be held.

(I am also going to include a link to a third opinion piece here from today’s Oz by Peter van Onselen, dealing with the proposed reforms of the ALP Rudd is pushing, and this is really something for those readers of Labor orientation: whilst van Onselen’s arguments largely mirror my own, he’s right — and this is something rank and file Labor people should be galvanising against in the best long-term interests of their party, even if it means a slap in the face for Rudd in the immediate term).

Obviously, we’re not really analysing anything with this particular post; rather, it’s simply aimed at tilling a little ground in areas that are about to spring sharply into focus as the election campaign proper moves up a notch.

I’ll be posting again later today with a more orthodox article by the standards of this column, but in the meantime I trust everyone will enjoy/evaluate/discuss (and comment on here, if desired) the items I have linked to from today’s paper.

Oh, and the characters in the YouTube clip are not a younger Kevin Rudd and his wife…


The Wit, Wisdom And Socialist Dogma Of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan — Deputy Prime Minister, Treasurer, and pious little bubble of self-important rectitude — is stepping up his crusade against mining conglomerates, and against mining billionaires specifically. He should reflect: socialism is dead.

Swan’s set against the mining companies (and the likes of Andrew Forrest, Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart in particular) boils down to a very simple premise: they’re filthy rich, so tax the living daylight out of them — in the name of “sharing the prosperity” of Australia’s minerals boom and resultant wealth.

In other words, Swan sees himself on an historic mission to be Robin Hood.

Little wonder Palmer described him yesterday as “an economic pygmy.”

Qualitative research already shows that Australians generally do not favour singling out the mining sector for excessive taxation treatment; indeed, it is the one sector of the Australian economy holding the rest of it out of recession at present.

I don’t propose to get into the tin-tack specifics of the brawl going on between “SwannyDPM” (as he vainly likes to be known on Twitter) and the miners, but I do want to make a few very salient points.

The first of these is on taxation; even billionaires, and their companies turning over tens of billions of dollars per annum, are subject to personal and corporate taxation regimes that ensure they pay a reasonable dividend to the federal treasury each year.

They are also subject to state-based mining royalty payments; this is the system Swan wants to use a “mining tax” as a sleight-of hand, smoke and mirror device to significantly increase the level of taxation revenue the mining sector remits.

It is true that these entities and these individuals seek to minimise their tax obligations each year, as they are legitimately entitled to do; just as anyone earning a salary who writes off expenses for motor vehicles, mobile phone usage or other work-related expenses can.

And if they do anything unlawful, the law will chase them — and chase them until they are either dead or prosecuted. Messrs Christopher Skase and Alan Bond respectively should provide ample reassurance to the general public that nobody is above the law.

Swan seems to imply that because of the sheer wealth of these companies and their proprietors, they should effectively serve as limitless cash cows to prop up the federal budget he has singlehandedly vandalised and trashed in four sorry years as Treasurer of Australia.

Yet I would note that a far more deserving target of Swan’s “Robin Hood” approach — the banking sector — escapes with no more than a few weasel words at a doorstop press grab designed to get him 10 seconds on the evening news bulletins.

It’s true that I have reluctantly called for the banks to be pulled into line as corporate citizens by way of a windfall tax on profits exceeding $2 billion per annum, per bank. But there are three very large differences between the banks and the mining companies.

One, each mining company was started and built as an entity by an entrepreneur (Forrest and Palmer; in Rinehart’s case, her father, the late Lang Hancock) — the banks are purely shareholder institutions driven solely by profit.

Two, the mining companies may make a lot of money, and so do their proprietors, but as they grow they both create jobs directly in increasing numbers, as well as fuelling indirect economic growth and activity in other industries.

By contrast — apart from their own workforces — the banks contribute very little back into the wider economy, and what they do (mortgage finance, general credit, advisory and brokerage services etc) simply returns residual profits and cashflow to their bottom lines.

And three, the activities of Australia’s banks (widening margins on finance lending, transaction fees, interchange fees, account keeping fees, administration fees, exit fees, in fact just about any fee imaginable) takes money out of the pockets of almost every Australian citizen to fuel obscene profits that return next to nothing constructive to the wider economy.

So let’s hear no more about the purported legitimacy of Swan’s crusade against the miners.

Ever the hypocrite, Swan whined in his speech to the National Press Club today that a small group of wealthy individuals was skewing the political debate in their own interests, and yet continued on to claim that unions also attempted to influence political outcomes, but they did so in the interests of everyday Australians.

Get me the sick bucket…you can’t have it both ways.

And to quote Swan from an article in today’s edition of The Australian newspaper:

“Can I just say I am really proud of our link with the trade union movement, and I don’t resile from that for one moment…they are working Australians who are bringing up families, going to work every day. And because they have joined a trade union they lobby collectively for their rights. Good on them. They are just doing what normal lobby groups do, or interest groups do, in our society.”

 So it’s OK for the unions to do it in the name of the less than 3 in 20 Australian working people who now belong to a union at all, but it’s bad when another “normal lobby group” — the mining sector — do the same thing.

What a hypocrite, but then that’s Wayne Swan all over.

And to frame this attack on the mining sector as part of a stated appeal to the blue-collar “support base” the ALP seeks to “reconnect” with is political naivety in the extreme.

For one thing, those blue-collar votes already lost to Labor (as it pursues the elites, the inner-city trendies, the minorities, and anyone who might vote Green) are going to be virtually impossible to win back; the so-called party of the workers — Labor — has already sold them down the river, and having found other quarters in which to invest their support are unlikely to return in any hurry.

And for another, that portion of Swan’s blue-collar “support base” that works for the miners — often enjoying better pay and conditions than anything a collective union agreement could deliver — will look first at their bosses, then at Swan, and back to their bosses.

These people know who will genuinely look after their interests, and those of their families — and it is not Wayne Swan.

I would make the observation that having mismanaged the Australian economy and its budget so horrifically in the space of less than five years that the country has gone from a zero debt position to owing some $190 billion to the rest of the world is evidence enough of Wayne Swan and his dubious claims to economic rigour.

And I would implore anyone with more than a cursory acceptance of what they read in a newspaper to question any claim the current government makes about having “saved” the economy from recession in 2008-09: the recession may not have eventuated (courtesy of mining receipts, primarily), but that heroic claim is being constantly and continually abused to mask the rocketing levels of public sector debt — where there was none previously.

Now, Swan wants to talk about miners paying “their fair share.”

I would argue that they already do so, and in so many more ways than directly through the taxation system. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of jobs depend directly on this sector, and indirectly, so do hundreds of thousands of others — and all of those employees also directly pay tax to the government.

And this brings me to my point.

These mining companies and their owners might be swimming in money, but they pay their dues and — more importantly — have created something.

It is unacceptable for anyone in this country to advocate that those who work hard, take risks, back their judgement and get it right — and make money in the process — should then be asked to pay an unreasonable and extortionate amount of that money to an inefficient and largely unaccountable federal government.

It is doubly unacceptable when that same unaccountable Labor government is pissing borrowed money up against unknown posts and leaving behind the greatest level of public sector debt in Australia’s history.

If Wayne Swan really wants to spruik his economic credentials he should go down to DEET Street, and find out who of the dole recipients, sickness and disability recipients, single mothers et al are able to work and are genuinely looking, and those who simply want to bludge.

Those genuinely unemployed and desperately seeking work; those truly sick and disabled; those single mothers whose youngest children are below school age; and other welfare cases where there is a real and genuine immediate need should retain their payments — and, indeed, have them increased.

The rest should be thrown off benefits. Welfare should not be for those who can’t be arsed, or those with an entitlement mentality, or for those who feel a bit off-colour and find the taxpayer to be a suitable solution to their remunerative requirements.

There is adequate work for those who wish to do so, and it might not be the sexiest or best-paid job in the short-term, but in most cases it will pay more than the welfare money the rest of us subsidise.

And in one go, Swan can knock $10 billion out of the federal budget’s outgoings, fix his deficit problem, effect a cultural shift towards work and self-reliance, and leave the wealth-creating, job-creating, prosperity-driving, TAX-PAYING mining sector alone.

One final point: Swan has had a gripe today also about the miners taking out full-page ads in major newspapers across the country to make their point.

I would simply observe that with the government media unit behind him, its obscene expenditure on advertising each year, and the incessant media attention he receives simply on account of being the Treasurer, Swan still retains the upper hand in the PR battle by a mile, if a handful of newspaper advertisements is what he’s complaining about.

The problem with Wayne Swan is that if he says something is thus, then thus it is.

The only catch is that very few people agree with him anyway…but if you’re Wayne Swan, you don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.

Even if you’re a socialistic hypocrite who also happens to be wrong — which Wayne Swan is.

Oh, and an economic pygmy to boot.

Ambit Interest Rate Rises and Private Health Rebate Cuts…What Sort Of A Ship Does Gillard Really Run?

Tonight I want to talk about cost of living issues (I know Newspoll is out soon, and there are other issues to cover). But speaking generally, and with the cost of living in this country rocketing, it would be cheaper to live in England. And that is some achievement, perverse as it is.

Does anyone doubt it? The UK is a notoriously expensive place to live, but the way things are headed, Australians would be financially better off by making the move to the Old Dart.

At least with the dollar buying 68p in the pound at time of writing, the conversion wouldn’t hurt too much.

There are two developments in the past few days that have triggered my sentiment, but stacks of others that have been building and building, to the point one huge question needs to be asked of the Labor Party and its government, headed by Julia Gillard.

As a free marketeer of lifelong tenure, I have already opined (reluctantly) that it may very well be time to hit the banks to impose the corporate responsibility on them that they refuse to undertake themselves: to slug them with a Windfall Profits Tax of 50% on anything above $2 billion they post in profit each year.

It’s at the point that it is past a joke: as was pointed out on 3AW by Neil Mitchell this morning, in the past five years the cumulative nett annual profits of the big four banks have increased from $16 billion to $24 billion.

At the same time, in an environment of soaring bank fees and charges and of mostly falling interest rates, the banks now seek to act as mini-RBAs by setting their own interest rates independently of the Reserve Bank.

Here’s the rub: if “funding costs” are so tight, why have their profits increased by 50%?

And if profits are so solid, why the need to start sacking thousands of staff?

Treasurer Wayne Swan, in his creditably stern public utterances on this matter, is clearly as effective as a wet mop; the results — banks slugging their customers to high heaven and sacking thousands of staff, whilst recording stratospheric profits — are there for all to see.

Wayne Swan has no influence or authority over the banks whatsoever.

We move on.

Julia Gillard’s Labor government is now moving (not for the first time) to means test the private health insurance rebate; the levels at which the clawback commences, in round terms, are $83,000 per annum in income for singles and $159,000 for couples and families.

What don’t these people get?

I’m the first to acknowledge that there are thousands and thousands of people who fall below those thresholds, who struggle and manage to make ends meet (and indeed, as at today’s date, my wife and I represent one such family unit).

But the simple fact is that those thresholds do not denote “rich” people; in 2012, they mostly denote struggling tradespeople, managers and professionals trying to achieve a better standard of life.

And this government seeks to clobber them for it.

But the kicker is this: the health care rebate is going to be progressively withdrawn from people/couples at those income levels, and for those people who refuse to maintain or take out private health insurance, they will receive a Medicare surcharge slug.

And the problem with that is that for all the money the Gillard government might save on the health insurance rebate, it will pay out tenfold on the creaking burden that will befall Medicare when hundreds of thousands of private health insurance policies are abandoned in favour of claiming what tax dollars have been extracted to pay for.

In my household, the bill for private health insurance is about $2,600 per year, on top of the 1.4% of our incomes that the government takes as a Medicare surcharge.

The changes to the private health insurance rebate won’t even recoup that from most of the people it affects, but it will cost a damned side more in Medicare expenditure.

It’s a mighty big price for a government claiming to want to return the federal budget to surplus to pay.

I’d say it’s actually a good old-fashioned Labor/Socialist hit at those the ALP and their Communist Green mates think can afford to pay; what it really is is just a grab for tax dollars, and bugger the cost.

Again, we move on.

The imbecilic decision by the Labor government under Kevin Rudd’s leadership to allow non-residents from foreign countries to purchase Australian real estate has directly worsened the crisis in housing affordability in this country.

That decision has never been reversed; and as a result, houses owned by foreign nationals across Australia stand empty (and appreciating in value by virtue of the diminished availability of housing stock) whist AUSTRALIAN CITIZENS are unable to buy houses in their own country.

This policy must be immediately rescinded. Go to China as a non-resident and an Australian citizen, and see how welcome you are to buy property.

And if anyone thinks I’m being racist, go to the UK, the US, and Canada too: you might get to make the purchase, but you’ll have to jump through so many hoops to do so as to have whiplash by the time you sign the contract. If you still want to.

And in a related vein, foreign interests are now not only buying prime Australian agricultural land, but taking its harvests and slaughters offshore to process, and then reselling our own produce to us at ridiculous mark-up. It is a syndrome that has taken hold under the present government’s revised foreign ownership rules.

Can anyone spot what is wrong with this picture?

Again, we move on.

With the Australian dollar roughly 15% above its peak immediately prior to the so-called Global Financial Crisis, and the price of oil roughly 40% below its level at the same time, is anybody able to adequately explain why the price of petroleum products in Australia are, broadly, the same as they were at those pre-GFC highs?

Much has been made in the past few days in the mainstream press about a need to sack the Commissioner for petrol prices, and I must say that I agree.

But Australia’s Trades Practices legislation is woeful: in this area, all that is ever “discovered” is that there is no collusive behaviour between oil companies to drive and/or keep the price of petrol high.

Of course there isn’t! These companies aren’t stupid; no oil company is going to be naive enough to commit a syllable to paper on price collusion.

Yet some years ago, near the end of the tenure of the Howard government, the ACCC announced that it would be “looking at” oil companies and petrol prices; for a couple of weeks the price a the bowser fell by 20 cents per litre — and once the heat was perceived to be off, back up it went.

Yet again, we move on.

Let’s not forget the entrenchment of the supermarket duopoly, its lack of competition and its crippling of consumer choice; indeed, it’s fair to say that half the reason petroleum products are as dear as they are is because two retailers now control nearly 80% of that market.

And Coles and Woolworths now want to start operating in the retail pharmacy sphere? Spare me.

We haven’t even gotten to electricity and gas prices — largely (but not entirely) the purvey of state governments — but my thoughts on those are much the same as my thoughts on the banks.

Sheer and utter usury.

Against the backdrop of all of this, we have the ALP’s carbon tax, which (“compensation” notwithstanding) will be a nett burden to consumers; its mining tax, which will render the country’s minerals and energy sector uncompetitive by international standards; and the slavish adherence by Treasure Wayne Swan to return the federal budget to surplus this year, motivated by no other trigger than political expediency.

And that, my friends, means more budget cuts — but cuts aimed at people trying to get ahead, as opposed to those content to bludge and sponge off the system.

And it also sits against a backdrop of a government wages policy whose design might be well-enough intentioned, but whose practical effect is to drive wages down and to empower unions over workers and employers, and to remove incentive for workers to work, or for employers to be remotely flexible.

All of this (and other factors I’m just about out of space to include) adds up to one big reality, and it’s this.

Unless you’re earning $250,000 per year, Australia is now one of the most expensive places in the world in which to live.

The Rudd/Gillard government has presided over the single greatest deterioration in living affordability in Australia since Federation.

And the “one huge question” I alluded to, at the commencement of this article, is a simple one.

Having presided over such a massive deterioration in living standards in this country, and having reduced both the disposable incomes and the prospects for Australians to advance themselves, and having saddled the country with hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and a fundamentally directionless policy agenda, what does the Gillard government propose to do about it?

I’d wager…nothing.

It’d be cheaper to live in England; not an unattractive prospect, but I would prefer to live in Melbourne, and in Australia generally.

But in four years of Labor government, it has become so expensive to live in Australia that so many people and families, who once could pay their bills and save, now struggle weekly to make ends meet.

What do you think?


More From Essential Research

There were more questions from the Essential Research poll at the weekend; last night we covered the headline voting figures, and so tonight I thought we’d have a quick look at the other questions Essential asked of its respondents.

On the question of whether an election should be held now or in 2013, 48% said now, 40% said in 2013, and 12% purported not to know.

It’s true — as Essential noted in its report — that these findings broadly follow voting intention.

I would assert however that such stated intent would leak (i.e. if 49% of the electorate say they will vote for the Coalition, that same bloc of 49% won’t necessarily favour the secondary response — in this case, a fresh election).

So even if the figure of 48% wanting an election now is true, it’s likely made up of a hotchpotch of Coalition supporters, the “don’t knows,” and at least a few ALP and Greens voters as well.

The key finding, extrapolated across the electorate based on this research, is that virtually half the population wants a fresh election now.

Frankly, that’s a bit less than I would have thought.

On the mining tax, Essential finds 46% approval, as opposed to 34% opposed.

The surprising thing with this finding — if it’s accurate — is that it was one of the big issues Julia Gillard used to skewer Kevin Rudd over; if it’s accurate, there’s clearly community support for taxing the mining sector more heavily — despite utter ambiguity as to where the funds raised would be spent.

The terms “Super-Profits Tax” and “Rent Resource Tax” may have something to do with this, as ambiguous and misleading as they are at face value.

Any “mining tax” is a revenue measure, clear and simple; yet phrased in terms that suggest inflated profits are being taxed, or that it’s an impost in the form of rent, it may well market such a measure — at face value — to ordinary electors.

(I wonder if “Carbon Tax” could be presented as a non-toxic brand along these lines?)

Essential talks about trust in individual journalists…I’m not touching that one!

The last of the questions from the Essential poll I want to mention concerns the best leader to handle another Global Financial Crisis — or, as I am wont to avoid beating around the bush, a world recession.

Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott top this question at 24% and 20% respectively, followed by Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull at 13% each, Joe Hockey at 7%, and the “Don’t Knows” on 22%.

I wouldn’t read too much into that one; ask people what they think of Abbott’s economic credentials and he doesn’t fare well; start asking questions about how Rudd and Swan handled the GFC, and a lot of negative feedback about debt emerges.

If you asked whether the Liberal Party or the Labor Party were the better party to handle a world recession I suspect you’d get a vastly different result (and one that didn’t shine the sun on Kevin Rudd so directly).

I think the response to this question as recorded by Essential is probably more reflective of people’s preferences in terms of the leadership of the prospective parties than it is about any sort of confidence in terms of economic management.

But if you were Gillard (or Turnbull) you’d hardly be encouraged, would you?