JUST IN TIME for an election at which bribes, fear, empty populism and reckless irresponsibility collectively offer its only viable path to victory, Labor has wheeled out a stunning double whammy of almost $100bn in uncosted, unfunded promises and the arrant stupidity of its pious, self-important, utterly useless former Treasurer Wayne Swan to sell them. Plenty of options exist for Australians to vote for. Labor does not deserve to be one of them.
Here’s a fact: there is not some bottomless well of money for governments in Australia to plumb and throw largesse from like confetti; there never was.
Here’s another fact: there is an endless list of things political parties would like to promise to give voters if they win elections, and endless lists of things voters want from governments if they do: some of these are undeniably worthy; some are dubious, designed to buy off sectional constituencies depending on political stripe; and some are simply downright ridiculous.
But the kicker in this short statement of facts is that with gross government debt now approaching half a trillion dollars — or almost 40% of GDP — over the four-year budget outlook period, this country is no longer one whose debt is “low by international standards,” as ALP politicians like to proclaim; debt at 60% of GDP reaches the lower outskirts of the structurally unsound economies in Europe, whilst debt at 80% of GDP lands squarely in Eurotrash territory that sees several of those economies unable to fund their way out of chronic debt and borrowing.
Here in Australia, we have gone from gross debt levels of -5% of GDP to almost 40% of GDP in less than a decade. It’s now just a virtual hop, skip and a jump now until we hit real trouble: the sort of Armageddon the Liberal Party warned about prior to its return to government, and was ridiculed by the ALP for its trouble.
But just in time for a federal election at which dishonest, unprincipled and magic pudding money management offer its only viable option to puncture the apparent Turnbull juggernaut, the ALP yesterday dusted off its cudgels over two of its most beloved — and least affordable — relics from the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era, with “leader” Bill Shorten promising to sluice $37 billion in new spending around the education system over the next decade if it wins office, and its insidious, contemptible standard bearer for maladministration and unaffordable largesse getting out and about again in the form of one Wayne Maxwell Swan.
Swan — for the negligible value he represents in Australian politics beyond being a Labor machine henchman — has been spruiking the tired and deluded fantasy of his adequacy and skill as Treasurer, insisting that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (set to cost $22 billion per year within eight years) was left fully funded by the ALP in office: it wasn’t, and as this column said at the time, the “transitional” arrangements put in place were only ever enough to cover part of the start-up phase, and initially until 2018.
It took months — and a change of government — for the true eventual annual cost of the NDIS to be revealed, the original figure of $8bn declared by Swan having been comprehensively shown to be a gross understatement; so desperate was the ALP to conceal the true cost of the program before voters kicked it out of office, it was “sold” on a claim its cost was only a third of the true figure.
But Labor, despite its machismo about being responsible managers of money, was more concerned with sabotaging and booby-trapping the budget at that time to render it completely unmanageable by an incoming Liberal government than it was by any genuine regard for the lot of disabled people.
You’d have to say that that dubious project, against a backdrop of entrenched $50bn annual deficits, was an unqualified success. But remember, Swan was the man who, in tandem with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, was party to no fewer than 600 solemn pledges of a budget in surplus under Labor, even going so far in 2012 to talk in Parliament of “the four years of surpluses I announce tonight.”
Needless to say, no surplus ever materialised.
But just like a solitary swallow well before the Spring, Swan has decided to emerge from whatever hole he has spent three years skulking in to proclaim that NDIS costs were covered for an initial ten years when he was Treasurer, despite independent Treasury advice to the government that from this year it would be forced to find an extra $5bn per year to cover them over and above the funding already legislated, rising to $11bn per year by 2022.
The pot of money that was supposed to pay for the NDIS until 2018 is already exhausted, which is no surprise given the growth in people accessing welfare provisions for disability has continued to balloon under the Coalition, which — remember — has been prevented by a ragtag assortment of ALP,
Communist Greens, Palmer (and subsequent stand-alone troublemakers) and other crossbench Senators from passing almost every budget saving it has tried to legislate in a desperate (if to date misdirected) attempt to push public finances back onto a sustainable footing.
In other words, the NDIS wasn’t fully funded when Labor left office, a situation compounded by the fact that measures attempted by the Liberals that might have made it so now have been relentlessly voted down in the Senate. Rises in the Medicare levy to 2% and then to 2.5% were only ever a fig leaf (and I said that at the time, too).
But this doesn’t bother Labor, which credits average voters with such absolute stupidity as to be queueing up to bombard them anew with — you guessed it — more unfunded, unaffordable spending measures, with solemn (albeit meaningless) statements of fiscal rectitude and promises that every cent of the proposed new money is paid for.
Warming to this irresponsible agenda, Shorten recommitted the ALP this week to fully funding not just the final two years of spending contained in the Gonski report commissioned by Gillard — which Labor failed to legislate, and which the Coalition was upfront about its refusal to pay for before the last election — but to go further, committing the ALP to $37bn in new education funding over a 10-year period in the unlikely event it wins government later this year.
According to Shorten, the outlay on education was “in the black” on account of increased taxes on tobacco consumption, increased taxes on superannuation, increased taxes on multinational companies, and abolishing the (unexpectedly successful) Coalition policy on Direct Action to combat emissions growth.
Taxes on tobacco are likely to impede Labor’s ability to win an election, disproportionately impacting its own lower-class electoral bedrock as they do; taxes on superannuation will push more self-funded retirees onto at least partial pensions as their ability to support themselves in retirement is eroded, wiping out any savings this red herring might deliver; and taxes on multinationals is a hoax currently being used by left-wing parties not currently in government everywhere in the Western world to hoodwink voters into believing there is something grievously amiss with the sector that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs. There isn’t.
Just this week, ultra-socialist British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was singing from the same vinegar-stained songbook about Google in the House of Commons as Shorten does in Australia; no concrete details of how this purported crackdown might be effected were given, of course — because it never will be — and no explanation for why, when Labour held office in the UK for 13 years until 2010, no attempt to fix the “problem” was made in government.
New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the same tactic ahead of his election win late last year but of course, now ensconced in office, any mention of “forcing multinational companies to pay their own share” has predictably evaporated.
And so it is with Australian Labor, which didn’t do anything to remedy this alleged outrage of public administration of the business sector — under the astute and competent stewardship of the nation’s finances by Swan, no less — and won’t if, God forbid, it should ever win another election in this country.
But the grab bag of taxes doesn’t end there, with Labor committed to reintroducing not one carbon tax, but two, if restored to office: and with its flat refusal to countenance the cutting of so much as a cent from lavish social expenditure programs that might or might not be worthy, but which simply can’t be justified at a time the budget is haemorrhaging red ink in the tens of billions of dollars per annum, only a fool should believe that a Labor government would usher in anything less than unprecedented, massive, and crippling new taxation measures to pay for it if it makes any attempt at all to balance the budget.
Which, of course, it won’t: responsible economic management, with the partial exception of the Hawke-Keating years, simply isn’t the Labor way.
And anyone who believes Shorten’s latest protestations to fiscal prudence — based on the extremely dodgy nature of his “revenue” measures and on his party’s record in office — should seek urgent psychiatric assessment: the re-emergence of Swan to help hammer out the Labor message in this regard merely underlines the point.
I have been attacked, viciously, for merely suggesting in this column a re-examination of the arrangements for the NDIS and a recosting of the program to look for efficiencies whilst not compromising service delivery; any single social spending program whose first-up slated operating costs are $22 billion annually simply must be capable of yielding several billions of dollars in annual fat without compromising its objectives. But even the mention of looking for savings in a scheme that is a Labor sacred cow is jumped on and disgracefully attacked as somehow an attempt to cast disabled people into abject poverty.
Those attacks, of course, are horse shit, to use the vernacular: but it’s as bad as that when any fair consideration of Labor’s economic responsibility is considered; you can’t even look for ways to deliver the same outcomes for less money without being screamed down as a nasty bastard.
As for education — which isn’t a federal responsibility anyway — the problem far transcends the want of some $37 billion magic pudding handout, and goes to the heart of Labor’s sheer ineptitude in a portfolio it arrogantly and misguidedly insists it owns.
Labor was in office in every state and federally in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the university entry requirements for teachers’ courses were drastically lowered, admitting an army of candidates with severe deficiencies in literacy, numeracy, and critical reasoning to what used to be a noble profession.
I’d say the role of universities is not to teach kids how to think, but the various “education” faculties across the country seem to do a fine job churning out rounded little socialists on a mission to brainwash upcoming generations with their insidious socialist pedagogy.
Once ensconced in classrooms, these teachers — not all of them, mind, for one of the travesties of Labor’s education legacy is that the reputation of good teachers is sullied by the ranks of the incompetents infecting their midst — have presided over the steady fall in educational outcomes that has seen Australia’s international standing as an education nation slip from among the world’s best to the middle of the pack. and have directly facilitated an entire generation of kids that is mostly defective in reading, writing and basic arithmetic: not coincidentally, the same defects as those who should never have been admitted to tertiary teacher training courses to begin with.
Because of the diminished calibre of teachers in the overall pool, it is difficult to justify the continuing employment of a rising number of them on the grounds of merit, performance or outcomes: and also not coincidentally, this has seen teacher unions grow in relevance to the point it’s difficult not to rank them among the nation’s most powerful, if not the most powerful.
Simply throwing money at this problem, in the bucketloads of billions, isn’t going to redress the real problem behind education in Australia: the standard of people entering teaching, overall, is very poor indeed compared to 30 or 40 years ago.
Labor’s education policies are to blame for this — and have created a generation of union-dependent mediocrity that makes it impossible for the best teachers to be paid what they are worth, as the teacher unions insist on equal outcomes for all their members, and which perpetuates an undercurrent of uselessness whose end destination is the generation of Australian kids who simply aren’t equipped by their flawed teachers to face the world when they leave school.
It’s little wonder, when I hear stories of the better state teachers I have known over the years, that so many of them have left the industry, retired early, gone to private schools that pay more for quality hires, or are running specialist and/or remedial private sector educational enterprises based mostly on fixing the faults of state-provided “learning.”
The problem is even further complicated by the fact that to criticise the poor teachers who unfairly sully the fine reputation of the best is to invite abuse from Labor and teacher unions that to criticise the poor is to criticise them all: and this renders the problem impossible to fix. The unions use their muscle to destroy Liberal state governments who try to fix it. Labor state governments, of course, fiddle, but have neither the interest in nor the stomach for slaying the beast their own policies created.
If Shorten, and Labor, wanted to preside over a true “Education Revolution,” biting the bullet and overseeing a root and branch overhaul of the entire Education monolith would be a far better way of doing it than simply throwing money around.
But that’s all Labor knows; tax, spend, tax, spend, borrow, borrow, tax, spend.
In 2016, Shorten Labor is no different, and already, the shamefully irresponsible bribes that only Labor maintains are affordable are already being thrown around, with nary a care as to whether they bankrupt the country, or compromise the living standards of future generations to the point Australia begins to rocket backwards in coming decades relative to comparable Western countries.
Just today, Reserve Bank governor John Fraser has sounded the warning that without budget redress and a hefty cut in the bloated expenditures of the Commonwealth, Australia faces the loss of its AAA credit rating; the consequences of that is that interest on the half-trillion of government debt would rocket, as lending to Australian governments becomes more expensive as global money markets factor in premiums for the risk of default.
There may be a case to argue both Labor and the Coalition are responsible for the mess that must be fixed, but on account of the appearance of $300bn of debt on its watch in government where none existed previously, and more debt-fuelled recurrent spending legislated prior to its defeat — coupled with its stout refusal to allow the Coalition’s savings measures to pass the Senate, content to let the budget haemorrhage, believing this opens opportunities for political attack — Labor is far, far more heavily culpable than anyone could credibly accuse the Coalition.
Some additional material on these themes is available to readers here and here, and it should be noted that — as usual — these articles all come from the Murdoch press simply because the Fairfax titles have published little to nothing where any serious attempt to hold the ALP to account over its incompetence with money is concerned.
There are plenty of options at the looming election for people to vote for; true to type, the Labor offering seems increasingly certain to feature taxes that are either fairy stories or inflict unmanageable burdens on ordinary Australians, whilst promising tens (or hundreds) of billions in bribes that will either never be delivered or which will bankrupt the country.
For those people who actually care about whether the Australia remains a great country in future decades, the ALP is not an option that should seriously be considered as they mark their ballot papers; the risks are simply too great.
And whilst this might mean certain programs are either not delivered or are cut back to make them affordable — even if those programs are, on the face of it, worthy — then that’s the way it must be; the bucket of largesse isn’t bottomless, and there is increasing evidence that it no longer even exists. If it ever did.
Next time Bill Shorten and/or his cronies are in your face promising extravagant spending with supposedly little pain associated with its delivery, readers would do well to bear the points we have covered this morning in mind.