AS BILL SHORTEN — rattled by Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension — injects panic into his spiteful, deceitful political “narrative,” shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has opened a new front in Labor’s quest for power, avowing himself “a Keynesian” and eulogising the self-important but essentially useless Wayne Swan. Australians worried another ALP government would bankrupt the country should heed the unexpected warning Bowen has provided.
If you’re a politician, and aspiring to a senior Cabinet post at that, profiles and feature pieces in mass circulation news publications are the lifeblood that potentially connects you to an electorate wanting to get to know you, and (with luck) wins people over; the problem is that if you’re really honest — and haven’t got anything of value or substance to sell — you’re just as likely to shoot yourself in the foot.
So it is today with Labor’s shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen; the ALP — looking decidedly silly in the wake of “leader” Billy Bullshit’s declaration that penalty rates somehow enable families earning between $40,000 and $60,000 per annum to send their children to private schools (I’d like to see how) — has been gifted a piece a soft-soap coverage in The Australian today by its Editor-at-Large, Paul Kelly.
Characteristically, but unwisely, Bowen has used the opportunity not to eschew his Rudd government reputation as a mindless slogan regurgitator; the shadow Treasurer — well-regarded personally on both sides of politics, and rightly recognised as one of the ALP’s brighter talents — has instead chosen to parrot the meaningless, delusional drivel that “modern” Labor holds out as the most recent “legend” of its fine service to Australia and its people in office.
People whose decision to eject the sorry Rudd-Gillard-Rudd outfit from office at least partially on account of the disastrous fist it made of the country’s books — with some $300 billion of red ink sitting on them in September 2013, and increasing thanks to the opposition’s opportunistic intransigence in the Senate — will be alarmed to learn that Bowen, who aspires to take control of Australia’s financial reputation and welfare, glowingly ascribes Wayne Swan a place in the “upper echelons of Australia’s Treasurers.”
Brazenly declaring himself “a Keynesian” — not something one might have thought it prudent to trumpet, given the ineptitude Labor exhibited between 2007 and 2013 where its handling of money was concerned — Bowen spruiks the virtue of economic stimulus despite object evidence his party went too far, wasted too much, and never turned off the tap when it said it would: the old borrow-tax-and-spend model historically beloved of socialists the world over proved impossible to resist.
Bowen fails, dismally, to contextualise issues like GST reform and industrial relations reform by eschewing them: far from the right-wing ideological crusades Labor likes to smear both objectives as the embodiment of these days, such change (if it ever proves possible to enact) is about necessary structural economic reform.
This is especially true of the GST, at a time revenue continues to grow but sees expenditure growth (mostly the handiwork of ALP bribes legislated under Julia Gillard and Swan) rocketing away to the point the entire integrity of the Commonwealth budget is at risk.
Of the three broad sources of revenue — income tax, company tax and the GST — the PAYE system is lagging in real terms as the workforces ages and begins to retire, and as more and more income support is channelled out in the form of government benefits; business tax remains vulnerable to a cyclical downturn in the economy, which has to be regarded as better than a 50-50 proposition in the medium term after decades of uninterrupted growth.
It is only by taxing consumption — efficiently, as broadly as possible, and with adequate offsetting compensation to the least well-off — that offers a sustainable river of revenue that can be consistently relied upon to grow.
Similar criticisms can be made of Bowen’s refusal to countenance labour market reform; this is not, despite his attempts to dress it up as some “third way” to realise gains in productivity and workplace flexibility, but an unabashed sop to the thuggish unions that dominate the ALP and demand their interests remain completely unmolested by government (and I use that word most deliberately, for the protection of their rotten sinecure is so personalised by the union thugs who stand to profit from its existence that “molestation” is in no way an inappropriate term to describe the accountability and compliance at law they are so desperate to shun at any cost).
The simple truth is that reforms championed by conservatives — like GST reform, or industrial reform — speak to further liberalisations in the economy that are entirely consistent with the open, market-based reforms commenced by Labor in the Hawke-Keating years; one is about the sustainability of the government portion of the system. The other is about realising improvements in productivity and the cost of labour, which are areas Australia now lags most comparable Western countries, thanks to byzantine strictures of the Fair Work Act. No fairy story or populist deception will fix those problems. And to date, Labor has nothing on the table other than slogans and rhetoric and fairy stories.
Yet just like the effective sloganeer he proved to be during his brief tenure as Treasurer under the reborn Kevin Rudd, Bowen is quoted as seeking “an age of entrepreneurism” that sounds suspiciously like an “education revolution” or a “ladder of opportunity” that exudes the distinct aroma of magic pudding; Bowen claims it is “not the job of Canberra” to determine where jobs come from. But even in a friendly piece such as Kelly’s today, the only thing he offers are a “collection of ideas” and a “sector by sector” approach, whatever that might be in the absence go government intervention.
Ignore those, and you will miss nothing.
But the most alarming aspect of the Kelly piece about a man who aspires to assume control of the national economy is his extollation of the cretinous, self-important, pious, vapid, useless, imbecilic, sanctimonious, gormless, shameless, oxygen-thieving oaf Labor imposed on a trusting public for the better part of six years, and on whose watch great harm was committed against the rigour of Australia’s economic management and the health of its financial fundamentals.
It is true Bowen acknowledges Swan wasn’t perfect — noting the mining tax and the carbon tax failed tests of “political durability” — and as Kelly notes, talk of an “open and broad engagement with business” could be interpreted as an implicit criticism of Swan, who wasn’t exactly noted for seeing any value in Australian enterprise aside from smothering it with regulation and taxing it.
But to place Swan in a pantheon of Treasurers past just one rung below Paul Keating (in his view, our best ever –a subjective call I only partly disagree with) and alongside Peter Costello (which is an outrageous and baseless insult to Costello) is ridiculous.
Talk of stimulus aside, the fact remains that Swan’s the Treasurer who pissed away $45 billion Costello had squirrelled away in sovereign wealth funds — and did so before the GFC had even been heard of — succumbing immediately to the stereotypical Labor temptation to spend whatever money was in the tin the moment it got itself into office.
Swan’s the Treasurer whose “reforms” directly created $300 billion in government debt where none existed beforehand: and whilst protestations of the GFC and “stimulus” are well and good, the fact remains that even the most generous estimate of how much money was spent on it extends only as far as $96 billion.
Swan’s the Treasurer whose legislative handiwork entrenched a gaping structural budget deficit whose underlying quantum seems to be in the order of about $30-$40 billion: hardly the craft of an astute manager of money.
Swan’s the Treasurer who, alone and/or abetted by Gillard, offered no fewer than 600 solemn public assurances that by 2012-13, the budget would be restored to surplus. Yet despite the greatest sleight of hand and creative accountancy on a scale rarely (if ever) seen in this country — pushing out official accounts for expenditure, pulling revenue forward, raising certain taxes and so forth — the target was not only missed, but missed by $18 billion.
Despite a cynical exercise in trying to glitter the turd, Swan’s best efforts didn’t even come close to the mark.
And Swan’s the Treasurer on whose watch a reprehensible effort to “booby trap” the federal budget to ensnare a future Liberal government and render it powerless to properly manage Commonwealth finances was contrived.
None of this seems to perturb Bowen, however, who claims with no basis in fact that Swan “got all of the big calls right.” You’d hate to think of what might have been had he got them all wrong.
And who — for the love of God, who? — implements a tax that raises no money? Even by Labor standards, it’s an errand that should be impossible to screw up. Yet Wayne Swan managed to do exactly that.
What all of this shows is that Labor — and Bowen — have learnt precisely nothing from their mistakes in office: a sobering reality indeed, given Labor remains competitive in polling despite the initial “sugar hit” of a change of Liberal leadership propelling the government into the lead for the first time in 18 months.
It is not inconceivable Labor could form government after the next election: even under the national embarrassment it parades as its “leader,” and notwithstanding the paucity of a meaningful agenda it offers when slogans, thought bubbles and other populist gobbledygook are excluded from consideration.
Those people who concern themselves with the proper management of national affairs — and those mums and dads who worry about an insurmountable burden of debt being bequeathed to their children — will find nothing to allay their fears from the kid-glove spotlight that Paul Kelly shines on Labor’s would-be Treasurer today.
Chris Bowen is a nice enough and decent enough fellow — to whom I have no personal objection whatsoever — but as a potential Treasurer of Australia, he gives every inkling that he would be little better than Swan himself, and that is a disastrous indulgence the country simply can’t afford a second time: and especially not so soon after the last time Labor performed its usual trick of systematically trashing the budget.
But whatever value might be found in getting to know the alternative Treasurer and in the space The Australian has provided him, Bowen’s attempts to capitalise on it falls abysmally short.
Timing, of course, is everything, and whilst the Kelly piece was likely compiled well in advance and over a period of weeks, Labor desperately needed a circuit breaker after Shorten’s latest idiocy over penalty rates.
Today’s article in The Australian is not it.
Institutionalised uselessness and incompetence: even if it sounds like another of the vapid, vacuous, excruciating “modern” Labor slogans this column so vigorously takes aim at so often, it neatly sums up all the ALP has to offer; and far from being soothed or cajoled by Kelly’s profile piece, anyone who reads it ought to be mortified.
With such luminaries as Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen and Wayne Swan at the very forefront of Labor’s loathsome sales pitch for an early return to government, you have to wonder just how much damage the ALP could inflict on itself if the “rats in the ranks” were to find their voices, and to decide to speak out.