AFTER 23 years of economic growth — evading Asian and Global Financial Crises — the cavalier belief Australia is immune to recession is evident everywhere you look. Shovelling money at vested interests is an indictment on all sides of politics, which pander unapologetically to the self-entitled. This irresponsibility and profligacy will soon enough rebound on Australia, and cripple it if hard times return. The 2016 election is a chance to break the cycle.
Back in the early 1990s — having just dropped out of a university course* I had no interest in to avoid being railroaded into a career I didn’t want — I went out to find a job; the awful 1990-92 recession had only just officially ended, and it took months to find full-time work: and even then, it paid the princely sum of $370 per week after tax, and usually involved me working 60 hours per week for my 40-hour salary cheque.
I begin thus this morning because I’m 43 — I will be 44 in August — and the point is that if you are any more than literally a year or two younger than I am, you have no first-hand employment-related memory of living through a recession at all; you may, if you’re less than ten years younger than I am, have some recollection of your parents being impacted by it (mine weren’t, thankfully) but for the most part, we are nearing the point at which half the working-aged population has no idea of the hardship and involuntary sacrifice that dreadful recession inflicted on this country.
I have been motivated to write on this subject by, of all things, an article in today’s Daily Telegraph by Tim Blair, noting the “rise” of the so-called “Del-Cons” (or “delusional conservatives,” as Blair’s fellow columnist Miranda Devine calls them) and whilst I’m not a “Del-Con” — I was dead against Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister but recognise the Coalition is a better bet than Labor under Bill Shorten — I can certainly see something is very wrong with this country, and that the problem is reaching a tipping point from which it mightn’t ever be resolved.
And when I hear Bill Shorten demanding a Royal Commission into the banking sector (presumably to take the heat off his chums at Trades Hall) and see the CFMEU posting things on Twitter decrying “corruption” (conveniently, aimed at the Liberal Party) when 100 of its officials face charges and it thumbs its nose at being held to higher standards of governance by a regulator — and with anything uttered by the government to neutralise these wild demands failing to make an impact — I know that not only can Turnbull not be relied on to fix anything, but that Shorten would be infinitely worse.
The public debate in Australia has been hijacked over the past decade by the Left, which has been so successful in framing for average voters what it will deign to permit and what it won’t that retail politics now is virtually governed by what is prohibited, rather than what is possible: and this might not be such a bad thing if money were endless, or if some of the sacred cows were even worth saving from slaughter, but alas, they are not.
If a recession were to hit this country — or, I should say, when a recession hits it, for a severe downturn at some point is a certainty — Australia is now so dangerously over-extended that the long-term consequences of responding to it could at best hamstring its ability to recover for years, and at worst cripple it altogether.
For too long (and I include the latter portion of the Howard government in this), Australian governments have been content to play fast and loose with the fiscal realities that beset this country, and happy to play Russian roulette with its long-term security in pursuit of short-term political gain; the trend accelerated exponentially under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd regime, and whilst the Abbott government made some attempt to apply the brakes, its “solution” in the form of the 2014 budget was entirely misconceived.
Net government debt is approaching 30% of GDP; now nudging the half-trillion dollar mark, there are those who argue (usually for expedient political reasons) that this is “low by international standards” and thoroughly manageable.
Today, it might be.
But in a recession that saw half a million jobs disappear, not only would the tax payments of half a million people disappear with them, but welfare payments to most of those people would double the burden on the Commonwealth: and coupled with irresponsible recurrent spending that is eye watering to contemplate and unaffordable even in “good” times, these factors would conspire to push Australia’s financial position perilously close to the edge of a cliff.
In 2008, Rudd and his insidious Treasurer, Wayne Swan, pumped billions of dollars, in part, into ensuring the nation’s housing bubble did not burst as part of their overcooked stimulus package: whilst there was some cooling in the residential property market, it could hardly be described as a “crash,” and in any case that sector has again since boomed — making domestic housing prices the highest in real terms they have ever been, and putting home ownership beyond the reach of generations of current and future young Australians.
When the recession comes, the bubble will burst: and all those paper profits lovingly protected by Labor for fear of the electoral backlash will disappear, but the damage, in fiscal terms, from that folly has already been done.
Yet if you look around, these aren’t isolated anecdotes; everywhere you look lies some evidence of a disease that has seen Australia grow addicted to the mentality of the entitlement and the handout, and resentful to the point of belligerence of any suggestion that the time to stop the rot might be at hand.
The country’s welfare budget is $190bn, year in, year out, from a total government spending pool of $430bn: it’s a national disgrace that almost half the money Australia spends takes the form of one handout or another. Yes, some of it — age pensions, benefits for the legitimately unemployed, some of the support measures for the sick and the disabled — are not only appropriate, but crucial. But “free money” is too often rorted money, and the merest whisper of political opposition is enough to kill off any meaningful attempt to adequately police it.
Health and Education, in real terms, now enjoy the highest levels of funding ever dished out in this country: but educational outcomes are deteriorating, whilst too many patients are forced to either wait unacceptably long times for urgent treatment — some dying first — or to pay exorbitant fees for it on top of Medicare and/or private health insurance premiums, or both.
Suggest culling bureaucrats in exchange for delivering more frontline services, and the Left wheels out a militant union “job security” campaign to kill a government. Try to tie teacher pay to delivering better outcomes — even with extra training for those teachers who need it — and the powerful education unions take it upon themselves to try to kill a government. The snouts that comfortably engorge themselves in the trough remain free to binge, safe in the knowledge they are untouchable. Then along comes the next Labor election campaign, and even more money is thrown into this self-perpetuating cycle of mediocrity.
Go for a drive through central Melbourne, and you’ll find the famously wide streets are much narrower these days, with a lane chopped out of most city streets to make way for “super tram stops;” this madness is compounded by the refusal of the Melbourne City Council to crack down on vehicles that double park and completely block through access. Go outside the CBD, and other roads are being narrowed to provide amenity strips, for “beautification,” to make way for largely unused bicycle lanes, and a whole lot of other trendy stuff that is a sop to the Greens.
This kind of thing is happening in every major city in Australia; it costs billions of dollars every year, and that money is in effect turning useful public areas into useless wastes of space.
Meanwhile, there is no money to build critical new road infrastructure to ensure the nation’s cities don’t choke, and grind to a halt as they swell and grow and burst at the seams: rather, there’s a lot of talk about forcing people onto public transport (another Greens hobby horse) that is not only inadequate to cope with present patronage levels, but accounts for a sliver of all commuter trips anyway. Rightly or wrongly, the notion of public transport solving transport problems in out cities is a red herring.
Disability insurance? Great idea, but too ridiculously expensive to ever have been responsibly implemented: and it hasn’t been responsibly implemented, for even the most conservative estimates show the scheme $111bn underfunded over the decade from 2018; Labor’s own figures concede the true shortfall is double that.
But the merits of the program not for debate, Labor duly legislated it in full knowledge there was nothing to pay for it: it bought off the disability community, with the expectation, cynically, that it would be tied to Labor at future elections. And it contributed to the desired objective of making it impossible for the Liberals to manage the budget.
Does anyone think this is a sound basis for making policy?
This extends right down to a “low-income superannuation supplement” that was to be funded from a mining tax that, incredibly, raised no tax at all: yet even when the Abbott government repealed the tax, the ALP and Greens — in cahoots with the politically bankrupt Clive Palmer — used Senate obstruction to see that the spending remained in place. It was reprehensible.
Thousands of statutory authorities, QANGOs, “community-based organisations” and other leeches — many of which serve no purpose at all than for social engineering, or pushing left-wing propaganda from beneath a cloak of feigned independence — cook up tens of billions of taxpayer dollars every year; some of them employ “commissioners” on half million dollar salaries, or bodies of hand-picked bureaucrats earning far more than the average worker in roles that make them little more than campaign functionaries, right down to shit-bit organisations like the one I attacked before the 2013 election: and interestingly, once it became known that I’d linked some of the “information” sheets published by that organisation in my article, it moved them to another spot in its website to render my link invalid — but I’ve replaced the link, so readers should be able to see the crap it spends government handout money on for today at least.
All of this costs billions of dollars each year — tens of billions of dollars — and with government debt increasing by $50bn each year, as Labor and the Greens have mostly refused to allow any spending cuts at all through the Senate, it’s a no-brainer to suggest that something has to be done.
There are dozens — perhaps hundreds — of other examples I might have used to make the point today; to go further would simply be to add more, when I think it’s fairly obvious a) that there’s a problem, and b) that despite any protestations to the contrary, it really is a case of too much spending rather than not enough revenue to pay for it.
Even during the GFC and on Swan’s own figures through Treasury, government revenues increased by seven percentage points per year, every year on average, for the duration of the Rudd-Gillard years: and whilst Shorten promises $102bn in new taxes if he wins the coming election, and claims these will mostly be paid by “the rich” and big companies, the fact is that these imposts are to pay for things that should never have been spent upon to begin with.
In any case, Labor’s record of managing money is so poor (thanks to Swan’s handiwork) that there is no guarantee it could even collect $102bn in taxes: after the mining tax debacle, God knows how far short it would fall.
But when you include the GST and the Medicare levy, Australians are already paying the highest real rates of tax they ever have — and it’s not enough?
People on average incomes of $75,000 per year struggle to make ends meet even now in some capital cities. Hitting them harder is no solution.
And this brings me back to the whole point of the “Del-Cons,” the unknown timing of the arrival of a future recession, and the deadly game of Russian roulette being played with Australia’s future security by politicians who are either too cynical to care about the consequences or too gutless (or incompetent) to persuasively argue against them.
My fear is that when recession comes, it will hit Australia harder than 1990-92, and perhaps even harder than the worldwide recession of 1982-83; hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost, and the government will — thanks to the reckless actions of the past decade — be severely compromised in its capacity to respond.
The usurious wage gains forced in union-protected sectors will evaporate as employers close down: and with them will disappear an exponential knock-on ricochet through the wider economy that will worsen the overall impact of any downturn as businesses lose customers who can no longer afford to buy their goods and services.
And should the downturn derive not from a global slump but a military conflict involving one or more of Australia’s major international partners — and that prospect is certainly a possibility — then the capacity of the Commonwealth to fund welfare obligations through external borrowings would also be heavily compromised.
For now, however, the forces of the Left — having all but won the public conversation through their emotive emphasis on opposing “cruelty” and “unfairness,” and dishonestly tugging on the heartstrings of ordinary voters on issues like Education and Health — are happy to see the sloshing of money at the constituencies it wants to bribe continue, spending like drunken sailors, and pissing money up against a post as if there’s no tomorrow.
One day, unless something is done to put a stop to this madness, there might not be a tomorrow at all, metaphorically speaking. When that day comes, the carnage and misery will be widespread, and lasting. The Left will take no ounce of responsibility for the repercussions of its own handiwork.
Next time so-called “Del-Cons” are agitating for smaller government, less union influence, less spending, the pruning of exorbitant and often ridiculous government outlays, a drive for value in what gets spent, and some tax cuts for ordinary folk so they can save some money or at least decide themselves where they spend it, perhaps writing them off as right-wing zealots and the like is too short-sighted a response.
Maybe some of us on the Right are deeply concerned about the direction the country is headed in, and doubly worried that electing a conservative government seems to have proven futile in stopping it given the cultural grip the narrative of the Left appears to have entrenched for itself.
There is an election coming up, and a double dissolution to boot: if Malcolm Turnbull could finally fashion a package for moderate conservative government, he might just win not only the respect of some of his detractors, but enough support from the voting public for a solid enough mandate in both houses to implement it.
The coming election is an opportunity to fix things. It’s about time somebody announced a platform to do precisely that, and found the smarts to sell what should be a no-brainer, instead of farting around with variants of the proven methods of failure that have laid waste to a decade.
*I am happy to note that since last year, I’ve been working on finishing it on a part-time basis: but this is to access options that didn’t even exist a quarter of a century ago; those who think I’ll end up teaching senior English in a high school any time soon are going to remain very, very disappointed. 🙂