Leading article Australia

It don’t come easy

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

‘Got to pay your dues, if you wanna sing the blues,’ sang Ringo Starr wistfully after the demise of the lucrative Beatles money-spinning machine in 1970, ‘but you know it don’t come easy.’ Mr Starr was reacting to the sudden discovery of a huge build-up of Fab Four debts and deficits and the grisly realisation that all those luxuries he took for granted were gone; that he alone was now responsible for his own destiny, for earning his own keep and for living within his means.
Tony Abbott was in an equally contemplative mood as he informed us, on the eve of his own solo outing — his very first budget as PM — that ‘it won’t be easy’. Indeed, Mr Abbott and his Finance Minister Mathias Cormann struggled to paint an encouraging picture of what to expect when, following the final sign-off by cabinet of the Budget, both resorted to pleading with the electorate to ‘trust them’. Having squibbed every opportunity in the past two years to deliver a coherent, single-minded message, the Coalition is now relying on the abstract concepts of ‘trust’ and ‘fairness’ to see them through.
Trust is a tricky thing when you don’t really know what someone stands for. In this case, no clear narrative or underpinning philosophy has been spelt out. Repeatedly, the Coalition has chosen to promote two mutually exclusive concepts. Kicking off with Joe Hockey’s excellent London speech of 2012, the groundwork was laid for a return to smaller government, a reduction in ever-ballooning welfare entitlements and a cutting of bureaucratic spending under the catchy phrase of ‘the end of the age of entitlements’. Sadly, this honest and gripping notion was swept away in the lead-up to the 2013 election, with one entitlement after another being protected, and even new ones introduced. The ‘return to thrift’ concept only resurfaced again briefly when, intriguingly, the G20 were in town.
Foolishly, during the dying days of the 2013 election — an election that was as close to being ‘a sure thing’ as any in recent memory — Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey pledged ‘no changes’ or ‘no cuts’ to a raft of entitlements and enterprises, even including the bloated billion-dollar ABC in their ‘off limits’ commitments. Thrown into the mix was the paid parental leave folly and, at the last minute, a counterproductive debt tax, described by Peter Costello as being of ‘no economic benefit’. It appears that the Coalition’s ‘age of entitlements’ has morphed into a new three-word slogan: ‘soak the rich’.
Disturbingly, the Coalition has now introduced into the political narrative the idea that wealthier Australians don’t pay their fair share, when quite the opposite is true. The top 18 per cent of taxpayers (those earning above $80,000) pay nearly 90 per cent of all tax revenue. The higher up the income scale, the far heavier and dramatically disproportionate the tax burden. The levy, we are assured, will be ‘truly temporary’. In which case, why bother? And what sort of a precedent does it set for future Labor governments? As Ringo sang: ‘I don’t ask for much, I only want your trust, but you know it don’t come easy.’

The Jerry Springer Show

 

It’s always encouraging to see a healthy respect for robust political debate. Yet at what point do expressions of firmly held convictions tip over into blind intolerance? Last week’s Q&A on the ABC saw a juvenile, petulant demonstration by a group of university students who felt that the presence in the studio of Christopher Pyne gave them permission to sabotage the opening segment of the show. Following numerous heckles and hectoring questioning, a large banner appeared, dangling from the overhead balcony. (It was illegible because in their haste to cause a stir these supposedly bright kids had unfurled it the wrong way around.) Repeatedly, host Tony Jones had to threaten to remove these ululating undergraduates, and indeed the interruptions reached the point where the show was briefly off air.
Yet who’s to blame? In the very first question of the night, Mr Pyne had barely uttered a syllable before Mr Jones leapt halfway down his throat. ‘Well, I actually haven’t finished my opening sentence, Tony, but if that’s the way we’re going to do it tonight, that’s fine,’ responded the erudite minister, calmly.
So much for respecting the taxpayers’ dollars: Q&A is increasingly resembling a political Jerry Springer Show, where anyone from a centre-right spectrum is paraded in front of a salivating, jeering audience to be mocked as a freak. It is hard to fathom the precept that such a show be spared close Budget scrutiny.

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  • EschersStairs

    I do not understand the economic illiteracy of the good writers of this publication. What precisely is being misunderstood about the ageing population; low birth rates among families with strong employment histories; increased expectation of health and social security benefits; and a smaller and smaller tax base to produce the funding for these benefits? How can you possibly adequately address this problem without a Paid Parental Leave scheme, and if you have an alternative answer why in the blazes aren’t you talking about it??

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