There is a grain of truth (for once) in Julia Gillard’s assertion that for Peter Costello ‘it was easy to be Treasurer’. Certainly, the debt Paul Keating left behind pales into insignificance compared to the supermassive black hole bequeathed to us by the Rudd/Gillard/Swan freakshow. That Joe Hockey has had his ups and downs wrestling with this beast is not surprising – indeed, Mr Hockey’s performance would be impressive if it weren’t competing with the achievements of Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop.
The problem with his 2014 budget lay in the lack of clarity around any one message; the bizarre trade-offs, convoluted juxtapositions (used as justifications) and contradictory positions left the public, and much of the commentariat, bewildered. Perhaps a three or four word slogan would help clear things up: ‘Stop the blowouts’. Or how about ‘Lower debt, lower taxes’?
The Intergenerational Report, an analysis by Treasury of the commonwealth’s budgetary position over the next four decades, is Mr Hockey’s shot at redemption. It is a golden opportunity he must grab not so much to scare the public witless for short-term gain (although a bit of that won’t hurt), but more importantly to inspire middle Australia with a long-term Liberal vision of jobs through aspiration and individual effort, and prosperity for the next generation through enterprise, thrift, lower taxes and higher productivity. And he must put this vision squarely up against Labor’s dismal downward spiral of handouts, bureaucratic job creation, nanny-state welfarism and ‘everybody gets a prize’ entitlements.
Yet voters vote from the hip. Thus far, the signs are not promising that Australia is ready to stomach an easing of entitlements. The budgetary argument has been neatly – and deceitfully – dumbed down by Labor and the Greens to a question of ‘revenue raising’ rather than one of ‘cutting spending’; ‘fairness’ rather than ‘austerity’. The only reason we can’t, apparently, have whatever we want whenever we want it and to whatever degree we feel like is because rich people/businesses aren’t handing over enough of their dosh. That this idea has resonated at all outside the Left is in no small part due to the failure of Joe Hockey to sell the competing narrative: that ‘soaking the rich’ now is the quickest way to impoverish future generations.
The nation faces a stark choice in 2017: whether to stay on the straight and narrow of economic restraint or to return, like drunks to the pokies after a day on the wagon, to Labor’s glittering machine of fantasy and self-delusion.
Mr Hockey must seize the opportunity that the IGR presents to refocus the national debate on the long-term. Rather than petty squabbles about $7 co-payments now, what will healthcare look like thirty years hence? Rather than who does or doesn’t drive a car, what sort of jobs and homes will future generations aspire to? And above all – where does our prosperity actually come from? (Answer: not the unions.)
Over to you, Joe.
Three score and ten years ago the Liberal Party came into being. Two score and two of those have been spent in power. As David Kemp points out in this issue, such extraordinary success was born of a passion for key principles that have endured, and hopefully will continue to endure; chief among them individual freedom of expression. Yet as Chris Gardiner also points out, the party machinery itself needs reform – particularly as we immerse ourselves more and more into the brave new world of the internet.
By unhappy coincidence, the last fortnight has also seen the passing of new laws that curtail our freedoms. Although Tony Abbott and George Brandis are at pains to assure us that new anti-terrorism legislation that could see journalists serve 10 years in prison are benign, it’s impossible not to share Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson’s disquiet. ‘The Left justified shutting down comments on the basis of race.. now the Right is doing the same on the basis of national security,’ he says.
This magazine was a lone voice on the Right in support of the ABC’s part in the Guardian/Snowden revelations about Australia’s spying activities on President Yudhoyono. Looking back, one could argue that the revelations led to a strengthening, not a weakening, of our relationship with Indonesia. Whether such a scoop would now be in breech of the law is not the point; as with the recent ditching of amendments to 18C, there appears to be a weakening of resolve on the part of the current Liberal party masters to uphold – come what may – values that have served the party, and country, so well for so long.
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