Flat White

Are we really only kept afloat by immigration, mate?

1 May 2018

1:48 PM

1 May 2018

1:48 PM

It just seems like a year ago that Scott Morrison handed down the Commonwealth budget and brought joy and early festive celebration to all Australian pensioners – not. This year’s budget will land on Mate Day – May 8 (geddit?) – which isn’t very far away at all.

It is difficult to know what to expect from a man who could actually say that corporate tax cuts would result in increased investment, job security and wages, without once mentioning dividends. But that is what he said and he didn’t so much as smile once.  How does he do it? Still, given the revelations of financial fraud that seem to spring daily from the witness box of the Royal Commission into the finance sector, I think we can agree that it would take someone with a good deal more chutzpah than Scott Morrison to go ahead with the tax cuts at this time. Maybe it will be the aged pensioners who will hear the tinkling of a few coins dropping into their cold, empty money boxes.

The problem with recent budgets is that neither Treasury nor the Treasurer have had a clear set of objectives. It’s all about process when it should be about purpose. One gets the impression that the numbers are expertly calculated but what they represent and hence, the need for a change has been lost. Scott Morrison spoke only a few days ago of the need to maintain the recent strong employment growth. He was obviously not referring to the March figures since seasonally adjusted full-time employment for that month fell.

That is not to say that Morrison won’t spend money here and there on this or that industry; that education and health won’t get a few dollars thrown in their direction as will defence. All of these will receive the government’s attention. What is missing, however, is a concerted statement of policy that will reduce the unemployment rate by providing growth in something other than superannuation advice industries or real estate.  And bear in mind, if a person works in paid employment for an hour he or she is considered to be employed not unemployed. A study undertaken eight or nine years ago concluded that the underemployment rate was about double the unemployment rate when those who wanted but couldn’t obtain full-time employment were added in.

Historically, the budget was a time for cultivating and showcasing an array of different industries in which people could find gainful employment. It also included government policies by which the uneven international markets were made the level with the studied use of fiscal and financial measures. They were the days that proved that unemployment of two to three per cent was not a dream but reality.

But perhaps we have seen a sign without really knowing it, that the Commonwealth Treasury does have an eye on a winner, other than the bricks and mortar of residential construction. It wasn’t so long ago that Treasury would refuse to name future winning industries. At the time, that was a prudent response from those who had placed their faith in the mechanistic, malevolent psychology of the market.

However, when the Treasury announced a couple of weeks ago that the current level of net immigration – some 190,000 per year – was critical for keeping economic growth going and staving off all sorts of economic disasters, like sovereign bankruptcy, it suddenly became apparent that immigration was such a clear winner that the Treasury and by association, the Treasurer, were delighted to tell the truth about it.

What makes the policy even more attractive is that it costs Treasury nothing. The prospective immigrants merely assert that they have large bank balances and the Commonwealth shows them the colour of our new plasterboard and aluminium cladding houses that they can buy.

We can, of course, trust Treasury because they have had some previous experience of these real estate deals, having presided over the sale of the farm and the recent sale of Darwin Ports to the Chinese government. I wonder which mandarin-speaking genius in Canberra was responsible for giving that one the go ahead?

The Commonwealth’s annual budget is usually a time for showcasing economic policies that will promote industry and maintain employment while looking after those not able to look after themselves.

What a terrible indictment it would be if the only growth industry they can mention on Mate Day is the one that will further diminish the number of people in your street who can actually speak English and who want to be your mate.

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