Government still comes up short

Feb 7, 2021

Governments were once terrified when budget night came around. Any increase in the price of cigarettes or a pot of beer, a wave of popular disgust would likely follow. Australians are coming around to the fact that governments are different now.

Increases in the excise tax were typically announced once a year, and the next morning’s newspapers either frothed at the mouth or praised the decision. Such tax increases could even decide the fate of the government at the next election.

These days, with an overabundance of ‘data’, technical explanations of reasons for and against, the voter is often left in the dark, because of the sheer volume of information, which is often buried beneath layers of spin, by the use of grandfather clauses, and other drafting tricks. So the law can change, unannounced. Or it can be restricted, as “commercial in confidence”, or maybe because it deals with “operational matters”.

That is the stock in trade of most neoliberal governments, because the compact between the governors, and the governed, is fractured. The promise that they will govern for all is now honoured more in the breach, than in the observance. They no longer serve at our discretion. They have moved beyond asking for our permission.

Getting a good go, if you have mates

These days many decisions are explained as a part of a necessary budget repair, or as a vital part of macroeconomic planning. If it pertains to national security then we must agree to take it on trust that getting submarines from Japan, or France or Timbuktu will turn out to be a masterful decision. Years later, unfulfilled contracts, often with huge amounts of damages, are no one’s fault. We are told to look away. Probably the fault of both sides, term after term. All care and no responsibility.

Matters of equity are no longer hot button issues because if you are doing well in Australia, you like the sound of the cult of competitive capitalism. You send your children to private schools because you want your children to prosper, and you’d prefer they did not rub shoulders with the plebs.

No problem that the funding you receive is often taken from the public education budget. Funding formulas are so complex you need a degree in mathematics to understand why already wealthy schools need anything from the public purse.

Similarly for health. Get your knee looked after, immediately, in the private hospital, and have the whole thing subsidised by the public health sector. And users of private education and private health systems still want handouts from the government, in the form of subsidy from the public.

And if you are not a mate

Of course, if you are not doing well, you are probably too busy juggling work-shifts and childcare and finding the basics of life to worry about reading the fine print of how governments will govern. You know you will be blamed for your lack of resources, even as they give tax cuts to the rich and indulge in the cargo cult called “trickle down theory”.

If you suffer a disability or are disadvantaged in any way, you are considered “rorting” the system. Such governments as ours distrust the motives of the poor.

Some still pay lip service to the conventions of caring, but announcements very seldom eventuate, because the news cycle has passed on, and your grant served its purpose as an announcement.

Some MPs, even ministers, routinely make statements so distasteful that only a generation ago such words would cause immediate shame and resignation, but now it is excused under the banner of free speech, or “our party is a broad church”. This is code for ‘he (mainly men) is an unmannered brute, but he votes for me in the party room, so there’s not much I can do.’

For the first time in our history, there is a good chance that our parliamentarians are all time-serving careerists, and if there is any guiding principle then it would be “feather your nest, because the good times may not last”.

Many were political advisers before they became politicians, and the chief qualifier for that role is that you were a loudmouth at university, or you were related to a politician.

The private sector is even worse. The average multiplier between the salary of a CEO and a shop floor worker now sits at 78 times.

What can we do?

We have to start paying attention. We have to decide whether this system is good enough. Is apathy better than engagement. And stop being nostalgic for the good old days, when the people in power really had the interests of the country, and its people, in their hearts. Those days are gone. Embrace the new realism.

If you want to live in a system that routinely duds the working person, then do nothing. Otherwise, act on your rights. Defend the ABC. Demand explanations for decisions. Pester your local member. Make them work for you because that is why they are paid so much.

Scott Morrison is not a political genius. He manages to look good because he leads a team that may be the worst, and the shallowest, in living memory.

They are all skating on thin ice, hoping we won’t wake up until their superannuation is safe, and the natural path from the government to industry is still available. But as with all things political, the wheel turns.

Biden has replaced Trump. Johnson will eventually be forced to own his stupid mistakes. The world is watching as Trump is brought to book. The neoliberal fraud has been around for about 40 years now, and it must run aground soon. We need to hold them to account. Every day their lies and dishonesty cause more harm, and our fellow citizens need to concentrate.

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