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May 30th 2014 print

Peter Smith

Folly, Thy Name Is Hockey

The budget's impact on welfare spending will be modest at best, and that gain comes at the cost of alienating grey legions of potential Coalition voters. If the Treasurer wasn't so determined to tough it out, he would recognise that his handiwork achieves little at enormous political cost

foot shotJoe Hockey is hanging tough apparently. He’s a sticker, not a folder. It’s his way or the highway. He’ll fight them on the hustings and in the corridors and in the chambers of Parliament House. He’ll never surrender. This guy is not for turning or for blinking — or, it patently appears, for thinking.

Tony Abbott apparently told Parliament that he makes no assumptions about his longevity in the job. How prescient of him. How politically brave it was to announce measures in the budget to put almost everyone offside, even the old-age pensioners (OAPs) Julia Gillard once outed as irredeemable Liberal voters.

Kevin Andrews intends to tell OAPs that black is white on pensions to counter “the pattern of deceit and deception from the Labor Party”. No, that is no joke. If you haven’t yet, it is now time to despair. It’s Malcolm Turnbull or, be afraid, union lickspittle Bill Shorten, unless Abbott gets some guile and ditches Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann, the kamikaze architects of this shemozzle.

Let me make it clear to Mr Andrews: indexing aged pensions by the CPI progressively reduces their value against community standards. Please don’t go out there pamphleteering to the contrary, adding insult to injury. Being old doesn’t make pensioners stupid.

I have not read one conservative commentator willing to offer worthwhile advice to the government. They chatter like Balmain latte sippers. Only the patter of the chatter is different.

This is only a small step to repairing the budget, they say; it makes only modest inroads into welfare spending, they say. Howard and Costello did much more in their first budget, they say. Maybe they did, but they also applied a lot more common sense to the task. Even their superannuation surcharge — a broken promise if I ever saw one — was guaranteed to lose them few votes.

Yes, the budget does make only modest inroads into welfare spending. That is not the point. Well, actually, when you think about it, it is the point because the inroads into Medicare and aged pensions are so hapless that it will be so much more difficult to make substantial and defensible inroads in the future.

Conservatives search after objectivity and the truth. That is what makes conservatives worth their salt. The very act of taking account of consequences, of drilling down, makes people conservative. Those on the left personify tribal loyalty, knee-jerk and childlike responses. That is precisely what makes them and keeps them left. Conservatives are better than that, or they should be.

 

 

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics