Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
Menu
July 11th 2018 print

Ross Fitzgerald

Uselessness to the Power of Two

Australians confront a grim choice: a purported conservative who is nothing of the kind and an unctuously insincere main-chancer who makes the skin crawl. Labor doesn’t deserve to win and the Liberals deserve to lose, but one party will -- and the country will go right on being stiffed and stuffed

duds IIThe federal government’s GST plan, to give the states more money but not to redesign a bad system, shows how degraded Australian public life has become. At least two years too late, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has finally responded to former WA premier Colin Barnett’s plea for a fair go, but he and Scott Morrison have done it by putting in more borrowed money, not by making a fairer system.

The only sensible GST distribution is on a per head of population basis, with a pool to alleviate disadvantage and to reward good policy. The best way to make any big change is by a process of thoroughgoing tax reform, so that what people lose on the swings they might gain on the roundabouts. But that would take political courage – a quality noticeably lacking by current leaders of both the Coalition and the ALP.

Australian citizens are worried their wages haven’t gone up much in years, their jobs are less secure than ever, their children can’t afford to buy homes, public transport is full, roads are clogged, the world is getting more dangerous, and that very little in politics and public life seems “normal” anymore. Meanwhile, almost all our politicians do is hurl abuse at each other in a struggle for office that has little to do with making anyone else’s life better, let alone the nation more prosperous and secure.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten should have been a shoo-in for the next election but he’s not. This is because he’s moved to the left rather than to the centre like all previous successful oppositions. He’s against tax cuts for anyone earning more than $90,000 a year, wants more tax on business, has already pledged $200 billion in higher taxes over the decade on investors, and thinks that our problems in education and health can all be fixed by throwing at them more and more money.

Like Kevin Rudd, Mr Shorten thinks that climate change is the biggest challenge we face. He therefore wants more unreliable power in the system, and only supports the coal industry when he’s talking to coal workers! He’s a politician of flexible principles who always supported the Fair Work Commission until it did something he didn’t like – such as cutting penalty rates for workers in small business and banning strikes in essential services.

As for Malcolm Turnbull, he thinks his only real chance of winning the next election is to point out that the opposition would be worse.

Turnbull’s speeches boast of “the million jobs” the economy has created over the past five years (which are little thanks to him), and continue about all the extra (borrowed) billions he’s spending on schools and hospitals (to counter Labor’s scare campaign). These boasts usually come before a series of complaints about Labor’s lies and Shorten’s union links. This critique of Shorten is persuasive enough, but would have much more force and believability if Turnbull’s weren’t running such a Labor-lite government himself. Labor wants even more spending and more taxing than the Coalition, but neither side mentions budget repair anymore, except that which happens automatically because of economic growth.

The biggest gulf between the major parties is on border protection but Turnbull never really has his heart in attacking Labor on this issue, while Labor never really sounds convinced when saying it agrees with offshore detention and turning boats around.

But while the Liberals move to the left under Turnbull and Labor moves even further to the left under Shorten, few politicians are addressing the issues that people really care about, such as sky-rocketing power bills and cities choking on their own traffic.

The upcoming federal byelections on Saturday July 28 could be a circuit breaker. After 35 successive Newspoll wins, Labor should be favoured to retain the seats it holds, despite poor incumbents who should have quit once it became apparent they had dual citizenship.

A loss for Labor in Longman in Queensland or in Braddon in Tasmania (both of which seem to me possible) would be devastating blows to Opposition morale and a big loss for Shorten, who has always been less popular than his party.  On the other hand, if Labor comfortably retains all its seats and the Libs fail to regain Mayo in South Australia, the pressure will be back on Turnbull to demonstrate how he can beat Labor while not really disagreeing with them on very much at all.

Voters’ concerns rarely change, not treally: they want safer and better lives and they look for parties and leaders they think might deliver this. Under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Labor’s mistake was to put politically correct issues, like climate change, above bread and butter ones like cost of living. Under Turnbull, the Liberals have been little better. Both sides have been full of MPs who mistake themselves getting ahead for serving the nation. And, in relatively recent times, both sides thought that they could change with impunity the leader whom the people had elected.

For the sake of our polity it’s a pity that both can’t lose the next election and use the time in opposition to work out what they really believe and really want to do.

As things stand, Labor doesn’t deserve to win but the Liberals deserve to lose. It’s a choice between bad and worse, but often hard to know which is which! Perhaps the best thing for the forthcoming federal election might be for voters to forget parties and focus on candidates, supporting those with stimulating ideas, strong records and good characters.

Emeritus professor of politics and history at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald AM is the author of 40 books, including the political satire ‘So Far, So Good’ (Hybrid)

Comments [8]

  1. ianl says:

    1) If the ALP loses Longman or Braddon, or both, and a panicked Caucus boots Shorten for Albanese, what changes for the citizenry ? Nothing useful …

    2) If Waffle waffles on about the evil “gentailers” (who are simply organising themselves according to the current State/Fed rules) and the deliberately despicable RET stays unexposed and undebated, what changes for the citizenry ? Nothing useful …

    3) If the MSM continues to offer shallow circuses biased towards whichever political group it may favour at any one time and continues to eschew actual information, what changes for the citizenry ? Nothing useful …

    4) If the citizenry continues to believe for example that supermarket-supplied plastic bags were “free”( but nonetheless presented mortal danger for great whites) then why should it be supplied with any actual information at all ? No useful reason …

    5) If compulsory preferential voting remains in force, the electoral “choice” becomes and remains between crony capitalisim and crony unionism. What then changes for the citizenry at elections ? Nothing useful …

    6) If the power grids are continually and deliberately debased to reduce demand, what changes for the citizenry ? Continually reducing standards of living …

    Fortunately, I have helped my children find successful careers overseas while they build their families (yes, I would prefer them in Aus but that’s just selfish) and I’m old enough now not to worry much. The political/meeja segments of the population regard power as *SACRED* and nothing is permitted to interfere with that; certainly not the proles … democracy has been redefined to exclude the “demos”.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      Indeed. Our children have both spent much of their working lives overseas, and we only have one of five grandchildren who was actually born in Australia. One of our sons and his family have migrated permanently to Canada, and we don’t expect them to return except for the occasional visit.

      • Jody says:

        We have our children scattered far and wide and we seldom, if ever, see either them or any grandchildren. Family feuds and the like; we’re over them and it’s worthwhile remembering that old adage, “god gave us our relations – thank god we can choose our friends”. Our friends become our family as we age, when our children think only of themselves and their own children. When we lived in Vienna in 2011 people said “how could you leave your family”? I was staggered by this comment as it made me realize that for many people they define themselves purely in terms of parenthood. My husband and I had a wonderful time together and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, were it not for ‘the migrants’ I could live permanently in Austria!!

  2. en passant says:

    Ross,
    I was not able to persuade my children to move overseas as they are in professions that are Oz-centric. However, I took my own advice and moved overseas, three years ago. I love it, though I am sad that I have not fought harder to ‘save oz’ from the anti-Oz crowd who want to sacrifice our nation to ‘save the planet’ – which is an even more mythical idea than one beginning with ‘Once upon a time …’.

  3. ChrisPer says:

    I have worked overseas, in Zimbabwe, and even under Mugabe and reading the ‘Herald’ the feeling of freedom was greater than in Australian politics and putting up with the smothering ABC.
    Perhaps the better solution would be to give the Liberals what they deserve, and give Labor the possibility of what Mugabe gave his domestic rivals – just so as to keep them focused on everyone’s good.

  4. whitelaughter says:

    By talking about the dinosaurs, you help give them a little more life. But not much. Both Labor and the Libs are dying, and good riddance. They only survive by momentum, and once they can no longer win majorities they will collapse. Ignore them; minor decisions in the minor parties will have long term consequences, influencing OZ for the next century.

  5. MOAB says:

    Be as it may, but choosing the lesser of two evils is still a logical choice. After all, the risks of having our freedoms curtailed even further are greater under Labour. So stick with the Libs until there is a *viable* conservative alternative.