Peter Smith

Nightmare on Green Street

The election approaches; the advertising clamour ends. Those utterly wretched people on TV, desolate at the thought of an Abbott victory, are again waiting at tables on penalty rates, until the next acting gig turns up.

I caught some of Christine Milne’s Press Club do on Wednesday. I couldn’t watch it all, I had to go out. A likely excuse, some might say. Okay, I admit it, I couldn’t stand too much of it. Why not? After all, she wants to give more to the poor and to everyone and everything in need. She wants to be kinder to public servants, refugees, threatened species and the environment. She wants to stop any more of those dirty coalmines and soak the rich mining companies and banks. What is not to like? The woman is a saint.

I, too, want to be kinder to everyone and everything (except, perhaps, mosquitoes, poisonous spiders and snakes, and Al-Qaeda). And dirty coalmines are a bit of a drag if coal dust gets into your eyes or nose, which I am reliably informed, from ABC programs, can happen if you get too close. And don’t get me onto those rich miners and bankers with their fancy houses and big cars; especially now that my second marital breakdown has left me, shall we say, financially challenged.

My only problem is a completely selfish one and I should therefore be ashamed of myself. I think, well, if we spend a lot more on education, on health, on welfare, on more public servants, and throw in high speed rail, windmills and solar panels, and pay for it all by increasing taxes on profitable industries; and, at the same time, we close down coal mines and other nasty polluting industries, and open the door to any of the 40 million refugees and displaced people that want to come here uninvited, will we remain the lucky country? Will we continue to enjoy the high standard of living we have becomes disgracefully used to?

That, as they say, is the question. However, it is not a question which seems to strike Ms Milne, who remains above it; above tacky and tawdry commercial considerations. While not a staunch Catholic apparently, her beatification can’t be ruled out, many years hence of course. Alas for me, and many like me who won’t be voting for the Greens, I am mired in money talk.

And money does talk. If you doubt that, give all yours away and see how happy you become. Conservatives, more generally economic rationalists, are particularly preoccupied with money. What does this mean?

It means that when you look about and see well maintained buildings, roads, streets, pavements and sewage systems, and see people travelling in well-maintained public transport or driving modern cars, all with good housing, and mod cons, and don’t see large numbers of people in desperate poverty strewn on the streets as an everyday occurrence, you wonder why. And you arrive at the answer. And the answer is the free market, driven by inventive and productive people chasing profitable opportunities.

It isn’t magic, though it would have been hard to imagine its bounty hundreds of years’ ago. Magic, in fact, is the preserve of those on the left, carried to extreme levels of sorcery by those tinged with green. If not quite something from nothing, its hallmark is more from less. Less profit, fewer profitable and polluting industries, more inefficient and unprofitable clean industries, and voilà! There is more to share about.

Magic becomes a mindset, a way of thinking, which seeps into almost every economic issue and destroys logic. For example, unions try to preserve their members’ jobs by restricting the ability of businesses to become more productive and competitive by hiring foreign labour on 457 visas. They think that less productive and competitive businesses will provide them with more jobs. They think that by imposing extra wage costs on foreign ships carrying cargo between Australian ports they will do no harm to the ability of Australian companies to thrive and hire more employees. They don’t think higher minimum wages for apprentices will deter employers from hiring them. Truth be told, unions can’t afford other than to believe in magic, else much of their current rationale would disappear.

But let’s not pick just on unions. Look at how the current government and the Greens hype the number of jobs that will be created if only we undermine and destroy dirty old profitable industries and subsidise unprofitable ‘clean energy’ industries. When you think in this way, it is a wonder you see any limitations on your ability to make the world bountiful for all, at last.

Certainly the Greens take it all a step further than the Labor Party. They have a dream. It isn’t a Martin Luther King dream, which everyone in their personal life could contribute to achieving. This dream is totally unachievable in this world. It would morph into a nightmare. We would need another Donald Horne to write a sequel: “The saintly country, pity about the crippling poverty”.

The lesson is that someone who is willing to put aside the past six years of duplicity, incompetence and waste might, at a stretch, vote Labor for mindless tribal reasons. Only utopian dreamers or half-wits could possibly vote Green.

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

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