Squandering boom benefits

Labor’s class war was always going to end badly.

The unedifying spectacle of the federal treasurer attacking the most profitable sector of the Australian economy for short term political gain is as cynical as it is unnecessary. But then Labor has perfected the art of zero sum politics.

This unilateral class war, whose opening salvo was Swan’s contribution to The Monthly, The 0.01 per cent: the rising influence of vested interests in Australia, is aimed squarely at three persons: Gina Rinehart, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forest and Clive Palmer. To meet Swan’s exacting criteria for membership to the ‘vested interests’ club, a miner must be all of the following:

1. Billionaire

2. Australian

3. Entrepreneur

4. Conservative

Curiously, no mention has been made of Xstrata, Rio Tinto or BHP Billiton as ‘vested interests’, despite their equal opposition to the Mineral Rent Resources Tax. This may be because these companies are Anglo-Australian or Anglo-Swiss owned, and not as culpable in the treasurer’s estimation as the treasonous Australian miners who dare to question the merits of the MRRT cash cow.  

The strategy of demonising three successful Australian entrepreneurs lasted all of three months. That’s how long it took for Swan and Gillard’s excellent adventure to fall apart. The net result of all this pre-election trialling, focus group-driven chicanery is the fracturing of the Labor and Union alliance. While Labor appears to have their election sloganeering and associated welfare stimuli all sorted out – ‘spreading the benefits of the boom’ and the Benefits of the Boom package; the ‘clean energy future’ and the Household Assistance package – they don’t appear to have run the class war through the appropriate channels; cleared first by the union powerbrokers, then cursorily run past the caucus at the last moment.

In retrospect, it is difficult to see the logic in a treasurer attacking a select few entrepreneurs in an industry lauded as the driving force of Australia’s continuing prosperity; an attack which is ultimately self-defeating and pointless. Few governments in Australia’s favourable economic situation would seriously consider such a high cost, low benefit policy, only serving to reinforce the view that our economy is thriving in spite of Labor, not because of them. Moreover, the class war itself hasn’t hurt or affected the prospects of conservatives at all; Tony Abbott is still the preferred prime minister and Gina Rinehart’s $9.5 billion Roy Hill mining project is still going ahead as planned. On the other hand, Gillard’s dissembling, implausible reaction to the announcement of such sensible policy has resulted in a further diminution of her authority and credibility. Ministers are openly contradicting her take on this latest fiasco, with very little to fear in way of reprisals from a leader held in such little regard. As Paul Kelly pointed out in The Australian, the PM was once again able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sound familiar? Gillard’s panicked and irrational response can be superimposed onto so many government debacles over the last several years. However, the one that instantly springs to mind as most memorable is Stephen Smith’s overreaction to the ADFA ‘Skype scandal’. You may recall that, as a result of the publicity surrounding the events at ADFA, the Commandant was stood down from his position without natural justice, and six inquiries were launched into the culture of ADFA and the defence force more generally. Six.

All analogies to ‘killing the golden goose’ aside, mining has shielded the Australian economy from the ravages of economic pain being felt in much of the western world, and ironically (and somewhat counterintuitively), allowed Labor to implement its ideologically-charged agenda. Without the tax receipts from the mines of Rinehart, Palmer, Forrest et al, the carbon tax, Finkelstein’s media regulation inquiry, the wealth distribution campaigns and the monotonously regular manufacturing industry bailouts would be impossible; indeed, the government would be insolvent.

This self-inflicted damage has come to a head with the recently announced Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) for Roy Hill. The internal divisions, the petty squabbling, the power struggles inherent in a defective administration, bubbling below the surface till now, have erupted in an internecine battle for control. Several layers of conflict, which have rent apart the ALP, have now also exposed serious ideological rifts between Labor and the Union movement. And what is Labor’s answer to the Roy Hill EMA fiasco? A ‘spreading the benefits of the resources boom’ economics sub-committee in caucus to oversee future Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMA’s). If this is a joke, it is in pretty poor taste. With all due respect, the rushed implementation of this latest sub-committee, another cynical exercise in damage control, resembles too closely the multi-party committee to examine the facts of the Christmas Island boat tragedy. And what exactly has that committee accomplished since December 2010?

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