Aug 282008

Listening to the news over the last few nights, and Brendan Nelson on Radio National Breakfast Thursday morning, I’ve found myself agog at the audacity of a coalition opposition attempting to pin the Rudd government for the country’s current economic situation.

Eleven, almost twelve years of inattention to the realities of boom-time Australia from 1996 to 2007, glad-handing the electorate with tax cuts come election time, failing to realise on Keating initiatives such as the superannuation guarantee scheme for the long term benefit of all Australians, seem to have entirely slipped the collective coalition memory. To every boom there is a bust, but for the Howardian politick, the sound of the good times rolling drowned out all warnings from the RBA.

Brendan Nelson, et al, now that they’ve had to abandon the government seats in the House, seem to also have abandoned reality. The reality which saw them thrown out of government because of rising interest rates and falling voter enthusiasm, among a plethora of other political ills. The seats they occupy on the opposition benches must be magnetic. They seem to have wiped clean the mental hard-drives of coalition members. They don’t remember the decade and more of largesse which kept them in power and the 12 separate warnings of impending economic distress from the Reserve Bank. If ignorance of the past is bliss, the federal opposition must be deliriously happy.

On Lateline we saw the alternative government’s court jester, Tony Abbott, claiming the country is dogged by a Prime Minister which no-one understands, primarily because he speaks fluent Mandarin. I can’t see the link, other than ardent jealousy on the part of Abbott. He claims nothing is happening to resolve the economic woes we currently experience, because Labor is obsessed with reviews, and committees. Frankly, I’d have thought investigating the innards of an ailing patient complaining of deep-seated pain would be the right thing for any doctor to be doing. Similarly with economic strategists investigating a less than desirable fiscal situation. Abbott would rather adopt the approach of “take two and don’t call me, I’ll call you”. Something of a hallmark of conservative politics in this country. It’s all just opportunistic politics, at best.

In order to fix something, it’s important to understand firstly just how broken it is, where it’s broken and how it broke before taking to the tools and wading blithely into the machinery. The coalition bags Grocery Choice and Fuel Watch, yet even the Western Australian opposition leader believes that Fuel Watch in that state serves a valid purpose in allowing the voting public access to information of value to them. Whether these schemes actually save people money is up to how people use the information provided. The important issue is the provision of the information.

I don’t agree with additional taxes, but I’m not in the least impacted by more costly alco-pops and certainly can’t afford to buy cars costing more than $58,000. I’d suggest I’m merely one of millions of other bog-standard Australian voters. Those who wish to, and can, should pay for the privilege. It’s a simple formula. As for increasing the luxury car tax percentage being a brake on innovation, I’m yet to see any concrete evidence that lower tariffs on Landcruiser Sahara’s is going to ease our climate change worries.

We’re now nine months into the Rudd government’s first term. We’ve a ways to go before any judgments on its economic credentials can rightfully be passed. Yes, there has been symbolism more than content, to date, but that symbolism is what the voters elected the new government for. There can be no escaping that point. Some symbolism was, and still is, necessary. I believe no valid economic judgments can be properly made until year three. The current global downturn would have eased a little by then and Australia’s two-tier economy would have either split further, or evened out as a result of government initiatives. If not, we’ll have good reasons to whinge at that point because a lot of us will genuinely be worse off. Right now it’s wait and see, steady as she goes. Right now, it’s time for the Rudd government to start putting it’s act into gear. As Paul Keating opined, time to start that narrative. Tell the nation where it’s heading, and why. Delaying longer only leaves the government open to genuine attacks due to inaction. The current crop of opposition attacks are feathers being whipped against rhino hide. Further delays might see those feathers become sharp needles.

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