Who’s running the world today?

I’m gonna wait til the moment has come

I’m gonna wait til we all stop from running

I’ve spent the week alternately trying to make sense of the Australian Government’s new budget, and trying to pretend it isn’t happening.

Last year I read Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” in an attempt to make sense of the chasm between the right and left of politics, and it made some kind of sense to me – I was able to see morality on the right as well as on the left. But I am at a loss to find morality in this budget. It seems to be a kind of “no-one gets anything for nothing (oh, wait, except big business, politicians, and really rich people)” ethos, together with “let’s stick it to everything Labor ever did or wanted to do”.

It’s a vicious, punitive attack on the vulnerable. It guts our healthcare, education, and welfare systems, not to mention the environment, in the name of an economy that has a mythical “budget crisis” but in fact is the envy of the developed world.

We don’t want it. We don’t need it. We don’t have a budget deficit crisis. We have a health deficit crisis. An education deficit crisis. A compassion deficit crisis. We are punishing refugees for political, not humanitarian or practical reasons. We are dismantling our universal healthcare system, and trashing our education system – which was on the point of the most equitable reforms Australia has ever seen, in the form of the Gonski recommendations.

I’m gonna wait till I reach for the sky
Tin legs and tin mines, anyone’s cry
Cry in the hope that there’ll be tomorrow

Waiting around there must be a sound
Time to start thinking and working it out
Come with me now, try with me now, when I’m laughing
Who’s running the world today?

Midnight Oil, Tin Legs and Tin Mines.

And so people will march today, protesting the unfairness, the viciousness, and above all the lack of honesty in this budget. Protesting the lies. (“No cuts to… oh, just about everything that has been cut. No new taxes. No governments doing one thing before an election and another thing after. Oh. Unless, you know, we want to.”). Protesting the utter lack of compassion – “$7 is just a couple of middies of beer”. Never mind that it’s more than some families have to spend on dinner. (For an impassioned perspective on that, search for “Kaye Stirland’s open letter to Joe Hockey.” Prepare to be blown away.)

But Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey will ignore it, as they have ignored every other protest. They know they can’t be held to account for over 2 years at least. They know they have free rein to hack and slash, buy a few votes in the final budget before the next election, and then there is a good chance they will be reelected.

The press barely hold governments to account. They don’t analyze their statements to see if they are true. Those few fact checkers that are out there don’t seem to get any cut through. The quick sound bites about the alleged “budget crisis” carry the day. The truth is there are zero consequences for broken promises in this political system. (Unless you’re female, of course.)

But what if there were ?

What if a certain proportion of the population – say, 5%, as in the constitution of many incorporated associations – could stand up and say “We’re not happy with you. You’ve broken too many promises.” and force a re-election? Or simply a referendum on their performance that could result in a people’s double dissolution?

What if there were a “this government has gone too far” button?

Would you press it?




3 thoughts on “Who’s running the world today?

  1. Joe

    At “5%” I suspect the reset button would be pressed too often, and politicians would be even more wary of doing anything “unpopular”.

    It’s a catch-22. We need *leadership*… which implies leaders with the vision and capability to achieve things that, left to ourselves, we wouldn’t do or would consider unpopular or even in cases where simply getting the entire population to spend enough time to digest enough information to understand and agree with a political steering is just too darn expensive. We need leadership we can *trust* when they are doing something “unpopular”.

    This is certainly NOT that leadership.

    But if, by definition, an important distinction between good leadership and bad is the ability to see the need for something which is not (currently) popular and make it happen anyway, a popularist “reset button” would scupper any chance of good effective leadership.

    (Annnd, is the subjective definition of “good” leadership that they do “unpopular” things that I happen to agree with?)

    We don’t have a *debt* problem.

    We *do* have a deficit problem. Our economy is running “normal” and “healthy” but we’re still spending beyond our means in a way which is entrenched indefinitely… since Howard started “spending the mining boom” and Labor since then didn’t stop it, all parties are responsible. This budget’s approach to closing the deficit gap is atrocious… there are much more humane approaches, revenue should be examined as well as spending (our tax revenue is relatively low by peer standards) though I note the Green’s suggestions to raise an additional $80b from “those evil big companies” which all our retirement funds happen to own when those companies currently pay $70b in tax is an unlikely “solution” as well. And the economy isn’t just going to “grow its way out” of the situation… our entrenched expenses essentially grow right along with the economy.

    About the only thing I agree with in this budget is bringing back the fuel excise indexation. But I don’t agree that nothing needs to be done. And if we do need to close a $40b deficit gap there really aren’t enough “rich bastards” to pay for it without everyone else chipping in… but not this way.

    Not this way.

    1. lindamciver

      I can be flexible about numbers – although 5% is over one million, so I suspect it would be hard to ever get the reset button pressed. But I completely agree with your point that we don’t want populist reactionism, and that we do need leaders who will make unpopular but necessary policy decisions – based, of course, on evidence and worldwide best practice, rather than on ideology or volume of lobby groups.

      And yes, we do need to earn at least as much as we spend (roughly) to be sustainable. I’d actually be perfectly happy to pay more tax in order to see it spent on health and education, particularly if it were a progressive tax that increases for higher incomes.

      But I do think we need a hard reset option for when governments get it hideously wrong. It should definitely be difficult to press. But not impossible. And sometimes waiting 3 years is catastrophic.

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