Bluff and counter-bluff

Sunday, 17 May 2009 

Anyone clinging to the hope that there was substance to the economic debate between the major parties, and that the coalition would have done something different if they were in, would surely have had to let it go after Turnbull’s Budget reply speech on Thursday. After all the coalition huffing and puffing about throwing money away and deficits, the only specific Budget measure he opposed was a reduction in cash hand-outs to those on medical insurance, which he promptly replaced with a tax increase, leaving the deficit not a cent different than before. Having done that, he then capped it off by reversing his earlier opposition to another tax increase, the one on alcopops. No wonder Bronwyn Bishop, probably still under the delusion that the Liberals stood for less taxes and lower spending, went off in a huff.

Of course, Turnbull’s U-turn on alcopops was to deny the government a ready double dissolution trigger. Given the state of the coalition, they were in no position to fight an election campaign. But it would probably be safe to say the government was just as relieved. Despite their high polling, the lack of firm base in the electorate naturally makes them nervous about going without a good reason and this pretence of an economic debate would not be it. Both parties were just talking tough about going to the electorate with economic programmes that they didn’t have.

Without an economic alternative the coalition really only has two tactics. First, a sort of guilt by association, trying to take credit for the boom when they were in and attach blame for the downturn to Labor on their watch. But unlike the way that the inflation and unemployment of the mid 1970s were blamed on Whitlam’s spending, rather than the oil shock that hit all the world’s economies, Rudd has fairly successfully avoided taking the blame for this one. However, there is a fine balance the government needs to have between avoiding responsibility and being seen as capable of doing something, hence the empathy and the hand-outs that are now becoming little more than repackaged prior commitments.

Labor’s danger of being seen to be out of control is why the coalition’s second tactic is more effective, raising the debt issue. Not that it will do the Liberals much good, as shown on Thursday, they are incapable of proposing anything to reduce the debt. But it does undermine the government (and Treasury for that matter) as making it look a victim of events. It is an act of political nihilism by the coalition to the detriment of both sides.

Meanwhile back in reality, the size of Australia’s debt is pretty well neither here not there. Australia’s economy will, as usual, be largely determined by what is gong on overseas, especially in the US where the economy continues its slide down. There the debt is a real issue with the US continuing to pump the economy with no real means of financing it, instead probably more likely to devalue it through inflation. The US looks set to do to everyone else’s economy what Britain did to the rest of the Empire during the Great Depression, drag them down to save its own.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Sunday, 17 May 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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5 responses to “Bluff and counter-bluff”

  1. John on 17th May 2009 10:03 am

    The proposed means test for rebate on private health insurance begins at $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples. These are well-above average incomes and the reduction in rebate is still affordable. Turnbull’s proposal is not a counter cost-cutting measure but back to extortion from the ‘whipping boys’ (smokers) to fund budgetary problems, and all masqueraded as ‘health promotion’. And, out comes the standard mantra of ‘saving lives’ that supposedly occurs in a statistical fantasy world.
    Below is a comment posted on a smokers’ blog in response to the recent US cigarette tax hike which is very apt in the current Australian circumstance. It is lengthy, but it includes numerous sentiments that smokers have no general forum to air and that the media never addresses.
    Higher taxes “may” have a disproportionate affect on the poor? Have all the abstractions of ideology and academic debate and policy completely isolated you from the reality of human experience?

    You could sell cigarettes for $100 per pack, and a wealthy smoker would never even know that anything had changed. Yet raising the price even $1.00 a pack forces poor people to re-arrange their entire lives in response to other peoples’ legal violence against them. Where is the autonomy in that? Where’s the dignity in that? Where’s the justice in that?

    You can create abstract lists of benefits using pencil and paper all day long, but how are these forced income reductions benefiting the working poor, exactly? Especially when their effects are imperceptible to the rich?

    Why is cancer regarded as such a horror because it “shortens” life, yet a life of poverty becomes more and more acceptable the deeper they are pushed into poverty, and the longer their poverty (life) is prolonged? There’s nothing to debate here if you’re concerned with real, living human beings at all, rather than “10.73%”, “340 kids” and “400,000 dead”, “an average reduction of 3 cigarettes per day” and other symbols and statistics written on pieces of paper. These are real human beings who are being devastated by these taxes.

    These outrageous tax increases transform smoking into an exclusive privilege of the rich. Any poor smoker who attempts to simply do what they have always done, and nothing more (which is absolutely, positively as much their right as it is for the rich), is utterly devastated by these extortions. Is there any humanity at all in this tobacco debate? My God, I wish I did have cancer, just to escape so much inhumanity. I would bow before God in gratitude for taking me away from so much hate and human stupidity.

    Anti-smokers make this world such a miserable place to live in. They portray the world, and life itself, as a dangerous and miserable place, yet they endlessly pursue a longer life. I have never witnessed a movement in my lifetime that is permeated with so much evil, stupidity, and sheer inhumanity, no matter how much rhetoric it spews about trying to prevent suffering.

    Just open your door and look outside. Feel the sun on your face. Listen to the birds. Splash around in a stream or lake. We are privileged to live in a truly gorgeous world. And anti-smokers turn all of this beauty and joy into something more sickening than a black lung.

    Anti-smokers CREATE misery, and suffering, and conflict, and guilt, and shame, and oppression, and stress, and segregation, and isolation, and so many other horrific things that did not exist before they began devoting their lives to worrying about what other people were doing with theirs. Meanwhile, cancer exists even without tobacco. Who is really creating a preventable problem here?

    My God, a poor man works his ass off all day, and doesn’t ask for anything more in return than the pleasure of a good smoke as his only “luxury” in a lifetime of hard work. Yet while he’s at work, his income is reduced by arbitrary taxes that are sent directly to his persecutors. Meanwhile his children are at school being taught that their father, who loves them dearly, is “killing” them. You call that a movement that benefits society, in any way, shape or form? How can you find benevolence in this? This is human evil at its most obscene, and absurd. Again I ask, what is the matter with you people?

    And I say this giving you, Dr. Siegel, full credit for being one of the good guys, as far as anyone who devotes their life to the concept of “control” can be regarded as a decent human being at all. For my part, I’d prefer a world where nobody was concerned with “control”. Just live your life the best you can and be grateful for it every day, rather than wasting your life mourning the fact that it will one day end.

    The lack of gratitude for life I witness among anti-smokers is just astounding. They always want more, more, more, and then still more. More control over other people. More laws. More regulations. More taxes. More studies. More grants. More publicity. More time on television. One more day added to their life. More money siphoned off of hard-working smokers. More, more, more. This is the most deranged group of people I have ever seen. Why isn’t mental illness at the top of anyone’s priority list, rather than tobacco control?

    How dare you make a tame suggestion that these taxes “may have a disproportionate effect on the poor”. These taxes are utterly devastating to poor people, and the sadistic anti-smokers who imposed those taxes are laughing at their victims’ suffering, all the way to the bank. Stop writing academic arguments in your sleep, and wake up to the obvious reality of what the anti-smoking movement is really all about. These people are sociopaths.
    Paul | 04.21.09 – 1:32 am |

  2. Ad astra on 17th May 2009 12:41 pm

    A well argued piece TPS. Consensus is mounting in the media that the Coalition’s election strategy will be ‘deficit and debt’, disingenuous as that might be. There will be no acknowledgement by them that most of the deficit and debt is the result of the GFC – they will lay it all on the government’s spending.

    Your last paragraph puts the debt that Australia will incur in perspective – it is modest and small compared with other major economies. The Coalition has made a virtue of surpluses and has demonized deficits and debt, that is, Labor deficits and debt. So it’s to be expected it will pursue that theme. Having lived through previous Commonwealth deficits and debt, I cannot recall the pain to which the Coalition likes to refer. Australia survived the debt and prospered. Most of the posturing about the evils of deficits and debt seems to be for the purpose of gaining political advantage. Most households buying a home are proportionately in hock to a much greater extent that the government now proposes.

  3. Just Me on 18th May 2009 12:45 am

    Historical comparisons of Australian government debt. Charts 2 & 5 are particularly interesting.

    PDF file.

  4. Ad astra on 18th May 2009 2:37 pm

    Good reference, Just Me. Thanks.

  5. Riccardo on 18th May 2009 5:29 pm

    I saw a similar thing in Victoria – comparing Bolte, Hamer, Cain, Kirner, Kennett, Bracks and Brumby.

    Bolte (Liberal) ran up by far the highest debt – Kirner was a long way behind! The debt fetish came out of some US Bible Belt rubbish pushed by loony congressmen -why do we have to follow it here?

    Fact is, future generations have to pay their share of infrastructure costs we are developing now, just as we pay for what earlier generations did. Fair too, that we avoid climate change as much as possible for the same ethical reasons, it imposes costs on future generations but they haven’t had the benefit of our current climate.

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