By Anthony Cox
Some commentators have argued that Australia is currently well served politically by the Gillard government as shown by a number of economic indicators.
This misses the point. Australia has many natural advantages in mineral, agricultural and technological wealth. Equally important is Australia’s democratic structure and individual freedoms which our citizens enjoy.
Given these inherent advantages the proper measure of whether the current stewardship by the Gillard government is enhancing Australia is not a comparison with other nations who are not so well served by inherent advantages but whether Australia is doing as well as it should or could be.
The Gillard government and its treasurer Wayne Swan are given credit for seeing Australia through the Global Financial Crisis [GFC].
At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 Swan’s Stimulus packages gave $21 billion to various categories of Australian citizens.
The recipients of this largess spent their windfalls in the following way:
- Spent it [on things other than bills or other debts] 39.8%
- Used it to pay bills [utilities (phone, electricity etc), medical,other services] 30.2%
- Credit cards 1.5%
- Mortgage 2.9%
- Personal/short-term loans [e.g. car payment] 0.3%
- Saved it 18.7%
- Invested it 4.9%
- Don’t know / Not sure 1.2%
- Refused 0.4%
- Total 100.0%
The summary of the expenditure categories were:
Panel B: Collapsed Categories
% Spent 40.5
% Saved 24.0
% Paid off debt 35.5
No lasting infrastructure or investment flowed from this $21 billion. It was either consumed immediately or used to pay off personal debt.
The contrast with China’s response to the GFC is instructive.
During the GFC China’s rate of GDP growth fell from 13% to 6.8%. This is a marked fall but by comparison with other nations China’s economy was still expanding rapidly.
In response China’s fiscal stimulus was US$580 billion. All of this stimulus was into Fixed Asset Investment [FAI] involving such things as rural infrastructure, low income housing, transport, medical and education, technology, power facilities, particularly coal, nuclear and hydro.
Of relevance to Australia, to enable this FAI stimulus to occur, China needed Australian coal. Australian coal exports at the time of the GFC and Swan’s stimulus nearly doubled and the price per tonne increased by 100% for thermal coal and 200% for metallurgical coal. Most of this was due to increased coal and mineral demand by China.
In short Swan did not have to do anything to insulate Australia from the GFC; China’s stimulus package did his work for him. He spent $21 billion for nothing.
Every other economic policy this government has done, from the Building Education revolution, to the Mining tax, to the National Broadcast Network, has either featured such cost overruns that the integrity and benefit of what would otherwise may have been a reasonable policy idea has been undermined or, in the case of the mining tax, not worked at all, costing more than it ever will rise simply because this government did not understand that, amongst other mistakes, State Royalties are a legitimate tax deduction.
Economically this government has, during the longest and biggest mineral boom this nation has seen, wracked up a $255 billion debt, a turnaround of nearly $300 billion since Howard left office, with no lasting infrastructure to show for it.
The blight of this government is not all economic however.
Gillard’s government is a trade union based government. It must carry some of the blame for the economic vandalism and possible criminal activity of the previous NSW ALP government.
The Gillard government must carry the responsibility for the Thomson fiasco and the wider ramifications for exploitation of workers’ money by trade union leaders.
Gillard herself will arguably have to face charges for her past deeds.
Such potential criminality at the highest political levels of the nation erodes the trust and confidence in the criminal system. The delay in dealing with Thomson, the NSW mess and the failure of Gillard to adequately confront her issues exacerbates that loss of trust and confidence.
Gillard’s government has also attempted to constrain free speech in this nation via the ill-conceived Finkelstein report, and the equally ill-conceived anti-discrimination bill proposed by former AG Roxon.
Both Finkelstein and Roxon’s bill would have imposed major constraints on free speech in this nation.
One of the great things about Australia is our right to free speech, especially the right to criticise our political masters.
That right is still under threat. Gillard’s ‘blue tie’ speech and her reaction to ‘menu-gate’ show an attitude to criticism which blurs the personal with the right to legitimately criticise the competence of political figures on the basis of their incompetence.
In her ‘blue-tie’ speech Gillard associated a false idea that Abbott would make abortion harder with a general complaint about misogyny. Abbott had previously made his position about abortion as being “safe, legal and rare” plain but that has not stopped supporters of Gillard running with the abortion hare.
Menu-gate by any reasonable interpretation was a beat-up and cynical distraction. The owner of the restaurant where Mal Brough had a fund-raiser has said the mock-menu was a private joke between him and his son; the menu was not shown at the function and Brough and Hockey have said they did not see it. The leaker of the menu has said he was not there on the night, did not know what happened or whether anyone saw it.
This has not stopped Gillard and members of her government accusing the Abbott opposition of being sexist. The implication here is that even if Abbott and his opposition do not themselves demonstrate sexism they are still responsible for examples of sexism in the community.
Interestingly the leaker had sent the menu to Gillard in March when the function occurred. Why hadn’t the government released it or dealt with it before now?
Also why hasn’t the government equally castigated the Age and its cartoonist Lenuing for his ‘menu’?
The issue here is whether sexism is only an offence when it is directed towards women; and not all women but particular women. Gillard’s selective playing of the misogyny card often, long and hard would suggest it is. There is an irony and substantial hypocrisy in this. Gillard was a signatory to a document which declared that some women, married women, were tantamount to prostitutes. In the past prominent conservative women were subject to similar questions and enquiries as Gillard was in the Sattler interview. And Gillard has referred to Christopher Pyne as a “mincing poodle”, albeit not in the same sentence?
There is no consistency in Gillard’s application of claims of misogyny.
John Howard was subject to outrageous sexual based comments endorsed by prominent ALP women such as Carmen Lawrence and Abbott is subject to crude insults by such ALP luminaries as Bob Ellis.
There is also no equality in Gillard’s application of the complaint of misogyny, or as it should strictly be called, misandry.
A politician’s sexuality and gender should not be a matter of evaluation unless that sexuality or gender affects their performance. That lack of distinction between the sexes is what should inform any resolution of the latest Army sex scandal.
That principle of equality should be a bedrock of Australian society. But if female politicians like Gillard invoke their gender as the reason why they and their policies are not being accepted by ‘blue-tie’ attitudes within Australian society they both restrict the right to comment in a fair and open manner in Australia and undermine the progress women have made in achieving equality and overcoming genuine misogyny in Australian society.
Australia is a Lucky country; it will remain so in spite of the Gillard government.