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Byron Shire
December 1, 2022

Thus Spake Mungo: PM set for a grim 2015

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By Mungo MacCallum

Just for a fleeting moment, it appeared that the spirit of peace and good will had peeped through the gloomy façade of the Abbott government.

The Christmas Eve headline on page 5 of The Australian read: ‘Soft focus order of the day as PM presents new line-up’.

True, it was only a puff piece about the swearing in (at?) the reshuffled ministry. But perhaps there was glimpse, just a glimpse of hope.

But alas, no: it turned out to be the same old Ebenezer Scrooge, unashamed and unrepentant. The adjacent headline read: ‘Anger at festive welfare axe falls’, a rather more substantial yarn about hundreds of millions of dollars being stripped from community groups as a result of budget cuts cynically scheduled for the silly season, where it was presumably hoped they would not be noticed.

The toughest measures were aimed at the growing army of the homeless: no room at the inn for those leaners. The newly minted minister for social security, Scott Morrison, defended the slashing saying the funding (or lack of it) ‘supports the areas of greatest need’ – perhaps tax avoidance for the multinationals was what he had in mind.

Morrison had already sent out his yuletide message: he would be focused on outcomes, spin for the mantra: the end justifies the means. And he was determined to ensure that the welfare system was sustainable, meaning he would chop the bejesus out of it.

His only positive note was that he regarded the National Disability Insurance Scheme as his holy grail, at the least he had the tact to use the imagery of Easter rather than Christmas. This was of course the equally fervent goal of Julia Gillard, where it was immediately derided by Abbott and his minions as an unaffordable fantasy, no more than a thought bubble. Morrison apparently regards it as a sustainable reality, but only if existing programs can be cut from the existing social welfare budget to accommodate it.

Rebranding, ten out of ten. Net benefit, nil. A bit like the entire overhyped reshuffle, really.

There can be no doubt that the team of 2015 has the potential to be more attractive than its predecessor, at least at the margins. David Johnston is gone, but then, until he imploded, few people realised that he was there in the first place.

At least Sussan Ley will be noticed, although her challenge will be to forge an identity as someone more than just the other woman in cabinet. And Josh Frydenberg can and must be a convincing voice in Treasury matters: the gaffe-prone Joe Hockey is no longer credible and Matthias Cormann, while persistent and coherent, remains forbidding.

But it isn’t just the medium, it is the message, and Tony Abbott will still have to give the spruikers something to convince the public that he has more than rhetoric to say to them. It is not enough to endlessly reiterate the now outdated cliche that the budget is in trouble and it was all Labor’s fault.

The remedy – a fresh remedy – has to include a fix which is dramatic, equitable and above plausible. Tinkering with the senate crossbenchers is not the answer: the so-called reforms to the universities are highly dubious, and the GP co-payment, whatever it is called, is not only electoral poison but is frankly silly. And fudging the allocations of the GST, while it may appease some of the cantankerous states, will only infuriate the others, and it any case will have little to do with punters’ already itching hip-pocket nerves.

On the expenditure side, all the big-ticket items are on the welfare sector and they will hurt the middle-income masses on which survival in the polls depends. They can be sold, but only if there is a balance: the wealthy must suffer too.

Hitting the aforesaid multinationals is a start, as is the obvious solution to removing some of the other perks of the greedy and affluent, notably superannuation concessions. But it will take more than that – given the traumas of the last eight months, the voters will want to hear the fat cats howl.

Hence the next budget will be crucial. If it is seen as a reprise of 2014 – second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse – then the government, and more particularly Tony Abbott, who is now teetering perilously close to the point of no return, will be in real, perhaps even terminal, trouble.

Logic dictates it is time for decisiveness and even daring; but we are unlikely to get either from Tony Abbott. Despite all the bravado and bluster, history reveals that our prime minister is actually a cautious soul, disinclined to shirtfront the rich and powerful – and if there is to be any doubt, a quick glance at the polls will confirm that he does not need to make any more political enemies.

Moreover, as he has already tacitly admitted, his government is caught in an irreconcilable contradiction. On the one hand he needs to pursue the message of an economy left in a parlous state, requiring firmness and austerity, but on the other he has to encourage a return to consumer confidence because if we don’t keep spending we may slide into a recession.

Don sackcloth and ashes, and then splurge like buggery. The public will remain both sceptical and confused, rather like the back bench and, one suspects, not a few of the ministers.

What seems inevitable is that 2015 is unlikely to be any better than 2014: basically grim. The only real question is just who ends up bearing the cost. It may be Abbott himself and it may be the government as a whole. But one way or another we are all going to cop at least a bit of collateral damage.

So Happy New Year – or should that really be: Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot…

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  1. And the wealthy must suffer, too?? Spoken like a true Comrade, Mungo. Spewing Socialese twaddle isn’t going to solve anything. It is the “wealthy” who drive a free economy, Mungo, derp, derp. They run business, small and large, take the risks, work the unpaid hours, pay the wages, etc., etc., and frigging etc. The run trucking companies that supply your needs, Mungo. They run the bakeries that supply your bread, study to become an engineer, chemist, stockbroker, whatever. They deserve their success, if that’s where it takes them. These people wouldn’t function in your utopian little dream, Mungo. Channel you brothers-in-arms, Mandela and Chavez, and see what a balls up they’re done on their respective populations. You need a peasant population and mentality for your philosophy to become a reality…with you, of course, as Great Benelovent Leader.

  2. Mungo, it is rarely that I ever disagree with you, so I will not change on this occasion. Unfortunately this government seems to be more a comedy (or should that be tragedy?) of errors. First off was the discriminatory budget where we were to lose the basic tenets of Medicare (as in the $7 co-payment), then the loss of equitable education, plus all the other blunders.
    I think it is no wonder the independents sided with Julia Gillard (who I must say, I was no real fan of, but she did some credible work in a hung parliament, but also some in-credible work).
    Now we have the worlds most pressing issue: Climate change with this current government backing the Carbon peddling fat cats.
    We need a compassionate, caring government that will help Australia out of the post-mining boom. This can be achieved, but not if we export jobs to Korea, & pay our workers a pittance if they can actually get the dole. Tony seems to have missed the point with governing Australia: The Government should be by the Australian people, for the Australian people, to help keep Australia as one of the best countries in the world to live in. Hopefully the next government can undo much of the harm Tony Abbott is currently saddling Australia with.
    Jobs can come from Australia leading the way towards a carbon-free economy. We need a mix of Carbon-replacement options: no single answer is enough. But we are innovators, so the future is ours to grasp. (in years gone by we designed all those Solar water heaters that are now made in China & used on Australian roofs.) We need to innovate, then keep that technology in Australia so we can manufacture in Australia. It is possible: we merely need the will to succeed.

    Please may the Senate keep up the good work stopping all these current blunders. I was horrified when we seemed to have elected some really non-mainstream Senators: now it seems those same people are helping keep the current government excesses into perspective. (Jackie & the poo-eater will be remembered, that is for sure!)

    May 2015 ever be happier,

    regards, Doug
    (a cynical old fart who can even remember before the last good times…)

  3. As most serious thinking people now agree this government has an ideological bent which bods much pain for the average worker and the poor –to say nothing about the raw deal that the mentally ill and physically disabled section of our society will have to endure. Science has taken a backward step as a consequence of the ‘business advisers” appointed by our pusillanimous pugilistic PM. The shear ridiculousness of some pontifical comments from the head of the advisory board Dick Warburton (former CEO of Caltex!) on science is hard to take –a large slice of who have connections to the IPA and their affiliates.

    And why has there not been more attention given to the religious right which is so obviously wagging the governments tail -the number from these religious far right apparatchiks that are now the decision makers is concerning. Has anyone looked a little deeper into the collective beliefs of these people? It would in some cases be easy to see a philosophy that borders on Social Darwinism!

    The argument is over; there is no doubt anywhere in the world -except from those most gullible (readers of the Murdoch tabloids) and members of the public in Australia who live in a world of blissful ignorance. Climate Change is real, how many times must this dry argument be discussed- probably as long as the coal and oil corporations and other sectional interests are willing to fund the nay sayers, (Read the definitive answer published some time ago now “Merchants of Doubt”).

    As to the next year. We will see the old ideological arguments pushed by each side about economic matters one from the Keynesians (that most of the economists agree is fundamentally right) and those of Fred Hayek who is the patron saint of the tea party followers and those who read Ayn Rand –be afraid very afraid –remember that poor misguided fellow who famously said he had been in error; Alan Greenspan a very important disciple of Rand –she had been cultivating him for years.

  4. The game is up for Tony. After the hoodwinked public swallowed the “we will do something about carbon reduction once the rest of the world are on board” (they already were but that was not revealed via the commercial media!!) – the proclamations made at the G20 revealed the truth not only about how serious the outside world now sees this major issue but how far our illustrious leader was out of touch with the scientific reality. This is THE important issue of our times but is heavily tied-in with the Western ‘development’ agenda and the ‘riches’ to be gained by bringing the ‘poor’ of the world up to our ‘reasonable’ western standards (more big screen TV’s, cars, travel etc etc & if your lucky, clean water & air?#*!!)
    I find the most disconcerting problem with not only Tony (Liberals), Labor and the media in general is the obsession with maintaining the ‘status quo’ (ie, the only way forward is GROWTH). The dialogue needs to change (& policies) if we are ever to save ourselves (& more importantly the planet we have left!).
    I live in hope that one day we again have a leader that is visionary (approval rating above 30% would be handy)
    and can take this country on a truly sustainable path. “tell him he’s dreaming” ( The Castle)

  5. Be wary. Not for a fleeting moment, did it appear that the Spirit of Christmas Past has shown through with any good will into the May Budget of 2014. That Budget still hangs in the air in parliament for the Government to deal with in February, 2015.

    Mungo, you attack what the Government does and does not do. You don’t attack the man. What did you do?


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