Archive for May, 2014

Monstrous interruptions

May 27th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

In today’s The Australian I write:


Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 6.28.56 amIN the movie Godzilla, mankind’s punishment for upsetting the balance of nature is meted out by a hideous, gargantuan monste on a primeval mission of retribution.

Tony Abbott’s comeuppance for disrupting the politically correct equilibrium of Australian cultural life is administered by the ABC.

It is an ugly sight on or off the screen. The two monstrous hulks have grown meaner over the years, and neither will be deflected from their vengeful path by reason and persuasion.

The ABC’s post-war chairman Richard Boyer would hardly recognise the beast; it is hardly the “impartial clearing house for our ideas” he imagined it might grow up to become.

Instead it behaves like a zealous inquisition squad with the self-appointed task of punishing heretics. The art of conducting a dispassionate policy discussion has disappeared almost completely from its repertoire.

So if the PM wants to improve his “messaging”, as the commentators endlessly insist he should, he first has to survive encounters with the likes of Jon Faine, who thinks he is a political coward. We know that because Faine told him so last week to his face, and then told him so again, to make sure…




A Grim budget for wellness crusaders

May 20th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

 In today’s The Australian I ask:

How happy would Michael Moore have been with last week’s budget?

As an advocate for public health, Moore must have been cock-a-hoop that $20 billion has been set aside to cure cancer, schizophrenia and countless other stubborn afflictions.

The cucumber, kale and celery cocktails must have been flowing like wine at the Public Health ­Association Australia’s headquarters.

Nope. The budget failed to recognise “the health and economic costs associated with the growing burden of chronic disease”, the PHAA chief complained. Cuts in spending “will effectively kick people while they are down and result in an increasing burden on the health system over time”.

It is not entirely clear which budget papers Moore had been sent, but they clearly weren’t the same ones received by Ian Olver. The Cancer Council’s chief executive predicts that at least 35,000 deaths will be prevented thanks to the $95.9 million allocated for bowel cancer screening.

Olver was thrilled to bits with the Medical Research Future Fund, saying, “We look forward to working closely with the Abbott government on its research program.” That presumably means he would like a slice of it, and let’s hope he gets it.

Moore, on the other hand, knows the jig is up. The wristband-wearing, grant-devouring, press release-issuing class fared particularly badly in Joe Hockey’s budget, and its members know full well that there is more pain to come.

There will be nothing from the research futures fund to squander on Moore’s pet projects, such as needle exchange programs for prisons, US prohibition-style measures against meat, booze and sugar, fighting climate change and capitalism in general.

The Abbott government, for its part, is intent on stamping out the preventive health funding rort, at least those bits of it that it can. Its first budget has wedged the food and health activists, separating those who want to stamp out the things that actually kill people, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or diabetes, from those who merely run symbolic moral crusades.


Budget 2014: some perspective

May 12th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

A tally of promises kept and those supposedly broken is a hopeless measure of a government’s worth, I write in The Australian today.

ON the eve of the 1983 election, Bob Hawke made the craziest election commitment of all: the pledge not to break a promise.

He told a willing crowd at his campaign launch: “I believe the Australian people have had enough of election promises made only to be broken.”

He went on to assure voters that he would maintain controls on mortgage interest rates, continue assistance for the footwear, clothing and textile industries, fund a separate ABC rural network, construct the National Museum, introduce a national Bill of Rights and fixed four-year terms and wipe out (yes, wipe out) the tax evasion and avoidance industry.

There was barely a hint in Hawke’s campaign speech of the reforms by which he came to be judged as one of Australia’s most successful prime ministers. The Hawke government’s fiscal conservatism did not emerge until his first budget, and even then its significance was lost on all but a few.


Policies, not promises, are ultimately what matters

May 12th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

David Kemp’s Alfred Deakin lecture last week was a timely reminder that the liberal governments do not discharge their responsibilities merely by exercising fiscal discipline, important as that is. He challenges the current obsession with gotcha politics:

Our political rhetoric often seems to suggest that good government is simply doing after the election what the party promised before, of finding and carrying out a mandate, almost regardless of what it has a mandate to do. Promises should be kept, but it is the content and ultimately the effect of policies that matter.


The dignified state

May 7th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Curtin government assumed sole power to levy income tax in 1942 as an emergency wartime measure. There are strong arguments to reverse it, I argue in The Australian this week:

The Rudd experiment in extreme centralism has confirmed that the best policy decisions and the most efficient services are best delivered by the level of government closest to the intended beneficiaries.

Knowledge, as Friedrich Hayek wrote, “never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess”.

Each tier of government should be sovereign in its own sphere, making it responsible for failures as well as successes, removing the opportunities for blame and cost shifting.

Vertical fiscal imbalance — the gap between the funds a state can raise itself and its overall expenditure — fell to its lowest point since World War II with the introduction of the GST, but across the past decade it has again been on the rise.

The commission contemplates correcting this in part by increasing the revenue stream from GST by removing exemptions and increasing the rate.

To close the gap further, while assisting the states to break their reliance on nuisance taxes, they could be invited to levy their own income tax. It would be collected on their behalf by the federal government to keep compliance and administration costs to a minimum. Reduced grants from Canberra would allow national income tax rates to be lowered so taxpayers would be no worse off.