The 2018 Federal Budget has locked in a mean-spirited fiscal policy for Australia. It reveals the dark soul of conservatism in Australia that we cannot afford, political editor Dr Martin Hirst argues.
SO, IT SEEMS we are to believe that the “debt and deficit” disaster is over and that tax cuts favouring the middle class, cheaper craft beer and handouts to the big end of town are the new economic normal.
However, there is more to this Budget than economics.
This year we have seen a cynical attempt at vote-buying coupled with a push to implement the Thatcherite agenda of the neoliberals.
This week, Treasurer Scott Morrison delivered his Budget that locks in cuts to social security and public broadcasting. It is a budget that immiserates and further marginalises the poor and the elderly and rewards the COALition base with generous tax cuts.
On top of that, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann have signalled they intend to fight tooth-and-nail to get a $65 billion tax cut for big business – which we also know effectively pays no, or little, tax anyway – through the Senate, further depleting reserves and pushing the national debt even higher.
Despite all this, we are supposed to believe that the Budget will return to surplus within two to three years.
A continuation of Hockey’s 2014 Zombie Budget?
If you think you’ve heard it all before, you have. The headline measures may be different, but the rhetoric and the ideology in the 2018 Budget are no different to the tone and thinking of former Treasurer Joe Hockey’s disastrous Budget under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The only difference is that this time the Liberal National Party has dropped any pretence. Tony Abbott’s infamous lies about no cuts to the ABC and SBS, no cuts to welfare and no cuts to health spending have been unceremoniously dumped.
Instead, as numerous commentators have pointed out: this is a smoke and mirrors budget.
Money has ostentatiously been splashed on infrastructure and urgently needed services like suicide prevention and mental health, but it’s also been taken away in other areas. All this means is that any increase in funding for mental health measures will be soaked up by an increase in the number of people attempting to access these already over-stretched services.
In fact, the overwhelming theme of the 2018 Budget is misery for the less-well-off and handouts to the Government’s supporters. It is a document based on ideology, not economics, and this is reflected in the numbers that don’t add up and don’t make sense.
The 2018 Budget also reflects a very nasty streak of conservatism – the neoliberal mindset – embodied in Turnbull’s heartless and thoughtless commentary that the Newstart allowance is deliberately kept at a poverty level so that it “encourages” the unemployed to hunt for non-existent or poorly-paid work.
This is a budget that Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher would be proud of
The 2018 Budget embodies all that is nasty and wrong with the Liberal Party. This is not just about the decision-making and where the money went. These are the symptoms of something deeper and darker in the soul of conservatism in this country.
This Budget is just the latest in a series that extends from Joe Hockey’s 2014 Budget that collapsed in a heap within the first year. The Hockey-Abbott disaster led to the classic term “zombie measures” that described elements of the Budget that could not pass the Senate. Zombie measures from 2014 were still hanging around in 2016 and there are likely to be more from this year too — such as the funding cuts delivered like a hammer blow to the public broadcasters.
Even the remnants of former Senator Nick Xenophon’s team have pledged to oppose cuts to the ABC. The COALition has the support of One Nation for the ABC cuts, but the other cross-benchers may not get behind them. On my back-of-the-envelope calculations, even if the Government gets Senator Derryn Hinch and all three independent Senators to vote with it, the ABC cuts could still go down 36-37.
The COALition has embraced the neoliberal agenda which seeks to destroy the social safety net and work towards privatisation of the public sphere.
This is a budget straight from the IPA wishlist
The direct attack on the ABC and SBS is a good indicator of this agenda, straight from the so-called “research fellows” at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). The Liberal Party is now nothing more than the political wing of the IPA; the wingnuts are in charge.
The IPA agenda is clear, a conservative libertarian social policy that seeks to destroy the public sphere and replace it with corporate rule and open slather in an unregulated marketplace.
By public sphere, here, I mean more than simply the taxpayer-funded media; I am talking about that collective social space that constitutes an ostensibly liberal-democratic society like Australia.
The COALition has taken active measures to break down this space and to hollow-out any concept of social responsibility and citizenship.
A quick listing of Budget measures from this year, and of actions the Government is taking alongside it, clearly points to this ideological assault on Australian values:
- Removing the safety net for newly arrived migrants making their lives even harder. This discriminative policy will not affect wealthy migrants from certain high-value countries, but will impoverish refugees even further.
- Cynically providing some additional funding (peanuts in reality) to suicide prevention and mental health services while cutting social security in other areas in a move that will only create more suicides and mental health problems.
- Pretending to care for the elderly while removing $14 per fortnight from the pension and reducing the number of high care residential beds.
- Raising the cost of health care.
- Gutting organisations committed to climate science and developing renewable energy sources.
- Flattening the tax rate so that high-income earners receive a disproportionate benefit — while low-income earners get almost nothing when the rise in costs of living is factored in. This is no more than dangling a giant carrot in the face of swinging voters, but it’s a trick.
- Persisting with a $65 billion tax cut for wealthy corporate entities – which often overlap with the COALition’s biggest donors – while these very same companies use offshore shell companies to avoid paying almost any tax.
- Refusing to increase the Newstart allowance, despite all the evidence that keeping job seekers in poverty does nothing to help them find work and only extends their misery.
- Putting both political and financial pressure on the ABC to undermine its independence and its ability to provide a comprehensive news and current affairs service.
- A $30 million hand-out to Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp(se) with zero accountability, but clearly a down payment on favourable coverage during the next election.
- The inhumane treatment – that is also possibly illegal under international law – of refugees incarcerated in offshore detention. Malcolm Turnbull is locked into this policy because of Peter Dutton’s power in the Liberal caucus. Turnbull remains PM only at Dutton’s pleasure and he knows it.
- Cutting funding for Indigenous services while allocating $50 million for a Cook memorial that further inflames the culture wars.
- The privatisation of essential public services and the award of non-competitive contracts to multinational firms that have failed the probity test in all most every undertaking. This has been rapidly expanded in the last year and accelerated in this Budget.
- A raft of anti-union laws, which criminalise the right of entry for union officials onto work sites and make industrial action illegal in all but the narrowest of circumstances. More funding for the Registered Organisations Commission to continue its anti-union witch hunts.
- Refusal to hold a Royal Commission into the banking sector until they were forced to do so while continuing to accept tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the banks and banking executives.
- Cutting the funding for the companies’ regulator Australian Securities and Investments Commission at a time when corporate corruption is at an all-time high.
- The refusal to establish an Independent Commission Against Corruption-style federal anti-corruption body despite the obvious need and public support for one.
- Protecting Barnaby Joyce until it became too costly to do so.
- Refusing to refer its own members to the High Court despite credible evidence they are dual citizens under Section 44 of the Australia Constitution Act.
- Increasing surveillance powers for federal agencies and further criminalising dissent while making the work of journalists and whistleblowers subject to even more legal sanction.
The whole aim of these measures is to wear down resistance to its actions and continue the neoliberal mission of tearing down society’s safety nets and any sense of collective power to fight back.
Australia cannot afford another Turnbull-Morrison budget.
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