When ideology, dishonesty and incompetence collide

Although commentators in the Fifth Estate warned over and again what to expect from an Abbott government long before the electorate decided to give it a go, how many expected it to be as awful as it has turned out to be?

What a bitter disappointment it has been after Tony Abbott’s unrelenting talk about how, in contrast to the Labor government, he would lead a ‘grown-up, adult government’ that knew what it was doing, that understood the economy, that was accomplished at managing money, that would soon bring our national debt down and the budget into surplus, and thereby restore confidence in the business community.

He insisted, and was echoed by Joe Hockey, that investment would surge, jobs would be created, millions of them, and Australia’s economy would be restored to the splendor it exhibited during the halcyon days of the Howard government when rivers of gold flowed into its coffers from the mining boom.

Now halfway through its first term, with a whole eighteen months to parade its consummate skills, we see the hollowness of that boast. The Abbott government has done almost the opposite of what it claimed it would. It has been an abject failure, a bitter disappointment to its supporters in the electorate, the media, and increasingly to businessmen, who had hoped for so much more.

Labor supporters are as horrified as are Coalition voters at the incompetence and dishonesty it has displayed, day after day. While not wanting an Abbott government at all, even Labor voters are astonished at its behaviour and deeply dissatisfied with it, disillusioned with many of its ministers, and most of all, dismayed by its laughable leader.

What has driven this descent into ineffectiveness, what has paralysed this government, what has neutered its leader?

While acknowledging that diagnosis of this complex mess is problematical because it has many causes, this piece postulates that a combination of ideological stricture, unashamed dishonesty, and sheer incompetence is the triad that has produced the chaos and paralysis we see day after day.

The ideological imperative
Has anyone ever heard this government, its leader, or its financial ‘gurus’: Joe Hockey, Mathias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg, say what their preferred model of economics really is? I haven’t. Do they know? Have they thought about it? What understanding do they have of the array of economic theories there are?

We can’t discern their ideology from what they say; we can only assume it from what they do. The impression they give is that while they seem to have no carefully considered economic position, the ‘trickle-down model’ is their preference, one that we have written about here many times. They certainly act as if that is so. We see no signs of interest in Neo-Keynesian economics; they could scarcely bring themselves to support even the first tranche of stimulus measures introduced by the Rudd government in response to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

We do know that Abbott has a sycophantic adoration of the Institute of Public Affairs and has assured it that many of the items on the IPA wish list are congruent with his. The neo-conservative IPA is enamoured of the self-regulating power of free markets; insists on light government regulation; cherishes individual freedom and choice, private enterprise, initiative, entrepreneurship and competition; endorses ‘user-pays’; abhors government-funded entities; eschews science; denies the reality of global warming while promoting the interests of those causing it; approves only limited government support for the needy; embraces law and order and punishment; and takes an insular approach to international affairs. We see these IPA attitudes reflected in the language of government and its actions. Not all are undesirable, but the appropriateness of many is questionable.

In my view, many of the actions of this government are driven by its adoption of trickle down economics as a working model, which it has done despite studies repeatedly showing that it exacerbates inequality and widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Witness the 2014 budget, still wallowing in the Senate, one that penalised the poorest and the most disadvantaged in our community, while giving those at the top a ‘slap on the wrist with a limp lettuce’ through a small and temporary income tax rise. They were unwilling to inflict more than a token penalty on the top end of town from which they believe benefits trickle down to those at the bottom of the heap, while leaving in place the many tax perks they enjoy.

Couple that attitude with the vengeance that Abbott enjoys wreaking on his opponents and on those who don’t support him, and you see another reason for Hockey’s punitive and unfair budget: “Punish those who don’t vote for us and go gently on those who do”!

Ideology is a powerful motivator. It seems patently clear that ideology has had a dominant influence on this government, albeit without it having been stated overtly in words that all could understand. We don’t know where the government’s coming from; we can only suspect.

The panoply of dishonesty
It would take the whole piece to catalogue the extensive collection of the lies that have come from our PM and his government, and the broken promises that emerge almost by the day. If you need any documentation, Sally McManus has a long list for you, now totaling 428 lies in Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage.

Let’s not dwell on the well-publicized lie: “No cuts to health or education, or to the ABC and SBS and no new taxes”, and instead focus on the sheer mendaciousness of the economic management of the Abbott government, and the panoply of lies and broken promises that accompanied the first Abbott/Hockey Budget.

There’s scarcely any need to repeat the ceaseless reminders given by Abbott, Hockey and Cormann, along with any other minister given the chance, that the Coalition was battling the ‘debt and deficit disaster’ left by Labor, that it was faced by a monumental ‘debt crisis’ and a ‘budget emergency’, which only the toughest of budgetary measures could reverse. Yet even before the 2014 Budget, economists were sceptical about these claims, and a crescendo of doubts has continued ever since. The bellicose Abbott/Hockey/Cormann rhetoric was wrong and brazenly dishonest. It was designed with two purposes in mind: to damage Labor as much as possible, and to set the scene for a punitive budget.

Julie Bishop, who wisely stays away from economics these days, strayed into it when she said: “We inherited the largest deficit in Australia's history from Labor" This too was wrong, as an ABC Fact Check demonstrated.

After all the Coalition hype about the debt and deficit disaster that Labor left, it must have startled economists and academics, as well as his supporters in business, to hear Abbott say that his government had already halved Labor’s debt, and that a 50 to 60% debt-to-GDP ratio would be “a pretty good result”.

This is what Richard Holden, Professor of Economics at UNSW Australia Business School, writing in The Conversation, had to say about that extraordinary claim: “A week may be a long time in politics, but it’s not in economics. The economic outlooks of nations almost never change radically in a short space of time. So it was interesting this week to see Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott do a u-turn on debt. Last week all debt was evil. This week a 60% debt-to-GDP ratio is “a pretty good result”.

“At the time of last year’s budget we were told Australia had a debt crisis. So bad indeed that we needed a very un-Liberal 2% tax hike dubbed the “debt levy”. I was one of a number of economists who pointed out that Commonwealth net debt was around 11% of GDP: the third lowest in the OECD, low by historical standards, and way below Greece (155%), Italy (103%), the USA (87%) and the OECD average (50%).

“Like me, Deloitte Access Economics’ Chris Richardson and the Business Council of Australia have consistently said that although we don’t have a debt crisis, we do have a serious structural budget deficit problem. Spending is larger than receipts, and spending is growing at a much faster rate. Presumably this view is now deemed irresponsibly alarmist by our PM and Treasurer Joe Hockey. After all, we’re on a glide path to the sweet equanimity of 60% debt to GDP. What are these uppity economic types doing complaining about the gap between taxes and spending?”

“I like it when politicians change their minds — it shows a willingness to update based on new information. But I don’t like it when politicians change the facts. And the recent revisionism looks very much like the latter…After complaining that the Senate would not pass their last budget, they now tell us that it has put us on a stable path for decades to come. Seriously? So let me get this straight. Legislation that largely didn’t get enacted has solved the problem? Is this the economic equivalent of the quantum-physics phenomenon “spooky action at a distance”?"

There’s more: read it here.

In short, ‘debt and deficit’ was not just political hyperbole, it was mendacity; it portrayed dishonesty that only the most barefaced of liars could perpetuate. Do I need to recall for you any other examples of deceit to convince you of this government’s habitual dishonesty?

Dangerous incompetence
Abbott’s insistence that the experience of his front bench would ensure that his government would be highly competent, in contrast to Labor’s ‘incompetence’, turns out to be the most overblown rhetoric of all. Even the most skeptical would have anticipated that some semblance of competence would be apparent in an Abbott government by halfway through its first term. Instead, we see only massive incompetence. It would take another piece to catalogue all the examples, but here are a few:

How competent is a government that:
- Believes that its wholly discredited rhetoric of debt and deficit would wash with the electorate?
- Misjudges public sentiment so badly that it brings down a budget that even the majority of its own supporters believe is punitive and unfair?
- Changes its mind in a flash from calling the budget a disaster to telling us that the disaster has been fixed by doing almost nothing, in some magic way?
- Struggles every day to get its legislation through the Senate, so poor is it; so lamentable are its persuasive powers?
- Labels as ‘feral’ the very people it is seeking to persuade?
- Engages in a call for a leadership spill early in its second year, so disillusioned is it with its leader?
- Believes it can regain its credibility simply by reversing or abandoning the stupid, unfair things it has done to date?
- Countenances the immature antics of one of its senior ministers (Mr Fixit) over university deregulation?
- Appoints to its finance team people who have almost no idea of economics or how to manage a 1.5 trillion dollar economy?
- Takes actions that exacerbate the deficit and then blames Labor?
- Promises budget surpluses in every year of its first term, only to have Treasury now project that on currently legislated measures there will be no surplus budget for 40 years?
- Lambasts Labor for its deficits of much less than 20% of GDP, only to declare that future deficits of 60% would be a good result?
- Presents its Intergenerational Report 2015, which is redolent with deception, manifestly riddled with distorted figures, inaccurate graphs, questionable assumptions and dubious projections?
- Vacillates about the letting of a tender for our next fleet of submarines, bypasses local industry, and has an indescribable plan for the tender process?
- Allows our manufacturing industry to languish, then reverses its support for it, then does a back flip, all in a day, and by different ministers?
- Introduces metadata legislation, deemed necessary to counter a pumped-up security threat, which lacked protection for journalists and has no costings?
- Ignores the scientific evidence of global warming, promotes the use of the fossil fuels that are causing it, and stalls the renewables industry that could reverse it?
- Promises domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty support, then cuts legal aid for such cases, then in panic reverses the cuts?
- Expects the public to support it in the absence of a vision, a coherent narrative, and well-articulated plan?
- Thinks it can work its way out of its poor polling position simply with fictitious claims of success?
- Really believes the electorate cannot see how incompetent it is?

Do you need me to go on?

My last piece was titled: Does this nation deserve to be led by a buffoon?. This one might have had a parallel title: Does this nation deserve a government that is ideologically driven, dishonest and incompetent?

What do you think?

Comments (7) -

  • ad astra

    3/29/2015 7:55:21 PM |

    There have been a variety of interpretations of the outcome of the NSW State election.  It was not surprising that Mike Baird won; or that Labor gained a number of seats so that now it can be a strong opposition.

    The lesson that the Coalition ought to learn is that even when proposing unpopular measures (and selling off poles and wires was unpopular with the majority of the NSW electorate), if the ‘salesman’ is a nice guy, a decent and honest fellow, as was Mike Baird, it can be done.

    Tony Abbott is so unpopular, so disliked, so distrusted, that he would have difficulty ‘selling’ anything at all.  

    I doubt if Abbott is capable of learning that lesson, capable of moderating his pugilistic behaviour, capable of behaving as a reasonable person would.  He is now so distrusted that even were he to propose good policy, the people would be so sceptical that they would not accept it.

    Abbott’s past history will forever stain him.

  • ad astra

    3/30/2015 11:37:58 AM |

    Florence nee Fed up
    The Baird policy that we heard most about was the 99 year lease of electricity power companies' 'poles and wires' to mobilise money to fund other areas.  There may have been others.

    Clearly Mike Baird is a different human being from Tony Abbott.  Baird's popularity enabled to win despite promoting an unpopular policy. Abbott's unpopularity makes it difficult for him to win even with popular policies.

    Paul Bongiorno had this to say in his article in The New Daily: Why Baird’s victory holds little comfort for Abbott: thenewdaily.com.au/.../

  • ad astra

    3/30/2015 2:16:55 PM |

    My sister has sent me the wonderful speech by our much-admired author, Tim Winton, given yesterday at the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice4Refugees in Perth. It is a powerful condemnation of our nation’s approach to asylum seekers.  You can read the whole speech, reproduced in the SMH, here: www.smh.com.au/.../...stralia-20150329-1ma5so.html

    It concludes:

    Prime Minister, forget the boats for a moment. Turn back your heart. Turn back from this path to brutality. Turn back from piling trauma upon the traumatised. Because it shames us. It grinds innocent people to despair and self-harm and suicide. It ruins the lives of children. Give these people back their faces, their humanity. Don't avert your gaze and don't hide them from us.

    “Because the secret won't hold. It's out already. There are witnesses. There will be testimony. We will remember. In another time, and very soon, I think, our common sense will be nonsense. And you'll have to ask yourself, was it worth it?

    “This false piece of mind, this stopping of the boats. Was it worth the price paid in human suffering? You're not alone; the rest of us will have to face it, too.

    “Jesus said: "What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world only to lose his soul?" And I wonder: What does it profit a people to do likewise, to shun the weak and punish the oppressed, to cage children, and make criminals out of refugees? What about our soul as a people?

    “We're losing our way. We have hardened our hearts. I fear we have devalued the currency of mercy. Children have asked for bread and we gave them stones. So turn back. I beg you.  For the children's sake. For the sake of this nation's spirit. Raise us back up to our best selves. Turn back while there's still time.”

  • ad astra

    3/30/2015 2:53:39 PM |

    Florence nee Fed up
    You might be interested in this SMH editorial: Premier Mike Baird trusts the voters - and they reward that trust

    The Herald has often said that people are ready for reform as long as it is fair and  explained to them clearly.

    “That's why the federal government failed so miserably in last year's budget and why it must learn  from Mr Baird's approach.  

    “As former NSW Labor treasurer Michael Egan says, Prime Minister Tony Abbott's negatives just magnified Mr Baird's positives during what was a largely constructive, policy-based state campaign. Mr Baird has brought the voters with him. They think he can be believed when he says, "We do what we say we are going to do." Mr Abbott and federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, by contrast, have not been able to do what they said they would. They have crashed through regardless. The Herald hopes Mr Abbott has a chat out in the Queenscliff surf with his mate because the federal Liberals are preparing to explain crucial tax reform proposals in the tax white paper due out on Monday amid a raft of reforms on the agenda before and beyond the May budget.”

    In my view, Abbott is incapable of being a trustworthy nice guy like Mike Baird.  His past will haunt him forever.

  • ad astra

    3/31/2015 4:10:56 PM |

    Today’s Essential Report confirms the deterioration of the economy under this incompetent government.  

    Asked: “Do you think the following have become better or worse compared to 12 months ago?”

    The result was:
    “A substantial majority believe that, in the last 12 months, cost of living (72%), electricity costs (66%) and unemployment (61%) have all got worse.

    “The only economic measure that has got better is company profits (34% better/23% worse).

    “Compared with the last time this question was asked in October, the main shifts have been the economy overall (worse up from 50% to 55%) and job security (worse down from 61% to 53%).”

    Asked: “In the last two years, do you think your and your household’s income has gone up more than the cost of living, fallen behind or stayed even with the cost of living?

    The result was:
    50% believe that, in the last two years, their income has fallen behind the cost of living. 27% think it has stayed even with the cost of living and 15% think it has gone up more.

    “62% of those earning under $600 pw and 53% of those earning $600-$1,000 pw think their income has fallen behind, while 49% of those earning over $1,600 pw think it has stayed the same or gone up.

    “These results are much the same as when this question was asked in October.”

    Asked: “Which of the following statements best describes your financial situation?”

    Respondents answered:
    44% say they have enough money for basic essentials and can save a little money and 39% say they have enough money for basic essentials but cannot save any money. Only 7% say they can save a lot of money.

    “Only 29% of those earning less than $600 pw say they can save any money – compared to 61% of those earning over $1,600 pw.

    “Overall, there has been a slight worsening in financial situations since this question was asked in October – 47% (up 5%) say they cannot save any money and 51% (down 4%) say they can.”

    Abbott, Hockey, Cormann and Co could take no comfort from these results. In the eyes of the people the economy continues to slide backwards.

    Asked” Do you think Tony Abbott is likely or unlikely to still be the leader of the Liberal Party at the next election?”

    The response was:
    57% (down 4% since February) think that Tony Abbott is unlikely to still be leader of the Liberal Party at the next election and 26% (up 6%) think it is likely.

    “79% (no change) of Labor voters and 82% (up 12%) of Greens voters think it is unlikely and 52% (up 16%) of Liberal/National voters think it is likely he will still be leader.”

    Not exactly reassuring for Abbott.  The TPP was 53/47 in favour of Labor.

    You can read more here: essentialvision.com.au/category/essentialreport

  • jaycee

    4/2/2015 9:08:36 AM |

    There’s something badly wrong with our cultural perceptions..our sense of fairness has been turned upside down. All those fairy tales, those moral insights, those Hans Christian Anderson anecdotes, Aesop’s tales and the rest have been trashed for the complete opposite result.

    In every moral tale told to us, to our children down the ages, at fireside or bedside..the most miserable, sniveling, vicious, narrow-eyed lying schemer could be morphed into C. Pyne. The most brutal, bullying, cold-blooded destroyer of the innocents could be at anytime ; Abbott…the avaricious landlord or overlord, who wouldn’t hesitate to send in the bailiffs against the most sorrowful widow could unmistakably be Murdoch…that suave, wealthy uncle, bon-vivant, amusing raconteur and apparent gentle “assistant” to the ladies…all the while slyly waiting his chance to de-flower the young maiden could easily be Turnbull…any number of LNP. women can be measured up as equally vindictive nasties straight from the pages of  folk-lore and tales warning of the evils of  overindulgence and the characters that stalk the unwary.

    And yet..here we are with those very same representations leading the nation..voted in there by many who not only have had such warnings read to them as children, but to this day, most probably still read a variation of such mendacious behaviour to warn off their own offspring.

    So where is the “lesson”?..Where is the example?..If we cannot see the danger, why bother trying to teach our children?..why not let the strongest in brutal aggression rule over us?...Is might right?...Murdoch obviously believes it is..Abbott does too..all their creatures have signed onto the “contract”..and it seems a majority of the population likes what it sees! Perhaps it is time to rewrite the fairy tales?

    Do we start to practice what we preach, or do we turn our heads away in shame and continue with our children to just hypocritically mouth the platitudes of morality and ethics?

  • DoodlePoodle

    4/3/2015 2:23:24 PM |

    I like your take on this post Jaycee.  When I first saw the photo I thought it looks like "The Den of Thieves"

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