This year has seen the rise of a new “ism”. Move aside capitalism and democratic socialism, make way for opposition-ism. The opposition-ist movement is a coalition of Labor, the Greens and cross-bench Senators who oppose everything and propose nothing. Senators Lambie and Lazarus, elected with a handful of votes, refuse to even negotiate.
Labor likes to pounce on broken promises. It’s an effective political tactic to paint the Coalition as liars. But the biggest liars are the opposition-ists. They’re lying about Australia’s economy and what needs to be done to fix it.
Lie number 1: The Australian economy is strong and government can keep borrowing money.
Australia spends more than it earns every year and borrows money to do it. Australia’s debt is around $300 billion. Treasury says Australia is on track to spend more than it earns until 2024 by which time debt will be around $670 billion.
Everyone knows if you keep spending more than you earn you’ll end up in deep trouble. They also know if you’re borrowing money to pay the interest on your mortgage and in 10 years your mortgage will double, you’re already in deep trouble.
Yet that’s Australia's situation, a situation Labor fostered in government and opposition-ists want to preserve. Some say it’s ok because Australia’s debt as a percentage of GDP is lower than other OECD countries. Let’s get real. If your mortgage is going to double in 10 years, it’s irrelevant if the guy down the street is doing worse.
Lie number 2: Australians can enjoy the same standard of living indefinitely and our system of entitlements isn’t under threat.
This year The Daily Telegraph reported that around 50% of Australians pay no net tax: the direct taxes they pay are less than what they receive in pensions, family benefits, jobless support and childcare support.
One reason for this is an aging population. In 1967 there were 7 working-age Australians for every person aged 65 or over. By 2047 there’ll be only 2.4 working-age Australians for every person aged 65+. People over 65 are also living longer. That’s more Australians receiving benefits (and paying no net tax) for longer and fewer in the workforce paying taxes.
This is unsustainable. And fixing it involves unpopular measures like raising the retirement age, increasing the GST, taking more tax from the 50% who pay net tax or taking benefits away from the 50% who aren’t.
And this is just one of the challenges facing Australia. The end of the resources boom and peaking terms of trade are another. And God help us if there’s another global financial shock.
Politicians have seen this coming for some time. Pretending these problems don’t exist is lying to the Australian public.
Lie number 3: Governments can introduce initiatives like NDIS and Gonski and figure out how to pay for them later, burying the costs in the never-never.
Governments prepare “forward estimates” to forecast the next 4 years’ revenue and expenses. Labor glossed over the cost of its policies by pushing their full impact beyond 4 years, for example, by delaying or staggering commencement for 5 or 6 years. However, Labor didn’t have a plan to fund them. This didn’t show up in the forward estimates and Australians were none the wiser. Now the bills are starting to fall due.
Promising things you can’t afford is lying to the Australian public.
Lie number 4: Opposition-ists are blocking the budget because they care about Australia and are looking out for Australians.
Labor’s opposition-ism has one purpose: to damage the Coalition and help Labor win the next election. We know this because Labor opposes budget measures Labor itself proposed in government. And, although Labor criticises the Coalition for breaking promises, Labor also opposes the Coalition implementing its promises.
The Greens are a left-wing protest movement who oppose most things. They’ve opposed more carbon reduction policies than they’ve supported, despite climate change being their top priority. But they’ll never be in government. Labor hopes to form government again and governments can’t just oppose.
Australians don’t elect politicians to be defiant. We elect them to govern responsibly. The Abbott government was elected resoundingly and is trying to address very real problems. Let it govern and let the public judge it at the next election. But when other parties do challenge the government’s proposals, offer an alternative or move aside.
The Coalition was unwise to be so specific about what it would and wouldn’t do in government. It wasn’t necessary, but it’s reflective of politicians running scared – telling people what they want to hear, not what they need to know.
I have more faith in Australians than the average politician. I believe if people understand why something is important they’ll tolerate governments doing what needs to be done, even with some pain along the way. That’s how successive Australian governments delivered economic reform. It takes courage but Australia’s future depends on it.
An edited version of this article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 11 December 2014 under the headline Voters deserve better than all this relentless opposition-ism