Matter of Public Importance debate
The Abbott Government's politicisation of the Intergenerational Report
5 March, 2015
Egalitarianism is a great Australian value and over the last generation inequality in Australia has been rising. The 2010 Intergenerational Report had an in-depth section on disadvantage and on the rising gap between rich and poor, but this Intergenerational Report does not contain the word 'inequality.'
Now why would that be? Perhaps it is because this is a government that has cut the wages of the cleaners who clean their offices while it is sending a billion dollars offshore. Since coming to office, this government has given a billion-dollar handout to multibillion dollar firms who need a tax break like Prince Phillip needs a knighthood. This is a government that likes channelling Robert Menzies to split Australia into 'leaners' and 'lifters.' In Britain the Tories are doing the same—they are talking about 'strivers' and 'skivers'. But it is all of a piece. It is the idea of 'us and them'. This is a government that wants us to be split into two Australias. This government's idea of fairness is sending the under-9s up against the Hawks.
This Treasurer is a Treasurer of, by and for the top one per cent. The figures in table A3 of this Intergenerational Report show that age and service pensions, as a share of GDP, are going to be down and that education spending will be halved. This is a government that is raising superannuation taxes on the poor and cutting superannuation taxes on the rich. This is government is so unfair that the Sheriff of Nottingham would be voting Palmer in the Senate.
These are insecure times and Australia needs a Treasurer who will instill confidence, not the sort of Treasurer who is likely to tweet: 'Hey gang, what do you think the deficit should be?' before the next ERC. This is a Treasurer who has run a million-dollar advertising campaign to sell his Intergenerational Report. That is enough to make you fall off your chair.
Why has this Treasurer been late in delivering his Intergenerational Report? Why has he, as the Shadow Treasurer has pointed out, broken the Charter of Budget Honesty? Why is he in breach of the law? Maybe it is because he has been doing his own numbers rather than the budget numbers. Maybe he has been a little bit too busy updating his LinkedIn profile to put together the Intergenerational Report.
This Intergenerational Report is all about the past. It is 80 pages of history and eight pages of the future. This is the kind of government who, when Adam and Eve got caught in the Garden of Eden, would be sending around talking points saying: 'You know, it is Labor's fault.' They pretend that the $9 billion grant they gave to the Reserve Bank was a Labor measure rather than recognising it is a coalition measure. Quite seriously, Bart Simpson would be embarrassed to blame-shift like these guys blame-shift.
This is a government that is seriously suggesting climate change could improve the state of the Australian economy. They have included a section on climate change. It was included in the Intergenerational Report thanks to a deal that the Greens struck in exchange for allowing unlimited debt. Those Greens know how to strike a hard bargain! This section on climate change suggests that climate change is good for growth, but that is not what every Intergenerational Report has said about climate change. If you go back to 2007, an Intergenerational Report when Peter Costello was Treasurer said about climate change that 'significant levels of global warming imply losses in global GDP over the longer term'. It went to how to tackle climate change and it said:
‘While many consider climate change mitigation is best addressed through market-based mechanisms such as an emissions trading scheme, governments may alternatively elect to purchase abatement activities using budget funding. The potential cost to the budget from adopting the latter approach can rise quite significantly, imposing a substantial tax burden on today’s, and future, generations.’
Peter Costello had the measure of those opposite. Peter Costello never would have suggested that the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook was not the baseline. Peter Costello never would have breached the Charter of Budget Honesty. Let's be clear: I do not think Peter Costello was a great Treasurer, but I do think that he was right on the issue of climate change and he was right when he said that Direct Action is a bad way of tackling climate change, as it costs the budget more and it does less to tackle a critical intergenerational challenge for our nation.