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The hazards of voting Liberal

June 29, 2016 - 16:18 -- Admin

It’s clear that around half of all voters for the major parties will vote for the Liberal-National Coalition and half for Labor and the Greens. The result is likely to be close. There are many seats that promise to throw up intriguing results. If the Coalition wins, the Senate may end up being no more helpful to it than the last one.

The purpose of this piece is not to attempt to predict the election result, but rather to ask what might motivate voters to place the LNP first, and to examine the hazards of doing so.

It really boils down to what voters want of a federal government. Liberal-National voters seem to want different things from Labor and Greens voters, or for that matter different from what voters for independents want.

As our politicians tell us, whether they can do what they want to do, and what voters want them to do, revolves around priorities. Who would not like to see policies put in place that made us all well off, with the services we want and need readily available to us all whenever we needed them? In a perfect world we would have it all. Yet we know that we can’t have it all. The political and economic system in which we live produces disparity. There have been, and always will be the very well off at one end of the spectrum, and at the other those who struggle day to day simply to survive.

There is not room here to describe all the hazards of voting Liberal, so I will confine myself to examining just four areas: Inequality, Medicare, the NBN, and Marriage Equality, where Liberal priorities conflict with those of other parties.

Inequality
Those who disparage the idea of equality do so because they believe those seeking equality want the same for all. Nobody believes we can all be millionaires or even modestly well off, but who would not want everyone to at least have the necessities of life? What the ‘equality’ advocates want is the gap between those at the top and those at the other end to be less grotesque than it is, to see it narrowing as a result of government policies, not widening. Inequality is currently at a 75 year high!

Yet LNP policies will widen the gap. Its proposal to spend $48 billion to reduce company tax, not just for small businesses, which Labor supports, but large ones, even our big banks and multinational corporations, is yet another example of the application of ‘supply-side economics’, colloquially known as ‘trickle down economics’. How many examples of the failure of this model do they need before they acknowledge that it does not work? All it does is increase inequality.

Tax breaks given to businesses do not trickle down to workers in the form of more jobs and better wages. History tells us that businesses save more of any tax break they are given than they spend; they do not invest it predominately to grow their businesses; and they do not roll out lots more jobs.

‘Jobs and growth’ is just a fine-sounding mantra, not a plausible plan for growing our economy or creating more jobs. It is a façade with almost nothing behind it. It is hard to contemplate that those who perpetrate this charade really believe in its effectiveness and its worth. If our PM, Treasurer and Finance ministers do believe their own ‘jobs and growth’ rhetoric, heaven help us; if they don’t, what we are witnessing is a grossly cynical political plot to deceive the electorate.

And what’s more, the Coalition has never explained why business tax breaks of $48 billion should have priority over the $37 billion needed for schools.

Research studies show that conservatives are resistant to change and are tolerant of inequality, which they regard as part of the natural order of societies, dating back to the days of feudalism and serfdom. They have no innate motivation to work for a more egalitarian social order, although this is what the average Aussie wants. Their support for reducing workers’ penalty rates on Sundays is an example of their tolerance of worsening inequality.

The first hazard of voting Liberal then is that inequality will increase and disruptive social consequences will follow.

Medicare
The future of Medicare has been at the top of the issues discussed during the final campaign weeks. Labor is insistent that the Coalition is intent on disrupting and diminishing Medicare; the LNP labels this as a gigantic ‘scare campaign’ built on a ‘deceitful lie’. Malcolm Turnbull has been forced to react to Labor’s attack by denying any ill intent, and has promised, almost in legalistic terms, that no changes will be made to Medicare should his government be elected: “I am making a solemn commitment, an unequivocal commitment that every element of Medicare’s services will continue to be delivered by government. Full stop.”

That ought to be the end of it, but politicians have so diminished themselves in the eyes of the electorate, have told so many lies and broken so many promises, that only their rusted-on supporters believe them anymore.

Who can ever forget John Howard’s 1995 ‘never, ever’ GST reassurance? Who could possibly forget Tony Abbott’s 2013 promise of "no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS"? The GST was the only area to avoid the Abbott/Hockey savaging.

Voters are skeptical and highly cynical about any political promise, no matter how volubly made. Turnbull ought not to be surprised at the reaction of voters; frothing at the mouth with indignation will not change their views.

None of us can predetermine what will happen to Medicare. Words have no value in the bare-knuckle street fighting we are seeing as the election draws near. All we have to go on is past behaviour.

The most brazen upshot of the Abbott/Hockey push to reduce expenditure was the 2014 Budget. It contained attacks on Medicare with the proposed GP co-payment, blocked in the Senate, but now being put into effect with the freeze on GP bulk billing rebates until 2020. As practice costs continue to rise, the freeze means that bulk-billing GPs are making less and less profit from each consultation to the point that practice viability is being threatened. The government is forcing them absorb the deficit, or to charge their patients a co-payment. This is pushing them to the point where bulk billing is no longer a viable option. Expect more and more to abandon it, partially or completely.

The result will be that the less well off will not be able to afford the co-payment, and will not consult their GP when they ought to. Their illnesses will progress and the cost to them and the healthcare system, especially to public hospitals, will increase. This is dangerous healthcare, and wasteful to boot.

Writing in The Conversation about the threat of privatization of Medicare, Stephen Duckett, an architect of Medicare, says: “The greater threats to our national public health system lie in the increasing role of consumer co-payments and the power of vested interests that stifle policy innovation in health.

Another attack on Medicare was the change to bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging proposed to begin on 1 July, which is now on hold. This would have made it difficult for the less well off to have necessary pathology tests and imaging. Cancer patients particularly would be affected. Moreover, the proposed $5 increase in the cost of prescription drugs (also held up in the Senate) would penalize patients with chronic illness.

How can we believe Turnbull’s denialism about Medicare, and his mealy-mouthed rhetoric about preserving Medicare in all its facets, when past and quite recent actions show how determined the Coalition is to reduce its cost and thereby erode it, subtly yet persistently? It’s his government’s actions that belie Turnbull’s effusive reassurance.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the AMA support Medicare strongly and are mounting a powerful campaign with patients and the public to preserve it and shield it from attacks.

The maintenance of Medicare is Labor’s most important policy platform; it has received much prominence during these latter weeks. Voters will have to decide whether they believe Bill Shorten’s or Malcolm Turnbull’s rhetoric.

So the second hazard of voting Liberal is to invite more assaults on our universal health care system – Medicare – and further erosion of the benefits it offers. The less well off would suffer most.

The National Broadband Network
With someone supposedly as tech savvy as Malcolm Turnbull, it would have been reasonable to expect something better from him when he was when Communications Minister in the Abbott government. Although he did not carry out Abbott’s instruction to “demolish the NBN”, what he has given us is a cobbled together mess: a multi technology mix, fibre to the node on the street corner (FTTN) in most instances, and ageing copper wire from the street corner to the premises. Speeds are not what the original Labor fibre to the premises (FTTP) promised, roll out is slower than predicted, the cost is growing every month and is likely to be no less than Labor’s fibre to the premises rollout. The NBN rollout has been badly bungled by Turnbull and the Abbott/Turnbull government.

Turnbull insists that Labor’s plan was too expensive, too slow to roll, and that the speeds it offered were unnecessary. He cites the uptake of slower speeds as indicating that users did not want Labor’s 100 Mbps!

To give the lie to Turnbull’s assertions, let’s look at a public speech given last week at the University of Melbourne by the first chief executive of the NBN, Mike Quigley. He called the current rollout ’backward-looking’ and ‘incredibly short sighted’, saying the current state of the project is ‘such a pity’.

His scathing critique of the Coalition’s current multi technology rollout strategy included evidence that a majority of the NBN will quickly become obsolete.

He’s what he said:

"The Coalition regularly points to the fact that a majority of the data packages purchased by customers already connected to the NBN are lower-tier packages as proof the network is sufficient for the nation’s needs.”

“It seems especially curious that a government that styles itself as the innovation and infrastructure government, should argue this. Gigabit services are just starting to emerge elsewhere in the world, so the applications that can take advantage of this type of speed are in their infancy. But we all know they are coming.”

Writing in The Conversation, Quigley adds:

"To spend billions of dollars on building a major piece of national infrastructure that just about meets demand today, but doesn’t allow for any significant growth over the next ten or 20 years is incredibly short-sighted.

“It is such a pity that so much time and effort has been spent on trying to discredit and destroy the original FTTP-based NBN plan. Equally, it’s a pity the Coalition has put its faith in what has turned out to be a short-sighted, expensive and backward looking multi-technology mix (MTM) plan based on copper.

“The nation is going to be bearing the consequences of those decisions for years to come – in higher costs and poorer performance in an area that is critical to its long-term future. Betting tens of billions of taxpayers dollars at this time on copper access technologies, as the Coalition has done, is a huge miscalculation…

“It is becoming increasingly obvious, especially to customers, that an NBN based on FTTP is a much better network than an MTM-based NBN from every angle – speed and capacity delivery, maintenance costs, reliability, longevity and upgrade costs.

“An FTTP network would be a much more valuable public asset and could generate greater cash flows for the government due to lower maintenance, higher revenues and almost no upgrade costs. And it would be vastly superior in driving growth through the wider economy.

“So it is a great pity that before making the shift to the MTM, the Coalition did not heed the words of the then independent MP for New England, Tony Windsor: “Do it right, do it once, do it with fibre.”

What more needs to be said? After vehemently criticizing Labor’s FTTP NBN, Turnbull has created a multi technology mess that will leave Australia struggling in the wake of the 58 countries that already have superior connection speeds.

This then is the third hazard of voting Liberal – an inferior broadband network, dangerously uncompetitive in the global market. Yet Turnbull thinks this is OK for his innovative, agile nation!

Marriage equality
It is with foreboding that LGBTI folk and their supporters anticipate the plebiscite forced upon the LNP by Abbott and his conservative faction, now slavishly adopted by Turnbull. Despite his protestations of support for marriage equality, his dependence on the support of the conservative clique in his party renders him impotent to substitute a parliamentary vote in place of a plebiscite.

He knows full well that Abbott’s choice of a post-election plebiscite was to frustrate the popular push for marriage equality, first by delaying its implementation, and more importantly by giving the bigots a chance to frighten the public with predictions of dire outcomes should marriage equality, or more baldly ‘same sex marriage’, come about.

We have already seen the fear mongering of the Australian Christian Lobby via its aggressive chief executive Lyle Shelton, who wants anti-discrimination laws suspended before the plebiscite so he can say what ever wants! And we have heard the grotesque utterances of the likes of Cory Bernardi, which do not deserve repeating. Pamphlets designed for the plebiscite campaign claim that ‘social outcomes’ for children of same-sex parents are ‘unemployment’, ‘sexually transmitted diseases’, and ‘drug use and abuse’, which is at odds with the body of scientific research demonstrating that children of same-sex couples are likely to have at least as positive emotional, social and academic outcomes as other children.

Penny Wong, a member of the LGBTI group, recently highlighted her apprehension. She pointed to ugly posters and hurtful social media hate speech, such as were seen in Ireland, that demean LGBTI people, hold them up to ridicule, hurt good parents, and induce uncertainty, fear, suspicion and loathing. Opponents of marriage equality do not care what hurt and anxiety they cause; their purpose is to stop it in its tracks, no matter what the cost to others. They are not kind or empathic; they are ruthless in the pursuit of their quasi-religious dogma. We now hear that Turnbull will allow his members to vote any way they wish and not be bound by the plebiscite outcome!

Here then is a fourth hazard in voting Liberal. It will result in a damaging lead-up to an unnecessary and expensive ($160 million) plebiscite that will hurt many, and which runs the risk of frustrating the wishes of a clear majority of the electorate which wants marriage equality, and wants it now.

This piece is already long enough. To detail all the other hazards of voting Liberal would take another piece, or two. So do read Michael Taylor’s excellent catalogue of reasons not to vote Liberal which you will find on the AIM Network in Why on earth would you want to vote for the LNP? He has compiled a comprehensive list that will astonish you. It makes one wonder how the LNP could possibly succeed on July 2.

I suppose voters who can’t see the ghost of Abbott with his cynically calculating conservative faction hovering over Turnbull, who don’t care about inequality, who are indifferent to the Coalition’s assault on Medicare, who don’t care that our NBN is slow and already antiquated, who don’t give a toss about marriage equality for our LGBTI friends, and who are unaware of the many other hazards of voting Liberal, would be comfortable voting this way, dangerously unaware of the awful consequences.

What do you think?

Let us know in comments below.

About Ad astra

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Your vote is valuable

Turnbull’s Medicare backflip, or is it?  

Your call is important  

Turnbull is selling us a pup  

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