The 2014 budget is a corrupt document.
A few words about corruption are necessary. Much has been said about potential conflicts of interest and corruption on the part of Tony Abbott with regards to his daughters. Some have intimated that Tony Abbott was bought and paid for with a scholarship for Frances to the Whitehouse Institute of Design. It is important to be clear that it is unlikely that there is malfeasance or corruption (as legally defined) in either the scholarship for Frances Abbott, or the appointment of Louise Abbott to a plum post in Geneva.
In the case of Frances Abbott, it appears that the Whitehouse Institute sought her out, courted her for a position, and sealed the deal with the scholarship. This happened during Labor’s term in office when Tony Abbott was Opposition Leader. There has been an indication that having Frances Abbott associated with the college might be good for its profile, although I find this unconvincing; but having Frances Abbott associated with the college has certainly proved good for its budget and its future. The budget has, for the first time, allocated government funds to private educational institutes such as Whitehouse, which will be of direct financial benefit to the Institute. Nevertheless, I am not claiming that this is a quid pro quo for favours given to Tony Abbott’s daughter.
It doesn’t have to be.
We have a budget problem.
It’s not a budget emergency. Everyone agrees about that… at least, everyone who understands about national finance and economics, which is unfortunately only a minority of the voting public, and none of the current Coalition government to hear them tell it.
By current standards, by any measures you care to name, Australia is currently doing very well compared to every other nation in the G20. Taking all of the various factors together, it’s impossible to deny that Australia is in the best economic state in the world.
The justification for immediate, sweeping, deep cuts to government expenditure is looking pretty shaky.
With that said, it is prudent for us to realise that Australia does face some severe fiscal challenges in the coming decades. Some of these are the result of demographics. Some are historical, and some are being wilfully ignored or exacerbated by the Coalition government’s policies.
There are at least two fundamental requirements for a functioning democracy. In various ways, in recent years, we have seen political parties in Australia attempting to subvert and limit these requirements. This is an assault on democracy itself. It may not be deliberate – political parties, like business entities, will work within the constraints of the law to achieve their ends, and loopholes and aggressive tactics are a part of the game. But dress it up how you may, attempting to coerce the workings of parliament and the electoral choices of a population is anti-democratic even if done within the limitations of the laws of that democracy.
In the business sphere, there is an overarching structure to act as a check and balance. The courts, and above them the legislature, ensure that eventually businesses that exploit loopholes to the detriment of the community can be brought back into line. Through the testing of legislation in the courts, through the drafting of new laws and regulations, there are means to help ensure that the system is fluid and no entities can subvert the intention of the regulations to which all businesses are subject.
Politics has no such overarching structure. The limits on politics are the various parties themselves – where one party oversteps the bounds, the only bodies that can pull them up on it are other political parties. Some of the time this works. And sometimes it does not.
Governmental and community denial of the fundamental truths of climate change can’t last forever.
Climate change impacts are going to operate over the long term. That’s why we can’t immediately envisage the danger and it’s why climate change isn’t regarded as being as pressing as balancing the budget or “securing our borders”. It is primarily for this reason that the world has missed opportunity after opportunity to respond appropriately, to the point that it is universally regarded as too late to prevent cascading climate change from occurring. Instead of falling rapidly, worldwide carbon emissions continue to accelerate. This does not mean that we should stop trying to save the environment; the eventual extent of the destruction can yet be ameliorated. But governments and populaces worldwide are deliberately kept in a state of confusion by entrenched interest groups, and confusion allows governments and populations to continue to operate in a state of denial.
With the commencement of the 44th Australian parliament, and the installation of Bronwyn Bishop to the Speaker’s chair, it is appropriate timing to look at the way that democracy in Australia has been subverted over the past two terms of government, how this subversion is likely to continue, and what may be done to address it.
The subversion to which I refer may most readily be summed up as the phenomenon of “mandate”, but in more practical terms is described as the disempowerment of individual politicians, and by extension of the people that they represent.
Next week, the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will be held in Warsaw. These sessions are a continuation of the process that included the important and internationally accepted Kyoto Treaty, and are building towards a final meeting with the intention of creating a binding, internationally agreed treaty on climate change mitigation, in 2015.
Not entirely surprisingly, the Abbott Coalition government will not be sending a Minister nor a senior representative. This omission is regarded as “highly unusual“, but from a government openly skeptical of the human impact on climate change (or the very existence of it) and hostile to most accepted forms of responding to it, it can perhaps be understood. It is disturbingly ironic that the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, will instead be in Parliament trying to dismantle Australia’s world-leading attempt at carbon abatement through an emissions trading scheme whilst his international counterparts will be at a global conference discussing ways to implement exactly this kind of scheme.
More disturbingly, the government has cancelled consultations which were already planned with domestic business representatives and foreign diplomats to brief them on Australia’s stance at the talks. These consultations are traditionally held in advance of this annual meeting and some have suggested that their cancellation indicates rifts and disagreements within the Abbott government about the appropriate approach. But a more sinister possibility exists.
Russell Brand – sometimes comedian, sometimes Christian, always a showman – is calling for a revolution. Russell’s Revolution is not about guns and bombs, it’s not about the people rising up to throw off the shackles of an oppressive government. Russell’s Revolution comes in the form of a willing disengagement from the political process, most clearly displayed in a refusal to vote. (Presumably in a country like Australia, with mandatory voting, he would be willing to settle for donkey voting.) Working in a variety of media, including an editorial in New Statesman magazine and a widely viewed interview with Jeremy Paxton on BBC’s Newsnight, Brand has pitched his message to the young and the disenfranchised. In doing so, he has hit a nerve. There are any number of copies of the video available on the web; the one I linked to has almost 9 million views in a little more than a week. Brand’s polemic has spawned a popular Facebook page, innumerable news and opinion articles, and a new kind of global conversation about politics. We should be so lucky.
As always several days late, Fairfax news has published an “article” about the phenomenon. The article serves as an introduction for those in the wider world – probably not the young and the disenfranchised – who may not have come across this particular strident voice for reform. The kind of people this article is presumably aimed at are the ones who might have little respect for anything which challenges the status quo. The article reads as a quizzical realisation, written on behalf of forty-year olds everywhere, that “People are listening to this guy, and we have no idea why.”