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May 24 2014

Bust the budget 5: Lies and outrage

This is the final part of a series arguing against the Abbott government’s first budget. Part 1 summarizes the overall unfairness and debunks the justification offered for this agenda. Part 2 examines how the budget affects climate, environment, fossil fuel subsidies, business, and science. Part 3 examines how it affects the federation, education, and health. Part 4 examines how it affects welfare, industrial relations, and the size of government. This part discusses the government’s lies, the outraged reaction to the budget, and how it might be defeated.

Broken promises

The greatest critic of Tony Abbott’s budget is Tony Abbott. Before the election he said:

And:

And: “The worst deficit is not the budget deficit but the trust deficit. This election is about trust.”

And: “If there is a change of government Australian families will be better off… no-one’s personal tax will go up and no-one’s fortnightly pension or benefit will go down.”

And (post-election): “This leopard doesn’t change his spots and I want this government, likewise, to be the best friend Medicare has ever had.”

And Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said (post-election): “ARENA will have over $2.5b in funds to manage.”

And Education Minister Christopher Pyne said (post-election): “we’re not going to raise fees… I am not even considering it because we promised that we wouldn’t.”

In 1987, Hockey organized a student protest against university fee rises.

Abbott has even said: “getting rid of taxes, not imposing new taxes… is my whole reason for being in politics”. He opposed the carbon tax for not only its impact on business, but also its supposed impact on ordinary Australians. For example, he claimed that every time you opened the fridge you’d be hit with an “electricity tax” and have a “carbon cop” looking over your shoulder (in reality, households were compensated and the regulator actually policed corporations). Less than two years ago, his wife Margie Abbott said in his defence:

I don’t pretend that the Abbotts are doing it tough, especially now. But when Tony was the only breadwinner and we were paying school fees and health insurance premiums, I often had to put off paying some bills till the following month especially when they just seemed to be going up and up and up. That experience has helped to keep Tony grounded when it’s so easy, mixing with people who have succeeded, to imagine that new taxes and charges don’t really hurt.

In government Abbott and Hockey have done a 180-degree backflip, downplaying the costs of their own new taxes and fees. But unlike carbon and mining taxes, their policies will genuinely hurt the poor.

Yet more broken promises are catalogued here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and probably elsewhere – Abbott and colleagues have broken too many promises to count.

Hockey now claims: “The biggest, most significant promise we made was to fix the budget.” Yet pre-election Abbott said:

On the day of the anti-budget protests, Abbott attempted to justify all his broken promises in an ABC interview. Abbott’s blatant dishonesty in that interview must be seen to be believed. First, he repeated the budget crisis narrative I debunked in Part 1, insisting “we are not doing this because we are somehow political sadomasochists” (fair enough – they are pure sadists). He went on to say people had been “on notice” about the cuts, the discrepancy between his promises and actions is because “people hear different things”, and “What we have done is precisely, precisely what we said we would do before the election.” Abbott claimed he has made no cuts to pensions, health, and education spending for the next three years; in reality, many of the cuts are effective immediately. He also pointed out that before the election he was correctly accused of not supporting Gonski beyond four years – but why didn’t he clarify his position then? Abbott’s argument is fractally deceptive, and his insistence that he hasn’t lied will only further anger voters.

Oh, and Abbott has already been caught telling multiple falsehoods about the impacts of his budget.

Lies are compounding lies here: there were the pre-election lies, and now there are the post-election deceitful rationalizations. It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. If the Prime Minister wants to make, politically speaking, an honest man of himself, he needs to seek a mandate for his cuts and he should do that at an election. These aren’t my slogans – they’re Abbott’s.

Opposition parties should block the budget

I’m pleasantly surprised to see the media and the Opposition doing a decent job of scrutinizing the budget. I just wish they’d noticed all the other nasty surprises from the Abbott government during the eight months since the election.

The Greens are getting into internal arguments about whether it’s worth supporting certain measures such as the fuel tax and debt levy. I think there is a way to unite the Greens and win the public relations battle with the Abbott government: vote against the entire budget on the basis that taken as a whole, it hurts the poor.

Initial opinion polls show the budget is deeply unpopular and Abbott’s personal popularity has dropped to Gillard-esque levels. Abbott dismissed the polls by saying the Howard government “took a big hit in the polls too” after its first budget. In reality, the Howard government’s position in the polls improved.

Sunday’s Bust the Budget/March in May protests reinforce the polls. Adam Bandt received thunderous applause after telling the Melbourne rally:

When it comes to the attacks in this budget on the young, the sick, and the poor, the Greens will block this budget. If Labor and the Palmer party join us in an alliance for a new election, we can have Tony Abbott out of office by Christmas.

I don’t know whether it will be the Greens, Labor, Palmer, or all three, who ultimately benefit (at present Labor seems to be benefiting most, perhaps because Christine Milne’s budget reply speech was not as passionately delivered as Bill Shorten’s). But it’s in all of their political interests to block the budget, or at least large sections of it, and force a double dissolution. That goal is not necessarily pie-in-the-sky: Abbott may be willing to call a double dissolution to avert the perception that his government is controlled by Palmer.

Abbott has undermined his own credibility so much he will struggle to get re-elected. The more a party is seen to oppose Abbott, the budget, and the political class in general, the more popular that party is likely to become.

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