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Apr 25, 2014

An alternative to Chris Berg’s views on breaking election promises

Statements on a theme:
“Voters need to ask themselves who they trust to protect jobs and guide the economy through a new age of uncertainty.” – Kevin Rudd
"This election will be about trust." – Tony Abbott
This election, like never before, is about who you can trust - Christine Milne
“From this day forth, you put your trust... in me.” – Lord Voldemort.
During the 2013 election, the economically literate were dismayed as then opposition leader, Tony Abbott in question after question ruled out any action that would reduce the profligate waste of taxpayers money that had been occurring under Labor, to the point where he was willing to embrace every big spending ‘initiative’ that Rudd came up with.
The reality was that with Labor less popular than a dose of clap and major concern in the electorate at the ever-increasing deficits and escalating national debt, he pretty much had carte blanche to offer to take the hard decisions necessary to pull the nation back into gear.  He would have been cheered for it.
He didn’t have the courage to do it and now has to tread the tightrope between the need for action, and his ruling out most of those very actions.
Cartoon: By R May 
Chris Berg has offered some helpful tips: 
… Here's one answer. Parties don't see election promises as promises in the plain English meaning of the word. Instead, promises are signals designed to express a deeper character of the political party. When Abbott promised not to change the pension and not to cut public broadcasters he was trying to signal that his would not be a radical government; that he was firmly targeting the median voter. 
After all, why give the SBS promise? Did it win any marginal votes? Surely not. But it did suggest to the electorate he had no secret plan to burn through Australia's institutions. Promises like that increase the political cost of radical action. 
This practice is of course deeply deceptive - election promises as signals rather than genuine commitments - but it's a deception we're used to. 
Voters are rational. We know campaign nonsense when we see it. As this interesting 2004 paper points out, voters infer the true policy position of candidates for office despite the thicket of untruths. 
Obviously Coalition failures deserve to be treated as harshly as Labor failures were. Perhaps more. The Coalition swore to be guided by higher ethical standards than its predecessors. 
But let's not pretend to be surprised. Australia is one of the world's oldest democracies. We've been voting for broken promises for a very long time.
To some extent Berg is correct, although normally incoming governments find an excuse to break their promises as early as possible in their tenure.
Whitlam claimed that the problem with the economy was that we had too much money sloshing around in our pockets and the responsible thing for government to do was to increase taxes to absorb that which we didn’t need.
Malcolm Fraser was too arrogant to give us a reason to break his, but Hawkie and Keating came up with a budget ‘black hole’ and offered us consensus.  Under consensus, the government would negotiate with the opposition in order to decide the position they would like us to be in, and what to do with us when they had us there.  The result was, that rather than being screwed by the government, we were gangied by the parliament as a whole.
It hasn’t gotten any better since.
One of Tony’s options is the use of the term core, and non-core promises.  That though has been done already.
On the serious side though, there are plenty of options available.
While Abbott promised not to reduce the funding for the ABC and SBS, he said nothing about keeping them in public ownership.  Fairfax already provides left wing bias quite effectively in the private sector, so there is really no need for the government to duplicate that service.  There is nothing wrong with the ABC that couldn’t be fixed by Kerry Stokes, James Packer, Rupert Murdoch, or Gina Rinehart.
The Department of Climate Change could be abolished.  It would simply require an acknowledgement that the government hasn’t the competency to change the climate, certainly not for the better.  
While doing this, forget the idiotic climate action plan, abolish the ‘Clean Energy Finance Corporation’, the renewable energy target, subsidies on wind, solar, etc, and mandates on the use of renewables.  This would save billions.
There is considerable scope for the abolition of all federal government departments that duplicate state government ones.  The states themselves can run their own affairs in ways that are better suited to their individual circumstances better and more efficiently than can be done by a distant bureaucracy,
Where coordination is needed, the relevant state ministers can do this.
All of the departments left will probably go out on strike in solidarity with their fellow public servants.  When this happens, the government should examine the effects, and abolish all of those, which cause no inconvenience to the public by their absence.
By this time the budget crisis would be solved and we would be back in surplus again, but we can go further.  The SPC issue proved that there is really no need for taxpayers to pad the profit margins of Coca Cola Amatil.  There is no reason why any corporate welfare should continue; the government having made a nice start here.  It should then look at the inefficient churn of middle class welfare which would no longer be required as everyone would benefit from the substantial tax cuts the above would make possible.

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