Part 1 of a 6-part series.
No one can predict with certainty, but the likelihood of a federal election in 2016 is high. It may depend on whether the government initiates senate reform in light of the ongoing resistance to restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Alternatively, declining polls may prompt a decision. Given the possibility, I thought it is not too great a departure from the Orwell series to take time out to answer a question often raised by readers – “what can we do about it?”
Any response to this question will never be perfect. However, I suggest it is timely to consider how voters might approach the next election. After all, knowledge is power and walking into a ballot box without knowing the implications of the intended vote is even less effective than not attending.
“Any message conveyed to politicians must target their future prospects”
Because Australians are not willing to agree with or respond to everything they hear and read does not suggest that there is no understanding; or that they do not have alternative points of view; or that they do not possess solutions that would be best for the country. Any politician who believes otherwise may discover they have fatally mistaken the mood of their electorate.
Australians are extraordinarily diverse in backgrounds and viewpoints, and most are well informed. Numerous webpages and social media provide access to an extensive range of vital and complex topics on the issues and problems that affect life in Australian and in overseas communities. This essay is a message to all politicians on the extent to which Australians are aware of such issues. As there are many issues, several posts may follow.
The Electoral System: The Australian electoral system does not produce a valid democratic outcome. The preferential system is too convoluted and few voters can be confident that their votes will go to the intended candidate or party. The fact that there are many parties and independents from which to choose makes the arrangement even more complex. Then once elected, more often than not successful candidates display a bewildering incompetence and/or an alarming lack of genuine dedication. The Palmer United Party is a prime example of this unacceptable and time wasting tendency.
In the same way that Australians know that the current ‘democratic’ system no longer serves their needs, they also see the gradual erosion of their rights orchestrated through many subtle and obvious ways. The tactics employed to obstruct and undermine rights are clear: legislation, financial disincentives (fines and penalties), restrictions on rights, and propaganda, all of which keep citizens in check to avert unrest and unwanted opposition. Many also recognise that two of the most corrosive and divisive weapons in today’s political and left-wing arsenals are propaganda and political correctness.
All these factors have created the political and economic chaos Australians deal with on a daily basis. Once considered valuable and essential, the ‘right’ to vote is now the equivalent of a null vote. In effect, Australia is a ‘democracy’ comprised of powerless voters.
The Federal Budget: It is estimated that the top 20 per cent of households in Australia receive 60 per cent of the superannuation tax concessions, costed at $17.8 billion. When compared to the bottom 50 per cent of households, the proportion is 11 per cent of the tax concessions or $3.35 billion.
The Treasury’s tax expenditure statement, released in January 2016 shows that the largest cost to the federal budget was the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) discount. By 2018-19 the revenue shortfall of the 50 per cent discount on capital gains will be $121 billion. The cost of CGT discounts for individuals and trusts will reach $29.2 billion by 2018-19.
In light of these figures, there is every reason to question why the government talked about raising the GST. Whereas CGT and superannuation concessions result in greater benefits for the well off, the GST affects everyone, including children and people on low incomes.
Then there was the fiasco over Joe Hockey’s first government budget. The only discernible outcome was to question whether there actually was (or still is) a federal budget problem. This is cause for concern in light of the next section.
The Wealth of the Nation: Ultimately, the labour of everyday people and their productive capacities creates the wealth of a nation. Australia has been lucky in many ways and for a very long time. The sustained efforts of its people have resulted in enormous wealth. The obvious question to ask however is: “How long will our luck last?”
When a country exploits its natural resources to garner easy wealth rather than investing in the future to establish alternatives such as advanced industry, high technology, and related research, its long-term viability diminishes along with the inevitable reduction in the supply of its resources.
Where a country relies on commodities and products that are replaceable by cheaper alternatives and new technologies, economic disaster waits just around the corner. When a country spends frivolously during boom times and does not plan for downturns, economic incompetence is at play.
Whenever these fundamental principles are ignored, governments usually resort to imposing excessive taxation to compensate for reduced revenue and introduce overburdening laws and restrictions that erode the economy and the incentive to create and produce.
Whereas the use of budget deficits may buffer periods of economic downturn and high unemployment, the inflationary effects of excessive deficits can also act to erode the long-term value of everything that Australians possess. All of which adversely affects the productive capacity of the country for many years.
Superannuation and Infrastructure Investment: There is no justification in having just under 250 superannuation funds in a country that has a population of just over 23.9 million people (as of 27/01/16). The super funds are heavily criticised for re-investing funds into questionable investments that benefitted related parties ahead of the contributor. A conflict of interest occurs as the parent entity re-invests funds into funds more directly related to the parent entity. As a result, the best rate of return is rarely achieved while the bank or entity investing the money is not seeking the highest rate of return.
Most superannuation funds provide only minimal information to the account holders about how their money has been invested. Usually only vague categories are provided, such as “Balanced” and “Australian Shares”, with no indication of which shares were purchased. This makes the fund’s management largely unaccountable to their members. Estimates of the losses from the global financial crisis to superannuation funds are around $75 billion.
In light of the absence of infrastructure investment throughout Australia, it is not unreasonable to expect the abolition of the superannuation funds and introduce a single national system that is used as the primary source of much needed funds for infrastructure projects, particularly in regional areas.
Climate Change: Where global warming / climate change / greenhouse gases / carbon emissions are concerned, there has not been an informed and factual public debate on the actual causes of global warming or the validity of the claims of impending disaster. The evidence put forward is sketchy at best and wildly inconsistent at worst. As a result, the public at large is unable to reach agreement on the actual implications or otherwise of climate change. As with all issues that are raised today, the media presents a one-sided argument.
So far, the claims have relied on assertions that climate change is due to carbon emissions. On the strength of this, the Labor government imposed a carbon tax. Then the Liberal government removed it and replaced it with a promise to reduce energy costs. This left Australians scratching their heads wondering if climate change was in fact a genuine problem. Consider for example, the following from NASA:
NASA recently reported that unlike surface-based temperatures, global temperature measurements of the Earth’s lower atmosphere obtained from satellites reveal no definitive warming trend over the past two decades. The slight trend that is revealed in the data actually appears to be downward. They point out that satellites have better, broader coverage, surveying almost the whole planet as opposed to the irregular placement of thermometers in cities, towns, and nearby areas. There are very few thermometers in Siberia, the Congo, the Nullarbor Plains, and the Kalahari Desert. When asked about 2016, NASA stated that 1998 and 2010 were hotter than 2015. Moreover, 17 years ago 1998 was the peak. That is the reason the past 17 years are referred to as the “pause.”
Education: While politicians continue to respond to an army of self-serving educationalists, education unions, and self-proclaimed experts and lobbyists, there has not been a genuine education revolution, nor is there likely to be.
The reality is that within primary and secondary schools, management and students continuously subject teachers to a barrage of disrespect, subjugation, disempowerment, alienation, confusion, and abuse. This unwarranted harassment is so pervasive that it is a wonder that any teachers have retained even a vestige of enthusiasm and motivation to excel at their chosen profession. See: http://www.badapplebullies.com/wateachersstories.htm
The slightest hint of change in the education system at all levels is invariably met with aggressive union action organised by an entrenched minority many of whom have rarely set foot in a classroom for decades. How often for example, have we witnessed the familiar chant for the need to increase resources (particularly funds – think Gonski) so that the quality of education can be sustained or even improved, only to see such demands discarded once an agreement is reached on a pay rise? Meanwhile, teachers do the best they can under the most difficult of circumstances.
It is disturbing enough to observe the gradual deterioration of educational standards (as evidenced by OECD reports) in that Australia ends up with a population that believes the standard of education ranks high on the world’s ratings. All the while, the population learns to live with declining expectations due to gradual redefinitions of educational quality and standards so that over time it appears that nothing has changed (or worse that the standards are improving).
“Is it more than coincidental that the lack of a basic grounding in critical thinking skills among the general population enables politicians and governments to think they can do as they please?”
The Health System: The confusion and uncertainty experienced in obtaining basic health care is now a major concern for all Australian citizens. The Federal and State Governments say they cannot keep up with rising costs. Private health funds increase their premiums well beyond inflation rates and justify such increases by asserting that the cost of providing health care is an exponential problem.
“Not once have we been presented with the facts and figures that support such claims”
If the current system cannot cope and costs are continually rising, and health funds cannot meet these costs, then maybe, just maybe the system is broken. Perhaps it is time to replace the health insurance funds with a single fund for all health care needs.
Already, many Australians are paying huge monthly premiums for private health insurance, PLUS the medicare levy on their tax returns, PLUS the federal government is subsidising private health premiums by up to 28.5%, PLUS patients are paying increasing out of pocket charges. Still, Australians are told that all of this combined is not sufficient and their tax contributions and insurance premiums must go up (at more than the rate of inflation), the tax levy must go up, and the private insurance subsidies must go down, and the out of pocket expenses must go up.
Yet, health funds advertise on television and in expensive magazines and offer give away incentives if you join today. Then there is the plethora of so-called benefits, many of which appeal to the fashions and propensities of those who desire to indulge themselves in alternative treatments. Much like one would expect when attending an exclusive private health spa in the mountains of Switzerland or somewhere similar.
Worse still, junk benefits are listed on the policies – misrepresented ‘private’ health treatments that would not attract much in the way of additional costs, as they are readily available in the public health system. How are such items a benefit of the insurance policy if they are already accessible by simply attending a public hospital? In addition, little is raised about how over servicing is prevented, and the subject of enforcing reasonable charges by doctors and hospitals is never put forward.
Have the health professionals become too reliant on multi-million dollar equipment and countless laboratory tests? Is it no longer possible for a good doctor to diagnose and treat a wide range of ailments using basic instruments and a thorough grounding in general medicine? Have human ailments changed so much over the past fifty years that this level of skill is no longer sufficient? At what point does the cost of medical treatment become so prohibitive that patients simply decide it is beyond their means? Perhaps the expected revenue is now the driving factor? Perhaps treating someone’s ailment once and not seeing them again is not economically lucrative anymore?
What is also not forthcoming from either the government or the health insurers is the provision of basic health treatment for all regardless of age, gender, or income. By this, I refer to good old fashioned and well considered diagnosis and treatment, preferably as a preventative strategy, not once disease has taken hold.
“Quick question # 1: Who is really in control – the Left or the Right?”
There was a time when it was possible to tell the difference between political parties based on their leanings to the left, middle, or right. Subsequent to that era, it became impossible to discern the differences between party policies. Regardless of which party was in power, Australians knew there was little or no difference between their policies and the inconsequential results they produced.
Today, the Liberals, Labor, and the greens espouse left-wing sentiments. It is simply a question of degree. It appears that the left are now in control regardless of what party is in power. This leaves voters with no viable choices should they attempt to bring about change for the better.
“Quick question # 2: Do the Nationals matter anymore?”
Politicians need to act on the knowledge that the people of Australian are not their servants and cannot assume to be the masters. To treat citizens in a manner that conveys an impression of disdain and unquestioned, unaccountable authority points to a dictatorship, not a democracy.
Moreover, treating the Australian people as unknowledgeable and unconcerned about what is happening to this country is a mistake. Politicians cannot continue to ignore the genuine and demonstrated needs of the majority. If they do, then I implore all Australians to make a concerted effort to give politicians a use by date beyond which they lose control of a power they do not deserve.
The next use by date is the forthcoming election. The pages of this essay provide a start for politicians to determine policy, and a means for voters to determine which candidates have taken note of the real needs of Australians. Remember …
“It is ok to rebel against government actions and policies – otherwise such opportunities may one day be taken away.”
Part 2 follows below.