EVERY cent is important. Down, down, down go our prices. Lowering taxes has become an imperative. Personal responsibility is the catchphrase. This is the new conservatism sweeping the world.The American “Tea Party” provides the guiding light. Less government, less taxes, less regulation, less difference from mainstream middle-class values. Me, me, me! Is this really what we want for Australia?
The supermarket prices come down as farmers struggle. Small town economies plummet as less income for farmers means less spending at the local agricultural shops, hairdressers, supermarkets and bakeries. The banks pull out of towns, electronic systems take over and the banks centralise to major centres. Schools get smaller, less teachers. More jobs disappear. Towns die slowly.
Down, down, down go the prices in Canberra supermarkets. The prices go down, but at what cost? More savings are being made at the checkout. Shoppers are now their own checkout operators.
Who misses out? How often is it the full time jobs of the least educated, university students trying to support themselves through study or after-school students getting work experience and learning the importance of work for their income?
At the last ACT election the Canberra Liberals under Zed Seselja won eight out 17 seats in the Assembly.
The campaign that Zed ran could only be admired from a politicking perspective. Fear and uncertainty was created over rates. “Labor + Greens = Triple your rates” is the formula they released as their major plank to win the election. The campaign appealed to the selfishness in the electorate and took the Libs very close to success.
Tony Abbott followed suit. Despite the news just months from the election that Australia was one of only eight countries to retain a triple-A rating from all three major credit rating firms, the conservatives were able to persuade Australians that we were in dire financial strife. No doubt the mantra will be part of the justification for a draconian Budget to come down in May.
Just before the Federal election I wrote that one of Standard and Poor’s analysts, Craig Michaels, was reported to have identified that Australia’s financial status was “more contained” than was the case for other Triple-A countries. Even with the weakening of the mining boom, Australia was managing extraordinarily well in international terms. Despite suddenly finding we have no money, the government is able to cut taxation on big business such as mining and is looking to the same for other businesses.
This “Tea Party” mantra means slashing and burning bureaucracies. With public servants being constantly hacked over the last few years, an acceleration in the cutting process can only result in such things as reduction in services, longer waiting times, slower turn around and less efficient government services.
Those with the wherewithal will find a way to manage. Those who do not have access to electronic processing, accountants, lawyers, advisers or mentors will have the roughest time.
The greatest consequence of “me politics” is that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest will widen even further.
The World Economic Forum rated inequality in income as one of the key risk factors in its ‘Global Risk 2013 Report’. The forum states on its website: “The report highlights wealth gaps (severe income disparity) followed by unsustainable government debt (chronic fiscal imbalances) as the top two most prevalent global risks”.
As we reflect on our politics and our actions it is time to consider what sort of society we really want for future generations.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.