Careful What You Wish For!

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Most of my life I have voted Labor. When I have not voted Labor I have voted Democrats or Donkey. The first time I voted in the South Australian Elections I was just 18 years old. I distinctly recall voting for the Marihuana Party in the Upper House, just for fun. If memory serves me right the Upper House in the South Australian parliament is the equivalent to the senate.

Looking back I can’t really say why I am a Labor man except that I was brought up in the distinctly working class suburb of Para Hills in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. My dad worked at Holdens and he was also a window cleaner before finishing up as an “Environmental Officer” at the Adelaide Casino. An “Environmental Officer” is a fancy title for a cleaner. My mother for most of her working life was  a base grade clerk and data processor. So my background is really working class. But this is no real reason to vote Labor. I mean lots of my friends have the same background and vote Liberals.

Recently I have been thinking hard about my ideologies. I started wondering why we vote for who we do. I mean I have heard people wax lyrical about Liberals being for the economy and business. Die hard Labor supporters will tell you that they believe in the equal distribution of wealth. We are all fond of spouting the party line but what do the respective Party’s actually stand for?

I asked Google. I typed in  – “What is the difference between the Labor and Liberal Party? ” The only coherent answer that I could find was at Yahoo Answers. A subscriber had asked the same question and received an answer. The answer was almost flippant, “The Liberal party tends to focus on the economy, getting the dollar strong, saving up, and creating assets.  The Labour party tend to focus on spending the money that Liberal has saved up, putting it back into the country (hospitals, police force, and whatever else the population wants to see more of.”  But to be fair the answer also noted that both parties had their role to play because, “They both play their part, because the Liberals possibly neglect some of the things that people want, where as Labour may overindulge a bit and overspend, putting interest rates far too high.”[1]

I was not really satisfied with this answer because to me it made no sense. For example despite the common views that interest rates are higher under Labor than the Liberals, interest rates are actually lower today than they were under the Liberals. So I kept searching but I really could not get anything that went past Liberal’s focus on economic and Labor’s focus on social issues.

The other stock answer was that Liberals were conservative and seek to maintain traditions whilst Labor is more into radical social reform. This may well have been the case under Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser but it certainly is not today. Just ask Malcolm Turnbull who wants to abolish the Monarchy. In fact I would argue that both Liberal and Labor are virtual carbon copies of each other.

Let’s look at the commonly held view that Labor are spendthrifts. I seem to recall towards the end of their time in power Howard and Costello were throwing Money around like it was confetti. They gave everyone $1000 and said go forth and spend. They introduced the $4000 baby bonus and said go forth and multiply. They gave carers $1000 each every year. For three years they provided parents with $600 per child. Just for the Deaf they provided $18 million for the National Auslan Booking Scheme. They also planted the seeds for the Auslan for Employment Scheme, which was a real shocker when it started. They increased spending on Workplace Modifications and planted the seeds for the JobAccess program. They introduced the first home buyer’s grant. The latter stimulated the housing market so much that virtually no one can afford a house anymore.

Of course the current Labor Government has thrown money about too. There is the famous and much criticised ‘School Halls’ and ‘Pink Batts’ programs. Just this morning Gillard was saying how they had channelled $5 billion towards improvements in the Bruce Highway. They have provided a $1 billion for the NDIS. They allocated $43 billion for the National Broadband Network. Billions of dollars has been allocated for Gonskis subject to the States cooperating. Labor certainly have not sat on their hands either.

I am trying to work out the difference between the two Parties and to me there is none. Howard and Costello threw money around because they wanted people to spend it and therefore stimulate the economy. The First home Buyer’s Grant was designed to stimulate the housing market and create jobs. School Halls and Pink Batts and investments in the things like the Bruce Highway had a similar goal. This Government’s spending has been targeted towards stimulating the economy, keeping jobs ticking over and providing opportunities for Australian business. To me it seems like horses for courses but the philosophies of spending from the two Parties are essentially the same.

Of course Liberal supporters will tell you the economy was going better under them. But was it? Economists the world over are full of praise for how Labor handled the Global Financial Crisis. They are in awe that the economy has grown for the 21st successive year.  (That’s 21 years in which both Liberal and Labor have ruled at various times.) Unemployment came down under the Liberals as did Inflation. Labor has kept it low with any increases being minimal. Critics will point out that School Halls and Pink Batts were ill thought out and poorly run. But so was the First Home Buyer’s Grant – The Housing Boom was such that few people can now afford houses.  Australia used to have the most affordable hosing in the world.

Then of course there is the view that Labor is anti-business and is involved in class warfare. But is it? Funding to private schools has increased under Labor for example. The Mining Tax was a war on the wealthy they say, taking from the rich to cover up Labor’s bad financial management. But let’s look at the Liberals paid maternity leave scheme. How will it be funded? Through a levy on business that’s how. Both policies seem to be taxing business to raise revenue for programs. Where is the difference?

But Labor lie people say. Gillard promised no Carbon Tax. Yes and Howard promised no GST. But Carbon Tax will cost jobs they say. There is no evidence that this will or has been the case. Indeed it was suggested that the GST would do the same thing and would discourage retail spending. It did nothing of the sort. What is more interesting is that the GST was first proposed by Keating under a Labor Government. [2]

What about the furphy that Liberals uphold traditional values and retain traditional institutions? Well certainly if same-sex marriage is anything to go by it seems that both Parties have married each other. The Boats – Labor can’t stop them they say – Did the Liberals actually ever do so? Remember Tampa? It seems to me that the policies of each party in regard to the Boats are just as inhumane as the other.

Do not be fooled. Party philosophies mean nothing to those seeking power. This is not to say that our politicians do not have their own ideologies, they do, but their primary concern is to get or retain power. What this means is that the politics that they use are often pragmatic. They do what is required rather than following a strict ideological pathway.

Of course doing what is required often means always disagreeing with your opponents to make them look bad, even when policies are good. Often it means highlighting the purely negative side of everything the opponents do rather than focusing on what the issues are. Often it means over simplifying things too. For examples the Liberals will tell you that Labor is SPENDING too much. Yet the International Monetary Fund has stated officially that the Howard Government was the most profligate government in 200 years and squandered much of Australia’s savings on quick fixes.[3]

The Liberals will have us all believe that the Labor Government has sent Australia into a period of unmanageable debt. Yet international figures will show that Australia’s public debt is low and easily manageable in comparison to other countries.[4] But the Liberals will oversimplify things and say Australia has debt and that this is a bad thing. They will not even consider the impact of the Global Financial Crisis because in doing so it will highlight how skilfully Labor managed it.  It’s all about the pragmatics of getting into power. Just say what you need to.

Labor are not innocent of this either. They will claim the Liberals have no policies and no costings. This may well be true but they will neglect to tell you that they refuse to provide accurate budget figures to the opposition to allow them to cost their policies properly. That famous misogynist speech of Julia Gillard was arguably nothing more than a dirty tactic to distract people from the real issue. This issue of course was that Labor had appointed the rather slimy Peter Slipper to the Speakers role for the sole purpose giving the Liberals one less vote in Parliament. It is all about pragmatics you see – The truth doesn’t matter.

This year when you vote make sure that you are equally pragmatic. Look hard at what is on offer and BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

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