Answer questions or vote Coalition

There are two questions in this election campaign – one on climate and one on tax – which you should be able to answer yourself or be satisfied that Labor can, otherwise you should vote for the Coalition.

The climate question is that, given Australia produces less than 1.5 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions and that cutting our emissions to zero would do almost nothing to arrest global warming, why have an emissions-reduction program and why not use or sell the coal we have got?

The tax question is: Do you think that wealthy people and people on higher incomes should pay a lower portion of total tax than they do now so they have more money to spend themselves?

Let me try to answer them.

The climate question is a bit like the issue of vaccinations. Unless everyone mucks in and reduces emissions and gets their children vaccinated the consequences will be dire. But if only 1.5 per cent do nothing on either there will be no serious consequences for them.

A selfish person might save themselves the time and effort of getting their children vaccinated. That works if more than 95 per cent get vaccinated, denying the disease a chance to spread. But if too many people are selfish the disease can take hold, as with measles now, especially in the United States.

Of course, only the unvaccinated are struck down. You might say, serve them right, but unfortunately nearly all of them are innocent children. That is why authorities act: no vaccination, no admission to school.

So, too, with emissions reduction. The US will come back to its senses. Then it, China and the EU are not going to allow free-loaders. The climate has already changed and the window to stop putting more carbon into the atmosphere and even removing some it before the process becomes irreversible is closing.

No matter how much carbon you remove from the atmosphere you will not be able to re-freeze a melted Greenland icesheet. 

As this becomes more obvious and the economic effects are more widely felt, Governments will act more decisively. Those countries which do not act on their own account will be penalised in a way that will be more costly than actiing – trade penalities and denied access to, for example, the GPS network or airspace.

That is why we should start now before the cost escalates.

The argument over costs of emissions reduction in this election campaign is puerile. It is a bit like a householder facing deterioration in the foundations that threatens to make the place uninhabitable saying, “We can’t afford to do anything about that.” The reality is that the householder cannot afford NOT to do anything about it.

The other reason we should move is to set an example. It is precisely because Australia is a big coal producer and exporter that we should show it is possible for a high-carbon economy to become a low- or no-carbon economy.

Tony Abbott may call action on climate change “socialism” just as some may say that forcing children to get vaccinated is a form of fascism. I call them both just good sense.

Now to tax. This week’s zero inflation figure highlighted the profound economic difference between the two major parties. The Coalition is retaining faith in Trickle Down economics: if you let the wealthy keep more of their wealth and income, they will invest it in profitable activity and the money will trickle down in jobs and wages.

But we now know that, if you let the wealthy keep more of their wealth and income, the wealthy just keep more of their wealth and income.

Labor, on the other hand, has unwittingly invented the more cogent Trickle Up economics. Without wages growth people feel less secure and spend less. With higher wages, the economy expands for all, including wealthy capitalists.

Capitalism cannot work without modest inflation and modest wages growth. 

Effective capitalism has always been a fair bargain between labour and capital, with government providing things the private sector cannot or is not willing to provide: universal education and health, policing, defence, and big infrastructure.

That breaks down unless the tax system takes a reasonable portion from whose who can afford it to deliver fairly those things which the market alone cannot deliver. That is not socialism. Indeed, it is working capitalism.

Staying with the election, a whole lot of minor-party candidates will be elected as senators on 18 May.

As it happens, I think that is good for democracy, but I have an idea that might help the major parties.

The latest opinion poll puts the Coalition on 39 per cent primary vote and Labor on 37.

To get three out of six Senate seats in any state a party needs three quotas on 14.3 per cent, or 43 per cent. This is becoming increasing unlikely in any state. So it is becoming more likely that the majors will each get two seats and minors the other two in each state. This election will come close to that. In the long run that means, leaving aside the territories, 24 Coalition, 24 Labor and 24 minors.

The double dissolution in 2016 messed up the pattern, but in the long run it seems each major party will get a third of the Senate seats and the minors will get the other third, even though they are getting only about a quarter of the vote.

A really, Machiavellian counter-intuitive way of putting the breaks on minor-party representation in the Senate, would to increase its size to 14 senators for each state, with seven of them coming up for election every three years.

Now, getting a single quota out of seven takes just 12.5 percent of the vote, as against 14.3 percent to get one out of six – seemingly that is an easier task for a minor party. 

But wait. It also becomes easier for a major party to get three quotas out of seven than three quotas out of six. It would require just 37 per cent of the vote – roughly what they are getting now. If each major party got three out of seven in each state, it would leave room for only one, not two, minor-party positions in each state.

Leaving aside the territories, that would mean, give or take a bit, a Senate of 36 Coaltion, 36 Labor and 12 minors. The minors would go from having about a third of the senators to having about 16 per cent of them.

A bit of a worry. And principle would not stop the majors from doing this, so let’s hope inertia does.


This article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 4 May 2019.

3 thoughts on “Answer questions or vote Coalition”

  1. Politians and political parties often renege on pre-election promises, for good reasons and bad. They can, and often should, change policies when circumstances change. So there is not much point in deciding how to vote based on their blandishments. What they cannot change without destroying their credibility is their political philosophy so it is probably best to decide on their stated beliefs.

    For example: Scott Morrison’s mantra “I believe in a fair go for those who have a go,” is a secular rendition of “I believe God helps those who help themselves”. No matter how one says it, it’s a dog-whistle signalling ‘every man for himself and let the devil take the hindmost’.

    Before voting please ask yourself, will electing such a man as our national leader result in the kind of society you want for the youngest person you personally love.

  2. So, Mr Aitken, you believe it is ok to be a freeloader? Unregulated fishing and polluting are ok, for example? I don’t think the EU and US will let us get away with any of those without sanctions or tariffs. And then there are unexploited opportunities, like becoming a hydrogen supply powerhouse. Much bigger margins than coal.
    I am amazed at your line on climate change, although you are right to point to the absurdity of “believing” in science. Belief is for religion.

    In some ways the whole issue has become over-complicated. The essentials are: (1)The observation by Arrhenius in the 1890s that carbon dioxide absorbs certain wavelengths of incoming solar energy, and so continued burning of fossil fuels heats the world; (2) Unequivocal global temperature data showing a steady, statistically very significant, rise in the last century or so. The rest is noise.

    In other fields of endeavour, people accept replicated scientific evidence of, say, the causes of cancer, the efficacy of vaccines, the importance of reducing atmospheric ozone, and many other examples. If you don’t. you need evidence. You should do the hard yards, devise a theory, make measurements, and subject your results to peer review. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if you end up with little credibility making pronouncements on the results of those who do.

  3. My view is that our Government is there to manage the business of Australian society and economy. As you say nothing we do will have any effect on [human-induced] ‘climate change’ (I would be interested to know why you think it is changing, and in what respects), and there is no sign that China or India are interested in doing anything, while popular reaction in Europe is swinging against carbon taxes and alternative energy. We should leave this issue to the passionate alarmists, and concentrate on real government.

    Of course both sides say they ‘believe in the science’ (what a preposterous notion), so there is no real option for anyone sceptical.

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