Bring back poll-driven politics

By Crispin Hull

Remember when political parties were condemned for being “poll-driven”. If only they were poll-driven (rather than donor-driven) now. We would have good population, climate, energy, tax and defence policies, as various publications in the past week or so reveal.

Let’s take them one by one.

Population. This week the federal government’s National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation forecast that demand for housing could fall by between 129,000 and 232,000 dwellings over the next three years because the pandemic has stopped immigration.

Economists, media commentators and business groups went in to a frenzy of gloom.

They talked of a “worst-case scenario” of 214,000 fewer people in the country because of the pandemic.

But, surely, that should be a “best-case” scenario. After all, haven’t all these people been bemoaning lack of “affordable housing”; not enough housing construction and so on. What they really mean is they do not give a damn about people being decently housed. They only care about the profits from construction and having a pool of labour to keep wages low.

Comments on the media articles online from ordinary people attacked the idiotic assumption that lower or even zero population growth was a “bad thing” and something to be worried about. In fact, it is only a “good thing” for people who profit from it. For the rest, especially recent migrants, high population growth puts a damnable strain on their needs and basic wants: cheaper housing; less congestion; few people competing for schools and hospital places and so on.

There is an economic upside to the pandemic if it lowers Australia’s population growth or even reverses it. One of the best examples was the Black Death in England in the 14 century. Half the population died. The lords could not get enough labour. The serfs, hitherto tied to the lord’s land to work for next to nothing found they could move about a demand higher wages.

Laws passed requiring people to accept work for pre-plague wages were ignored. Fortunately, in Australia today we do not have to suffer vast numbers of deaths to achieve population reduction. We just have to reduce immigration and the birth rate to improve the standard of living of the mass of people.

Yes, overall there will be a smaller economy, but average income per head will go up, even if the income for those at the top of the pile might go down.

Also this week, the Federal Government’s Centre for Population produced work by ANU academic Peter McDonald, saying the pandemic would cause a drop in fertility to 1.59 next year (a rate of 2.1 provides a stable population without immigration).

This, too, was greeted with shock and horror rather than a relief from all the strain that Australia’s rapid Third-World level of population growth has put on the good things of life, including the downward pressure on wages.

More Australians are getting this. High immigration and high population growth only improve the living standards for those at the top of the pecking order (the equivalent of the lords of the 14 th century) while making things worse for everyone else.

Do not listen to the distracting rubbish about the ageing population and the dependency ratio (the number of people under 15 or over 65 compared to the number of people of “working age”). Australia now has a dependency ratio of 54, that is 54 people aged under 15 or over 65 per 100 people of working age. 

People worry that the ratio will go higher as the population ages. It will. But it has been higher before. It was 60 in 1969. Also, it is measured purely on age and does not account for the fact that a much higher portion of people over 65 are working these days.

On other policies, an Essential Poll this week found that two-thirds of people would prefer the government to support renewables rather than gas and only 20% support the Government’s proposed tax cuts for the rich. 80% think they would do little or nothing to help economic recovery.

The government has done worse than nothing on climate change by diverting public money from renewables to gas. In doing so, it has no only defied the public’s opinion about the environment but also about its opinion on security.

The most recent Lowy poll shows that Australians put climate change at the top of their national-security concerns followed by cyber security. The public sees little threat in the things that the Government has geared its massively expensive ships, aircraft and weapons programs towards: physical invasion by another nation. Apparently, the public rightly thinks that we are more likely to be invaded by rising sea levels.

In all, the Coalition Government has been listening to mates and donors rather than the people. Oh, for a return to poll-driven politics. 

O O O O O O O 

Speaking of defence and expensive weapons, this week, a development in the US, minimally reported in Australia, throws into question the value and reliability of our closest defence ally.

Defense News online reported that the US had designed, built and flown a prototype of its latest (sixth generation) jet fighter in just a year using advanced manufacturing techniques.

But poor ally Australia is left with a multi-billion-dollar contract to take more than 70 fifth-generation F35 fighters, the first of which is expected to go into service next year – already obsolete. Has Australia been conned? Or are our defence chiefs a little too eager to take whatever the US dishes up?

And really, we already have 24 F18 fighters that go 2000km/h which might be fun to fly but will do nothing to defend us against the real threats: global heating; cyber attacks and climate refugees.

Crispin Hull

This article was first published in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 26 September 2020.

Covid: debt to young must be repaid

Amid the sometimes heated Covid-generated debate over economy vs lives, one thing is certain: people over 60 have a large debt to younger people. The debt should be repaid through tax and payments changes that favour the young.

Health Department figures show that 97.7% of Covid deaths were among people over 60. Essentially, Covid does not present a death risk to the young. But younger people have paid dearly in economic terms because of the shutdowns that were necessary to prevent more Covid deaths among the over-60s.

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Changing corporate malfeasance

Another week and yet more examples of corporate greed and wrong-doing emerge. Big for-profit corporations are using JobKeeper funds as DividendKeeper and BonusKeeper. Facebook is making bullying threats over the Australian Government’s reasonable move to make it pay for content. Big business is urging the Government to scrap superannuation rises for wage and salary earners so it can pocket the money for profits, bonuses and dividends.

It does not seem to stop. Wage theft, water theft, theft from bank customers, tax dodging, and dodging responsibility for dangerous goods and environmental clean-up have been rife in corporate Australia for decades.

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More pro-population growth propaganda

There was more fear-mongering, self-serving, and flawed guestimates over population this week – this time from the quintessential accountant and consultant to big business and government, KPMG.

Shock, horror, Australia’s population would be 1.1 million less by 2029-30 because of the reduction in immigration caused by Covid. That would be a “$117 billion” hit to the economy over the decade by dragging down economic growth, KPMG calculates. That would leave every Australian $2850 worse off each year, KPMG says.

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Quit ANZUS if Trump wins

If Donald Trum is re-elected President in November, Australia should withdraw from the ANZUS treaty and encourage New Zealand to do the same thing.

If he wins, it must mean only one of two things: that either he has succeeded in cheating at the election by stymying mail voting and undermining the election’s legitimacy, or that the American people have genuinely re-elected him despite his dangerously erratic foreign-policy forays; his destructive trade policies; his employment of toadies and cronies and his supplicancy to autocrats and dictators. Indeed, they would have endorsed those actions. Either way, the US would be neither a worthwhile ally nor a worthy one.

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Trump trapped by Covid stats

President Donald Trump, for once, could not ignore, deride or distract attention from the undeniable statistics in his interview last week with Axios journalist Jonathan Swan. As Trump stumbled over Covid figures Swan made it plain that whichever way you look at it the US is performing abominably.

The old adage “You get what you pay for” certainly does not apply to the US health system.

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Cut the corporate stranglehold

Covid has caused quite a lot of changes of heart, most recently the Federal Government’s attitude to paying sick leave to those who do not have it. Before that, it was increasing unemployment benefits and giving free child care. It gives rise to the question: why did it take a pandemic? If they could be afforded when the economy is on its knees why couldn’t they have been afforded earlier when economic times were much better?

When this pandemic ends, people will ask for, or perhaps demand, a fairer system. This is what happened after World War II. In the quarter century after the war, income and wealth distribution became more equal. There was a much greater trust in governments and institutions.

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Only some of the way with LBJ

At last, after more than half a century of Harold Holt’s “All the way with LBJ” and the USA, Australia is showing some caution and seeing some reality.

At the Ausmin talks in Washington this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds politely declined the US’s typically bellicose and militaristic invitation to join it in more forays over and into the territory and seas illegally claimed by China in the South China Sea.

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Govt debt is not to be feared

There is no equivalent of a trench-coat-bedecked debt collector with rottweiler and baseball bat at the front door demanding that the Australian Government repay its debt. Nor will there ever be.

To the contrary, there is an orderly queue of businesses and individuals desperate to buy more Australian Government bonds which would put Australia into greater debt. Why? Because they know the Australian Government will never, cannot ever, default.

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