The political dilemma of an ageing population

We all accept that Australia’s population is ageing.  Demographic evidence shows that life expectancy at birth is now 78.9 years for males and 83.6 years for females.  These figures are from the CIA World Factbook 2009 and from the 2006 revision of the United Nations World Population Prospects report for 2005-2010.  Although there is a suggestion that with the growing epidemic of obesity, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, future generations may be the first to not enjoy the same longevity as their predecessors, we will have an ageing population for the foreseeable future.

This piece begins to address the ageing issue.  No doubt much will be written about it, although to date the MSM has not given it much attention.  Much of what appears below is drawn from Government documents heralding the Third Intergenerational Report: Australia to 2050: Future Challenges that will soon be released by Wayne Swan.  This post is offered to furnish some facts and figures, to offer some opinions, to encourage debate, and to kindle ideas about how this country should address the ageing challenge.

The First Intergenerational Report 2002-03 was released by Peter Costello in May 2002 with the 2002-03 federal budget.  The Second was released in April 2007.  The Third Report will describe the challenges facing Australia over the next 40 years, the result of the demographic changes resulting from the ageing of our population.  It is hereby acknowledged that much of the following is extracted from an advance notice of that report:

The bare essentials

Today there are 22 million Australians; by 2050 it is estimated there will be 36 million – reflecting natural population growth and a continuation of migration trends of the past forty years.

Today, 14 per cent of Australians - one in seven - are over the age of 65; by 2050, 23 per cent – almost one in four - will be over 65.

The ageing of the population is expected to reduce the workforce participation rate from around 65 per cent now to around 60 per cent by 2050.  This will lead to changes in the ratio of the number of people of working age (and paying taxes) to those aged 65 and over: Forty years ago, in 1970, the ratio was 7.5 people of working age to every person 65 and over. In 2010, the ratio is 5 to 1, and in 40 years' time, in 2050, it is projected to fall to just 2.7 people of working age for each person aged 65 and over.

Thus Australia faces higher costs in catering for the aged, yet slower economic growth as there will be fewer workers.

The report projects that average annual growth in real GDP per person will fall to 1.5 per cent over the next 40 years, in contrast to an average increase in GDP per capita of 1.9 per cent per year over the past 40 years.  Therefore average family incomes will grow at a slower rate than in recent years.

The Government believes it must act now to counter the projected decline in economic growth in the years ahead by enhancing productivity growth and workforce participation.  By lifting productivity and participation, a higher rate of economic growth could be achieved.  A Treasury analysis shows that if average productivity growth was lifted back towards the 1990s mark of an average 2 per cent per year - up from the 1.4 per cent to which it declined in the decade just passed - this would produce enormous benefits: Australia’s economy would be $570 billion bigger in 2050 and on average, every man, woman and child would be $16,000 better off a year in 2050.

The advance report, used by Kevin Rudd in announcing its advent, asserts that: “It is productivity growth that must play the central role in building Australia's future economic growth. Productivity is about how we use labour, capital and technology across the economy. It's about working smarter - rather than working harder, or working longer.  Productivity depends on all of us - workers, businesses and the Government - but the Government plays a vital role in facilitating long-term productivity growth.”

Productivity – the crucial element

The report continues – “To lift productivity we need broad economic reforms” , as follows:

First, Treasury projections suggest we can increase productivity by building 21st century infrastructure.  An increase in the public infrastructure stock by 1 per cent would lead to an increase in output by around 0.2 per cent, and improving the efficiency of our energy and transport infrastructure could increase GDP by nearly 2 per cent, the equivalent of around $75 billion or $2,000 per person in today's dollars.

Second, we can increase productivity by building a highly skilled, highly trained workforce.  Improvements related to education and training - early learning, higher education attainment and increases in numeracy and literacy - could raise aggregate labour productivity by up to 1.2 per cent.  If we could boost GDP in 2050 by 1.2 per cent, that would amount to around $45 billion in today's dollars - or the equivalent of around $1,200 for each Australian.

Third, we can increase productivity through microeconomic reforms - such as the reforms the Government is prosecuting to build a seamless national economy.  National Competition Policy and related reforms during the 1990s increased Australia's GDP by 2.5 per cent.  Further microeconomic reforms can build on this achievement and continue to lift GDP and productivity.  Tackling social exclusion can also contribute to increasing workforce participation and productivity growth by removing barriers to work and improving skills among the most disadvantaged, such as Indigenous Australians, unemployed youth and the homeless. These measures would also help the 2.6 per cent of Australians - around 570,000 - who were left out while the nation reaped the benefits of the mining boom in the past decade.

The downside of an ageing population

The report then sounds a more sombre note: the challenge of the ageing of our population to the sustainability of future budgets. Unless the Government can achieve higher levels of productivity growth and workforce participation, we face either generating large, unsustainable budget deficits into the second quarter of the century, or reducing government services.  The report asserts that the task has been made more difficult by the aftermath of higher budget expenditure during the past decade, which has locked in a permanently higher spending base.  During the growth period of the 2000s, the average real growth in government spending increased to 3.8 per cent compared to an average 2.5 per cent annual real growth in spending during the growth period of the 1990s.

The Government insists that it is committed to a medium-term fiscal strategy that will deliver a permanent structural improvement in Australia's public finances so that by 2049-50, the Budget outcome is projected to be around 3.5 per cent of GDP better off – that is $130 billion in today's dollar terms.

Let’s look at some of these data:

The projected population growth to 36 million is applauded by some but others are appalled and assert that Australia cannot support that number.  But to restrict population growth, natural growth would need to be discouraged, not something some religious groups would approve, or migration restricted.  Since immigration has given this country great impetus and prosperity, restricting it sharply might prove to be counterproductive.  You can see fertile grounds here for partisan conflict.

The uncomfortable truth about which little can be done is that the proportion of those over 65 will jump from one in seven to one in four by 2050, and that for everyone over 65 there will be only 2.7 wage earning tax payers in 2050, whereas now there are 5. 

Clearly the productivity of those who are working will need to rise to support the over 65s, many or most of whom will be retired and on welfare.

Improving productivity

Hoping to avoid criticism for expecting people to work harder and longer, the Government suggests instead that they work smarter.  That is good advice, and is one way of lifting productivity.  Another is to have more people participating in productive work.

Retirement age

Australia would have more people in work if we had a higher retirement age.  Can we afford to have a retirement age of 65?  Already there are moves to lift it to 67, starting in 2017 and completing the change by 2023, a very modest rise over a long period.  Since 65 was set as a retirement age a century ago when longevity was much less than it is now, would it not be reasonable to raise it to say, 70, and to raise it faster.  For those doing heavy physical work that might be a big ask, but if graded diminution in physical effort was accompanied by shorter working hours or a shorter working week towards the end of the working life, would there not be many who would welcome the opportunity of continuing to be productive and earning.  During the GFC business showed it was willing to make such flexible working arrangements to avoid sacking workers.  Those doing less arduous work might leap at the opportunity of avoiding retirement for a few more years.  Many professionals are already working well beyond the statutory retiring age and loving it.  Governments are too reluctant to address this issue; the fact that Tony Abbott has given some support to it might embolden Kevin Rudd to re-consider this matter.

Up-skilling the workforce

Productivity can also be raised by up-skilling the workforce.  This needs to begin in pre-school and continue as far as each individual wishes to, and is capable of going.  That will lead to smarter working.  The advent of super fast broadband will open up opportunities for smarter working, and possible vastly different working opportunities. Could not more opportunity be taken for working at home some or all days of the week, using fast broadband for rapid communication?  Videoconferencing is becoming commonplace; it could substitute for workplace meetings and conferences.  This would reduce wasteful travel time, unclog our roads and reduce air travel.

Workplace patterns

Although politicians will be unwilling to even mention these measures, could not work patterns be made more efficient by restricting such time-wasting habits as attending to personal email and engaging in social networking during working time, having frequent smokos that now requires workers to leave the workplace, spending too much time chatting around the coffee machine (not about work, but cricket and football), partaking in long lunches that sometimes leave employees alcohol affected, taking ‘sickies’ simply to use up sick leave, something the self-employed eschew.  This might sound rather puritanical, but can we afford to preserve such workplace ‘sacred cows’ when we’re facing the crisis of an ageing population.  Many workers really do need to work harder and longer.


Infrastructure improvements in rail, roads and ports will improve efficiency and productivity by removing bottlenecks, something the Government keeps emphasizing.  This takes time to stoke up, so the faster these progress the better. 

Microeconomic reforms

The microeconomic reforms that are underway are designed to make business more efficient by removing red-tape, unnecessary restrictions, conflicting rules and interstate blocks, and streamlining business across states and regions.  COAG is already addressing this, but as is the rule with bureaucracies, progress is slow.

Health care reform

The health care system is another major area where improved efficiency is needed and where major cost saving could occur.  After sixteen months of data gathering and deliberation the Hospitals and Health Reform Commission has delivered a report with over a hundred recommendations that will be implemented starting this year.  Nicola Roxon says she has almost completed negotiations with the states.  Hopefully state bureaucrats will not obstruct progress.

Tax reform

The Henry review of taxation promises to reduce the complexity of taxation and transfer payments, and thereby reduce the cost of administering them.

The consequences of failure

Unless these measures can improve productivity, increase participation and lower costs, all those who pay tax will be faced with higher taxes, or reduction of government-provided services, neither of which anyone would applaud.  The alternative – increasingly large budget deficits, is unacceptable.

The object of this piece is to stimulate debate on the crucial issue of how to cope with Australia’s ageing population.

Please tell us what you think.  Let us have your ideas.


The Grumpy Old Denialist Party

Bushfire Bill struck a respondent chord when he argued the case that the Liberal Party had earned the label ‘The Grumpy Old Party’.  In commenting on this piece, Bilko said “...a pervasive state of denial afflicts the Coalition”, and Michael said the same when he wrote “...their grumpy army can still NOT BELIEVE that the Coalition was voted out.”   HillbillySkeleton said something similar “Their criticism of 'Debt and Deficit' appears predicated on a complete denial of the intervention of the GFC into the economy over the last couple of years (an almost farcical, 'Don't Mention the War' posture), and the subsequent actions of the Rudd government, by going into Deficit, to ameliorate the worst effects of it on our country, appear to them to just be a socialist government showing its true colours.” 

Denial seems to be a central component of the Liberal mindset.  This piece suggests it underlies the ‘grumpiness’ that Bushfire Bill described so well.

I have written several times on TPS about this attitude of denial, and I’m not referring just to the current theme of denial of climate change.  It permeates the thinking of many senior Liberals.  In several pieces I’ve argued that Tony Abbott was, and I believe still is, in a state of denial about the validity of the election of the Rudd Government and the Coalition’s defeat in 2007.  “We were such a good Government”, Abbott laments, the implication being that it did not deserve to be thrown out, especially during such prosperous times.  He still has not grasped the essence of the defeat, acknowledging only longevity of the Howard Government, WorkChoices and the Coalition’s attitude to Climate Change as the prime factors, and now that he’s leader he’s even resurrecting elements of WorkChoices, despite proclaiming the title dead, and his climate change position continues to reek of denialism.

A 'denialist' is defined as 'one who excessively denies the truth.'  That descriptor seems to fit the Liberal Party.  And it’s not a recent thing; it’s chronic.  ‘Denialism’ is defined as ‘choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth.  It is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event.’

In his book To the Bitter End, Peter Hartcher points to the layers of denialism in the Howard Government leading up to the 2007 election.  Despite the gathering evidence, to the point of it being overwhelming, “Howard used every moment before election day to shake up the sense that the outcome was a foregone conclusion, to demand that voters reconsider.  He tried every possible device and stratagem, thrashing around in a desperate series of twists and turns, prepared to try anything to win.  Anything, that is, short of breaking solidarity with George W. Bush [about not signing Kyoto and on Iraq] or handing power to Peter Costello.”  Howard, perhaps understandably, was denying the inevitability of defeat, but more significantly was denying the negative impact on the voters of his unshakable allegiance to George W. Bush.

Ideologically driven, Howard continued to deny the negative effect on voters of his WorkChoices legislation, until, when it was already too late, he introduced the ‘Fairness Test’ in an attempt to assuage the anger of the electorate.  The voters saw it as the cynical exercise it was.  Likewise, when facing defeat in his own seat he started to pay attention to his electorate, his denialism showed again.  He turned up to events, such as the Granny Smith Festival, that he had never ever graced with his presence.  The electors saw him as ‘on the make’.  Again, as was his habit, he tried to buy votes with massive handouts ‘in the national interest’ which too often were nothing more than pork-barrelling.  His state of denial obscured the fact that his actions were no longer effective – the people saw through them.  But he persisted.

With the Reserve Bank continuing to raise interest rates, even during an election, an event Howard in his mind denied could or should happen, as Hartcher put it, “Howard misread the changing times – he misread the economics, he misread the way the Reserve Bank would react to the economics, and he misread the politics.”   

His obsession with holding onto his Prime Ministership, his denial of the adverse effects of this on his party, hastened his downfall.

Enough of Howard’s denialism – he’s gone – what about his ministers, many of whom still adorn the Opposition benches?  Howard seems to have instilled in them the same denialist mindset.

Tony Abbott, the new leader, is denialist-in-chief.  He still bridles at the reality of the Coalition’s defeat by a sleepwalking electorate.  He still believes that the electorate will sooner or later wake up to the 'hollowness' of Kevin Rudd – 'all talk and no action' – and will return the Coalition to its rightful seat of power.

In the lead up to the election Howard ministers denied the adverse influence Howard was having on their election chances.  Even those who saw this put it aside and took no effective action to replace the man inexorably leading the Coalition to defeat.  The debacle around APEC time where several ministers thought Howard should go was another example of denialism, or at least the gutlessness of some of them to insist that he went.  Denialism in the sense: ‘How could this man who had led them to four successive and increasingly strong victories lead them to defeat?’

Every time Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey uttered the ‘debt and deficit’ mantra they were denying the reality of the GFC and the need to take radical action at the time, even if it incurred debt.  They must have believed that repeating that mantra often enough, Goebbels-style, would wake up the electorate to the Government’s 'profligacy'.  Abbott’s and Hockey’s unwillingness to give appropriate credit to the Government for its actions, actions that just about every unbiased observer now accepts saved Australia from recession, rapidly rising unemployment and business failure, is denial at its most flagrant.  And the Government’s contribution to consumer and business confidence and retail sales too is denied.  Even The Australian, which has not been a conspicuous supporter of the Government, this past weekend named Kevin Rudd as its ‘Australian of the Year’, and cited his efforts in combating the effects of the GFC as the main reason for its selection.  

Joe Hockey is in denial when he asserts that the three interest rate rises in the last few months are not due to the buoyancy of the economy and the threat of that to inflation, but instead due to the Government’s ‘reckless and unnecessary spending’. 

The sustained attack on the Schools Stimulus program by Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and just about any other Coalition member who could get a word in, was an unseemly exercise in denialism.  The fact that only about sixty problems arose in the 24 000 projects in 9 500 schools was enough for the Coalition, and it must be said parts for the Murdoch press, to deny the beneficial effects to thousands of schools, the children and their parents.

Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison and many others are in denial when they discount the ‘push factors’ that have influenced the recent boat arrivals, insisting that it is only the ‘pull factors’ – ‘Rudd’s failed border protection policies’ – that are operative.

Just this morning Peter Dutton, talking about the Government’s ‘failure to deal with the nation's ailing health system’, said “That's the crazy part about Kevin Rudd's spin on health - he just keeps promising the same thing over and over again but he delivers absolutely nothing."  ‘Absolutely nothing’ mind you.  Dutton thereby completely denies the existence of the Rudd Government initiative – the most comprehensive report on health care in Australia for decades, prepared by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission.  The report was the culmination of ‘16 months of discussion, debate, consultation, research and deliberation by a team dedicated to the cause of strengthening and improving our health system for this and future generations of Australians.’  It contained over a hundred recommendations.  The Government insists implementation of them will begin this year.

Climate change of course is a hotbed for denialism in the Coalition.  Tony Abbott’s ‘absolute crap’ comment about climate change is likely close to his real beliefs, not that it’s easy to dig them out as he oscillates from ‘pass the ETS and get it off the table’, to fighting it tooth and nail in the Senate, to his declaration that he’s always been an environmentalist and wants a Green Army, to his promise to devise a scheme that will effectively mitigate Australia’s carbon emissions without a ‘Great Big New Tax’, a mantra faithfully followed by his ministers.  All this is camouflage for not wishing to address climate change frontally, which would require him to confront the denialism of Barnaby Joyce, Ron Boswell, Nick Minchin, Wilson Tuckey, Dennis Jensen, Andrew Robb, Cory Bernardi, and many others in his party.  Abbott and Co deny that the ETS is a tax on the polluters, not the public, most of which will be compensated for any resultant increase in costs.

They deny the need to do much about climate change, and the need to do it soon.

When a Liberal as senior as Nick Minchin was prepared to state his highly sceptical position on climate change on last year’s ABCs Four Corners program, how can Tony Abbott, wearing his own scepticism, his own brand of denialism, like an albatross around his neck, ever be taken seriously by the public when he talks about the need for carbon mitigation, and his plans for it.

Denial is just across the road from untruthfulness, the stock in trade of many politicians.  Sometimes it’s hard to know which is which.  Sometimes the two blur into each other.  Sometimes denial leads to untruthfulness, sometimes it’s the other way around.

Whatever its genesis, I trust the examples given above will support the thesis of this piece: that denialism is the root cause of the Coalition’s demeanour, of its grumpiness, of its ill temper.  Thus the extension of Bushfire Bill’s label to ‘The Grumpy Old Denialist Party’.

Until the Coalition collectively, and members individually accept the stark reality of its defeat and more importantly the reasons for it; accept the reality of its current parlous state and the reasons for that; until denial is put aside as an almost reflex response to every Government initiative; until rational thought, deliberation and balanced dialogue is substituted for it, it will continue to languish in the polls and in the eyes of the electorate.  Denialism is political death.

What do you think?


The Grumpy Old Party

What is it with Julie Bishop, the she feels she always has to spit her words out? There's a feeling of permanent anger, or barely concealed contempt, of 'Mrs Bitch' in everything she says.

This morning on the radio she was still rabbiting on about the Schools Stimulus. Its success in preventing a haemorrhaging of jobs in the trades during the GFC seems to have mollified her crankiness not at all. Other countries are dealing with high unemployment still, but Julie and her party seem to despise the fact that the Australian workforce has been sustained, in most part at least, as a viable economic unit.

Perhaps the Liberals are annoyed that avoiding unemployment has also avoided a sort of Bosses' Paradise, where employers can freely pick and choose who will work, and pay appropriately lower wages? I wonder what miseries WorkChoices would have brought us in that situation, had it still been around? Thankfully we will never know for sure.

Perhaps Julie and her colleagues are just annoyed that the incompetent, inept (their words) Rudd government had a success, by NOT taking the Liberals' advice to cut spending and go the low road. Bishop (on ABC's AM this morning) was still pounding the desk about how the Rudd government had not built major infrastructure - ports, highways and airports presumably - but had instead constructed jerry-built school halls and fences around playgrounds.

Put aside fact that the $16 billion spent on schools would have built about one airport, or a paltry 100km of dual-lane freeway - in one location, leaving the rest of the country to wallow in recession - or that the plans would likely not even be off the drawing board yet for such major projects (so little real work would have been generated), Julie chose to be angry that thousands of trades people and their families and the businesses that depend on their custom managed, in this country, to struggle through an economic downturn that has brought even the US to its knees economically. Why they are angry about this is hard to tell, unless it's just pique.

Julie Bishop is not the only one. When was the last time anyone heard or read an optimistic word on any subject from Joe Hockey? Even his cherished Republic is now a poor choice for a referendum. Tony Abbott is legendary for his blue language. It seems Tony can get away with expressions like 'toxic bore', or 'shit-eating grin' all day long, while Rudd's words never get a fair shake of the sauce bottle from commentators (they are either too bland or too harsh). Perhaps Abbott is given special leave by the commentators to use marginal language because that is what they expect of him. They, and perhaps the people too expect Tony Abbott and his party to be angry. Maybe that's what is seen as their role in society: anger. If so, I think the portents are bad for the conservatives.

The Liberals have become the Grumpy Old Party of Australian politics. Backed up by grumpy, whingeing shock-jocks and their grumpy, whingeing audiences - today expressing anger at our 'Tourist Prime Minister', or high taxes, tomorrow back on about how easy it is to get a job if you're prepared to work for low wages - they have brought grumpiness back into the political scene.

We all know someone who is permanently grumpy. Nothing is to their satisfaction. Everything is broken, or falls short in some way. Life is unfair to them. Minor annoyances send them up the wall. If only they ruled the world.

Of course, we avoid these people. Sure, a little anger is appropriate on occasion, but the permanently grumpy person is a turn-off. You know you're never going to get a pleasant or positive word passing their lips. There's always the chance they will turn on you if you don't tread carefully. It's all negative, all the time with the Grumpies.

So, how can Abbott, Bishop, Hockey and crew hope to impress voters whose jobs have been saved, who are expressing confidence in the economy in record percentages, by grumpily complaining that we should have all done it tougher, for much longer? Do they think that a sour demeanour in the face of economic sunlight and optimism is a 'good look'? Can the Liberals really believe they are going to capture and hold the imagination of the Australian people with chronic ire? 

Why I am annoyed with Kevin Rudd...and why I’m not

This afternoon I heard Christopher Pyne on ABC afternoon radio in Sydney, going on about how spending $16 billion on the Building The Education Revolution schools program was a waste. As usual, I became hot under the collar listening to him, because the guy has figured out how to breathe through his ears whilst keeping up the patter. At the moment (and forgive me for the delay in this first post for AA) I am suffering from chronic dizziness due (I hope) to blocked ears, and I envy Mr. Pyne greatly for being able to inhale (and presumably exhale) through his own set of orifices. Chris can talk incessantly. The other two guests got in nary a word once he started up. In short, Pyne hijacked the program (as usual).

Chris’s thesis was that the Rudd government would have better spent the billions if they had put the money into training more teachers, upgrading curriculae, and in general looking to the long term. Putting aside my confident prediction that if Rudd had spent the money on teachers Chris would have been screaming he had caved in to the ugly face of entrenched unionism by aiding them in a grubby self-perpetuation scam, or that if he had formed an advisory group (employing, maybe, 20 people) to look into improving school curriculae around the country, it would have been yet another chapter of the Culture Wars whereby the lefty, latte-sippers were seeking to inculcate our kids with all the wrong kinds of ideas (and anyway, wasn’t the GFC response all about “Jobs! Job! Jobs!”?),

I thought to myself that for someone who had steered his country through the worst financial crisis in living memory, leaving Australia as just about the best of the best as far as the OECD is concerned, Kevin Rudd hasn’t done too badly. A plethora of chippies, sparkies, brickies, security engineers, fencers, concreters, plumbers, draughts-people, drivers and all the rest of the tradies who found themselves staring into the abyss when the GFC pall came down had a lot to thank Kevin Rudd and his government’s prompt school’s-based anti-rescession action for. Schools provided ready planning access, mostly ready-to-go projects (needing only finance), and few complications to get in the way of a quick start to proceedings. Almost any other field of infrastructure stimulus could have (and would have) become entangled with red tape, naysayers and do-gooders wanting something, anything else to be done as a matter of their own priority. 

Sure, we started off from a solid economic base, left to us most recently by the Howard government, and before them the Keating and Hawke governments, but the fiscal ball could still have been dropped. We could have reined in spending, tightened the belt (as they say, and as Turnbull, Hockey and Nelson suggested vehemently) and trying to ride out the storm, with the inevitable middle class workers taking the hit on behalf of Big Business. But instead, Rudd “Spent! Spent! Spent!”, borrowing a small amount (and getting smaller as things improve) to do so. We are now better placed than almost any other country to profit from the global upswing around the corner.

Then I thought of how the Liberals had told us gravely, in early 2009, about “The Rudd Recession” and all its negative charms. After that I remembered that the latest Lib theory from the geniuses who run it was that there had been no recession, and that it was all a concocted sham for Rudd to make himself look like a hero. And then – something was nagging me - I thought how irritating Julia Gillard sounds when she utters the mantra “The -  Building – The -  Education - Revolution”, which everyone else calls the “BER” (as she should, if she had any sense).

That’s why Rudd, and his government sometimes annoy me. Chris Pyne’s little rant on ABC Sydney 702 this afternoon highlighted why I do like the Rudd government and also why I sometimes despair of them: they don’t need to spin as much as they do... but they just can’t help themselves.

In spouting mantras like “The -  Building – The -  Education - Revolution”, they treat us like fools. They are repetitive in their spin, sounding almost (and I shiver when I find myself agreeing with Glenn Milne, even glancingly) “Stalinist”-like in their incessant sloganeering. It’s as if they believe everyone reads only the Daily Telegraph (or the Courier Mail, the ‘Tiser or the Herald-Sun) and that we’re all so thick we need to have the times-tables drummed into us, like so many ADD schoolkids, until we get the message. Somewhere, in the heart of government, there is a media office that tells Rudd and Gillard, “Don’t think. Just repeat... ad infinitum”. This media office sucks.

The rest of them, the other ministers, most surely receive this message too, but some of them have enough imagination to use their own words. Anthony Albanese always entertains. Craig Emerson is another. Lindsay Tanner has something cogent and informative to say on every occasion.

But Rudd and Gillard are, to me, plodders in the public relations stakes. One would not go as far as to say they are “toxic bores”, but sometimes one finds one’s self shouting at the television, “Just bloody say something out of your own damn mouth for a change, will you !?” when listening to the two most senior members of the government.

This is not to say that I am as annoyed by Rudd and Gillard’s verbal ineptitude as I am by the prattling Pyne, or the noxious Abbott, or the lamentably ham-fisted Joe Hockey (and let’s not leave out the scolding Bronny Bishop and the irritatingly cocksure Sophie Mirabella in the round up of Liberal bloviators), but I do feel a certain disappointment whenever our Prime Minister and his Deputy come on to the telly to speak, or rather, chant platitudes and litanies, no matter what the question, no matter what the subject.

The Rudd government has done a fine job of steering this wonderful country through a potentially disastrous financial period, reacting with aplomb and decisiveness, and not taking the many baits offered to them to go along the more conventional course the Liberals put forward as the only way out. For this they are rightfully rewarded by solid, high polling figures and a virtually unbackable prospect of re-election. But I wish, in my heart of hearts, that just occasionally its most senior members would throw away the prepared script and speak plainly for themselves, instead of recanting mindless spin put in front of them by paid hacks, with even less imagination.

I’m sure readers may have other annoyances, but the incessant (and here’s the catch: the unnecessary) spin of the Rudd government is my own pet irritant.

I hope you can convince me I’m wrong, or that it doesn’t matter, but spin is what gets stuck in my craw, and I’m just about fed up with it. Not enough to change my vote, but enough to switch off completely and just let things take their (seemingly) inevitable course.

What do youse think? 

Bushfire Bill joins The Political Sword as a guest contributor

First, welcome to The Political Sword 2010 at the beginning of an election year that promises to be even more frenetic than the last. 

During January, while Ad astra takes a break, Bushfire Bill, who has made many penetrating and witty contributions to this and other political blogs, will be a guest contributor to The Political Sword. 

His contributions begin next week.  Watch for them.