Melbourne is rated as the 2011 ‘most livable city in the world’, Sydney is sixth, and Perth and Adelaide are equal eighth. We have almost half of the most livable cities in the top ten in the world. And we have the most awe-inspiring country in which to live, ‘the lucky country’. We have untold natural resources: mountains of iron ore, enormous reserves of uranium, and enough coal and natural gas to last us a century. Yet, if you believe the polls, as a nation we are angry, scared, and dissatisfied. Why?
Of all the developed nations, we have come through the global financial crisis with flying colours, better than any other. Unemployment never became as disastrous as it still is in the US, UK and Europe, and now sits at around 5% compared with 9% in the US where 14 million are out of a job. We have a so-called patchwork economy where finding labour is difficult in some places while unemployment, especially among youth, is too high in others. Finding workers is still more difficult than workers finding a job. But we still feel unhappy.
We were fortunate to have a proactive Government in power during the GFC, one that injected stimulus into the economy in three well-timed tranches – cash, short-term construction, and longer-term infrastructure projects, now almost phased out. It was well-planned Keynesian pump priming that saved our economic bacon, lauded internationally as ‘the best targeted in the world’.
The result was that retail sales were sustained, and then, via the HIP, a million ceilings were insulated, with savings to the occupants in energy costs, and reduced greenhouse emissions. Next, there was the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution comprising 10 475 projects in 7920 schools for new libraries, multipurpose halls, classrooms and the refurbishment of existing facilities; almost a billion dollars for 537 schools to refurbish or construct new science laboratories or language learning centres; and just over a billion dollars for 12 639 projects in 9462 schools for the refurbishment of buildings and construction or upgrade of fixed shade structures, covered outdoor learning areas, sporting grounds and facilities and green upgrades. And in the process countless jobs were saved, unemployment controlled, and thousands of businesses kept alive in the regions as well as in our cities. Yet, the people were still not satisfied.
We also had a Reserve Bank that collaborated with Government during the GFC by providing monetary support with lower interest rates, down to a cash rate of 3%. These rates are now nearer ‘normal’ levels, and have been static for almost a year at 4.75%, with the promise of even lower rates should the economy decline. Yet, there are still those who bemoan the modest interest rates we enjoy, which they say are imposing an intolerable mortgage burden upon them.
The Government is investing $36 billion in the National Broadband Network that will give most Australians the fastest and best broadband in the world. Yet there is not much exaltation, except among the experts. We seem not to realize how lucky we are to have a government with the foresight to plan for a facility that will bring untold benefits to health, education, business, and agriculture, benefits that will place our nation at the forefront of telecommunications around the world. The cost savings in health care alone are estimated to be greater than the cost of construction of the network. But what joy rises from the masses at this exciting infrastructure advance, the greatest in our nation’s history? Precious little.
There are many other important reforms in train. Since the Henry Tax Review, thirty-two separate tax reforms are underway. One is the introduction of a price on carbon to precede an emissions trading scheme that will place Australia in the forefront in the emerging carbon trading market which almost every economist, almost every informed expert in the economics of climate change, believes is not just necessary, but inevitable. At the same time the Government is fostering the development of a green economy that presages what is now termed the ‘green industrial revolution’ that will sweep away old polluting industries. But the fact that our Government is leading us down this path is not just unappreciated; it is seen as a negative. The public opposes it strongly.
Another vital tax reform is the MMRT, the so-called minerals tax, which will enable enhanced superannuation, simpler personal tax returns, and a reduction in company tax. But are companies rejoicing? No, many are actively fighting against having such a tax. The public is largely against it.
In the health field a major reform to funding has been initiated, local control of health services enabled, mental health funding boosted, and a national disability insurance scheme begun.
The Government is tackling head on addiction to tobacco and to pokies. Plain packaging of cigarettes is being legislated and legislation to bring in mandatory pre-commitment for high input poker machines is shortly to be introduced. Note that this is for pokie addiction, not gambling addiction, which is different.
Why, in the face of all this good news, in the face of a proactive Government that is preparing this nation for a productive and prosperous future, is the public so disenchanted? Ask Tony Abbott – ask the Coalition.
Overseas commentators look at this country with envy, and surprise. They see Australia almost as utopia, with a strong economy, very low debt – the lowest by far in the developed world – low inflation, low unemployment, ample superannuation for retirement, paid parental leave, burgeoning resources income, a solid tax and welfare system, a health system that other countries admire, and an environment and lifestyle that others covet. They are gobsmacked that with all this so many Australians complain and whinge about their situation. They wonder why we feel hardly done by, and why we are disillusioned and disappointed with government and what it is doing.
Many Australians have lost faith in our institutions of governance and in politicians. They look upon their elected representatives with disdain, and use pejorative language to describe them. They accuse them of self-interest and loss of contact with the community, and often regard them as incompetent. In surveys that assess trust, politicians rank near the bottom, along with journalists and car salesmen.
Why is this so? This piece argues that this state of affairs is largely due to the Coalition’s, and especially Tony Abbott’s relentless campaign of FUD+ML: fear, uncertainty, doubt, plus misinformation and lies, one he has waged unremittingly since his election as leader.
But at the outset let us acknowledge that the Government has brought upon itself some of the ignominy that has enveloped it. Its record, like every other government in history, is not perfect. It has made mistakes. It has changed tack, and indeed its leader. But any objective analysis of its performance would not, could not, rate this Government as the hopeless, incompetent, never-get-anything-right government that Tony Abbott paints it every day, insisting as he does that the Gillard Government is the most incompetent in Australian political history, ‘a bad government getting worse’, something he asserts repeatedly despite it having passed almost 200 pieces of legislation in its first year, with no failures.
Let me document the Coalition’s and Abbott’s FUD+ML campaign. They know, as do conservatives in other places that ‘doubt is their product’. An article on the blogsite The American Prospect
revealed how science is being challenged by those who seek to pervert it for commercial or political gain. The catchphrases they espouse: ‘doubt is our product’, ‘manufacturing uncertainty’, ‘establishing a controversy’ are put into action by ‘buying’ scientific opinion that creates doubt, uncertainty and controversy from those willing to prostitute their professional standards for money. This is nowhere more overt than in the climate change debate.
Using the same strategy, Abbott has deliberately and maliciously sown the seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt through misinformation and lies with great success in pursuit of his campaign of denigration of PM Gillard and her Government.
Take the GFC. The Government was brilliantly successful in negotiating this country through the most severe financial downturn since the Great Depression over seventy years ago. The repercussions are still affecting the global economy. But what did we hear from the Coalition? Debt and deficit! Far from applauding the Government’s actions, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Barnaby Joyce insisted that the stimulus was too big and went on for too long. Remember Turnbull’s ‘debt truck’ with ‘Labor’s debt bombshell’ and ‘$315 billion’ painted on the side, which was launched in Perth and paraded around other cities. The nation was rescued from recession, but all the public heard about from the Opposition was debt and deficit and how many millions per day were being paid to service the debt. Success was reduced to failure, and the people believed the latter – debt and deficit remains embedded in the electorate’s mind as a legacy of having elected a Labor Government, which as everyone knows is ‘addicted to spending and running up massive public debt’. Ask the Coalition. Misinformation and downright lies won the day.
Consumer and business confidence waned in the wake of the GFC. No doubt many realized that they had overcommitted themselves financially, especially those who had bought their MacMansions while interest rates were low, foolishly believing they would stay low instead of returning to usual levels. People saved more and spent less, and retail sales suffered. Gerry Harvey bemoaned the fall in sales although he was one of those who had encouraged reckless spending through his irresistible ‘buy now, pay years later’ offers. The Government copped the blame, yet a myriad of other factors were the cause. Abbott, Hockey, Joyce and Andrew Robb were out there, and still are, talking down the economy time and again, eroding confidence, making people fearful and scared out of their minds. Misinformation is winning.
Even when Wayne Swan was awarded ‘Finance Minister of the Year’, or as the media portrayed it, ‘World’s Best Treasurer’, from Euromoney
magazine for his work during the GFC, Joe Hockey demeaned it in a most unbecoming and xenophobic way, diminishing Swan’s efforts with spiteful rhetoric. What did the public think? Who knows? But Hockey was determined to negate Swan’s award.
Look at the HIP. How often do we hear about the benefits of insulating a million ceilings, and the employment and boost to business that engendered? Seldom ever! All we still hear about is ‘pink batts’, a phrase that still evokes cynical smiles from those who hear it, and the ceiling fires and the four tragic deaths of installers, which the Opposition tried at every opportunity to level at the Government and Minister Garrett. The government was guilty of maladministration of this massive program, but not the tragedies, yet that is what sticks in people’s minds, thanks to Opposition misinformation and lies. The MSM, and particularly The Australian
, was culpable for collaborating with the Coalition in this deception.
Take the BER. The Australian
took up the cudgels from the outset, running a continuous campaign of denigration, highlighting every complaint, no matter how valid it was, no matter how trivial, headlining every rort or fraud among contractors, always contending that the program was unnecessary and wasteful; indeed the slogan ‘waste and mismanagement’ was coined during the BER and used repeatedly by the Opposition and the MSM. The enormous positive benefits of this massive program of upgrading our schools was hardly mentioned until three Orgill Reports showed 97% satisfaction and documented the vast extent of the improvements. Yet even then The Australian
played down the success of the scheme and trumpeted only the downside, which was never ever more than minimal. Negativity triumphed; the good works were hidden.
Interest rates have been the focus for the Opposition throughout the Labor Government’s existence. How many times have you heard Joe Hockey bellow, and I use that word advisedly, that the Government is ‘putting upward pressure on interest rates’, which he insists is the result of excess Government spending and the inflation he asserts it creates. He was unworried about the fact that there had been ten successive rises in interest rates in the latter years of the Howard Government, and that interest rates under this Labor Government have been consistently lower than under the Coalition, have been static at a modest level for eleven months, and may actually fall before the end of this year. So what is all this disparaging talk about interest rates putting intolerable pressure on homeowners that Hockey propagates over and again? Again, misinformation and lies! Expect him to still insist that ‘interest rates will always be lower under the Coalition’, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary.
Is it any wonder that the public still rates the Coalition as better managers of the economy in opinion polls when all the rhetoric from the Coalition and much of the MSM denies the splendid track record of the Government, disseminates only negativity and misinformation, and repeatedly makes the prediction that ‘this Government will never bring in a surplus budget’?
Reflect on the NBN. Remember Tony Abbott’s instruction to Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’? Turnbull then represented it as a massive ‘white elephant’, and ‘a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money’. He insisted that the Coalition could give Australians all they need in telecommunications at a fraction of the cost. Since then, we have seen a parade of misinformation, mainly from Turnbull, because Abbott is not a ‘tech head’, which has become more comical and ridiculous month after month. Yet the fact that Turnbull’s ideas have been steadily demolished by the experts is not what has been embedded in people’s minds – it is the ‘wasteful white elephant’ that they remember. Perhaps we can be reassured that the Coalition’s negativity and misinformation has had less impact in the NBN debate, as many people can see, better than the Opposition does, its enormous benefits.
It is with the ‘carbon tax’ though that Tony Abbott has most effectively used his FUD+ML strategy. He has scared people out their minds with his talk that we’ll all be ‘rooned’ by this ‘toxic tax’ pushing up the cost of living precipitously and perpetually, massively increasing electricity prices, wiping out whole industries – steel manufacturing and coal mining – creating crippling unemployment and ghost towns, disadvantaging local industries and ‘sending jobs offshore’ and all ‘for no environmental gain’. He has so grossly misrepresented the situation that nearly three out of four are against the tax in opinion polls. Barnaby Joyce has given him loudmouthed support and the MSM has been complicit in allowing Abbott’s misinformation and lies and his campaign of creating fear, uncertainty and doubt to fester in the community.
Almost no emphasis has been given to the compensation to be given to households. The ‘carbon tax’ has been portrayed as the reason electricity prices are going up, although it won’t begin until July of next year, while the real reason, the long overdue upgrading of electrical infrastructure, has scarcely been mentioned. The reason the price of petrol is rising is that this is governed by the market price for Singapore’s benchmark – Tapis Crude. It is not due to the Government or its proposed tax on pollution. But one would not know that from reading the papers. As David Horton poignantly points out on his Watermelon Blog in a piece You may say I’m a dreamer
, if the MSM were to have given honest and accurate publicity to the ‘carbon tax’ and many other Government initiatives, how different public perceptions might have been. Do read it.
Abbott the scaremonger has used fear, uncertainty and doubt to undermine the Government’s price on carbon and its ETS initiative, one so essential for Australia’s future economically, and the globe environmentally. His malignant approach not only counters the Government’s plans, it places in jeopardy our country’s future and particularly that of future generations of Australians, all to gain a self-serving yet temporary political advantage. And it is not as if he has a plausible alternative plan to counter climate change. The Coalition’s plan pays the polluters, does not compensate households, is impractical, and has virtually no support from climate scientists and economists. It is a ‘Clayton’s’ plan for those who really do not believe in the reality of global warming.
Abbott’s intimidation that he will rescind the tax in Government has popular appeal because the public is not aware of the incredible difficulty of turning off the plan after it has begun, one incidentally that business and industry wants finalized to give them the certainty they need.
The MMRT is in a similar category. While reasonable people, and even the three biggest miners, believe that a tax on minerals dug up by miners ought to benefit the Australian public that owns them, there is still heavy opposition to the tax among voters. This is entirely attributable to Abbott’s relentless campaign of denigration of the tax and his guarantee he will rescind it, aided and abetted by minerals industry bodies with their public campaigning and the MSM’s endorsement of it. It’s a crazy story more suitable for fictional literature, saturated as it is with fear, uncertainty, doubt, and intimidation, than a reflection of present day reality.
Look at the Government’s health initiatives. State Coalition governments resisted the reform of health funding until they were persuaded by its merit to comply. Remember the boost to mental health funding the Government announced in its last Budget? Remember Abbott’s response – ‘we shamed them into it’. Even a positive initiative with which the Coalition was in accord, brought forth a disparaging response, which no doubt many in the public swallowed unthinkingly.
Similarly, only last week when the Tax Forum and the Future Jobs Forum were is progress, initiatives welcomed by the business community and the unions, Abbott, who declined an invitation to participate, condemned such events as a ‘pointless talkfest’, and Hockey insisted that the several hundred participants, the brightest and the best in their fields, had been ‘conned’ by the Government into participation in a ‘gabfest’. What an insult, but I suppose Hockey would see that as a small price to pay for the further denigration of the Gillard Government, which after all was the intent of his and Abbott’s remarks.
I could go on and on, talking about Abbott’s unhelpful and often biting comments about plain packaging of cigarettes and mandatory pre-commitment pokies legislation, but what I have documented so far ought to suffice to make the case that Abbott has used a continuous malicious and at times venomous strategy of FUD+ML with grievous effects for the Government.
And he could not have achieved what he has without the complicity of the much of the media. Abbott has set about systematically poisoning the mind of the electorate, yet no matter how damaging to the public psyche this has been, much of the MSM, and particularly News Limited, has not passed judgment on his destructive and reprehensible behaviour, but instead has justified his actions, applauded his success, and lauded his climb in the polls. Even senior journalists such as Paul Kelly have joined in the ovation.
At a personal level, Abbott has denigrated Julia Gillard in a most despicable way. His labeling of her as a liar, reinforced by his acolyte shock jock Alan Jones with his ‘Ju-liar’ tag, has so permeated the psyche of the community that at a primary school PM Gillard visited recently, even a small schoolboy parroted the ‘Julia Gillard is a liar’ mantra, no doubt reflecting his parents’ views. Abbott repeatedly bawls her out for ‘breaking promises’, sarcastically uses ‘this Prime Minister’ to refer to her as if she was a leper, and attacks her personally in Question Time with a level of vehemence and anger that is unbecoming of a national leader. He regularly accuses her of backstabbing Kevin Rudd or ‘assassinating’ him.
We know that these very personal attacks have imprinted in the public’s mind an adverse opinion of Julia Gillard the politician, yet on a personal level she is seen as charming, personable, and courageous in the face of a mountain of opposition, adverse publicity and poor opinion polls. She is seen as getting on with the job of governing despite all the brickbats and rude questions directed at her every day. Sadly, it is the unfavorable view of her that predominates in opinion polls. Abbott and his sycophants have triumphed.
On last week’s Insight on SBS, a group of largely younger people expressed their disappointment and disillusionment with the Government, and indeed the Opposition too. Clearly, although they were obviously intelligent, many had swallowed hook, line and sinker the Coalition’s rhetoric faithfully echoed by much, if not all of the MSM.
So effective has been the negative rhetoric from Abbott and his Coalition colleagues, and from the media, that these young people seemed confused and uncertain what to think. Some even said they couldn’t see the difference between Government policies and those of the Opposition, prompting Bob Carr to point out that there could scarcely be more contrast between their policies about the carbon tax and the minerals tax, and to that could be added the NBN and financial management. I can’t for the life of me understand how bright young people could see the policies of the two parties as the same, when the contrasts are so stark.
I believe that this quandary can be attributed to the brainwashing that has arisen largely from the media, with commentary that diminishes the Government and politicians in general – ‘they’re all the same aren’t they?’ It’s what Lindsay Tanner calls the dumbing down of democracy in his book: Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy
. The media has been instrumental in reducing politicians and political discourse to a heap of rubbish to be despised and thrown into the shoddy dustbin of indistinctness. And the ‘what does she stand for’ lament is part of the confusion that has been perpetuated over and again by the media.
These young people repeated what we have heard ad nauseam
: that the Government can’t get its message across. While we all recognize that the Government has contributed to this situation, it is inescapable that the media must take major responsibility for it. It has seldom given proper prominence to Government good news stories – after all, it’s bad news stories that the people want. It’s bad news that sells. It’s mess-ups and scandal that their audiences crave. What I am arguing here is that the state of mind of the electorate is largely a product of the relentless FUD+ML campaign that Tony Abbott has waged from the moment he became leader, as predicted in my first piece about him: The pugilistic politician, written ten days after his election as leader, and amplified by a compliant media, of which a major sector, News Limited, is actively campaigning for ‘regime change’ in the Federal Government.
Abbott has effectively eroded confidence in the state of the economy, the capacity of the Government to get anything right, the propriety of almost every Government measure to buttress our economy and prepare it for the next half-century, and the Prime Minister herself. Knowing the validity of the Goebbels dictum: ‘Tell a lie often enough and people will believe it’, Abbott has pursued a campaign of lies and misinformation, and has generated an exceptional degree of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the electorate, and anger in their hearts, as reflected in the opinion polls.
Disgraceful though it is, corrosive of confidence in Government and how it is managing the nation that it is, it has achieved Abbott’s purpose of creating fear to the extent that much of the electorate is scared out of its mind, angry, and ready to throw out a Government that has done and is doing so much to improve our nation. He has maliciously damaged the psyche of nation. That his actions are destructive to our country is of no consequence to him, so long as they advance his quest for ultimate power.
What do you think?