Thursday, 06 February 2014

Abbott and the Oogedy-Boogedys

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Abbott’s right wing agenda is not the problem, it’s prioritising feelings over facts that’s going to trip him (and us) up.

The Abbott government has been piling up missteps since the election. The latest messes with SPC Ardmona and the ABC proving yet again that they’re misreading public acceptance of an unthinking right-wing agenda and assuming that feelings will overcome facts in any debate.

This is, as I’ve written before, partly a leadership issue, but there’s another, perhaps related, underlying problem that won’t go away. It’s not that the ideology is right-wing, it’s Abbott et al’s fundamentalist adherence to the principles.

All isms are perfect in their theory, capitalism and conservatism no more or less than any other. It’s the implementation of the theories by less-than-perfect humans that always wrenches your monkey. So fundamentalist adherence to any ism, where no questioning, modification or grey areas are considered, where data and evidence must give way to blind devotion to a doctrine, is dangerous.

And this is exactly what Abbott is doing. All the oogedy-boogedys he fears are hiding under the beds of the left – unions, the ABC, action on climate change, publicly funded health and education – also have credible evidence that proves their worth. A measuring of this evidence would still allow a right-wing or conservative implementation of policy; refusing to acknowledge or consider the evidence is economically unsound, socially damaging and politically idiotic.

The decision not to provide assistance to SPC Ardmona had almost nothing to do with the merits of the assistance requested and everything to do with the Abbott government’s desire to reform IR laws. Abbott’s claims that the EBA conditions were excessive was clearly factually incorrect, but the facts don’t matter. We’re slouching towards Workchoices because unions are one of the bogeymen Abbott is determined to vanquish.

Unions are simply a means of redressing the power imbalance in negotiations between large corporations and individuals. There’s a sound argument to make that they should be limited in their approach to small business because that could shift the power imbalance too far in the other direction. However, credible evidence shows that a unionised workforce significantly reduces income inequality. Unions are, of course, as flawed in their implementation as any other structured organisation (hello Australian Wheat Board, yes I’m looking at you) and those flaws should never be ignored, but the unions themselves are not problematic - unless you have a vested interest in maintaining the power imbalance.

The Government’s submission to the Fair Work Commission is another indication that union representation of worker’s interests are clearly in their sights:

Ensuring modern awards are concise and provide only minimum terms and conditions of employment will encourage parties to bargain for enterprise agreements that suit the particular needs of their workplace – consistent with paragraph (b) of the modern awards objective and for small businesses to grow, prosper and employ – consistent with paragraph (h)

Nowhere in their rhetoric about business practices in Australia is corporate malfeasance or overblown white collar salaries addressed. In fact, acts like the reversal of Labor’s Future of Financial Advice reforms, which would reverse the opt-in and disclosure requirements for financial advisors fees, is clearly aimed at increasing corporate profits at the expense of the uninformed public.

The ABC, despite Abbott’s feelpinions about many people’s feelpinions that “the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's” is actually the most trusted media organisation in Australia. And, despite being under-funded, it makes efficient use of the funding it receives from the taxpayers.

The scientific consensus on climate change is almost absolute, but the conservative feelings on climate change are almost equally absolute, because, to quote Adam Corner in The New Scientist:

…climate policies such as the regulation of industrial emissions often seem to clash with conservative political views. And people work backwards from their values, filtering the facts according to their pre-existing beliefs

Another warning shot across the left-wing bows was aimed at the public health care system, with the threat of removing bulk billing. Again, the evidence shows that public health care is affordable, cheaper in the long run (early treatment of most diseases is far more cost effective than late treatment) and the absence of it causes untold social, economic and personal damage.

The Gonski Report, which took over 7,000 submissions, visited 39 schools, and consulted 71 education groups across Australia has been tossed out and replaced by Pyne’s vision of more “Independent” schools and a conservative curriculum designed by the likes of Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire. Again, data overwhelmingly confirms the economic and social benefits to the entire community of a high quality publicly funded education system. And again, feelings trump facts.

40 years of privatisation of health and education, demolishing unions and deregulating corporate activities in America have made a staggering alteration in the distribution of wealth. In 1973 the top 1% of the county took home 9% of the income, in 2012 they took 24%. The top 1% of America now owns 40% of the nation’s wealth, the bottom 80% owns only 7%. The land of the free has become an agrarian economy where the rich farm the poor for money.

Wealth inequality is not as stark in Australia, where the top 20% owns 60% of the wealth and the bottom 60% owns just under 20%. However, 75% of Australian household hold a net worth below the national average and the disparity is moving in favour of the wealthy.

A fundamentalist left wing agenda is obviously no more desirable than a fundamentalist right wing one, but some acceptance of facts, evidence and an intelligent rather than ideological path forward is surely going to give the most benefit to the country. The Abbott government is failing, not because it is a conservative government, but because it is an unthinking one. Most dangerous of all, Abbott doesn’t see this as a fault, he sees it as a virtue.

In his own words:

To a conservative, intuition is as important as reasoning, instinct as important as intellect. A way of life has far more demonstrative power to a conservative than a brilliant argument.

Tony Abbott, Battlelines

And if the evidence of polling data is at all to be relied on, the drop in voting intentions and approval ratings are a fair indication that voters are increasingly unhappy with the government they voted in.

Now all we need is a viable alternative at the next election.

Jane Gilmore

Jane Gilmore is the editor of The King's Tribune.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @JaneTribune