A spend and tax Prime Minister in search of another wish list

THE trouble with Kevin Rudd is that the more you see him, the less he does. Off to Afghanistan for a few hours to announce nothing at all, just a photo opportunity of no particular consequence. It seems the electorate may have to suffer this behaviour until September 21.

Unfortunately, Rudd has never had any idea what he was doing in office. I submit three case studies to prove the point.

1. Such was the vacuousness of his prime ministership Mk I that, soon after coming to power, he gathered a collective of cognoscenti, the 2020 conference, to advise him. From which came a long wish list. What’s the bet that he will announce such a gathering before the election, this one to be called A Productive Australia, or some such trashy title. Another wish list will ensue. Wish lists come from the electorate. Thinkers and governments are meant to sort the list, not extend it.

The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments have been classic wish list governments, of which there are two varieties. Spend and tax, and tax and spend. A tax and spend government is one where governments tax in order to spend, the assumption being that government knows better than the taxpayer how to spend their money. A spend and tax government is one that, in addition to government knows best, does not have the money to spend, so borrows against future taxation in order to keep spending; hence spend and tax. R-G-R started out as tax and spend, got hooked on it, and drifted into spend and tax. Judging from Rudd MkII he is still firmly in that mode.

2. Abating carbon dioxide emissions has been the most vexed issue for four Australian governments since John Howard’s last. Whether fixed or floating, the object of a carbon tax remains abatement. Unfortunately, almost no abatement, which would not have occurred by other means (introduction of energy-efficient technologies, the search for which is long term and never ending) or by other causes (slowing sectors of the economy) has occurred as a result of the price.

Indeed, as Andrew Bolt witheringly put to the Prime Minister on Sunday, not only will there be precious little abatement, there will be no change to atmospheric temperature as a result of Rudd’s scheme. Tony Abbott knows this, but he also knows that it is not yet time to reveal to the public that which they suspect, that abatement is a fool’s game.

Abbott’s direct action plan is a convenient option to bale out of abatement as soon as the electorate is ready to accept that forestalling the threats climate change poses to humans is not possible.

Once the Abbott government dismantles the paraphernalia of Labor’s abatement policies, expenditure will switch, as marine geologist Bob Carter predicted some years ago, to climate adaptation. This may or may not be money well spent but it is not money that is a certain waste, as is the carbon price. Such is the calculus of public policy.

3. The R-G-R governments created the flood of economic refugees when they dismantled the Howard government offshoring and temporary protection visa solutions. In neo-colonialist mode Rudd has sought to bribe PNG to further sub-contract this foul-up. This will end badly for Australia and PNG. PNG will be likely to behave badly because the worse it performs on managing the refugees, the more Australia will have to pay it. There is no incentive for PNG to look after people because this crisis is of Australia’s making and Australia will pay the tab. The Abbott resolve on the boatpeople is grounded in the Howard successes but also in the likely triumph of well-placed electoral cynicism of the economic refugee invasion over the misplaced humanitarianism of refugee advocates.

Refugee advocates refuse to answer the question: how many is enough? The key here is not only the weight of the argument but also the honesty.

The Coalition is less likely to waste money on spend and tax, and on environmental and humanitarian misadventures, but it has to argue its case, lest Rudd outrun it, and the nation is again landed with a government that has no idea what it is doing.