The federal budget came out the other day, and I’m not here to write about it because it was predictable and disappointing. As usual, all about tax cuts as if they’re the panacea for all ills, and directed to the top end, as usual. No kick-along for renewable energy and nothing about climate change, no social housing, the arts were either forgotten altogether or had budgets cut, and bugger all for the less advantaged – unless you’re under 35 and unemployed, in which case your benefits come at the expense over the over 35 dudes.
It’s predictably mean spirited and politically charged. It’s more about re-election and looking after their mates than it is helping those who need it (outside the tax cuts, which are spurious anyway, advantage high-income earners, and will inevitably come at the cost of reduced services). Above all, it shows an abject lack of imagination.
This is what I really want to talk about. If there’s ever a time to get creative, then it’s now. We’re in the middle of a historic moment. This pandemic is something none of us will forget and which will be written about as a turning point – for good or ill is up to us. This is a moment in time when we must act, and with so much money being splashed around, it’s one of the rare instances when bold and innovative thinking might be rewarded.
The problem is that the conservative side of politics isn’t geared that way – certainly not in the 21st century. I could argue very persuasively that hard ideology and pragmatic politics holds them back, but I think the reason goes deeper than that. I actually think the modern conservative mind is fearful of the chaos of creativity and incapable of grasping its transformative power. And, it makes sense in a way.
When I was growing up and asked what the difference was between Liberal and Labor, one of the first things I was told is that Liberals are for gradual change whereas Labor sought swift and bold change. Right from that moment, I was drawn towards the left because it was sympathetic to my temperament and was in accord with my own desire to make a difference.
I’m not making a judgement in saying that. Many people are more comfortable with gentler reform. And not everything calls for a drastic overhaul – gradual change is actually sensible in most instances. What I am saying though is that a government leading the way must be able to shift gears when the situation calls for it. It’s like a footy coach who must shift game plans according to the players he’s got and the state of the game. Being stuck in dogma isn’t going to help you in times of volatility, which is what we have now, which is when we must act – and should do with boldness.
How I’d have loved to have been the Federal treasure putting this budget together! Here was the chance to make a real and long-lasting difference. Here was the fork in the road – one way led to more of the same (which we already know doesn’t work), the other way invited imagination and painting a picture of how Australia might be. Here was one of the few bona fide opportunities to do some nation-building. (and what a great phrase that is – what do you do? I’m a nation builder. Swell!).
It didn’t happen. It’s a missed opportunity, but more relevant now is the fact that I don’t think the budget will do the trick it’s intended for. You see, a lot of the nation-building stuff would super-charge the economy because it requires us to spend money and transform the way we do things. It’s like setting off a chain reaction. Instead, the government are spending money – or at least, growing the deficit – but it’s on the back of relatively modest infrastructure projects, and reducing revenue by cutting taxes (and hoping taxpayers will spend the extra money in their pockets).
One last thing. At a time like this, something that might have caught the imagination of the public and given them something to believe in, and even hope for, is just what the doctor ordered. We got none of that.
I said it then, I’ll say it again now: the LNP winning the election last year was a national tragedy.