There are definitely times when you wonder if light-fingered alien doctors have been handing out mass lobotomies while we sleep. Or there really is something in the water. Or the Brits were right and there’s a dash of ovine DNA in the cocktail shake. Wondering whether we were always just this fucking dumb, or we’re somehow getting dumber.
Like times when a mass of Australians latch onto a head-pulsingly inane slogan and start riding it like the seductive sheep of yore. Little has exemplified our current slump into mouth-breathing idiocy better than the recent ‘Juliar’ gag. “Ho!” disgruntled letter-writers say to celebrate their annual flicker of brain activity. “We took a word, and then we… changed it a bit… and it means another thing! That’s commentary.” Political observation in this country is like watching a guy slumped on a couch trying to eat pre-chewed food out of his chest hair.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not remotely a Gillard fan, nor a Labor one. I mean, I have no wish to see Gillard run over in a rainy street, but nor would I go out of my way to brake that hard. She leads a party that has largely ditched articulated values for populist flexibility, and most of that flex has been in one direction. Regardless of who wins elections from here, conservatives win on policy.
Before the carbon tax forced her to take on the public, Gillard’s key feature was the personality amputation presumably performed ceremonially by the Governor-General at the swearing-in. Her predecessor had had the same procedure; and watching a clearly rejuvenated K-Rudd regain his all-round smart-bastard sharpness since he got the boot has been both satisfying and intensely frustrating. If he’d been himself while in office we wouldn’t be in this mess.
But she must have some principles (and a minority government to maintain) because she is or has been at war with four big corporate lobbies, plus Abbott’s ‘Oppose Anything, Anytime’ government in exile.
“Morning, Mr Abbott, would you like a biscuit?”
“NO! No, goddamn it, no biscuits! That pink stuff in the Monte Carlos is SOCIALISM.”
These lobby campaigns are against the carbon tax, pokies regulations, mining taxes, and plain cigarette packaging. Carbon has taken centre stage, and the main attack against Gillard has been that of dishonesty .
Gillard said she wouldn’t bring in a carbon tax, then she did, we keep being reminded. Well, yeah, a temporary tax, on the way to an ETS that she did say she would bring in. Of course, hearing ex-Howard Libs complaining about pre-election tax dishonesty is like Al Jolson telling you your fake Irish accent is racially insensitive. But the really galling part is politicians and industry berks getting sanctimonious about the value of one’s word, when each of their oppositional campaigns is predicated on flat-out and cynical dishonesty.
They’re not just bullshit, they’re transparently bullshit. “We’ll all be rooned” is the core around which other particles cohere. Any one of these reforms is going to slash jobs, destroy communities, ruin the economy, and – you see this cute little puppy? Yeah? Probably going to cut off one of his legs while he’s still alive. IN FRONT OF YOUR KIDS.
The reaction is no surprise: we know that people always squeal long and loud when their vested interests are under threat. What’s astonishing is how other people are treating these objections like credible points of debate. Bullshit arguments are only a problem when people start to swallow them.
The weekend before last, rugby league thing-doer Phil Gould got into the Sydney Morning Herald’s Sunday paper to put on a swallowing display worthy of the World Bukkake Championships. Pokie restrictions, he said, “will undoubtedly lead to the closing of many clubs, the loss of thousands of jobs in the club industry… and the loss of funding for community programs and junior sports.”
We’ll all be roooooooned.
But there’s a fundamental falsity to these Clubs Australia sponsor announcements. Even if club earnings do drop, there is no net loss to the economy. The money is not trucked to Cape Canaveral and fired into space. It still exists, and it will still be spent. It’ll just be spent on something else: not lost but redistributed. Clubs have the chance to try and have that money spent with them, by offering products and services that don’t have negative side effects.
Of course those who find it redistributed away from their personal reach will shriek, but society as a whole will not be any worse off. To the contrary. Money which was previously embezzled might instead be spent as originally intended, strengthening local business and employment. Savings that were burned away might be spent on groceries, schoolbooks, mortgage repayments, contributing to a stronger and more stable community.
And the casual punters who might not drop 50 bucks in the pokies anymore might drop it on a round of good Scotch for their mates instead. They might drop it on some oysters. They might get themselves a lap dance, or a couple of Hoyts Gold Class tickets, or a hilarious novelty windscreen sticker. (“2 Low 4 Fat Hoes”, said a ripper I saw recently on a lowered station wagon in Geelong. That guy gets wicked gash.) They might end up with a few extra grand and buy themselves a jetski. Maybe the jetski dealership supports the local junior sports club instead. Money doesn’t vanish.
The mining industry last year took the same tack. You want to tax us more than before? No-one will want to mine. Business will run overseas. Jobs jobs something jobs. We’ll all be rooned!
If we look at the record, BHP made a yearly profit of US$13 billion to June 2010. They then almost matched that in the next six months alone, eventually expanding their June 2011 profit to nearly $22 billion. Think about it for a second. That’s profit, in one year. It was far and away a record for any Australian company.
Let’s just break down this phrase. ‘Record profit’ means: more money than you have ever made before. Previously, while not earning that much money, you were able to support a certain number of employees. But now, making more money than you were previously making, should you lose some of that extra money to tax, you will not be able to sustain the same levels of employment that you were already sustaining with less money.
You don’t need a very advanced level of maths to see that this is complete bunk.
Let’s say it was 2005, and BHP had just posted their 2004/05 profit of $6.4 billion. Imagine you said to them, “In 2011, I’ll give you $19 billion.” Do you think they would have taken it? They’d have needed a fresh pair of pants, and you could only have got them out of the country by prising their teeth from your belt buckle. In 2011, though, if you say “You can make $22 billion, but you’ll pay… say… $3 billion of that in tax,” they then say “Tax? We only keep $19 billion? We’ll all beeeee rooooooned….”
And Tony Abbott says that you are hounding business offshore because they just can’t turn a dime under this regime, you heartless bloody socialist. And no, I don’t want a fucking biscuit. Kingston? All those Jamaicans do is hang around and smoke drugs, Marjorie!
Net result: people will always sulk about what they’ve got if they think that maybe they could have had something better. But a billion dollars is still a billion dollars, regardless of what-ifs in either direction. A business that is even turning a profit, any profit, is doing well, and should be thankful in the scheme of things. A business turning profits in the billions of dollars should just shut the hell up and eat its ice-cream.
Like the pokie campaign, a lot of the mining tax resistance involved them carrying on about supporting local communities. That is an incidental result of making shit-tins of money near those communities, and needing their help to do it. Let’s make one thing very clear. BHP does not give a flying fuck about Australia. Nor does Rio Tinto, nor Hancock Prospecting, aside from naming bits of it after Gina’s relatives. The Chinese government’s mineral acquisitions people do not give one either. No-one does. They are only interested in Australia for as long as Australia has a potential use for them. You will not see any BHP community projects being announced once the ore dries up. You won’t see any gestures of Chinese friendship when we can’t fuel their industry. Once we’re out of shit, we’re going to get dumped like an Ex-Lax curry.
Like the pokies with Clubs Australia, the tobacco industry set up the Australian Retailer’s Association as a safe-sounding body to hide behind in their advertising against plain packaging. Their arguments follow a curious ellipsoid of illogicality: namely that if sales go down then poor small retailers will of course be rooned, but also that that plain packaging won’t in the slightest curb the rate of consumption, therefore it’s a waste of government time and money doing it.
While the sense of having a bet each way is clear, the approach raises several other questions. Since when was the tobacco industry so goddamn altruistic as to directly fund expensive TV campaigns to advise against general public policy errors? “This pink batt project has been poorly conceived and implemented…” is not an ARA one I recall. If the laws are a waste of time that won’t affect smoking, why bother campaigning against them? And, if tobacco companies are in fact campaigning against them, is that not a very good indicator that the laws are going to do exactly what their authors suggested they would?
The last thing to roooooon us is the carbon tax. Abbott has been flying that flag for weeks and months, on how Aussie battler family worker digger battler families will be nailed to highway signs and beaten with reeds to generate enough heat to power the Lodge for one day, while Julia and her wilfully husky dry uterus clutch twin glasses of champagne and laugh.
Ultimately the ten dollars a week and compensation figures rather took the gust out of Tabbott’s pennant, but he’s still going to wear out his jaw tendon grinding out the message of how hard-working Aussie self-made battlers on a quarter of a million a year will be screwed out of the cost of at least one Henry Buck’s shirt while Wayne Swan siphons their children’s tears to be given to the Greens as part of their True Power Behind the Throne deal so they can lubricate their Satanic Gay Marriage parties where they all wear garters and veils and do the sodomy all over each other. Fucking biscuit munchers.
Aside from the roooonation of the rising cost of liarving enforced by the Liarbor Party of Liars from Parliarment house, all these poor coal power plant workers and such will be rooned by the roonously expensive new cost of doing fossil fuel business, and by dirty power supplies shutting down. Jobs jobs jobs.
But just like money that no longer goes to the pokies, this sector of need in the economy does not evaporate. Shutting down fossil fuels must be offset by a huge expansion in clean energy. Expanding sectors are the best place to work and to have your skills well rewarded. And you would imagine that those already in the energy industry would be best placed to take advantage of that industry shift. As the USA found during WWII, when you need to build a whole lot of shit you don’t have in a very short time, it has a massive flow-on economic benefit.
Additionally, a lot of those opportunities will be in the reverently-mumbled ruralandregionalaustralia, whose wide open spaces lend themselves to things like wind towers, solar farms, tidal harvesting, and hydroengineering.
So why the disaster warnings? Changes may mean you have to stop doing things a certain way. It doesn’t mean you won’t find new and better alternatives. Because shifting is what industries do. To paraphrase a commenter who put it well: “Conductors, guards, milkmen, dustmen, stable-hands, sail-makers, blacksmiths, riveters, SEC linesmen, deckhands, all lost their jobs when technology rendered them redundant. If you are not educating your children for a world where a working boiler exists only in a museum then you are the fool.”
Regardless of the pollution issue, we’re still dealing with finite resources. Shit’s going to run out someday, and someone’s going to need to make the transition. There’s no reason why this generation shouldn’t be the ones to put their hands up.
The tax is a positive move. Australia can patently afford it, and patently needs to start making CO2 pollution less simple and desirable for industry. No, a tax alone is not going to save the world, but examples need to be set. Australia’s carbon lobby is already hiding behind the argument that we shouldn’t bother if everyone else isn’t doing it. Like, there’s no point me personally not driving home wasted tonight, because even if I do kill a couple of people, it’s hardly going to touch the road toll, man. I mean, overall. It’s a couple of percent at most. Look how many people China are going to kill this year! Let’s look at the bigger picture. No, I don’t want a biscuit. I’m driving.
And of course, ‘no-one else is doing it’ isn’t true. Germany is the world’s renewable energy leader, on track for 50 percent renewable by 2020, and 100 percent by 2050. Their sunlight, coastline, and land mass compared to ours should make that fact pretty damn embarrassing. In Britain, even the conservative government has set a reduction target of 50 percent by 2025. When enough modern, developed, respected countries set the trend, it becomes much easier to get others to follow, especially when trade and diplomatic relationships with those developed economies may start to come under threat.
It’s bewildering, then, that the arguments of all four of these lobbies – pokies, mining, tobacco, and polluters – have been accepted as reasonable by media outlets, and therefore by an awful lot of people. Clearly, they are the arguments of those with the greatest vested interest in nothing changing. Consider the structural elements of the argument: “You [voters] can’t let your representatives do this thing that will cost us [the company] lots of money, because it will somehow have dire and catastrophic effects for all of youuuuuu.”
Shouldn’t this make you suspicious? Shouldn’t you think, when was the last time a large company did something to help your future when it wasn’t in that company’s best interests? When did large companies give a shit about “the Australian people”, or any other people, except as a source of custom? Not that they’re all the plotting evil monoliths of Mike Moore’s imagination, but they have no reason to care about you, unless doing so somehow benefits them.
And when someone has a clear conflict of interest in a case, surely their arguments for one side or the other have to be viewed with a great deal of skepticism?
The government does not have a vested interest in making tobacco or gambling companies less profitable. The government makes sweet revenue off that profit. But the government does have a vested interested in lowering smoking rates, and illnesses, and health costs, because the government represents the people. It has a vested interest in reducing problem gambling and social harm, because it represents the people.
The government does not have a vested interest in ruining the mining sector, because that sector supports the economy that keeps the government out of trouble. The government does have a vested interest in trying to get a decent slice of the revenue made by selling assets belonging to the people the government represents.
The government, then, has some sort of agenda other than its own enrichment. The companies do not. Their entire existence is predicated upon profit. Their arguments to protect that profit are easily collapsible. You can’t Glad Wrap a dog shit and call it a crème brulee.
But in the PC gentility of the age in which we live, media sources in general have mistaken impartiality for timidity. Being impartial doesn’t mean sitting quietly while everyone has a say. It means interrogating any point that looks like it may need it, regardless of where it comes from. But interrogation is precisely what we’re not getting. We’re getting ‘balance’, defined as fifty-fifty airtime between the nine scientists who back climate change and the one mathematician who doesn’t.
I don’t like living in a country of the gullible and the dense. I don’t like watching cynics like the Clubs Australia fatheads playing public sentiment like a catgut violin. I don’t like tracing anxiously back through the family history for wool graziers, restlessly trying to sleep at night by counting myself. We can do better than this, and we deserve better than the dodgy lines being repeated by these interchangeable self-absolvers. So let’s get better. Let’s shoot down the flimsy self-justifications. Let’s ask the really tricky, squirmy questions as many times as it takes to get an answer. Because if we can start calling them out on this sort of shit, I will personally fetch everyone a fucking Monte Carlo.