I first heard about Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff Peter Credlin’s admission that the carbon tax was not in fact a carbon tax, and the whole thing was a vote winning game from Buzzfeed’s Mark Di Stefano.
He was “shook.”
I was fucking furious. Not furious that the Liberals had conjured up, and deliberately executed, one of the most brutal, damaging political lies in history. We already knew that. Furious that there was not a skerrick of shame or humility for having deliberately, brazenly and destructively lied to the faces of millions of Australians at the same time was tearing down our best chance of combating dangerous global warming.
In case you missed it, on February 15th Peta Credlin said:
“Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”
They lied, and they have no shame. Not even enough humility to pretend to feel ashamed.
Less than ten days later, Tony Abbott announced his five point plan to wrench back the leadership from the insipid Malcolm Turnbull and he let the Australian people know that he would do it the same way he did it last time. With lies.
He proposed, “why not say to the people of Australia: we’ll cut the RET [renewable energy target] to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock?”
Perhaps not as a barefaced a lie as the carbon tax, but none the less, each of Abbott’s five points has been calculated to deceive the Australian people. Let’s take them one by one.
- “Why not say to the people of Australia: we’ll cut the RET to help with your power bills”
Because it’s a lie and call me old fashioned, but our political representatives aren’t meant to just outright lie to our faces.
And it’s a hefty lie. It’s a terrible, reckless lie that not only attempts to undermine the overwhelming popular support for clean energy (e.g. 93% of Victorians) by playing on people’s fears about the cost of living; but threatens to lock Australia into dangerous, outdated technology as the rest of the world just surges on past our giant, oddly flat, and – thanks to people like Tony Abbott – increasingly backwards island.
The Renewable Energy Target has driven investment in clean energy which has in turn driven electricity prices down. That’s right, the exact opposite of what your wannabe Prime Minister has said.
I don’t know if irony is the right word, but it’s a pretty damning indictment on just how little regard our politicians have for the truth that Liberal politicians are wailing about crippling energy prices in South Australia at the same time as power prices rise less in South Australia than the rest of the country.
While the government was under Tony Abbott’s steady hand, the government commissioned its own research into the impact of the renewable energy target on power prices. The government’s own research showed that people would be better off with the Renewable Energy Target than without.
More recently, the Climate Council found that the booming solar industry was producing cheaper power than coal. And even more remarkably still, in the ACT, consumers of renewable energy are being paid by solar farms during periods of high energy generation like heatwaves. Now, that’s not directly thanks to a RET, though the ACT does have one, but rather a consequence of our nation’s leftwing capital’s feed-in-tariff scheme which guarantees a fixed price for the electricity produced. Part of the deal is that if the market price for electricity is above the guaranteed price, then the consumer gets paid the difference!
Exciting. Cheap. If the Liberals weren’t obsessed with coal and keeping their Big Mining mates happy they would be lapping this market-based solution up.
- “Why not say to the people of Australia; we’ll cut immigration to make housing more affordable?”
… you guessed it! Because it’s a lie. More than just a lie, it’s literally a sentence comprised of two entirely unrelated things. Tony Abbott could have said that we’ll give every Australian a free lemon meringue tart (my personal fave and my birthday is this Tuesday if anyone was wondering) to tackle dangerous global warming. Those two things are not related. You can’t just put a ‘to’ in the middle of two unrelated things and pretend that it means something.
Immigration has no causal link with house prices. If you want to draw that long, long bow then you could argue (as senior economist Shane Garrett did right here) that the more people we have moving into our cities, the more economies of scale let us build and provide services more cheaply.
However, what Tony Abbott was getting at – and I suspect what Dick Smith was pointing at when he came out in support of this idea a few days later – is the “migrants are taking our homes” version of “the migrants are taking our jerbs.” And this, friends, is where it gets truly sinister.
Tony Abbott correctly diagnoses the problem: young people in particular are getting screwed over. We will never buy a house. We sink our cash into shitty rentals and eat smashed avo for breakfast. Tony Abbott is right. We have a housing affordability problem. It is rough, and people have a right to be upset and angry that they are struggling to put a roof over their heads while others are getting tax breaks on their twelve investment properties.
But the problem isn’t immigration. The problem is that the government Tony Abbott wishes to lead has consistently refused to reconsider the capital gains discount or to reform negative gearing. The problem is his government’s refusal to invest in affordable housing to bring down the price of houses in our grossly unaffordable housing market.
- Why not just say we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission to stop official bullying?
I don’t know if anybody believes that the Human Rights Commission is ‘officially bullying’ anyone. Well, no one except for Cory Bernardi, George Christianson, David Leyonhjelm and perhaps a handful of students at QUT.
The Human Rights Commission is the official defender of the bullied. It calls out the bullying of the powerful against the weak. It is ludicrous to imply that the HRC is engaged in anything other than trying to stand up for the rights of people whose rights get routinely squashed.
This is a nod to the frothy-mouthed conservatives who are growing twitchy on the backbench. Unless I have completely lost touch with the mums and dads of Australia, I don’t think anyone is losing sleep over the role of the Human Rights Commission.
This lie is about keeping the men quiet who are afraid that their inalienable right to say what they want, when they want, with no repercussions will be taken away. It feeds off the Trump-like attitude that any curtailment of power is a nuisance at best, and a punishable offense at worse.
No one, not even Tony Abbott, really believes that standing up for employees who are discriminated against by their bosses because of their gender, disability, ethnicity or any other number of things is bullying. Nor do they believe that investigating the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment on university campuses is ‘official bullying.’
What these people believe, and what we saw play out so grotesquely in Senate Estimates, is that the people (including us, the public), the institutions and our statutory bodies who call out their abuse of power, are an inconvenience that needs to be stamped out.
- Why not just say we’ll stop all new spending to end ripping off our grandkids?
This one is a doozy because it’s kind of like someone saying 2 + 2 is 5 and no matter how much you insist that isn’t true they just say that it is. Spending can be good, spending can be bad, but spending does not have to rip off anyone. For example, for every dollar spent on education in Australia $21 is returned to the economy. That is $20 of profit, if you will, for the grandkids Abbott is so worried about.
Just as the ‘carbon tax’ bogey man became a key, repeated, relentless part of Abbott’s attack on the Labor Party (and deception of the Australian people), so too has the narrative that the Labor Party are reckless spenders. It does not bother Abbott, nor his party, that the economic situation appears to have declined under his tenure.
This is a lie whose purpose is to build on the popular myth that the Liberals’ are responsible economic managers, and is built on the lie that it is government over-spending which is leading to the pressures faced by ‘everyday Australians.’
Certainly some spending is better than others, just as some savings are better than others. And most certainly there are vigorous, deep-set ideological disagreements about what constitutes good and bad spending.
For example, it is blatantly obvious that Tony Abbott has no intention of stopping all new spending. That would cripple the nation, but it would also piss off the people he cares most about. If he truly wanted to spend less, he could have sutured up the gaping wound in the economy that’s bleeding more than $10 billion to massive fossil fuel companies. Or, I wonder how he feels about current PM Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to subsidise ultra-supercritical (USC) coal-fired generators with taxpayer dollars – not only ripping off our grandkids but also setting their planet on fire.
- Why not just say we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock?
This one isn’t necessarily a lie (surprise!), but the idea of the Senate forming an indestructible barrier to the government executing its agenda is definitely shrouded in lies. It is born from the same dangerous entitlement to get their way that underpins No. 3 of Abbott’s five point plan.
The short answer here is that Tony Abbott likes getting his way. The Senate makes that difficult, so Abbott wants to remove the safe guards that stop governments ramming through dangerous legislation. His proposal, as explained by Kevin Bonham, is to “allow for a deadlock between the Houses to be broken by a joint sitting of both Houses without the need for a prior double-dissolution election.”
(As an aside, Abbott’s consistent attacks on the Senate when he doesn’t get his way remind me of Trump’s twitter temper tantrum when the courts had the audacity to refuse to reinstate his muslim travel ban. Dangerous thing to think that when you have power, you should be free to do whatever you want with it.)
Australia has a bicameral parliament largely because we are a Federation of states; and at the time of Federation it was considered important that the will of the majority not simply overrun the will of the smaller states and territories. The Senate is also understood as a ‘House of Review.’ It is typically considered more civilised than the House of Representatives (though yelling, jeering, sexist and homophobic slurs are still belted around) and broadly understood by Australians to be a check and balance on the government-controlled House of Representatives.
Both Labor and Liberal Prime Ministers have complained about the Senate’s ability to stymie their will. Howard called it obstructionist, Keating called it ‘unprecedented swill’ and Abbott most recently dubbed it ‘the house of rejection.’ These men, it seems, share the view that once in power they should be able to do whatever they want.
Australians, however, don’t.
Research carried out by the Australian Electorate Study and Australian Social Attitudes show that in the last decade Australians have preferred a non-Government controlled Senate. Similarly, research carried out by The Australia Institute before the most recent Federal Election found that 52% of Australians “considered it normal for the government to have to seek support of crossbench Senators to pass legislation, and to risk having it being voted down.”
Hardly the “gridlocked” crisis Tony Abbott is making it out to be.
Five big lies. That’s how Tony Abbott wants to reclaim power and I would not be surprised if the Coalition don’t try and put Abbott back in his box and then carry out his five step approach.
As we on the left grapple with the election of an erratic, science-hating, narcissistic misogynist in the US who believes he has a monopoly on the truth; we must also grapple with our response to similarly shifting standards in Australian politics.