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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

"aspirational nationalism"? « Previous | |Next »
August 22, 2007

So the 2006-07 budget surplus ended up $3.5 billion more than Treasury had estimated even in May confirms that the economy firing and that the Howard Government will have far more money to throw around than the budget foreshadowed. That means pork barrel: buying votes bigtime. As Tim Colebatch says in The Age:

The "aspirational nationalism" Howard outlined in his speech to a Liberal Party fund-raiser on Monday is a euphemism for Government plans to spend our money wherever it will buy votes, even if they are not areas of Federal Government responsibility. Your taxes at work to re-elect the Government.

I've read Howard's speech. It's mostly about his economic achievements and it uses the language of reform, which is then cashed out in terms of large budget surpluses and lowering the tax burden of working Australians. Lowering the tax burden is equated with tax reform.

True, reform does means more than budget surpluses of 1% of GDP in future years with surpluses locked away in a fund so that only the earnings would be available for investment in infrastructure. Presumably, any surpluses over the 1% is available for vote buying. Howard's reform narrative says that he is going to try harder:

Going the extra mile on economic reform today means maintaining strong budget surpluses, keeping downward pressure on interest rates, saving for the future, investing on the nation's infrastructure, ensuring our workplaces are flexible and competitive, and keeping the tax burden as low as possible on Australian workers, savers and risk takers.

Not very inspiring for a fifth term policy agenda is it? It's all about the economy.This reform is the key to locking in more growth, prosperity and opportunity. The new synthesis of aspiration and fairness is the 2004 election package. Has nothing changed?

What about sustainability, water shortages and climate change? How does that square with freedom of choice and reward for individual effort, within a secure community based on strong families? The holes are papered over.

In terms of electoral politics Howard is basically selling fiscal restraint as a cover for interfering where he likes in the realm of state governments, and then bypassing the states to work with local communities. This selectively taking over state responsibilities in an ad hoc, one off way undermines co-operative federalism and the CoAG process. It makes a mockery of that process. Aspirational nationalism implies that federalism has failed.

What we have is a power grab--centralising power---with the "aspirational nationalism" slogan functioning as an apology for Canberra cherry picking projects to retain its hold on power. The Howard Government is constantly berating the states for proposing to borrow $70 billion to fund infrastructure investment over the next five years. The justification for centralism is that the states are ineffective, incompetent and inefficient, even though the Commonwealth is intervening against the Queensland state government that is reforming local government to make it more efficient and to reduce unnecessary duplication.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:58 AM | | Comments (5)


I thought bribery and vote buying was illegal in Australia.

Richard Farmer writes about he Howard Government's gravey train:

What Mr Howard really means is that he wants to promise handouts to people in marginal electorates for things like libraries, town halls and sports stadiums that are conditional on his re-election. To do that will involve delaying the date for handing over the money by pretending that the goodies will be financed not from tax revenue but from interest to be received in the future on the surplus of taxation that his Government is presently collecting. This “promise now, pay later” scheme, touched on yesterday in Mr Howard's Address to the Millennium Forum , will be launched with appropriate pork barreling now that Treasurer Peter Costello has given his latest update on the increase in the budget surplus.

Farmer is keeping a list of the stations the gravey train stops at as i tmakes its way around the nation.

Not only is it not very inspiring, it's also not very intelligible.

What the hell is aspirational nationalism?

OK, so people paying attention can work out that it's about undermining the states and flooding the marginals with cash. But what does it mean to the much lauded ordinary Australian? The Australian Idol audience?

Latham taught us that aspirationals are people in the mortgage belt who want to climb the ladder of opportunity. I gather these wouldn't know the difference between nationalism and patriotism, so can we safely assume that these are patriotic mortgagees? Battlers?

Somehow I can't see the battlers proudly mowing their lawns on Sunday mornings thinking how good it feels to be an aspirational nationalist.

It's not going to make for a good t-shirt slogan and a bumper sticker that big is just silly. Although it's a good candidate for "say this three times really fast" games over a few beers.

Based on anecdotal evidence from 2 people, the idea that tax money should be socked away somewhere mysterious instead of spent on the people who paid it doesn't go down very well.

Lead balloon Mr Howard. Sure, whack the states, but don't make us pay for it.

aspirational nationalism =centralism. Howard argues his care this way:

So much of the debate about Commonwealth-state relations concerns the respective roles of the two levels of government, as if an appropriate balance between the two were an end in itself.To me, that misses the point. We should be neither centralists nor slavish adherents to states rights. We should be focused on outcomes, not systems.

Everybody nods. He's made contact with how we think. Who doesn't want better outomes? That's more important than who delivers the services. Howard talks sense. He sounds wise.

Then we have this bit of reflection from Howard:

We should be aspirational nationalists, and applying this spirit to the governance of the Federation will be my third goal of a next term. We should want and aspire to achieve the best possible outcomes for Australians wherever they might live and by whatever method of governance will best deliver those outcomes.Sometimes that will involve leaving things entirely to the states. Sometimes it will involve cooperative federalism. On other occasions, it will require the Commonwealth bypassing the states altogether and dealing directly with local communities.

I know that doesn't get at the nationalism localism bit --ie we live in a nation and in local communities. By talking about this stuff Howard is saying that he is rising above the market (no brutal neo-liberal is he) to the values of loyality and solidarity that both underpin patriotism and national pride and provide the bonds or texture of our everyday live.

It's classic Edmund Burke ---markets (aspirational) and tradition (nation) ---expressed in a rhetorical way.

Hey, wait up. This is just a rebadging of the nasty mix of fetishism, individuation, reification and commodification that is at the root of twentieth century alienation:
obscuration of self understanding, victimhood/ entitlement, foreign policy crusaderism and environmental vandalism.
Trust Howard, the cretin, to express the thing in the terms he employs- no wonder he is Lennon's ally!