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

a thinking conservative? « Previous | |Next »
April 22, 2010

Arthur Sinodinos, when he was Howard's chief of staff, had a reputation for being tops in the political smarts. He was super sharp, was three steps ahead of everyone, and could put his finger on the essence of things without being taken in by the mystifying appearances.

Given this background I read his commentary on political events in The Australian as he one of the few thinking Conservatives in Australia. I keep waiting for the eagle-eyed insights into the nature of things. I find it hard to them. Maybe they elude me, trapped as I am in the confusing appearances of politics?

So I decided to read his Captain Rudd still hasn't set course for reform in today's Australian closely. A close read and all that. Sinodinos starts by saying that:

This year was meant to be a triumphant rollout of good news before a mighty election win. Instead, it is scraping off more barnacles from the good ship Rudd.The government has not even been able to nail Spartacus. He was cornered in the great health debate but jumped on his bike and escaped to regional Australia. His good reception there is consistent with the published national polls.The boatpeople issue has set off alarm bells in middle Australia and is diluting the government's health message.The recent decision on indefinite detention has only heightened voters' concerns.The same applies to the government's announcement of a $14 million independent review of Building the Education Revolution to pre-empt the Auditor-General's forthcoming report.

Okay. I'll give him that. But that's more or less in line with conventional wisdom. But it doesn't justify the headline that Captain Rudd still hasn't set course for reform.

The inference Sinodinos draws from these observations is that the Rudd Government is not in control of events:

Evidence-based policy-making has been replaced by poll-driven policy on the run. Are these the ingredients of a long-term successful government?Too many reviews, too many hostages to fortune too close to the election. The opposition can pick the eyes out of half-pregnant reform of health, the Henry tax review and the absence of a population policy.

If health reform is half pregnant, then the reform course has been set and the Rudd ship is chugging along.

Okay, it is possible that Sinodinos didn't write the title of his article, and that it was done by a subeditor at The Australian, who wraps Sinodino's words into a package so as to send a bullet into Rudd's political body. So let's look at what he actually says on tax in the context of the Henry tax review and the need to reduce the budget deficit:

Tax policies are as much statements of social vision as of economic policy.....A new onshore resource rent tax is still being canvassed, presumably because the money has to come from somewhere. This proposal is meant to capitalise on the commodities boom. It is based on the theory that resources generate super profits that are easier to tax than mobile capital or labour.Through the years the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has argued that the most effective and efficient taxes are property taxes, then consumption taxes and, finally, income taxes. The government is relying on commodities because the politics of more property taxes, including on the family home, are fraught. But when account is taken of the likelihood that higher taxes here relative to overseas will encourage more resource developments offshore, the economics of taxing resources are no longer so attractive.

The Rudd Government are wimps. What is So the mining companies are to be given an easy ride despite their super profits made from booming Chinese demand, whilst ordinary folk are subjected to an increase in the GST.

Is that good policy advice from a neo-liberal perspective or just advice for Spartacus? The judgement is that the Rudd Government are wimps when it comes to tax and prudent budgets. Sinodinos is offering advice to the Coaltion.

Recall Sinodinos' opening line--- "Tax policies are as much statements of social vision as of economic policy". The social vision is a neo-liberal one---investment is to be paid for by spending cuts (ie., austerity measures) coupled with structural reform. What sort of structural reform is envisioned? Sinodinos says that the opposition led by the wily Spartacus:

should set out its own structural reform agenda to strengthen competition and choice, raise productivity and reduce the costs of doing business. It should promise more cuts in taxes on saving and investment paid for by spending cuts. The entrenchment of a savings culture in the household sector is imperative. Structural reform and prudent budgets have served Australia well. So full steam ahead with reform and damn the nay-sayers.

What is important is capital accumulation and class power with resistance to be overridden in order to create a good business climate. The Coalition is to become the representative of its dominant class constituency.

Surely the Coalition needs a solid electoral base if it was to colonize power effectively, and a naked neo-liberal policy agenda would not go down well with Howard's battlers, who need to be wooed back into the conservative fold. How to do this? By appealing, in the words of David Harvey, in his A Brief History of Neoliberalism, to the:

cultural nationalism of the white working classes and their besieged sense of moral righteousness (besieged because this class lived under conditions of chronic economic insecurity and felt excluded from many of the benefits that were being distributed through affirmative action and other state programmes). This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and anti- feminism. The problem was not capitalism and the neoliberalization of culture, but the ‘liberals’ who had used excessive state power to provide for special groups (blacks, women, environ- mentalists, etc.).

Is the strategy one of diverting attention from capitalism and corporate power as in any way having anything to do with either the economic or the cultural problems that unbridled commercialism and individualism are creating.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:25 AM | | Comments (1)


I love sentences such as 'The entrenchment of a savings culture in the household sector is imperative.'

If I read it in an undergraduate assignment I would write in the margin 'How do you propose to bring this about? Writing that something is "essential" or "imperative" is empty rhetoric unless you set out a practical program to achieve it. Describing an outcome is no substitute for properly considered recommendations that named people should take specified concrete action according to a stipulated timeline.'

Sorry Arthur but you get a grade of F. Demanding that some ill-specified 'culture' be changed - by which is meant people's deep-seated values and beliefs - is the smokescreen of people who have nothing practical to suggest. Besides, isn't the government's role in a democracy to reflect the culture of those it represents, not to adopt an elitist agenda of telling people how they ought to think?