August 26, 2014
Contrary to the rhetoric from the Abbott Government Australia doesn't have an imminent debt crisis or a budget emergency. Australia has a long-term structural budget problem caused by an ageing population, which the Coalition is not seriously addressing.
An ageing population means the government needs to spend more (on pensions and health care) it will also receive lower income tax. If the government does nothing it will experience a rise in the structural budget deficit.
The Coalition is more concerned with using the rhetoric of national security and terrorist threats in Australia to put in place the steps to establish authoritarian rule. One of these steps is the way the proposed national security legislation that ASIO is demanding that journalists could be jailed for revealing intelligence operations. Journalists could face penalties even if they did not explicitly know what they were reporting on was linked to a special intelligence operation.
There are three tranches of counter terrorism legislation being proposed by the Coalition. The first allows ASIO to surveil more computers and whole networks, and cracks down on whistleblowing; the second tranche relates to the prosecution of foreign fighters returning from war zones; and the third concerns a mandatory data retention regime for consumer metadata.
The money to fund counter terrorism will be easily found. The cancer of budget repair miraculously disappears when it comes to the spooks. This suggests that the budget is really a vehicle to start imposing a free market economic model on Australia.
An example of this top-down imposition is the deregulation of universities. In the market-based model a student-consumer can simply buy an education. If things go wrong or the student ends up lacking the promised knowledge and skills, it is the seller’s fault in that the product is deficient. And they will be since the higher education institutions are driven to maximise resources rather than ensure the integrity of the educational services they offer.
It was never foreshadowed prior to, or during, the election campaign. Both Abbott and Pyne ruled them out, as they promised a period of relative policy stability in which changes already made (eg., the move to demand-driven courses) can be digested and adjusted to. The Coalition is trying to bludgeon its neo-liberal reforms through the Senate.
It is supported by the Group of Eight as these neo-liberal reforms will strengthen the Group of Eight at the expense of Australia’s Higher Education sector as a whole. So for the Group of Eight it’s fewer students, more research and higher rankings in the prestigious international university rankings. Teaching students will be concentrated elsewhere, in the non Group of Eight universities, some of which over time will be pressured by competition in the deregulated market to become teaching only institutions.
A free market model for an ageing population is self-reliance. Older Australians are now working longer, possibly due to better health, but most likely because of a realisation that they simply need to keep earning to boost insufficient retirement savings. They realize that the Coalition will cut costs by by reducing the pension--that is what is meant by 'ending the age of entitlement.' However, increased work levels are still not producing a sufficient income for the majority of older Australians to lead comfortable lifestyles.