Side-stepping convention, tiptoeing around the climate elephant in the room, Joe Hockey shrugs off precedent and other reasonable expectations to promote his narrow, political and partisan Intergenerational Report, a propaganda piece which is less an honest estimate of future trends than a final, desperate dose of shock therapy to the LNP’s own black dog of despair, its own budget mess.
The report is a dog’s breakfast of lies, half-truths and half-baked statistics all rehashed in a neoliberal ideology blender. Sloppy Joe Hockey wants his IGR to begin a national conversation about our future, yet surely even Hockey cannot expect any real dialogue when he and his government are unwilling to act in good faith. The report needs to speak the truth. It fails the test of credibility.
Some of its lies could just be sloppiness: early in the piece’s executive summary, current Australian life expectancies for men and women ‘are 91.5 and 93.6 today.’ Yet the ABS figure is ten years lower than that. There is a bit of a push on from the Abbott government to abandon the frippery of census taking and other hard empirical data gathering but until that happens, the ABS figure has the ring of truth. The error rings alarm bells. This IGR is light on for accuracy.
Similarly, the IGR plays fast and loose with the truth about projected government income, population growth and even boosts its own performance figures by factoring phantom income such as its abandoned GP co-payment and other measures which have been blocked by the senate.
Its pretence at prognostication, to one side as a bit of window dressing, this IGR sets its sights on the here and now. The report is a big gun in a campaign to strike terror into our heats and stampede us into accepting austerity budgeting. But it is deluded if it thinks it has kept its powder dry and that its scare tactics have not lost their shock value. Can it not see it has cried wolf too often?
Forecasting is a risky business at the best of times and never more so than with the imperfect science of economics. None of the previous IGRs have come within a bull’s roar of getting their budget estimates right. You need clear aims, rigorous methodology and quality data. As Richard Denniss notes the garbage in, garbage out principle of computation applies to this IGR in spades.
Even if you just want to scare people, you need credibility. Joe Hockey fails to meet any of these requirements and instead must fall back on blind neoliberal faith and ignorance if not stupidity. Stupidity is repeating the same mistake and expecting different results. Change the record, Joe.
Fools enjoy a natural immunity from self-awareness and the Great Helmsman Abbott is happy to sail into the wind taking his bearings from false soundings. Anything but change course to accommodate science and reason. Undeterred by the prospect of his leadership’s imminent ship-wreck, the fool-hardy Hockey fudges numbers to fake impending economic disaster. We are all doomed: only he and his government’s fiscal austerity medicine can save us.
The Abbott government’s IGR paints an incredible future scenario in which everything governments do remains the same for forty years. Governments continue to lower income tax rates each year while deficits rise, an unimaginable if not absurd prospect. What the states’ economic lives contribute to the changing picture is never contemplated. Nor is the reality of the cost of changes in our weather. Joe is making his own arbitrary decisions for his own reasons: his own captain’s call.
Climate change doesn’t matter a damn and Labor never gets back into power or brings back a carbon tax. True intergenerational theft is the province of the climate change denier whose influence is at work in this one-eyed squint at the future.
Technology never evolves nor could it ever make work more possible, more profitable. There is no thought given to the potential of a healthy renewable energy industry nor the boom it could bring not just to lower power costs but also to exports.
The inter-relationship of new technology with a brighter future may be illustrated with Tony Windsor’s comment:
“If the package of technologies enabled by high-speed broadband can keep 5% of elderly people in their homes for just one extra year, Australia could save $60 billion over ten years on aged care facilities ($4 billion a year in bed operating costs and $20 billion in capital costs). These savings alone would more than pay for the NBN.”
The scenario shows how small changes can make a huge difference, and highlights fruitful future areas of investment if we are truly concerned to address the costs of our aging society. Rather than concern itself with solutions, however, the report takes a different tack. The IGR scapegoats an ageing population for raising health costs. Pressure on the system, in fact, comes from the wealthy wanting to be healthy. They then purchase ever more expensive government health services.
The elephant in the room of climate change is invisible to this government. The biggest threat we face in 2055 will be a budget deficit, according to the report’s authors who appear trapped by a tunnel vision and happy to ignore the facts and all previous warnings. Or is it that they suppose that Greg Hunt’s direct action has climate change safely under control?
It seems more like avoidance: turn your back on it and it will go away, an unbecoming if not downright dangerous attitude in any would-be forecaster. Either way it’s an act of wilful negligence that further undermines its flawed economic forecasting. Or has the lesson of the IGR become only that we can safely ignore the last one?
The last IGR warned us ‘the largest and most significant challenge to Australia’s environment. If climate change is not addressed, the consequences for the economy, water availability and Australia’s unique environment will be severe”.
Australians deserve better than to be played for fools over their future.
Hockey has transformed the Intergenerational Report from its use of data to model future scenarios to prompt informed debate beginnings as it began in 2002 into something which is not about the future at all. It’s all about Joe. And Labor is to blame.
Everything the Abbott government ever set out to do was right on track and all that needs to be done is for those Labor bastards to drop their opposition, that mongrel senate to fall into line and the budget will be passed at last and we’ll be back in surplus tomorrow and forever after. The report has the graphs to prove it. It’s only because of Labor that things aren’t perfect already. Cuts must be made to balance the budget. Nothing else matters.
Hockey’s report will go in the waste bin along with its Commission of Audit and other failed attempts to soften us up for more cuts to government expenditure. Expect to be blitzed, nevertheless with an advertising campaign telling us we are living beyond our means.
No expense has been spared. Funding of advocacy groups is threatened; emergency accommodation for women seeking refuge from domestic violence has been slashed yet Joe can blow $380 million on an ad campaign to frighten us into submission.
Hockey’s IGR is propaganda masquerading as prediction. If Hockey is serious about ‘having a conversation’ with Australians about our future then he needs to put up some honest data. He’s missed the boat with this report. But has he ever been remotely interested in any conversation which doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear?
The Treasurer is so desperate to claw back lost opportunities that he will even politicise an IGR if he has to. Even if it means, as is highly likely, he kills it off. Hockey has abandoned all pretence at a forecast based on best available information as a responsible public service or even duty. Instead he has concocted a fiction to serve his party’s narrow political ends in the hope it might rescue his political career. It is unlikely to make his political future any less uncertain.
What is certain is that whatever shape is taken by our budget and the economy forty years hence it will bear no remote resemblance to any scenario presented in this so-called ‘report.’ Certain also is that the Australian people will see through this tissue of lies and see through the ensuing campaign assault on their common-sense and intelligence as a desperate government abandons any remaining good faith and turns to fear-mongering about the future to save its own self interest because it can make no larger plan.