OPINION: Governments divide into leaners, lifters too

JOE Hockey wants to classify Australians as either lifters or leaners, but how should we classify his government?

A leaning government turns the boats back so that the Indonesians have to deal with refugees. A leaning government refuses to settle boat people in Australia and somehow expects Manus Island to cope with those found to be genuine refugees. A leaning government puts private contractors in charge of asylum detention centres so it is not directly accountable for their welfare.

The Minister for Immigration then leans on dozens of public relations flacks to protect him from criticism of – and adverse publicity for – the consequences of government policy. A leaning minister refuses to give the public the information it needs to judge that policy.

On the other hand, a lifting government would take its international obligations for asylum seekers seriously and ensure the fair treatment of all those seeking asylum in Australia.

A leaning government puts the burden of balancing the budget deficit on the most disadvantaged in society: the poor, the old, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed. A lifting government would tackle tax avoidance on the part of transnational corporations and wealthy citizens. It would reduce subsidies to the well-resourced mining industry. It would examine the fairness of superannuation tax benefits for the well-paid. 

However a leaning government prefers not to antagonise the influential and powerful when it can lean on the weak and vulnerable and use an army of spin doctors to persuade people that it is for their own good.

A leaning government raises quick money by selling off government assets that previous lifting governments built up over decades, even though this means forgoing dividends and losing money long term. A leaning government assumes that private ownership and competition will be more efficient, without examining the evidence of past privatisations. A leaning government hands responsibility for pricing of essential services to the private sector and blames the carbon tax if prices escalate.

A lifting government would tackle global warming head on with direct regulation that spells out the necessary reductions and time lines in each industry.  A leaning government hands over responsibility to the polluters and hopes financial incentives – whether a carbon price or subsidies – will motivate them to do the right thing. A lifting government would seek to lead rather than follow when it comes to greenhouse gas reductions. It would not wait till poorer, developing nations commit to reductions.

A lifting government would reduce coal exports rather than bludging off a polluting resource and building  more coal export infrastructure in the hope that the coal will keep on flowing.  A lifting government would seek more sustainable industries to support and subsidise, and ways to transition from coal to renewable energy within Australia. 

A lifting government regulates and builds the nation and protects the vulnerable. A government of leaners deregulates and allows the nation to collapse into the shambles of a free market.

Professor Sharon Beder, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong, herinst.org/sbeder