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The treasurer’s talk of dark days ahead has just a hint of grim fairy tales

The Chalmers offensive

Marian Arnold writes: Budgets should be viewed as some form of fairy story, with little bits that match reality but not reality itself (“Chalmers sees a grim world ahead — or at least wants us to”). Deficits are not the big bad wolf, and surpluses are not the glass slipper. Don’t chase them or believe in them, but let the treasurer think you believe the emperor has clothes.

Geoff Davies writes: Labor can choose not to create debt. It can just pay for stuff, with money provided by the Reserve Bank, and stimulate a struggling economy in the process. Turning Reserve Bank money into Treasury bonds is a holdover from another age — a subsidy of corporate bond-holders and a burden on the people. Inflation (due to government spending) will be a problem only if the economy approaches full steam, which it is far from at the moment.

The price increases being called inflation are better recognised as a real rise in the cost of doing business and the cost of living, due to supply issues. It is not a monetary phenomenon. Choking down credit through higher interest rates and holding down government spending only make things worse, especially for the battlers. The winners are the financial sector, whose “assets” retain their value while real goods and services become more expensive. Oh for a government and a commentariat that understood the monetary tool that’s there to use constructively.

There’s also the distinction between recurrent expenditures and investment. Investment and debt are good in business. They used to be good in government too (think Curtin’s Snowy, Menzies’ universities, etc). The anarchist neoliberals have fudged the distinction as part of their campaign against government.

Stinging zingers

David Childs writes: Re “Bin chickens, swine and truculent runts …”, You cannot go past the legendary PJK.

On Hewson:

On Howard:

  • He’s wound up like a thousand-day clock! One (more half)-turn and there’ll be springs and sprockets all over the building. Mr Speaker, give him a Valium.

On Costello:

  • Well, the thing about poor old Costello, he’s all tip and no iceberg.

Carolyn Hicks writes: Consulting the @auhansard_said archives, it looks like Patrick Gorman (member for Perth) has referred to bin chickens before, in relation to the City of Stirling’s resource recovery centre:

On August 31 2020: “It is almost as much fun as the zoo, it’s free and it’s good for the environment, and it’s a home to many bin chickens in the Perth electorate — it’s just over the boundary but the bin chickens don’t respect electoral boundaries, as many of us would know!”

On October 22 2020: “It’s a great hub of activity for bin chickens in the metropolitan area and it ensures that people can access recycling in a convenient way to them.”

Much more wholesome uses of the term and unlikely to leave any parliamentarians in tears.

Sick and sicker

Linda Pettersson writes: There’s another Medicare rort by specialists that hasn’t yet been reported and that’s the one where a specialist bills each consultation with the same patient as an initial consultation, which attracts a higher fee than a subsequent consultation (“Medicare is broken — but there is more to the story”).

To explain. I used to make an annual visit to an ophthalmologist in Sydney for the same eye condition. The ophthalmologist refused to accept an indefinite referral from the GP (a referral that lasts indefinitely, rather than the more usual one which lasts for just 12 months) and insisted on a new GP referral every year. That meant she could charge for an initial consultation each time I saw her, although she still had access to the patient records she had created for me during previous years. It’s no wonder ophthalmologists turn up as among the most highly paid of specialists.

Dr Simon Davis writes: I had been a bulk-billing GP in the same town for 40 years but recently had to close my practice as I could not sell it or give it away — no one wanted a bulk-billing general practice. The bulk-billing fees have essentially not changed since 2014 despite the price of everything else rising. I have since moved to a practice that charges even pensioners a co-payment via EFTPOS cards.

Let the punishment fit the crime

April Patterson writes: The proposed “exceptional circumstances” test for holding public hearings defeats the purpose of the Federal Integrity Commission Bill (“Harder than NSW, easier than Victoria: Labor walks tight path on federal ICAC public hearings”). I’d prefer to scrap it rather than implement it with this provision. Imposing a higher threshold for public hearings than exists in other jurisdictions contradicts the fundamental principle that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done, and also compromises public trust.

My reaction to including a protection clause for politicians is: here we go again, politicians serving themselves instead of the public. If they fear public hearings and feel a need to impose exceptional limits on what is made public, what are they hiding? Scrap the whole thing. I would rather none than a covert operation that leaves me wondering what is being censored.

Finally, I regard Labor’s willingness to compromise also compromises trust in the party. It lived up to the seemingly all-hallowed principle of delivering what it said it would and now it’s willing to water it down for the benefit of politicians.

Blowing in the wind

Malcolm Harrison writes: The rise of energy costs sweeping the world is being treated like some kind of natural event like an earthquake or a tsunami (“What exactly is Labor going to do about energy prices?”). In all the hullabaloo and anxiety, I have yet to see any analysis of why this is happening. Attempts to shift blame to Russia and Vladimir Putin are threadbare and unbelievable. It seems like a cash grab by the energy companies. All we are being told by governments is that they can do little about it. Energy costs in Europe are rising tenfold, and here in Australia we are being warned energy costs could double over the next couple of years — which is probably an understatement. But the reasons why this is happening are absent from the narrative.

East meets West

Cate Lewis writes: Just passing on the thought that with Rishi Sunak as a Hindu British PM and Sadiq Khan as a Muslim lord mayor of London, Mahatma Gandhi might be having a good chuckle in his grave (“Who is Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom’s first Hindu prime minister?”). The East India Company has reached its final conclusion of producing leaders so much in the British mould that they are actually running the show in Britain now!

Castles in the sky

Frank Ward writes: I find it hard to imagine how governments can change the housing industry unless they are prepared to take on the control of housing lots, the main reason for the increase in home prices (“Labor’s housing construction boom comes with big questions”). Research by economists from the Reserve Bank, Ross Kendall and Peter Tulip, maintain that land now represents 60% of the value of homes in most markets. They blame zoning as the reason for forcing opus prices. However, research by economist Cameron Murray shows that developers have ample land bank ready for subdivision but are held back from the market to force up prices. Murray found the major developers had land already rezoned and plans approved for some 200,000 lots but by staging developments pushed up prices.

Unless the government enters the development business it will be impossible to produce affordable housing as most developers will be the main beneficiaries of any stimulus the Albanese government gives, as they have done with the Morrison debacle. A report from UNSW says the only people who profited from the past few years were developers, vendors and real estate agents. Home buyers are now saddled with huge mortgages and rising interest rates.

Speaking of sport

Bill Wallace writes: I have no problems at all if players speak out about subjects of particular interest to them, especially if they are factual and at the same time accept that others may hold a different opinion (“Dirty sponsorship in sport: new report finds fossil-fuel money won’t be missed”). But it’s absolutely unacceptable when players start making demands of individuals associated with the sponsor to make statements supporting their cause. As for asking individuals associated with the sponsorship to make
statements repudiating what someone said or did in the past is completely absurd.

Barry Welch writes: If Lang Hancock had made his “sterilisation“ comment about Jews would anyone be wearing “Hancock” on sponsored shirts? Apparently, Indigenous Australians are another matter — or just don’t matter.

Mine and yours

Edward Down writes: Re “Australia must own our critical minerals, not just be a quarry for foreign investors”, absolutely yes! China has shown how best to do this. Sign contracts that require joint ownership, joint development and technology transfer if we can do it ourselves. And if we can do it ourselves, then harness the billions of dollars available for investment from the super funds via tax breaks and/or monetary incentives. 

If you’re feeling pleased, annoyed or inspired, write to Please include your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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