Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The new act in the Question Time pantomime: Federation and the GST

The new act in the Question Time pantomime: Federation and the GST


Pantomime villain (Image via keoghcartoons.com.au)

The Abbott Government has finally revealed what it has long denied: the Plan B to its savagely unfair Budget raising the GST.

As I predicted in what now looks like a remarkably prescient piece written within three days of the Abbott Government being elected, a rise in the GST
was always coming. Despite being a clear broken election promise and
still a vicious attack on the poor and underprivileged, it will
nevertheless be used by Abbott as political camouflage as he works
towards being re-elected in 2015.

In a way, having the Government change its tune ‒ even in such a
predictable way ‒ is rather a relief, especially if you are one of the
masochists inclined to suffer through Parliamentary Question Time.

That’s because every day Parliament has been in session since Treasurer Joe Hockey danced
to ‘Best Day of My Life’ in May, Question Time has been a pantomime. A
very bad pantomime — with the same script, choreography and cast of
cartoonish villains every performance.

Here is the plot.

Firstly, the Opposition will ask a question of the prime minister
about some aspect of its “unfair and inequitable budget”, to which Tony
Abbott will stand beneath his heroic combover, with an oily unctuous
look on his heavily polished face,
smack his lips together a few times and talk about how the Budget for
this or that is going up blah per cent this year, blah per cent next
year, blah per cent the year after that and then another blah per cent
in the year after that.

He will then sit down with a content look and lean over and talk to
Manager of Government Business Christopher Pyne while the next question
is being asked.

This question will be from some anonymous Liberal Party MP in the
cheap seats, who will haltingly read a Dorothy Dixer ‒ or should we
say a Peta Credliner ‒ directed at Joe Hockey on the subject of "fixing the budget".

Hockey will rise and, with an insincere smile half mooned over his
full moon head, lambast the Opposition and the previous Labor Government
for its incompetence, hypocrisy and reckless spending. Often, he will
regale his braying backbenchers with a personal anecdote — perhaps a
tale he concocted about some imaginary old age elderly pensioner whom he
says he met or wrote him a letter; or some reminiscence about his
family's small business; or some incident involving Bill Shorten in the
last term of Parliament. He will mock, he will point at the Opposition,
he will chuckle at his own jokes; he will, in short, ham it up like he
is playing Ali Baba in a Christmas panto at Drury Lane.

At around about this time, the grim, scowling, beehive hatted Speaker will eject the first of many Opposition MPs under “Standing Order 94A”, which these days will pass by with barely a murmur.

The Opposition will then direct another question to the prime
minister about the Budget, which he will answer after selecting the
second page from his folder of Credlin cheat sheets. Abbott’s answer
will consist of supporting Coalition policy by deriding some figure from
the Opposition over their alleged previous support for the same, or a
similar, policy position. For instance, should the question be about
universities, Abbott will read something allegedly written by Shadow
Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh
when he was an economics professor to suggest he supported university
fee deregulation. If the question happens to be about health, Tony will
read something apparently said by Nicola Roxon during the Hawke
Government a few decades or so ago. And so on.

Once he has completed this ritual, Abbott will John Wayne walk back
to his bench, a familiar smirk plastered all over his sand-blasted face —
the sneer he can’t resist revealing when he feels he has done something
especially clever and sneaky.

Later in the day, after Question Time has been completed, whoever
Abbott has so verballed will arise to correct the record with the
Speaker, claiming to have been “grievously misrepresented”. This,
however, will make absolutely no difference, because Abbott will
similarly traduce them or their colleagues in exactly the same way the
next day, and the next, and the one after that, and the one after that —
and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on.

And Question Time will also follow precisely the same pattern every
mind numbing, fist clenching, television screen endangering day.

The Opposition will ask its questions and Abbott and Hockey will
answer them in the exactly the same way ‒ virtually word for word ‒ each
and every time. Meanwhile, the most blatantly partisan speaker in
Australian political history will rule innocuous questions out of order,
make bizarre rulings to defend Government ministers and eject ALP MPs
for fictitious infractions.

In between this, the Government will task backbenchers apparently
possessing only a cursory understanding of the written English language
to read out embarrassingly banal and/or asinine questions to other
cabinet ministers in order of seniority.

Morrison will get his question on “border security” and “Operation
Sovereign Borders”, to which this fine Christian fellow will spit and
scowl his response to the “incompetent” Opposition like some mentally
deranged demon.

Then Christopher Pyne, with a mock serious expression overlaying his
habitually smug schoolboyish visage, will talk about how raising
university fees will somehow magically open up universities to poor

Lord Malcolm Turnbull will arise and, holding his right hand across his stomach like Napoleon on Elba addressing a few passing goats, wax grandiloquent about how copper wire is the shiny future of telecommunications.

Other ministers will then arise in the same order each day to give
their same stock speech — Julie Bishop with her clipped hostility;
metronomic Peter Dutton; bumbling Barnaby Joyce; fidgety, frightened Bruce Billson; tense, theatrical Sussan Ley. And others too uninteresting to mention.

Always the same. Always in the same order. The repitition of the same
vacuous spin and dissembling, day after day after dull, intelligence
insulting day.

It can only be designed to make people turn away from politics,
because it does nothing to inform or illuminate our "democracy". It is
enough to bring tears to a stone.

But now Credlin has, almost mercifully, added a new act.

Now, in response to questions about the Government’s obvious plans to
raise the GST, Tony Abbott has this week arisen to intone solemnly
about the need for a new debate about “reforming the Federation”.
Something this 56 year-old man child says should be done
“constructively”, in a “mature and measured fashion” and in a “spirit of

Yes, anyone who saw Abbott as Opposition Leader knows just how constructive, mature and bipartisan he can be.

It is a bad joke, naturally, but of course our mainstream media are accepting Abbott words credulously — some idiot at Crikey even praising Abbott for launching this debate.

The truth is, this has nothing to do with the “future of our
Federation” ‒ Abbott couldn’t give a rat's clacker about states’ powers,
except insofar as they limit his own ‒ but rather is a cynical ploy to
raise revenue and put pressure on the Opposition.

It is passing ironic that a PM who, as opposition leader, derided the then Government for a carbon tax, which he described as a “great big tax on everything”
‒ and which was anything but, given it only applied to big polluters ‒
to hike up an actual great big tax on everything that was implemented by
a government in which he was a cabinet minister.

To raise the GST, Abbott will first blame the Opposition for not
passing the Budget. He will then gain the rubber stamp approval of the
states – who will, of course, jump at any proposal to rescue their
uniformly parlous financial positions – and which he will hide behind,
claiming the decision was an act of inclusive “federalism”.

This proposal he will take this into the next election, claiming it is necessary to solve the debt that is ballooning under his profligate, war-hungry Government — but which he will, of course, all blame on the Opposition.

The tactics are fairly obvious.

And the electorate may well buy it at the next election, because a
2.5% rise may not seem to them so much — not when compared, say, against
losing their dole, or paying a GP tax, or losing their disability
support. And it will be accepted by Australia’s dull, complicit
mainstream media and policy commentariat as the “least of all evils” and not a broken election promise at all.

The pantomime goes on. The act changes slightly, but the chorus line stays the same.

And the public shuffle out of the theatre vaguely dissatisfied, but none the wiser.

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