Yes Troppodillians, you know what I think about this. So you may want to skip it, but I thought it worth putting my oar in on the subject. It seems so sad, with all the elements in place to blow the idiocy of fiscal populism away – to the enduring advantage of the ALP Governments around the country, but the spin doctors are too blinkered to see it. But I’ll keep banging on. This is from yesterday’s Crikey.
Listening to Julia and Tony debating immigration and the anxieties of the outer suburbs my mind went back to one dawn during 217 BC. Hannibal lured his adversary into a long shallow valley along the shores of Lake Trasimenus after which his troops emerged from the fog and slaughtered an entire Roman army driving it into the lake.
The Coalition Party’s populism on public debt sets a similar trap for them. But so far, for years and years now, the ALP have been so busy optimising the next 24 hours, so timid and reactive to the Opposition’s spin about ‘Labor’s debt’ that they’ve missed the opportunity to emerge from the fog and dominate the next decade or so of politics.
While immigration can be a diversion, what the inhabitants of the outer suburbs really need and know they need – while they pay inflated tolls on stupidly privatised roads and wait in traffic jams – is old fashioned government infrastructure.
The ALP has tried half-heartedly to make itself the party of infrastructure. But without a chequebook it’s largely spin.
But the alternative – higher debt – would be electoral poison right? Not if you set up the debate properly. This is how the ALP could have already turned the situation around at both the state and federal level. There’s not time to do it before the Federal election but there’s plenty of time after, and there’s time before all the state elections we’re expecting. (Are you listening Kristina?)
They could commission some independent economic worthy – say Bernie Fraser or Ian Macfarlane – to publicly define a responsible lending policy. And they could establish an independent agency to publicly advise them on the responsibility of their fiscal policy and the cost effectiveness of their investments in infrastructure.
That could facilitate a large but economically responsible infrastructure spend around the country. Tens of billions of dollars. When the Opposition cried ‘increased debt’ the trap would be sprung. The government could point to their operating surpluses, the reports of the independent fiscal agency showing how responsible their debt levels were and how integral to higher economic growth. And over time they could point to the value of their investments (many of which would be privatisable and have market values well above their cost) and to the fact that their debt profiles were responsible.
But that would just be the beginning. Then they spend the next few elections pointing to all the infrastructure, including future projects and say to their opponents, “so you wouldn’t build that train line, that bridge, that overpass, that freeway?” and on and on.
Of course there would be some critical comments in the first 24 hours. But done right the Opposition would find itself fighting a losing battle – election after election.