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Australian right a dumping ground for failed US ideas

May 16th, 2014

It’s been obvious for quite a few years that the Australian rightwing commentariat takes most of its ideas from the US Republican party. A more recent development is that they seem to be importing ideas that have already failed in their home country. I mentioned Voter ID recently. My Twitter feed has also been full of factoids along the lines “48 per cent of Australians pay no net tax”, being pushed by Miranda Devine and others. Obviously these are derived from the “47 per cent” line made famous by Mitt Romney in 2012 [1]. We all know how that went for Romney, and of course we also know what’s wrong with the factoid. I’ll talk a bit more about the specifics over the fold, but it’s worth asking what’s going on here.

The most obvious point is that the Australian right hasn’t had any new ideas in 30 years or more. Everything in the recent Commission of Audit report (a more coherent version of the ideology reflected in a distorted fashion in Hockey’s Budget) could have been (and often was) taken from the 1996 version, and everything in the 1996 report could have been found in documents like Wolfgang Kasper’s Australia at the Crossroads published in 1980, and similar documents. Everything useful in this set of ideas was implemented decades ago: what remain are the items that are either permanently untouchable in political terms (eg road pricing) or unworkable for one reason or another (eg handing income tax back to the states).

So, it’s scarcely surprising that they need to import from abroad. But the US Republicans aren’t in any better state. Their big causes a decade ago were the culture war (primarily equal marriage which was seen as wedging the Democrats), climate denialism and the Global War on Terror, which was transmuted into the invasion of Iraq. Most of our current rightwing commentariat (Bolt, Blair, Devine etc) cut their teeth on this stuff, and have never really outgrown it.

The Repubs are now in a state of complete intellectual collapse, unable to produce a coherent position on anything, from immigration to health care to budget policy. They survive only on the basis of tribal hatred of Obama. Since that doesn’t sell well in Oz, the local right is forced to live on discredited failures like Voter ID and “47 48 per cent of the population are takers”.

It’s the combination of tired economic rationalism and imported tribalism that makes the Abbott-Hockey such a mess, and the efforts of its remaining defenders so laughable.

Turning to the specifics of the 48 per cent factoid, the problems are essentially the same as with Romney’s original 47 per cent.

First, the factoid considers only income tax, disregarding GST, payroll tax, excise tax and so on. So, it implicitly overstates the contribution of high-income groups who, by definition, pay more income tax.

Second, since revenue is equal to expenditure [2] in the long term, Australians receive from government, on average, the same as they contribute, whether the benefits take the form of cash transfers or publicly provided services. Assuming that total tax payments are proportional to income, and that everyone gets about the same benefit (both of these are pretty good approximations), people receiving more than the arithmetic mean income will mostly be net contributors, and those below will mostly be net recipients. And, since the distribution of income is skewed to the right, the mean is greater than the median, which means that, when everything is taken into account, most people will be net beneficiaries from the tax-expenditure system. The minority of net contributors (that is, high income earners) are of course precisely the people who benefit most from the social order as a whole.

Finally, it’s worth observing that this line totally contradicts both past Liberal policy (which has encouraged taxation concessions for families) and rhetoric about “middle-class welfare”, which implies precisely that things like Family Tax Benefit should be confined to those in the lower quantiles of the income distribution.

fn1. It was actually developed a bit earlier, in response to the Occupy movement’s focus on the 1 per cent, by the appalling Erick Erickson of Redstate)
fn2. Please, no quibbles on this point. I promise a long post on concepts of budget balance when I get a round tuit.

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  1. kevin1
    May 16th, 2014 at 13:39 | #1

    Another virulent imported idea is religion in public schools (was this begun or ust fostered under Labor?) and therefore in public life.

    Something I saw elsewhere (which I haven’t checked) is there is more money in this budget for school chaplains than the principle scientific research organisations of the nation (CSIRO, BOM).

  2. bjb
    May 16th, 2014 at 13:43 | #2

    Re the 30 years. Keating nailed it in 1994 Acme Fightback – around the 1min mark. Very entertaining.

  3. kevin1
    May 16th, 2014 at 14:08 | #3

    I should re-phrase my muddle: the importation being religion resurrected into Australian public life, through what are effectively religious programs in public schools. Despite the declining adherence to organised religion, our parallel system is pretty unique in the western world and we continue to favour an expansion of religious schools. Schizoid.

  4. Collin Street
    May 16th, 2014 at 14:17 | #4

    Why would you expect new ideas from a conservative group?

  5. John Quiggin
    May 16th, 2014 at 14:36 | #5

    @Collin Street

    They aren’t conservative, they are rightwing radicals.

  6. Doug
    May 16th, 2014 at 14:54 | #6

    The structure of provision of federal funding for non-government schools goes back to the 1960’s – nothing particularly new there. The other issue is that conditional interpretation in Australia following the DOGS case is very different from the US. We have ended up with a form of pragmatic pluralism in federal funding.

    We do not give enough credit to Australian distinctiveness when we uncritically attempt to import or blame US ideology for developments in Australia.

  7. Pete Moran
    May 16th, 2014 at 14:59 | #7

    The current LNP’s anti-environmentalism is straight from Canada’s PM Stephen Harper on devolution to states, weaking water protectin, rejecting carbon pricing, funding fossil fuel. The list is endless and actually from an in-power Govt’s actions.

  8. Debbieanne
    May 16th, 2014 at 15:04 | #8

    I have noticed articles in the paper and online that talk about how the minimum wage an penalty rates will need to be changed, especially before Easter. Trial balloon, maybe?

  9. Newtownian
    May 16th, 2014 at 15:09 | #9

    But the question this raises John is what is the basis for Labor’s policies.

    Certainly they are more humane and probably coherent than the coalition. But what is their basis? Ditto the Greens? Illustrative examples:

    – In the case of Labor they seem to be wedded to a conventional growth economy but don’t see the relationship to greenhouse gas emissions and our dependency on encouraging burn baby burn in support of our lifestyles. Or at least they don’t openly acknowledge any building problems.

    As interestingly if memory serves me correctly Hawke/Keating were proud of having dumped some of the old socialist policies like nationalising the means of production (correct me if I’m wrong). But what did they replace this philosophy with? I have yet to hear or see a coherent policy grounded in neo-social democratic theory or indeed what the latter involves and how it differs from neoliberalism in reality. Maybe its there but its not very evident.

    Another instance is that like the coalition they seem wedded by in large to free trade but do not seem have developed any strategy for dealing with the ‘Dutch Disease’ – mineral exports for the time being are crippling/killing our local industrial base and economic diversity and reducing us to a service economy.

    – In the case of the Greens two examples – they want better/fairer economics but I struggled a few months back to find a policy that was more than a grab bag of motherhood statements.

    Closer to my heart is the matter of population. The Greens seem to believe we are using too many resources but don’t seem to grasp that population is a part of this problem – which is nicely captured in Paul Ehrlich’s I=PAT metaphor – which poses many thorny questions about how we can ever have a just world future. In part I understand the desire to not give oxygen to neonazi isolationists. But the issue wont go away.

    In conclusion I feel its not just the coalition that suffers from a philosophical/ideas/vision deficit. Though I do agree their parroting is especially daft and an indictment on many in the media even on the ‘left’ who don’t seem to take them to task for blather such as ‘Entitlement’ which seems to me just a synonym for property rights which they so love.

  10. Mr T
    May 16th, 2014 at 15:30 | #10

    I don’t know where Miranda got here numbers from, but I presume it includes my 14 year old son who won’t get off his behind and earn a taxable wage. I presume it also includes my 90 year old mum who is in a nursing home.

    I presume it also includes ‘stay at home” parents

    If in the unlikely event the proportion is of people of working age, I think it more shows that the rich have systematically worked they system to increase the gap between the rich and poor, rather than showing that poor are bludgeing off the rich.

  11. kevin1
    May 16th, 2014 at 15:56 | #11


    The structure of provision of federal funding for non-government schools goes back to the 1960?s – nothing particularly new there.

    The structure/rules have changed since the 1960s: Karmel’s Schools Commission, Kemp’s SES funding in 2001, new COAG arrangements in 2009, Gonski last year.

    On funding, the Parliamentary Library’s “Australian Government funding for schools explained: 2013 update” at Table 4 shows Australian Government funding for government schools as a proportion of GDP being steady at 0.29%, but 0.44% to 0.59% for non-government schools from 1999 to present. The expansion of muslim and evangelical christian schools is self-evident.

    Much documentation exists from the Fairness In Religion In Schools group,amongst others, about child evangelism in the schools chaplain program, and shown most recently on ABCTV’s 7:30 Report May 9.

  12. rog
    May 16th, 2014 at 16:18 | #12

    It all falls apart when you look at something like medical copayments, which are in part designed to target those who view doctor visits as some kind of occupation. Price as a market mechanism was exactly what the carbon tax is/was and if the carbon tax is going to increase costs so will the medical copayment. There is no logic in getting rid of the carbon tax, maintaining all the compensatory offsets from the carbon tax and then targeting the sick to make up the shortfall.

    So it seems to be some sort of half baked ideology guiding the LNP with the primary game to render the ALP unelectable.

  13. Mr Denmore
    May 16th, 2014 at 16:26 | #13

    On one level, it’s utterly depressing. In the pre-internet era, the antecdents of failed ideas being imported and re-badged by the radical right and their media sock puppets would have gone undiscovered by most people.

    Now, global media is available in real-time to anyone with a smart phone. We’ve seen this story before. We know how it ends. And yet some in the local media are behaving as if these ideas sprang out of nowhere (or Tony Abbott’s head, which are the same thing really).

    Peter Brent on Twitter made the observation that it seems strange that the public is onto the silly game, yet the supposedly cynical seen-it-all journos are credulously reporting it all as if there is some bigger narrative at work – beyond wrecking everything that came before and smashing public institutions.

    Many people I know are walking around in a state of permanent rage of incomprehension that this bunch seem to be getting away with it. Shorten’s speech, while typically clunky in delivery, at least hit the right notes. But I get the growing sense that many people are wishing for the double dissolution so they can exact electoral retribution on the Tea Party-IPA-Murdoch gang running this tawdry show.

  14. Hermit
    May 16th, 2014 at 16:34 | #14

    I noticed some protestors against Obamacare looked poor and sick. Fighting socialised medicine to the end. Again slogans not reasoned analysis. I wonder if the Repubs will dwindle in the next decade or two due to an ageing base and harsh physical realities like climate change. Perhaps like UK Conservatives they could re-invent themselves in the way Cameron is far to the left of Thatcher.

  15. john
    May 16th, 2014 at 16:54 | #15

    #13 rog
    re: sick people opposing Obamacare:

    I recall the wise words of some eminent political analyst to the effect that people vote according to who they identify with, not after rationally reviewing policies. If they see themselves as republican, they’ll vote against their own interests.

  16. Vic
    May 16th, 2014 at 17:21 | #16


    But Americans *don’t* allow religion in public schools – unconstitutional. And although Brandis thinks free speech in America means you can scream racist insults at someone, that is illegal in the US too as fighting words. The Australian right does not understand the American constitution.

    They don’t think, period. Take the $7 GP copayment. They want sick people not to see a doctor, but prevention is much cheaper than hospitalisation. Hockey says it’s the price of a few beers, so what’s the big deal: Have less beer and see the GP anyway. In which case, what’s the point of the charge? They just didn’t think any of this through.

  17. Peter Chapman
    May 16th, 2014 at 18:04 | #17

    Two points: (1) The UK also seems to be a source of policy ideas that are touted here (not least by Major Newman) even as the evidence mounts that they are failing in the Old Country. Education is a case in point. (2) As others have intimated, has Labor any new ideas? Shorten’s performance to date has been lacklustre (as has that of Miliband in the UK) and his opposition to this radical right mob must very quickly move away from the negatives and into some clearly articulated vision of what an ALP government would do that is different. The ALP has to live down the policy failures of the roof insulation variety and show that it can do good policy… while those policies delivered a measure of economic stimulus that kept Australia insulated from the worst effects of the GFC, they also squandered huge political capital in the manner of their delivery. We need to know what an alternative government will do, and how it will do it, especially as a gauntlet seems to have been cast down by both ALP and the Greens that could result in a double dissolution. What if they win? L

  18. rog
    May 16th, 2014 at 18:16 | #18

    Another oddity are the cuts to youths (get a job) and the incentive to employers to hire older persons, presumably to keep them off the pension. Social engineering by the free market party of small govt.

  19. Peter Chapman
    May 16th, 2014 at 18:29 | #19

    A third point: Labor delivered stimulus at a macro level but then seemed to surrender the policy debate to the deficit crisis mob. In another parlance the team with the winning strategy fatally moved into terrain that was defined by the opposition. Mr Swan in particular must carry a huge share of the blame for forgetting any (quasi-Keynesian?) theoretical economic basis for his stimulus packages, and moving back into the tired old arguments about reining in the deficit. That is, if he understood the economics in the first place. At the same time, Mr Rudd, who presented himself to the people as a “policy nong” (someone who supposedly understood how policy worked and should be delivered), presided over some of the worst delivery we have seen in recent times… policy for a good purpose, delivered badly. The ALP must show us it has learned (1) some economics and (2) something about parlaying good policy into useful political capital.

  20. kevin1
    May 16th, 2014 at 18:34 | #20


    Sure, they import only what’s legal or do-able in Australia.

    The point I’m making here is there is a retrogressive attempt to bring a religious (specifically Christian Right) factor into Australian politics. And they are totally out of step in trying to do so: the Left is prominent in mainstream religious faiths here; we have a good chance of keeping rationalism a dominant value in Australian politics.

    As well as adding the religious Right to the list of ideology importers, I would add Reaganomics: having heard the Lib Dem and Fam First Party people on Lateline, they are close to bringing in from the cold Arthur Laffer, who provided Reagan with the dogma that lower tax rates brings more revenue, and David Stockman’s supply-side “trickle down” effects.

    The above-mentioned senators, Leyon Hjelm and Day, both have form with the various rightwing fringe groups over a long period, and want hypothecated fuel taxes and PPL tradeoffs (ie. no cross subsidies from rich to poor or singles to families). More Homo Economicus striding down the footpath – in the centre, so watch out!

    JQ, could be time for an applied version of Zombie Economics, updated for current events and in pamphlet form for a mass audience?

  21. kevin1
    May 16th, 2014 at 19:06 | #21

    Who are the acknowledged experts (as distinct from interest groups and camp followers) the Coalition get their ideas from? Just a first cut by an amateur outsider (so don’t take offence):

    Education – Grattan Institute No, Go8 Yes,
    Foreign policy – Lowy No,
    Immigration, Refugees – Scanlan Foundation No,
    Health – AMA, Stephen Leeder, Stephen Duckett No
    Economics, Tax – Access Economics Yes, everyone else ambivalent or no
    IR – no point in asking
    Environment – ditto
    Nat Security – Aust Strategic Pol Institute?

  22. yuri
    May 16th, 2014 at 19:07 | #22

    Given that I accept the view that Australia has lacked the budget discipline for long term health since Howard started doing to Costello what Fraser did to him as Treasurer in the declining days of the respective governments and that the Rudd and Gillard governments were the worst fiscal desperadoes in Australia since Whitlam I see merit in the LNP showing the political courage to do quite a lot of unpopular things.

    How about considering the GP payment of $7 this way given that it is capped at about $50 a year. As well as the modest contribution to revenue and the discouragement to hypochindriacs at the margin it could have a rather greater effect on the not negligible number of doctors who churn and manufacure extra bulk-billing payments?????

  23. May 16th, 2014 at 19:21 | #23

    From twice losing presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s address accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1952: ‘There will be inevitable — the inevitable cries of “throw the rascals out,” “it’s time for a change,” and so on and so on’.

    And from his address accepting the nomination in 1956: “And I say it is time to get up and get moving again. It is time for America to be herself again.”

    So it looks like “it’s time” was another such import, and such imports are not a failing peculiar to the right of Australian politics.

  24. kevin1
    May 16th, 2014 at 19:30 | #24

    @Peter Chapman

    The ALP must show us it has learned (1) some economics and (2) something about parlaying good policy into useful political capital.

    How do they do this absent independent investigation & analysis?

  25. yuri
    May 16th, 2014 at 19:31 | #25

    I am not convinced that looking at American pundits and politics is much use for understanding what is being said or done in Australia, but as I am not one of those left masochists who reads Devine, Blair or even Bolt more than occasionally I may have missed something.

    I have certainly missed an explanation for the intense concern of some on this blog that we do something urgently (including stopping doing things) to save us from the dire effects of a warming world. There is virtually nothing we can do which will make any difference to our fate except at the margins where I am very much in favour of intelligence bejng applied.

    One margin might be worth concentrating some weight of scientific funding on (if we’re going to be saved by solar it will probably be the Chinese we have to thank) and that is marine chemistry and biology and fisheries. Our success (if that is what it is) in protecting comparatively plentiful minke whales lends skme plausibility to that idea.

    Mind you our case against the Japanese and Norwegians – one that should touch their sensibilities, and maybe consciences, is that they are behaving with a brutality they wouldn’t allow in an abattoir.

    Frivolously perhaps we should challenge the Japanese cultural argument by suggesting the confine their whale catch to what they can take in Japan’s territorial waters by the technology of 1800.

  26. Megan
    May 16th, 2014 at 19:50 | #26

    The $7 doesn’t go into revenue, it goes into a bag marked “research – not to be opened”. My guess is that it will eventually be handed out to US MegaPharma as grants.

    Cameron isn’t to the left of Thatcher, he just pretends. He is in the middle of selling off the NHS. He has already sold the Post Office.

    Maybe Hockey was misquoted? Did he say “The end of the Age of Enlightenment”?

  27. rog
    May 16th, 2014 at 19:53 | #27

    @Peter Chapman To be fair most of the developed world was hell bent in achieving a surplus, even if this meant they would have to restrict economic activity. So the LNP mantra re debt has been imported from overseas.

  28. Fran Barlow
    May 16th, 2014 at 20:11 | #28


    But backed uncritically by the ALP who declared themselves to be fiscal conservatives. They demanded to be judged by their ability to produce a surplus i.e. Slow economic activity while speeding it up and keeping it at trend in the middle of and fllowing a signifant shock to financial markets. Unsurprisingly, doing all these things proved impossible, and as it turned out, the Murdoch Press was unsympathetic. Imagine that.

  29. Fran Barlow
    May 16th, 2014 at 20:11 | #29

    Oops following, significant … Ugh

  30. Peter Chapman
    May 16th, 2014 at 20:47 | #30

    @rog In the midst of the GFC, in my view, Messrs Rudd and Swan correctly and successfully applied stimulus measures. As a result Australians at large have no experience of the degree of recession seen in many other economies. Consequently, and paradoxically, Messrs Abbott and Hockey have been able to argue that Labor spent recklessly, since there has been no real accounting of the benefits of the stimulus, at least not in clear messages to the voting public. Further, because Swan in particular so readily defaulted to an acceptance of the “deficit bad, surplus good” mantra, Labor itself vacated the ground on which they might have argued for the timely application and also prudent withdrawal of economic stimulus measures. I wonder whether Mr Swan ever understood the economics that justified his interventions, because as soon as the benefits were demonstrated, he flipped, as if he understood nothing. Given that some stimulus actions, like the insulation scheme and the schools program, turned into policy disasters, Labor now has a double burden, a double mission, to show some economic comprehension and subtlety, and to show some evidence of being able to develop and implement good policy. Right now, the LNP is vacating many areas of policy, or at best delivering “Clayton’s policy”: the policy you have when you don’t have a policy. At worst it is a “scorched earth” approach, as taken by the LNP in Queensland: they are saying they do not want government to ever act in certain arenas of policy again. All the more reason why Labor must articulate clear policies about the basic services Australians want from government (and in my view are prepared to pay for), as well as some command of economic strategies that can anticipate and manage the fluctuations of the international economy and business cycles. Negativism, being as negative as Tony was, will have limited value. And we deserve more than having Mr Shorten mimic Tony Abbott’s “Dr No”.

  31. May 16th, 2014 at 21:30 | #31

    The ALP are hopeless.

    We hear from ICAC that Joe Tripodi (ALP) was working with a Newcastle “Business Group” to secretly destroy the local ALP candidate in favour of the corrupt ultra-right wing LNP candidates. That’s the ALP we have today – and it isn’t limited to a few bad apples, it’s the entire organisation from top to bottom.

  32. May 16th, 2014 at 21:38 | #32

    @Mr Denmore

    I may have been the first one to ever comment on your blog, if not I was certainly one of the first.

    I have been pondering the rot of our media for a long time.

    it seems strange that the public is onto the silly game, yet the supposedly cynical seen-it-all journos are credulously reporting it all as if there is some bigger narrative at work

    The “journalists” are complicit. They are not naïve, lazy, busy, stupid or incompetent. As Jay Rosen put it, they are too ‘savvy’ too much ‘insiders’ to perform the job a properly functioning media should in a properly functioning democracy.

    We have the Establishment (ALP/LNP/media) on one side and all the rest of us on the other.

  33. Sancho
    May 16th, 2014 at 21:53 | #33

    It’ll be fascinating to see how all these recycled Tea Party ideas play out.

    Australia doesn’t have a giant non-voting minority, so parties don’t have a “base” that can be riled up with extremist nonsense as a way of getting them to storm the polls: politicians have to pitch to the middle.

    The real concern is that those in the middle don’t follow US politics as closely as, say, people who post on the blogs of economist academics, so ideas about makers and takers and massive vote fraud might seem new and serious.

  34. Midrash
    May 16th, 2014 at 22:16 | #34

    @Peter Chapman
    Anyone who isn’t at least concerned about deficits is naive because it means they overlook those aspects of human nature which will make it a near certainty that politicians in a prosperous democracy under no pressing dangers will buy votes with money raised by whatever means it takes consistent with no political or economic retribution before the next election. If one could be sure who was going to bear the long term costs of this decidedly sub-optimal economic management one might consciously choose relaxed complacency. Not being in a family used to living on transfer payments and a bit if scrounging and cash in hand for three generations I do seriously want something better.

  35. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    May 16th, 2014 at 22:16 | #35

    One of the strangest things about the US far right is their combination of a love of the free market with a hatred of Darwinian evolution. The latter is explicitly based on the former. I don’t understand how they can think that the market can magically improve and generate all products without a central governor, and then get all tetchy when it’s suggested the same thing applies to DNA evolving in the absence of a god. Yes, the bible is implicitly down on evolution, but the bible is also explicitly down on usury, money changing, rich people, hoarding, merchants, lawyers, and pretty much any economic system other than primitive communism. Why don’t all their brains explode from cognitive dissonance?

  36. graham
    May 16th, 2014 at 22:32 | #36

    other problems with the 47% are that they include a lot of people you wouldn’t expect to work like the elderly

  37. rog
    May 16th, 2014 at 22:43 | #37

    Paul Krugman gives his view on the justification for the global push for austerity and surplus and how it failed to sustain credibility (except in Australia, it seems)

  38. Sancho
    May 16th, 2014 at 23:36 | #38


    The argument isn’t that they don’t work, but that they pay no tax. In America, that’s because decades of Reaganite economic policy has created an army of working poor who can never earn enough to cross the tax threshold.

  39. May 17th, 2014 at 00:23 | #39

    @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    the bible is…explicitly down on…merchants, lawyers, and pretty much any economic system other than primitive communism.

    You’ll have to back that up references.

  40. May 17th, 2014 at 00:24 | #40

    “with” references.

  41. May 17th, 2014 at 00:48 | #41

    While I agree with you on the absence of new ideas on the right I was trying to think of examples on the left. I’m all for carbon pricing an an NDIS, but they’re hardly new ideas. Carbon goes back to the89s and my father was promoting something like the NDIS in the 70s. The NBN is certainly new, but otherwise all I could come up with was feed in tarrifs and maybe housing initiatives like the WA Green one on solar panels on public housing.

  42. Sancho
    May 17th, 2014 at 01:10 | #42

    @Stephen Luntz

    As JQ noted above, modern conservatives are largely right-wing radicals. The faction fighting to conserve tradition and institutions is the Left!

    A raft of new progressive ideas would be great, but for now we’re fighting to preserve the social-democratic functions of the twentieth century, against an atavistic movement that’s had a gutful of democracy and is all but demanding a return to feudalism.

  43. graham
    May 17th, 2014 at 06:01 | #43

    Well I disagree that the Bible promotes state led communism but it was quite left by todays standards. The law had the following system

    1. you could not harvest crops to the edge. The last few rows were left for the poor
    2. you could only harvest your crops once. Anything you missed you left for the poor
    3. 10% of your income every 3rd and 6th year in a 7 year cycle went to the poor
    4. 100% of everything that grows on your land is for the poor every 7th year in a 7th year cycle and every 50th year in a 50 year cycle
    5. All debts were cancelled every 50 years
    6. no interest could be charged on debt and there were strict limits on what could be used as collateral
    7. If someone you knew became poor you had to take them in and feed them for free. If they asked for a loan you could not charge interest
    8. If you cannot pay off a loan you are to work for the person you haved loaned from for a maximum of seven years. No matter how big the debt you never have to pay it off with labour for more than 7 years and you always get freed on the year of jubilee

    In the book of proverbs you hear about all sorts of vice leading to poverty (lazyness drink foolishness etc) however it says over and over to have mercy on the poor. In other words, yes in some cases they may have made some decisions that led to them being poor but give to them anyway and have mercy on them. Proverbs 31:4-7 even mentions not getting too worked up about the poor getting drunk, although in the context of recommending you yourself don’t get drunk. It says “let the poor get drunk with wine so they can remember their poverty no more”

    Isaiah 58:6 tells people to lighten the burden of those who work for you. Israel was punished by God mainly for 1. idol worship 2. their treatment of the poor. Even sodom and gomorah were punished primarily for their treatment on the poor (Ez 16:49).
    Moving to the new testament it is even more intense in its rhetoric about the need to help the poor and warnings to the rich. It even promotes income equality 2 Cor 8:13. There is some pretty frightening rheotoric here as well (matt 19:24, James 5:1-6 Luke 16:19-31,Matt 25:35-46, Matt 6:24). It is not clear what the role of the state should be though I suspect the burden of proof would be on a Christian who claimed these principles shouldn’t be applied to the state

    hope this helps:)

  44. Julie Thomas
    May 17th, 2014 at 07:11 | #44


    “discouragement to hypochindriacs “?

    Have you any knowledge of these hypochondriacs – or the other people who are said to ‘overuse’ doctors? I thought not; but there you go prognosticating about the issue.

    Hypochondria is a diagnosable illness and therefore it would be more efficient, cost effective and more human and moral to identify the problem and fix that rather than continuing to apply the failed US based punitive response to deviance and punish their ‘bad behaviour’.

    It is clearly more rational to identify why some people become hypochondriacs – or any of the other psychological problems such as anxiety and depression – and prevent these problems developing.

  45. Peter Chapman
    May 17th, 2014 at 07:17 | #45

    The point is not that deficits are always good, or always bad. Defecit budgeting in a national economy has its uses. It is judged on function, not morality. Labor’s stimulus expenditure had its uses, but I doubt there was a clear understanding of the whole process, and there certainly was no successful selling of the strategy to the electorate (and the down side of policies like insulation made that sell harder). So the electorate, like the politicians, remained ignorant of what we avoided (the GFC and it’s effects), and ignorant about the economics (in particular, some kind of neo-Keynesian explanation, or as Krugman would say, knowing what model you are applying and when to modify both your actions and your model). Labor did not manage a shift from deficit budgeting and stimulus spending to a longer term strategy to return to a balanced budget at all well, because it flipped back to an ideological preference for surplus budgeting. I suspect that we will hear less about surplus budgeting from the LNP too, as time goes on, because they will find (1) some of their preferred deficit reduction measures too hard, and/or counter-productive; and (2) the attractions of spending, albeit on roads and infrastructure (of the concrete variety), too great. They will continue to blame all that on Labor, if course, but that is already wearing thin and will be even harder to sell when the insulation and union corruption inquiries are over. At the same time Labor and Greens must demonstrate, as above, that they have an economic model and a policy vision that the electorate will see as a viable alternative.

  46. NathanA
    May 17th, 2014 at 12:32 | #46

    kevin1 #1

    You’d have to really cherry-pick stats to make that claim. The funds for chaplains were $250 million, and I think that is over four years, but the ARC alone announced $522 million in grants at the end of last year. I suspect the factoid would have been carefully worded to omit ARC and NHMRC grant funding, which is not really appropriate in the context of how science is funded in Australia. Anyway, you’d have to have an infinite amount of stupidity to want to spend more money on chaplains than scientific research.

  47. Sancho
    May 17th, 2014 at 13:53 | #47

    …unless you believe that science is a series of fads and religion is eternal truth.

  48. jungney
    May 17th, 2014 at 15:38 | #48

    @Mr Denmore
    When the government has no regard for the conventions of Australian social and political life then the opposition has a responsibility to disregard any conventions designed to stabilize the Parliament. When the Parliament itself is the source of attacks on democracy, which is what this budget is, then it loses legitimacy. We should go to a double dissolution election for whatever cause as soon as possible and do this in defense of democracy.

  49. dedalus
    May 17th, 2014 at 16:11 | #49

    On the subject of debt and deficits, questions need to be raised at a more fundamental level than short-term dollars and cents.

    Governments tend to be far less leveraged than corporates or individuals, certainly in Australia. That should tell you something. Corporates and individuals learn through experience that deficits are a good and necessary thing. Money is an abstraction, not an intrinsic commodity. It’s merely a means of establishing a contract between any two entities. The fact that it’s called capital is pure semantics. The main thing about it is that it doesn’t grow on trees. You have to borrow it – because what you earn is never enough to do anything useful with. Earned capital is only short-term pocket money for convenience. You can’t expand a business or buy your first house without capital, and earned capital is insufficient.

    Deficits therefore are what makes the world go around. A country is not a corporate or an individual, as it exists indefinitely (even if conquered by another country). Therefore, soverign debt is a nonsense. Greece should have cancelled its debt and returned to the Drachma. What would the EU have done, send in the tanks?

    Eventually, currencies become worthless (in a long scale of time), and in a short term a country can roll over debt indefinitely, or print its own money.

  50. Midrash
    May 17th, 2014 at 18:27 | #50

    @Peter Chapman
    Deficits indeed have their uses in the sense that it sometimes makes sense for a government to borrow for non-capital items even in times of peace so we don’t start with a difference there. I may put more emphasis on a pessimistic view of human nature than you at least when the human nature is given its outlet in groups greater than the 150 who could do the equivalent of our hairy primate cousins grooming. However I am certainly less indulgent than you towards Rudd and Swan. Sure in a time of panic they sensibly followed Ken Henry’s advice and got $8 billion into spenders’ hands in and from late 2008 with moderate efficiency and economy. After that they went mad with a kind of cod-Keynesianism that the great JMK would have shuddered at.

    Instead of a search for high priority investments which were shovel ready or close to it they went for the comparatively trivial but disastrously managed and ideologically generated (if ideology isn’t too grand a notion for the fashionable thinking that must have made roof insulation look like the idée du jour) and the poorly managed and totally excessive and wasteful school hall building scheme which, perhaps most important, couldn’t be made to fit appropriate timelines. Once it was clear China was saving us that last item of extravagance ought to have been stopped almost before it began.

    In case one thinks Rudd and Swan should be given any credit for decision making which turned out well just look at the absurd way the NBN was got up – whatever you think of the NBN in concept or actuality. From that lot anything good for the economy happened by accident.

  51. Midrash
    May 17th, 2014 at 18:45 | #51

    @Sancho If your name is really Sancho I’m surprised that you ascribe the army of working poor to Reaganite economics.

    It is true that a low minimum wage would have a considerable pat in that but I am not sure that is Reaganite conceptually or chronologically. The much bigger cause is the huge influx of mostly illegal Latino (you might say “Hispanic” but my Hispanic friends don’t think it applies to Mexican peasnts) immigrants which suits a lot of US citizens just fine, but, in the absence of compulsory voting or just a high turnout does in the wages of the relatively unskilled. It interesting that the most cogent recent case for raising the minimum wage has been made by a Californian Republican whose independence of mind includes opposing the Iraq war. (Unlike Hilary Clinton).

  52. Midrash
    May 17th, 2014 at 19:32 | #52

    @Julie Thomas
    I am conscious that Yuri is careful to distinguish between defending or agreeing with me and finding my posts clear enough in meaning but I think I owe him something: the same as he has done for me, no more, no less.

    Ms Thomas I find you trivially nit picking and, worse, distorting his point. So what that some institution has a clinical classification of hypochondria as a disease. There is a perfectly well accepted everyday usage – indeed it is by far the more common – and that is clearly what Yuri was deploying.

    What is more, so you can show off your petty possession of esoteric knowledge (did you say you were a member of Mensa? It fits) you misleadingly suggest that Yuri has made a major point about hypochondriacs when, in reality, he has suggested that it is a minor point in contrast to the serious one he mentions which you ignore. What do you say to his shrewd observation about (some) bulk billing doctors? BTW Can someone also explain how the same problem might be prevalent amongst non-bulk-billing doctors, or would it instead be excessive referrals for path tests and ECGs within the same practice?

  53. May 17th, 2014 at 20:16 | #53

    The big right-wing hard-on in the US right now is is trying to kick anyone of the voter rolls who’s not likely to vote for the Republicans. Hence a lot of claptrap about voter fraud and voter ID (as mentioned by JQ). We can definitely expect a hefty round of that in Australia now, as well as a dismal recitation of the old compulsory/non-compulsory voting saw, after a Federal budget that, to a great extent, seems to assume that a lot of the people being shafted by it won’t be voting at all.

    Interesting also that the AEC did note get touched in the budget, despite the WA fiasco and the fire and fury expressed about its competence or otherwise. Presumably they’ll need to be kept intact to implement a new voting roll/ID system? I dunno. Pure conjecture, but the sheer arrogant dismissal of so many poor and low-income losers form the budget’s regressive machinations does leave one wondering.

  54. Sancho
    May 17th, 2014 at 21:08 | #54

    @Peter Evans

    There’s no way they’d get away with the sort of mass disenfranchisement the Republicans have implemented, but it could be that they’ll sail in with the voter fraud argument as a way of opening a path to abolishing compulsory polling.

  55. zoot
    May 17th, 2014 at 22:55 | #55


    What do you say to his shrewd observation about (some) bulk billing doctors?

    Don’t know about Julie, but I’d say, “Provide some evidence”.
    You could start here.

  56. yuri
    May 17th, 2014 at 23:33 | #56

    I’ve always been in favour of compulsory voting for two practical reasons which, to my mind, trump any theoretical librtarian or anti-compulsion arguments. (Actually, Gee, think of the inequity: another privilege for the rich who can afford the $20 when they don’t even make up an unsworn excuse for not voting. Oh what an imperfect world we live in run by lackeys of the capitalists who can’t even give clear orders on this one).

    Those reasons are, first, the defence of politicians against the necessity, at least in the US, for almost fulltime fund raising so they can get the vote out next time, first for the primaries, then for the election; second protection against single issue minorities like right-to-lifers who have the one advantage that they will all take the trouble to vote. In Australia their votes tend to be swamped by the uncaring majority who vote because they have to even if disinclined to bother.

  57. Nick
    May 17th, 2014 at 23:45 | #57


    What is more, so you can show off your petty possession of esoteric knowledge (did you say you were a member of Mensa? It fits) you misleadingly suggest that Yuri has made a major point about hypochondriacs when, in reality, he has suggested that it is a minor point in contrast to the serious one he mentions which you ignore. What do you say to his shrewd observation about (some) bulk billing doctors?

    I’d say that increasing the cost of some 80% of Australians’ healthcare as a means of reducing a few million dollars (at most) in bulk-billing fraud is possibly the daftest thing I’ve ever heard.

    But then yuri also suspects you might be a “quite well known QC”, Midrash! You do like to flatter yourself.

  58. yuri
    May 17th, 2014 at 23:47 | #58

    I meant to add that I don’t think the abolition of compulsory voting is a right wing or LNP project or aspiration though Nick Minchin who used to be a party apparatchik in Sout Australia has advocated it without engendering any obvious enthusiasm amongst fellow Libs (it doesn’t appear to be a National Party issue at all). If Labor still favours it on the uncertain ground that it helps the ALP most they conceal it with the guilty secret that all those careerist private school boys despise the lumpen proletariat even more than the tough old union leader an hard bitten realist who would sometimes talk privately to the enemy of having to consider the (votes of) the “poor bloody so-called working class”.

  59. Sancho
    May 18th, 2014 at 10:44 | #59

    I’ll be a stickler and point out that Australia doesn’t have compulsory voting. It has compulsory polling.

    The types who argue that being forced to choose politicians is a dreadful affront to their freedom can just draw swastikas all over the ballot, and many do.

  60. kevin1
    May 18th, 2014 at 11:24 | #60

    The parliamentary library’s paper on the last election estimated that around 7% of eligible voters were not enrolled and 7% of those enrolled didn’t vote. Informal votes were 5.91% in the Reps, and 2.96% in the Senate. So about 20% of potential Reps votes didn’t count.

    About 1/4 of all votes were pre-poll or postal, ie. not on the day, up 700,000 from 2010.

  61. kevin1
    May 18th, 2014 at 11:42 | #61

    Bernard Keane’s Crikey article “Forget chaplains, what could you do with a quarter of a billion dollars?” eloquently answers his own question: “restoring the $146.8 million cut from science agencies, including $111 million cut from the CSIRO”, and “reversing the $10 million cut to the Bureau of Meteorology, which annoyingly keeps showing that Australia is getting hotter.”

    And the chaplains have reduced reporting and administrative requirements “to allow funding recipients to better focus on delivering chaplain services”. In God we trust.

  62. patrickb
    May 19th, 2014 at 12:25 | #62

    It’s David Flint, got to be. And the strangest aspect of the co-payment is that it’s supposed to go to a fund so the Australia, that shining example of innovation and awesome cleverness, can develop a cure for baldness or cancer or Dunning-Kruger (should help Midrash). The dullness of the govt’s thinking is truly stunning.

  63. David Irving (no relation)
    May 21st, 2014 at 13:12 | #63

    I don’t think it’s David Flint, patrickb. Sure midrash is a pompous fool, but his pomposity and foolishness are subtly different from Flint’s.

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