The Politics    Thursday, May 14, 2015

The year of magical thinking

By Michael Lucy

The year of magical thinking
Joe Hockey’s budget is out of this world

Joe Hockey’s budget speech on Tuesday night contained only one reference to the environment: he said that farmers are our best environmentalists. Also making a solitary appearance was the word “climate”, in a mention of the tropical conditions of northern Australia, an “extraordinary area of untapped promise”. “Carbon” popped up once as well – “job-destroying taxes like the carbon tax”.

It’s almost as though Hockey doesn’t regard the environment – or the physical world, as we sometimes call it – as an important contributor to the nation’s economy. Not announced, but buried in the detail of the budget papers, were cuts to funding for the already inadequate Emissions Reduction Fund. He did announce measures to help farmers cope with drought, but it seemed more of a sop to the Nationals than an acknowledgment that droughts are likely to become more common. (Farmers, of course, can’t afford to be in denial about climate change.)

Also in the news on Tuesday, though crowded out by the budget talk: the Bureau of Meteorology made an official announcement that the climate of the Pacific has flipped to El Nino mode, which means that drought (or at least more heat and less rain) is likely in the coming year.

That’s not the only inconvenient forecast Hockey has ignored: his plan for Australia’s economic recovery seems to be based largely on the power of positive thinking. The budget’s growth projections of 3.5% per year are at best wildly optimistic, at worst plain dishonest or delusional. Hockey has also called on small businesses to “have a go”, which if nothing else is a novel method of priming business confidence. It might even work, in the short term – who knows? People are strange, markets stranger. Hockey isn’t thinking much more than a year ahead, at best.

But eventually things come back to the world as it is, rather than how you’d like it to be. Whether it’s the economic situation or environmental conditions, you can only ignore reality for so long: it has a way of reasserting itself.

This evening, Bill Shorten will deliver his budget reply speech, which is expected to focus on fairness. Finance minister Mathias Cormann has pre-emptively demanded that Shorten “show us the money”.

An analysis of the budget’s cuts to foreign aid shows the geographic shifts in spending.

The federal (Coalition) government remains at loggerheads with its Victorian (Labor) counterpart over $1.5 billion given to Victoria to fund the now-scrapped East West Link road project. Joe Hockey wants the money back; Victorian premier Daniel Andrews plans to keep it. Andrews also intends to establish a renewable energy target for Victoria.

Newly re-elected UK prime minister David Cameron has issued a troubling statement of intent: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citiziens, ‘As long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.’”

The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which involves the US, Australia and 11 other countries, and will be kept secret until after it is signed, has met resistance in the US Senate.

Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi asylum seekers may face starvation at sea, after Malaysia and Indonesia have turned away their boats in the wake of a Thai crackdown on people smuggling.

For anyone who has been following the fallout from Seymour Hersh’s recent story on the killing of Osama bin Laden, this magnificently cantankerous interview with Hersh is well worth reading.

In an odd press conference this morning, agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce threatened Johnny Depp’s dogs, which the actor has brought to Australia without going through normal quarantine procedures.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.


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