Inhaling the Canberra Kool-Aid

This also appeared in the Queensland Liberal National Party’s policy magazine, Dialogue

Something happens to sensible people when they enter the airspace of our nation’s capital. A sense of confidence in the Australian citizen is often replaced by a firm faith in the omnipotent wisdom of government.

Shrugging off the shackles of independent thought and personal responsibility, lobbyists demand government solve their client problems. So too do the local MPs, engaging their ministerial colleagues with a wish list of demands for their electorate.

The satisfaction of these demands always comes at a price and the cost is borne by the tax paying citizenry. This is an inescapable part of government function; although in recent years the boundaries previously applied by prudent spending seem to have all but disappeared. The result is a procession of budget deficits and a massively ballooning national debt.

But it is not just private interests that petition the federal government. State and local governments are also rapacious demanders of more money, special concessions and preferential treatment as they seek to pass their constitutional responsibilities up the governance chain.

The end result is a fiscal and moral over-reach with far-ranging consequences.

The financial difficulties arising from bloated government largesse can be seen throughout the European Union, where many nations have intergenerational and unsustainable debt. Attempts to address the solvency of governments have resulted in civil unrest and localised economic depressions.

This is a direct result of the citizen becoming the servant of the state rather than the state serving the citizenry. Some may think this analysis is contradictory to rational thought. After all, isn’t the state serving its citizens by fulfilling their wants and immediate needs?

That conclusion may be correct if you only consider the responsibilities to the current generation. However, conservative thought encourages us to think about more than ourselves. Not only did Edmund Burke advise us to see further by standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, he also highlighted our responsibility to our children, grandchildren and those yet to be born.

It is for the future generations that we must temper any desire to indulge in short-term, populist policy. Mortgaging the future of our next generations would be a grotesque moral failure on our behalf.

And yet too few in government look beyond the next election. Many are even blinded by the 24-hour media cycle and launch desperate bids to win some national acclaim or shut down criticism.

The examples are plentiful and litter the landscape of successive governments, although perhaps none more so than in recent times.

We are all familiar with Labor’s cheques to dead people and those living overseas in the name of domestic stimulus and billions wasted building school halls that many didn’t want. There was even a new library constructed for a school with one pupil that was scheduled to close the following year! There was the pink batts fiasco, the computers in schools rollout and I could go on.

Yet, lost in the expensive public policy failures are the incessant demands for more benefits and more programs by seemingly clever people. I have heard several politicians argue for a doubling of the first home owners grant in order to make housing more affordable.

I asked one of them what would happen if we removed the current grant and he told me that house prices would probably fall by more than the amount withdrawn. I then suggested that doubling the grant might actually increase house prices, making them even less affordable. Couldn’t we remove the current subsidy to help affordability and save taxpayers money? He couldn’t be convinced and in the end, we agreed to disagree.

The only proven perpetual motion machine is perhaps most demonstrable in the Canberra hotel market. The day after politicians receive an increase in their parliamentary travel allowance, the hotels lift their prices by as much as a captive market can afford. This then leads to further increases in the travel allowance and on it goes.

Perhaps the greatest misjudgement by government is in the realm of the family. Lowering taxes or allowing income splitting or utilising tax free threshold flexibly are all far superior ways to deal with the financial burdens attached to family life. Instead, government opts to take more from pay-packets and then do the money shuffle; clipping the ticket to pay the bureaucracy and handing the balance back as some type of ‘reward’ for which we hope the citizens will be grateful.

It’s not much different in the corporate sector. Billions of dollars are spent propping up jobs that will eventually disappear due to market pressures. Often the cost per job of such programs is many, many multiples of what the worker earns. How spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to support a worker that earns the minimum wage is a good investment requires a rather unconventional cost-benefit analysis.

Still, any cost-benefit analysis (even a dodgy one) would be welcomed within some government initiatives. At least that way the public might get some idea about whether their taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

It seems incredible to me that the largest infrastructure project in the history of the country – the National Broadband Network – has never been subject to a rigorous examination of whether the benefits merit the extraordinary cost. It was by decree of Emperor Rudd and his previously loyal servant Stephen Conroy that this plan was put into place. The sheer weight of numbers in the parliament enabled this massive spend of borrowed money to be implemented without any business plan or cost-benefit analysis; surely a shameful example of the self-decreed wisdom of the political class. I would hazard a guess that most ensconced in the Ministerial wing wouldn’t spend $1000 of their own money in the same cavalier manner they splash billions of your dollars around.

As I wrote at the outset, there must be something in the ACT air that suspends the common sense and personal responsibility pathway in the brain. How else can you explain the conduct of successive governments that seem to be acting in their own interest rather than that of the nation?

That’s why we should be very concerned about concentrating any more power in Canberra. Our forefathers understood the inherent wisdom of separating powers between the states and Commonwealth, understanding that the division of powers protects the people and the nation.

Yet the latest referendum proposal, initiated by the Labor Party and unfortunately supported by elements within the Liberal-National Coalition, would see a power transfer to Canberra, the likes of which we have not seen since federation.

This agenda has always been a part of Labor’s DNA, with two previous referenda on the same topic failing dismally thanks to the inherent wisdom of a sceptical electorate. On both occasions the Liberal Party stood in support of the checks and balances inherent in our federalist structure.

This time the deck has been stacked. Not only are Labor dismissing the custom of equal public funding for both the Yes and No cases, they have enlisted the support of elements within the LNP.

Labor are providing tens of millions of dollars to support their power grab and a paltry $500k to the principled and common sense opposition case. If anyone was ever concerned about the potential egregious misuse of Commonwealth power then this decision alone provides all the evidence you need.

The centralising power grabbers maintain this change is necessary due to some recent High Court decisions. This is simply false as local governments can be funded as they always have – via the states. It also doesn’t explain why Labor has had a multi-decade long policy to pursue this ambition, long before the handing down of the legal decisions referred to above.

Put simply, the left of the political spectrum have always loved having control and power over everyone else. They believe that they are better placed to make decisions on your behalf than you are and want no other pesky authorities to get in their way whilst they wield their influence.

It is just unfortunate that the Canberra Kool-Aid seems to have been inhaled by some on the right side of politics too.

Freedom lovers will be voting No at this referendum.

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