No Bounce? No Surprise


The dust is settling after the latest visit of the Costello Circus, and a sense of reality has returned a sense that promises made by this Government are not worth much. In that context, it’s no wonder that the Budget has not produced a ‘bounce’ in the Government’s popularity. (link here).

We all know that John Howard still has his head in the sand over climate change. The measures announced in the Budget were pathetic. There will, of course, be more smoke and mirrors after the Emissions Task Force hands down it’s report at the end of the month. But no one’s fooled.

The Murray-Darling Basin water proposal is inadequate and poorly thought through. How anyone can conjure up an amount of money, dictate terms to the States and then demand that all solutions must fit within a fixed amount defies logic and commonsense. Put together in political haste, it doesn’t address the real problem, and apart from anything else, it’s an attempt to bully the environment! It might have worked on the waterfront and with refugees, but it will not work where nature is concerned.

Scientists, who have been marginalised by this shallow and petty Government, should have been part of the proposal from the outset. Comprehensive studies should first have been undertaken to ascertain the extent and nature of the problem. Priorities should have been established. And only then should funding have been allocated accordingly. As it is, the $10 billion proposed, spread over 10 years, is unlikely to be enough to restore a tragically abused and degraded natural asset.

In the best interests of the nation, the Murray-Darling Basin should not be managed by Howard and his cronies. This task should be undertaken by an independent National Water Authority answerable to the people through the Federal Parliament.

But where do the effects of global warming, climate change and drought begin or end? Surely not at the border. West Australians remain unimpressed by Howard’s Murray-Darling largesse for them, it has all the resonance and inspiration of the last yard of pump water.

The Budget overlooked rural Australia, particularly in health and education; and no provision was made for researching alternative crops, new methods of agriculture and the productive use of water. There are no incentives to assist farmers in further nurturing the environment.

Thanks to Emo

On the international and defence fronts, the situation is just as bad. The war in Iraq is lost. Only Howard and President George W Bush believe otherwise. Without concerted international pressure on Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan will not result in victory for UN forces.

As a former member of the Armored Corps, I ask why have we purchased second-hand Abrams tanks from the USA which, at 68 tonnes each, are of little use in our region? The cost is given at $550 million, but it will be a lot more by the time spare parts, maintenance and crew training is taken into account. This planning error required the purchase of four heavy-lift C-17 transport aircraft at a cost of $2 billion to transport these technological dinosaurs. But where to and for what purpose?

Why did Howard agree to buy the F-35 fighter when it was still at the planning stage? The cost of the F-35 has now blown out from $14 billion to $23 billion. Inevitably, delivery dates have slipped, so while we wait we now ‘have to’ buy 24 Super Hornet fighters for $6 billion. (link here) The Super Hornet performs below our regional requirements and, by the time it is delivered, so will the F-35. What sort of planning is this?

With all that we have done for the US Alliance why are the Americans blocking our purchase of the much more sophisticated F-22?

The Super Seasprite helicopter is to be written off at the cost of $1 billion which represents 12 months of Howard’s funding for the Murray-Darling Basin? Why do we need the Air Warfare Destroyers, at a cost of $8 billion?

We need the capacity to put boots on the ground in the region, and to supply and defend such commitments. Many of the items listed above are overkill or irrelevant to such undertakings. And none will help win the War on Terror which, with its roots in politics and religion, calls for dialogue and diplomacy far more than bombs and bombast.

The Government has put aside money in the Budget to boost recruiting into the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Ads and spin will not overcome the perception that it is misusing the military and placing an extra burden on troops and families. If Howard and Defence Minister Brendan Nelson want recruits, they must withdraw from Iraq and they must stop blaming the mining boom for loss of personnel. Patriotism, camaraderie and pride in a job well done are not interchangeable with a big pay packet. Money only comes to the fore when disillusionment sets in.

In terms of nation building and in addressing Australia’s major structural problems, Howard and Costello’s latest Budget delivered nothing but hot air. Good governments provide more than surpluses, they provide essential services. And they create the conditions for businesses to increase productivity through ongoing re-investment. By contrast, Australia is so far behind on infrastructure maintenance, renewal and development that it will take decades, at levels of expenditure considerably higher than those currently mooted, to make us a First World country in more than just name.

Howard’s credibility, intellectual capacity and managerial ability are the issues of the forthcoming Federal election and they are seriously in doubt with a Coalition-induced skills shortage and 170 ships standing each day off Australian ports.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.