No plaudits for the Audit

Maurie Mulheron

They don’t make it easy; political leaders, I mean. If a central purpose of schooling is to prepare young people to take up their role as educated, committed and caring citizens within Australian society, then the behaviour of too many political leaders is making our job difficult. It seems so much harder in current times to encourage our young people to remain idealistic and optimistic about the future.

Our children see a Premier forced to resign, ostensibly over a bottle of over-priced plonk which was probably corked. In time they may see the reality is the Premier lost his job because there is no longer an independent public service that acts as a firewall between politicians and the developers, spivs and shonksters who want a piece of whatever the government is privatising. The greedy demand, and are granted, direct access to anybody in power. Corrupt behaviour is almost inevitable once people regard a government as little more than a vendor of public assets.

Is this what Tony Abbott meant on election night when he declared “... Australia is under new management and is once more open for business”? How loudly the glasses must have clinked in the boardrooms of the corporations that donated to his campaign.

But I would like to concentrate for a minute on the question of political lies, particularly in the context of the recently released national Commission of Audit that was headed by Business Council of Australia (BCA) chairman Tony Shepherd. The BCA is corporate Australia’s most influential lobbying organisation which deals in rewards much greater than a bottle of 1959 Grange.

Given that many of the Commission of Audit’s recommendations, if implemented, would benefit members of the BCA, such as privatising Australia Post and Snowy Hydro, pushing more people onto private health insurance, keeping taxation low and outsourcing IT and property management of government assets, why was no conflict of interest declared?

Let’s be clear: the Commission of Audit and the assumptions that underpin the Federal Budget are based on falsehoods — myths perpetuated for purely ideological reasons.

The myths are that Australia is a high taxing country, that Australia has a huge public debt and that the Australian Government spends too much, particularly on welfare, health and education.

These myths are now being used to argue that Australia cannot afford to invest in education and why the final two years of Gonski will not be funded.

But the reality is very different to the myths.

The size of government in Australia, combining all states, territories with the national, is smaller than almost any other advanced economy. Our total revenues, including taxes, are 33.2 per cent of GDP, with only Korea and Japan smaller.

As for national debt, Australia’s net public debt is 12.7 per cent of GDP. We rank 24th out of 34 OECD countries. By way of comparison, the USA ranks 6th and the United Kingdom ranks 8th.

There is no debt crisis. These figures show that we are clearly living well within our means as a nation.

Let us turn to the myth that Australia wastes money on welfare payments. The OECD average for welfare payments is 13 per cent. Australia spends less than almost any other OECD country, including the USA, at 8.6 per cent of GDP. As well, we have one of the most stringent means tests of any OECD country.

And finally, let us turn to the myth that Australia is a high taxation nation. Out of 34 OECD countries, Australia is the 4th lowest taxing country.

The establishment of the Commission of Audit was a political stunt. Incoming Conservative parties set them up in order to establish a veneer of objectivity around what are essentially highly ideologically driven policies — policies that are intended to advantage corporate backers at the expense of ordinary Australians.

As noted philosopher Hannah Arendt said: government lies to gain credibility — interestingly enough, it often works.

The greatest motivation for teachers is the success of our students. It is our greatest reward. We also know that we are important role models in a world where cynicism and greed threaten the health of the body politic. On May 22, Public Education Day, invite the community to your school and tell them why we need the full Gonski model. Perhaps our students will see that there are important adults in their lives who have their interests at heart and who act with integrity.