The power of the “Gillard has rooned our country” fantasy

Have you noticed that the first people to damn the poor and vulnerable for not taking “responsibility” for their lives are the very ones who blame every struggle in their life on the government?

There are a number of challenges ordinary Australians presently face – housing is flat-out unaffordable; energy prices have risen dramatically; the high Australian dollar has seriously hit export industries.

The weird thing is that we’re apparently determined to blame these difficulties on things that have little to do with them. The difficulty I have paying my mortgage or rent must be because of tax to fund “wasteful spending”! Couldn’t be because the Liberals halved capital gains tax, flooding the housing market with investors who doubled the price of housing in a few short years. Increases in my electricity bill must be because of the carbon tax! I’ll completely ignore that if I look carefully at my bill the carbon “tax” component is a tiny fraction of the increase and if I’m in the majority of Australians I’ve had a tax cut that more than compensates for that element of the rise. Tradespeople are now really expensive and we farmers are struggling! Let’s blame that on “red tape” and the “mining tax”, even though the mining sector is the main reason the country has a “two speed economy” with a high dollar and, as the mining industry poaches workers, an increase in the price of labour in the trades. Public services are struggling! Must be because of immigrants, particularly those who’ve arrived on BOATS, even though they’re a tiny fraction of immigrants, immigrants are far from a drain on our economy, and the most significant part of the public expenditure connected with refugees is the idiotic offshore processing regime on which both big parties insist.

Why do so many voters want to believe this? Not just happen to believe this, but desperately want to believe this and will resist learning otherwise?

Two reasons.

First, it’s lovely to have a target on which to blame all your difficulties. It’s not that I’m over-spending or budgeting badly – it’s the government taking my money. It’s not that the government isn’t taxing me enough to fund decent public services – it’s that it’s wasting it on “boat people”. In short, people don’t want to be reminded that actually their power bills are going up mainly for reasons nothing to do with the “carbon tax” – because that reminds them that they’ll keep going up, and their federal election vote won’t make a difference. They don’t want to be reminded that in all probability their taxes as a proportion of income have actually declined, because that makes their spending choices their own responsibility again.

Second, it’s nice to have an easy fix. The Libs and their cheerleaders have crafted a powerfully attractive fantasy – everything wrong in the country can be easily fixed by “axing” the mining and carbon taxes, “stopping the boats”, and ending Labor’s “wasteful spending”. Easy. All we’ve got to do is make Tony PM and suddenly life will get much easier for all of us. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT! Tony as PM is a magic pill which will fix things and don’t worry that he won’t give any detail about what he’s going to do before the election because it doesn’t matter as long as he’s not Julia Gillard. All you have to do is vote for the LNP in September, and feel the satisfaction of punishing an evil woman who is responsible for everything wrong in your life.

By believing in the “Gillard has rooned the country” fantasy, we get to feel entitled and vent our frustrations, which is deeply satisfying, and we get to entertain hope that with minimal effort on our part life will suddenly get easier if we just make Tony Abbott PM, which is reassuring.

If Labor wants a chance in September, it needs to call bullshit on this half-thinking. It’s not that voters are misinformed by the Daily Telegraph and so on – it’s that many of us are actively choosing to buy into a satisfying fantasy, and will hang onto it for as long as possible.

The ALP needs to concede that punters are facing challenges – but it needs to help voters identify more accurately what they are. It’s not “boat people”, it’s not the “carbon tax”, it’s not “wasteful spending” – it’s challenges like housing affordability and a distorted two-speed economy. And these are things that would only get worse if the Liberals win government. When tackling the Liberals’ faux “solutions”, the emphasis must be on how false is the hope that they would actually help voters. Because many of us clearly really want to believe they somehow could.

And, seriously – unless you are significantly better off under Labor than you were under the Liberals, you’re not paying more tax.

UPDATE: Or to put it another way: leave us our careless fantasy! We can come up with a new one after September when we get what we thought we wanted and things actually get worse.

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15 responses to “The power of the “Gillard has rooned our country” fantasy

  1. I hate how ‘boat people’ are blamed for everything wrong in this country. Electricity up? Must be those boat people leaving lights on. Long wait in the emergency department? Must be because all the money is going toward boat people. Death of Phar Lap? Surely somehow boat people were involved!

  2. Nothing is ever said about what Howard did to the housing market when he allowed investors to pour in and push prices through the roof. He destroyed the aspirations of thousands and thousands of young couples by letting the investors wreck havoc on affordability. The Howard “golden era” was of no benefit to those first home buyers who were squeeezed out of contention.

  3. Are there really people out there that are blaming the housing costs, petrol and grocery prices going up on the Labor government? Seriously?!? WTF?

    Housing prices basically tripled from 1999 until Labor took over in 2007.Petrol went up grammaticality since about August 2005.

    I’ve also seeing a lot of comments on FB from people saying that they don’t want to pay yet another tax, in regards to the Disability Insurance Scheme. Gee, hello!! Increasing an already EXISTING levy is NOT, I repeat, NOT a NEW tax.

  4. Pingback: Leave us our “Gillard has rooned us” fantasy | An Onymous Lefty

  5. That’s what seems to be underneath the “cost of living” whinge, which seems to be one of the first things to come out when someone tries to explain why they’re pissed off with this government.

    And it’s true, some costs of living have indeed gone up – but they’re mainly due to the sort of stuff we’d get more of under the Liberals. Like, as you point out, the tax system helping investors push up housing costs.

  6. While the CGT concession was a terrible idea – and it is Future Party policy to remove it – its not the primary thing driving the crisis in housing affordability.

    Indeed, if it were all down to investors chasing owner-occupiers out of the market, you’d expect to see house prices up but rents stable or even down, given there would be many more investor-landlords chasing after tenants. In fact, both have risen dramatically.

    The problem is actually one of supply and demand (surprise, surprise). We don’t build enough housing, primarily because local governments of all political stripes cater to their constituency of existing residents and oppose the levels of development needed to satisfy our growing populations. See the slides of this presentation my company gave to a Shelter NSW conference. Its Sydney specific but I’m very confident similar analysis would hold in Melbourne and to a lesser extent our other big cities.

    Otherwise, nice post.

  7. if it were all down to investors chasing owner-occupiers out of the market, you’d expect to see house prices up but rents stable or even down, given there would be many more investor-landlords chasing after tenants. In fact, both have risen dramatically.

    I don’t think you’d expect to see that at all. Because the investors have been outbidding potential buyers, so for every house bought by an investor instead of a homebuyer there’s one more landlord and one more person needing to rent.

    The main driver of the increase in rents is that the price increases have meant investors have higher finance costs and there are more renters in the system who have enough money to pay more in rent – an amount that in the old days would have been enough for a mortgage. Higher priced land plus frustrated potential homebuyers forced to rent means equals higher prices. Meanwhile at the bottom end of the market people on welfare are being completely squeezed out.

    We’re also not building enough new houses in areas served by, for example, decent public transport infrastructure.

  8. Another one of those “couldn’t of said it better myself” moments.

  9. most people want to be told everything will be fixed under my leadership that abbott is spinning, much like what howard did, fear and deceit to which we are now paying the price for.
    Abbott will most likely win and will blame labor for 3 years of their term and then say we are fixing things.

  10. Why wouldn’t people blame the government for all their ills when all they see hear and read is that the economy is tanking, Australia is about to fall into a big black hole any minute and only the Liberals can save us. If you told the average Aussie that the truth was exactly the opposite they wouldn’t believe you, and they don’t. The government don’t help themselves with their internal disunity for the media to focus on. The government have to get a bit of mongrel and get out there and sell themselves but my fear is they are incapable……or why havn’t they done it already?

  11. The main driver of the increase in rents is that the price increases have meant investors have higher finance costs”

    I’m sorry, but unless you can point me to some supporting evidence I just don’t find this plausible. Finance costs are not nearly a large enough proportion to explain the 50% increase in real rents we’ve seen in many areas over a half a decade or so. What’s more those costs are (more than) offset by the concessional tax treatment, which is precisely why a distorted amount of investment is being drawn into the market!

    The flood of investment money in housing is bidding up purchase prices; there is no doubt an asset bubble going on. But if those funds could be channeled into the actual construction of new housing, for which there is real and genuine demand, there wouldn’t be an issue (well, there would; an over-investment in housing at the expense of other sectors of economy, and ongoing loss of revenue to government. But the housing affordability problem would be largely adressed.)

    We’re also not building enough new houses in areas served by, for example, decent public transport infrastructure.

    For sure. We need more transport infrastructure and more development; one without the other is no good.

  12. narcoticmusing

    While I shudder at the thought of Abbott being PM; at what point do we stop blaming previous governments for the ills of today? For example, the CGT – the ALP have had two terms to remedy this. Ergo, why shouldn’t we blame them? I don’t find your argument terribly convincing (although I do agree with the overall sentiments, particulalry your part 2 where there is no evidence that Abbott will do a better job).

    I find it far more surprising that the media can happily sell an apocalyptical version of the state of the economy despite us being the envy of the world. How can the public know any better when there is little to no analysis that shows we’ve had 21 years of straight growth? Or that Gillard’s spending is at about the same level as Howard’s? Or the stupid debt is evil argument despite that any household would borrow to build a house so why wouldn’t the govt borrow to build infrastructure? Particularly now when borrowing money is essentially free (less than CPI at our credit rating). Or that Howard spend zero on infrastructure leaving this Govt with a huge capital backlog? Or that Howard sold all our revenue generating capacity for one off chunks of money that he then committed recurrently in the budget (notwithstanding that Gillard could in theory take those revenue generating assets back but that would loop back to the debt is evil argument).

    Our problem is revenue, not debt or spending. To increase revenue you require economic stimulus via spending – instead we just get austerity agendas from both sides.

  13. Narcoticmusing – I agree. The ALP should have done something about CGT by now. Which is why I’m not endorsing a vote for them – I’m advocating a vote for the Greens.

    But it’s complete madness to punish the ALP for being too like the Liberals by actually voting for the Liberals, which appears to be some voters’ reasoning.

  14. narcoticmusing

    Agreed, Jeremy.

  15. Jeremy, it’s tempting to agree with a most of what you’ve written here, but there is one major, glaring flaw. And that is, that people don’t really know what they’re doing by voting for Abbott-led government.

    To quote Battlestar Galactica: all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

    To be more precise, the same arguments were used against the left when Howard was removed and those arguments were refuted with force. You might remember Shanahan and the Oz, et al, all making grim pronouncements about how Australian voters don’t really know what they’re doing, that life would get worse for them, and that a change of government can’t possibly fix the problems people have in their lives.

    Tim Dunlop in particular was scathing of this argument in 2006/2007, identifying none other than then Health Minister one Anthony “Tony” Abbott for lamenting that the Australian people were “sleepwalking” into voting for the ALP, would wake up the day after the election and find they were in for a nasty shock. Dunlop et al slammed this vociferously, saying, no, we know exactly what we’re doing, yes, we understand the issues and the politicians involved, having watched them for a number of years, and yes, Howard truly deserves to go, and finally, yes we are completely compos mentis in making this decision. And we all thought this was a sound, compelling argument.

    So here we are and the situation is reversed exactly, the Australian people are determined to vote for what will likely be the most conservative and right wing government in generations, and all of us on the other side are saying… you people don’t really know what you’re doing.

    It all just rings false.

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