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May 18, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Politics | [ssba]

Under Budgeted Ideas

“The deceit tax is a price that working Australians will pay for the Prime Minister’s broken promises and twisted priorities. It is a tax grab that puts the politics of a manufactured Budget emergency ahead of the welfare of millions of hardworking Australians.” That was Bill Shorten’s reaction to the Australian Government’s new tax on the rich. To have wealth is to have power. Of course the tax is being opposed. But Shorten is the leader of the Australian Labor Party. The defence of the rich is being led by a man whose job is the defence of the poor.

Last week saw National delivering our Government’s annual budget – but it was the budget presented the day before in Australia from which we can learn the most. There, within the space of a couple of hours, conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott proved meaningless the spectrum New Zealand bases politics upon.

It’s not just forcing the rich to pay more tax. The Australian budget is also introducing a paid maternal-leave scheme. Australia currently requires employers to pay new mothers the minimum wage for 18 weeks while the mother takes time off work. Having employers fund maternal leave encourages discrimination when hiring women, so Abbott is changing it, making taxpayers pick up the bill. At the same time he’s extending coverage to six months and – if they earn less than $100,000 – mothers will be paid their full usual salary. Tony Abbott, feminist revolutionary.

Not that anyone told the Australian left. Labor argues that gifting $50,000 to Australia’s wealthiest each time they have a child is unfair to the working families who earn less than that in a year. Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps they should tell their comrades in New Zealand who’re leading the campaign to extend maternity leave here.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Labour insists that the baby-boomer bubble and growing life expectancies are threatening the viability of our superannuation, that raising the retirement age is necessary for the scheme to avoid collapse. But again the Australian Labor Party is opposing Abbott’s plans to do exactly that. The arguments are familiar – that Indigenous people have shorter life expectancies, that manual labourers can’t be expected to keep working until they’re 70. The only change is that they’re being shouted from different sides of the House.

It’s easy to dismiss these Australian politicians as ideological traitors, but political dichotomies are unhinged whenever they find a new context. We think of conservatism and liberalism and socialism as universal, but that’s a myth. Philosophies are always too broad to define a specific political agenda. In truth, we manufacture ideology to simplify our world – those on our side are good people, our enemies are the bad. Our ideologies are defined by the ideologies of others. Too bad we forgot to pay attention to the Aussies.


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