Our circumstances do not warrant a knee-jerk return to the policies which delivered stagflation in the 1970s and early ’80s. We should not be panicked into fiscal profligacy and the burdening of future generations of Australians with huge amounts of debt.
I wasn’t present at the former Prime Minister’s speech last night so I don’t know if he qualified those remarks but, in fairness, he might have added a crucial piece of information that even his devoted listeners might have had trouble digesting.
The Treasurer of Australia in the 1970s and early 1980s was John Howard. His economic record, as Peter Costello delightedly pointed out to Howard’s biographers, was abysmal.
As for fiscal profligacy, Howard knows what he talks about. He left the Hawke Government with a budget deficit of 4.3% of GDP, which dwarfs the efforts of the current Government.
When he was allowed near the country’s economic levers for a second time, his profligacy continued, with Government spending growing at a Whitlamesque 5% in his last years in office. This time he had a mining boom to thank for not plunging the country into deficit.
But as Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly said, it’s the quality of the spend that counts. And the quality of the spend was dreadful — massive pork barrelling and middle-class welfare. No social or economic infrastructure. An omission for which we’ll be paying for generations.
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The Howard version of events is every bit as dodgy as the Rudd version. His claims of fiscal rigour are nonsensical. And, if you lost your dough in a corporate collapse during the Howard years, you might not think his Government’s financial oversight was too flash either. HIH, Westpoint, Fincorp, Henry Kaye, ACR, James Hardie, NAB’s forex desk, Bridgecorp, Firepower … although it’s surprising that Howard didn’t mention those, given they occurred on the watch of his good friend Peter Costello, whose presence last night was unfortunately required at another conservative circle jerk in Sydney.
Oh, and Howard apparently kept a straight face when he observed that “Liberals should always retain their strong belief in the fundamental force of the market.” Just as his Government did on aviation, pharmaceuticals, media policy, wheat … the list goes on.
Kevin Rudd might be talking crap when he purports to explain how neoliberalism plunged us into recession but John Howard shouldn’t even be given airtime. He was a shabby economic manager and, for that matter, a shabby Liberal, and should be ignored.