Judging the government. That Governments are judged by what happens, not by what someone says will or might happen, seems to have escaped this Opposition. The whole current attack on Labor and its Budget is based on an assertion that the assumptions underlying forecasts of future Budget deficits are far too optimistic. Well forecasts by economists about what will happen years ahead are invariably wrong, but experience tells us they are just as likely to be too pessimistic as too optimistic. As to the general public, I doubt that the vast majority of voters have a clue what the politicians are talking about nor any desire to find out. What will be will be and it is the reality come election day which will determine whether the government is thrown out or not. Currently the Crikey Australian Election Indicator puts the chances of a Labor victory at 63% with the Coalition at 37%.

An incentive for budget surpluses. The good citizens of California have come up with a novel way of encouraging their state politicians to produce a budget surplus. They voted at a referendum on Tuesday to prohibit wage increases for legislators and statewide officeholders in deficit years. From now on, near the end of each fiscal year, the state finance director must determine whether the state’s general fund is expected to run a surplus or a deficit. Declaration of a deficit would mean the California Citizens Compensation Commission is not permitted to raise the salaries of top elected leaders.

The six person Commission certainly got the message. The day after the referendum its members voted 5-1 to slash the salaries of elected state officials by 18% citing pay cuts and layoffs being imposed on rank-and-file state workers in a desperate attempt to stop California’s government going bankrupt. The Commission wanted the cuts to apply immediately, but the State Attorney General ruled that would be illegal and the new lower rates could only apply to those elected from January next year.

A new edition of political wisdom. I am indebted to The New Republic for reminding me of the many words of wisdom of the Chinese sage Lao Tzu via a splendid review in its current edition of the recently published Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology edited and translated by David Hinton.

To give but one example:

Never bestow honors
and people won’t quarrel.
Never prize rare treasures
and people won’t steal.
Never flaunt alluring things
and people won’t be confused.

This book review is one of those rare ones that has had me off and ordering so I can read the full version of Hinton’s translation of the High T’any poet Li Po’s “Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon” from which these lines come:

Among the blossoms, a single jar of wine. No one else here, I ladle it out myself.
Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon,
and facing my shadow makes friends
three,
though moon has never understood
wine,
and shadow only trails along behind me.
I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;
I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces.

The herd stumbles on. The search for a real live Australian members of parliament scandal to match that in the UK goes on with the Sydney Morning Herald joining the fray this morning with an attempt to suggest that it is scandalous that there is no there is no record kept of the $8 million-a-year in electorate allowance paid to MPs. Herald journalists Phillip Hudson and Matthew Moore have ” discovered “that no official agency monitors how much of each $32,000 allowance is kept as income by MPs, how much is spent on voters or what it is spent on. It is almost reluctantly that they concede that the Taxation Commissioner has the right to check just those things.

Meanwhile, across town, the Daily Telegraph has given yet another run to a perennial tabloid favourite — MPs who employ wives and relatives on their staff.

Goodness knows how many times a variation on this theme has featured over the years, but from memory I wrote it more than once when I was at the Tele many years ago. These days I admit the error of my youthful ways for I would prefer an MP employ a relative rather than one of those pushy young would-be politicians.

Peter Fray

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