What’s left after “the year of decision and delivery”, then, in which public debate in Australia unhitched itself from any connection with notions of reality and evidence? After anti-carbon tax rallies, and convoys of no consequence demanding constitutionally impossible elections, and an endless parade of rent seekers trying to influence public policy, surely 2012 will see some restoration of normality to public discourse?

Nonsense, we’re just getting started — we’ve got a long way to go to even get close to the standard of discourse in the United States, where entire presidential nomination contests can be conducted as if occurring in another universe where different laws of physics and mathematics apply.

So to kick off 2012, here’s your cut-out-and-keep guide to the key policy scams that we’ll be subjected to throughout the year.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

Perpetrators: big business, The Australian, The Australian Financial Review, Liberals not currently in the parliamentary leadership group of the party

IR is shaping up as the one of the key issues of 2012 and likely its most deceitful campaign. We already have incessant headlines from the Fin Review and The Oz attacking unions and insisting there’s a compelling case for a pro-business overhaul of the Fair Work Act. Look carefully at the articles and you’ll see they rarely feature a single fact, except to argue that the recent increase in industrial action driven by militant employers such as Qantas is the fault of unions and the government.

Key myths:

Australia’s productivity slump can be fixed with IR deregulation

Economists are still debating what has caused the productivity slump that Australia and most of the rest of the developed world have seen in the past decade. But one thing is clear: IR reform has no clear effect on labour productivity and if anything diminishes it. As Treasury forecast, WorkChoices dramatically cut labour productivity in Australia. As if to demonstrate that the best means of improving productivity is tough competition, the industry with one of the best productivity records of recent years is manufacturing, which between 2009 and 2010 increased its share of GDP by 0.2% with 20,000 fewer workers (and under the Fair Work Act). It lost another 5% of workers in 2011 while maintaining overall industry output — raising the question of why the cretins at the Telegraph think IR reform is the key to improve productivity in manufacturing.

The Fair Work Act is “unbalanced” and allows unions to do things they couldn’t do before

On the allegedly critical issue of what matters unions can include in workplace agreements (and thereby “interfere” with management prerogatives), the Fair Work Act restored the status quo under Peter Reith’s Workplace Relations Act. When business complains about the outrages unions are able to get away with under the new IR framework, they’re actually lamenting that WorkChoices was removed at all.

FOOD SECURITY

Perpetrators: well… everyone

Food security — or as it used to be known, protectionism — is a game the whole political family can play. The Nationals rail against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for jeopardising it. Labor is developing a “national food plan”. Barnaby Joyce froths at the mouth about evil furreners buying up our farm land. Last week Joe Hockey said the Liberals will make our obscure, complex foreign investment process even more problematic for investors who might want to invest in Australian agriculture. The Greens can attack free trade, foreign investment and coal seam gas in the name of it. And the food manufacturing industry can use it to demand special assistance from taxpayers and regulators.

Key myths

Foreign ownership of food production needs to be regulated

You can always spot a protectionist because they insist their industry is “different”. So it is with food security — food is somehow “different” to other industries, because OMG what would we eat without food? But notice how the specific threat from foreign investment in the food sector is never spelt out by food security advocates? What are foreign investors going to do — send all our soil and water off to China? Foreign investors will have exactly the same motivation as local investors — maximising profit. And that will be the mechanism by which any future global food “shortage” is best addressed as food commodity prices rise.

We have a food import problem

No, we don’t, we’re a massive net exporter of food, and even at the height of the drought, exported 60% of our agricultural output. And what’s by far the biggest single source of our food imports? Yikes, those sinister Kiwis. And it’s not like Australia always plays on a level field on agriculture. Remember how expensive bananas were last year after the natural disasters in Queensland? Well actually it was nothing to do with cyclones and floods — it was because we still block the import of bananas from countries such as the Philippines (which as anyone who’s been to NZ will tell you, produces better bananas than we do).

CARBON PRICING IMPACTS

Perpetrators: The Coalition, business, shock jocks, The Daily Telegraph

You won’t need to wait until July 1 for the “carbon price shock” stories to start rolling in. The Tele probably already has images of disconsolate-looking families gazing in horror at electricity or grocery bills (“sorry kids, I’m going to have to sell you all for scientific experiments to pay Juliar’s carbon tax”). The opposition is in the sweet position of having it both ways. Small business spokesman Bruce Billson is railing against competition policy restrictions on business lifting prices, while Greg Hunt tries to hang onto what few atoms of credibility he has left by attacking any price rises, while denying the coalition’s plan to repeal the carbon pricing package is engendering further investor uncertainty and putting more pressure on electricity prices.

Key myths

The carbon package will have a noticeable impact on prices

Treasury modelling shows the only areas where the carbon price will have an impact greater than 0.5% — that is, more than half a cent per dollar — is electricity (7.9%), rents (0.6%), housing (0.6%), and appliances (0.8%). The impact across a range of foods will be under 10 cents a week, the same impact as for education and health expenses. The average price impact — the great bulk of which is electricity — will be $10 a week per household. That’s about two-thirds of what average full-time adult weekly earnings grew by in one quarter in 2011. Except, most households will be overcompensated or partly-compensated for the impact.

Compensation isn’t permanent

This bizarre line has been peddled by Tony Abbott ever since the carbon pricing package was released. Sadly for the budget bottom line, it’s all too permanent. From 2013-14, when the government’s save-the-surplus pea-and-thimble trick is finished, two rounds of tax cuts and increases in family tax benefits will cost over $1.5 billion and rising, year in, year out.

ÉLITE VICTIMHOOD

Perpetrators: right-wing commentators, billionaires and big companies, News Ltd

The most recent iteration of this strange inversion of reality began with billionaires Twiggy Forrest and Gina Rhinehart purporting to be victimised by the original version of the mining tax. It now has a variety of sometimes surprising forms: Alan Jones insisting that the Australian Federal Police had somehow persecuted the convoy of no consequence; Mitch Hooke whingeing that economic debate is now about redistribution; the incessant lament of “bank-bashing” from the banking cartel, including ANZ’s Mike Smith criticising Joe Hockey for having a “personal vendetta” against the banks for suggesting reform, or The Australian claiming to be a victim of Bob Brown’s bullying, or newspaper editorials criticising the Occupy movement’s focus on the “1%”.

But whatever the particular instance, the general form is clear — some of the most powerful or richest people in the country seriously maintain they are victims of systematic repression. While the likes of Jones presumably absorb the underdog status of the elderly, low and middle-income reactionaries who form their audience base, for the rest it’s a cultivated act, a wilful attempt to obscure the reality that they exercise serious power in their own interests.

Key myths

This is a socialist government

Seriously. A Labor government criticised by the business community for cutting spending too much, which will cut the corporate tax rate, refused opposition calls to regulate the banks more, which is in a terrible political position because of the market mechanism it introduced to address climate change and that has strengthened our role as a vassal of the United States, socialist? Did they change the definition or something?

The mining industry is a hapless victim of government

The Rudd government was destroyed by foreign companies BHP, Xstrata and Rio Tinto through a campaign run by Mitch Hooke’s Minerals Council. “We can’t be seen to be dancing on his grave,” Hooke told a confidential phone hook-up the day after Rudd was knifed. The companies are tax dodgers that exploit transfer pricing and tax havens to minimise their tax burdens across the globe. They forced the government to allow them to rewrite the mining tax so as to dramatically slash their obligations. Gina Rinehart has significant investments in two of the country’s biggest media companies. Clive Palmer owns his own personal political party, the LNP. Who are these people kidding?

Of course, this is just the beginning. Many of our old favourites from 2011 and earlier years will continue to crop up: the alleged disaster of the retail sector, in which any whinge by Gerry Harvey or whining press release from David Jones is treated as a major news event; the cyber security industry relentlessly spruiking online crime and “cyber war” to sell products, the “inaccurate”, “misleading” campaign against the NBN. And of course there’s the Labor leadership. If you’re not sick of unidentified “senior Labor sources”, incessant speculation about polls or the analysis of everything through the prism of Gillard-Rudd tension already, then you soon will be.

Peter Fray

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