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Aug 14, 2014

Rundle: Hockey's suicide machine successfully alienates every single voter

Poor people with cars are the latest segment of the voting population to be attacked from on high by the Coalition. How is the party getting so repeatedly wrong?


Suicide machines is how Bruce Springsteen described cars, in one of his 937 songs about them. The description would be better attached to the Abbott government, which appears to be engaged in a systematic process to alienate every section of the public who might consider voting for it.

What’s impressive is the bases that it covers. Starting with multicultural Australia via the new bigots’ rights movement, moving on those genuinely looking for work, and then to all women — with the abortion/breast cancer finagle, and Education Minister Pissy Cryin’s suggestion that women will pay less HECS because they study to be nurses. That last one came at the end of a week so error-filled that most of us didn’t even have time to pick up on it.

Now it’s low-income people with cars. Let me repeat that — low-income people with cars. If ever there were a a low-income group that could be persuaded, by sheer false consciousness, to vote Liberal, it’s surely young people with cars.

If ever there were a rural group who might be persuaded to shift from the Nats to a Cathy McGowan-style independent, it’s people with fuel costs eating their income. There is an IDF-quality to the appearance of precision given by the Abbott government disaster squad — it’s as if they ring people five minutes beforehand to tell them they’re about to lose their vote.

Joe Hockey’s latest is a masterpiece, though, a sort of portmanteau error, combining all errors in the smallest possible space. It’s an error with something for everyone: basic category confusion, bad reasoning and inherent contradiction with their own policy direction. It’s an error for the ages. They should have it bronzed and put it in the foyer of their headquarters.

Kick the tyres! Let’s start with the basics, as briefly as possible, because most people with year 10 know them anyway. Hockey’s remark that the rich pay more than the poor for driving is firstly to use raw figures rather than proportions. The rich pay less as a proportion of their disposable income than the benefits-dependent poor, and even low-income waged workers. Figures from the Greens leader’s office show that the poorest 20% of households spend 6.3% of their weekly income on petrol, compared to 4.6% for those in the highest quintile. Indeed, the bottom 80% all pay more than the top 20%. Even if you take the top 40%, they pay less — 5.25% — of their weekly income than the poor.

And that of course disguises car journeys foregone — nothing on the dial! The second basic error is that of mistaking aggregate measures for real conditions. The “rich” and “poor” don’t get together and collectively budget. They are made up of millions of individual life circumstances, in which the aggregate load makes no appearance. Yes, I assumed it went without saying, too. Apparently not.

“The issue is not the fuel excise … The bigger issue is the one that Hockey is utterly oblivious of — the necessity for many Australians of a car they can ill-afford to run — or essential journeys forgone, because no alternative exists.”

That one contains some fantastic errors of reasoning. It’s true that the poor own fewer cars than the rich, but that doesn’t add up to less driving, unless one assumes that multiple-car households drive all their cars at once — or that low-income people don’t make multiple trips to family and friends without cars. (It brings to mind Mitt Romney’s remark about his wife at his disastrous NASCAR appearance in ’12: “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs …” Simultaneously, presumably, balanced between them, stunt-style. That’s Hockey’s ideal rich driver.)

That noise is just the hum of a fine, fine engine! Beyond that is a whole and more embedded realm of wrong. Recall that this government announced it was going to be a “government of roads” — and promptly stripped infrastructure funding from state public transport projects, including Melbourne metro and Sydney rail projects, funding instead the East West Link and WestConnex. The base figure used by transport planners are that every dollar spent on roads adds only 25-50% of the journeys that would be added by public transport spending. For people in the outer-eastern and western suburbs of both major cities, the diverted funding will ultimately produce up to 160,000 public transport journeys/day less than would have been available — thus forcing low-income people into increasing reliance on cars.

This emphasis on roads goes hand-in-drivers-glove with the spatialisation of poverty, and denial of services. For decades now, the pattern of inner-urban development has been to simply let capital have its head, with an absence of any interest in shaping new, post-industrial, inner urban neighbourhoods as mixed income areas, of public, affordable and market-price housing. The result is a reversal of the conditions that obtained in the post-war era, when many of the poor did live in highly-serviced areas. Once those areas became favourable, in a changed culture, the poor were excluded and exiled to outer suburban areas.

The result is a double squeeze. Public transport in vast swathes of our de facto unplanned outer-urban sprawl is practically non-existent — buses twice an hour, none after lunchtime on weekends. Such lack of service drives the rents down — relatively — so they become areas of low-income habitation. In Melbourne, as an example, low income areas like Kilsyth/Noble Park and the outer parts of the Dandenong corridor in the east, and Laverton/Brooklyn in the west, are “public transport deserts” in which non-car mobility is more or less impossible.

So the sump fell off. Who needs a sump! These gaps — together with whole areas, like the central Mornington Peninsula, which have no public transport services at all — make petrol a crippling cost for those who work, a real disincentive to work at all, and thus a self-fulfilling source of “entitlement-dependency”. For low-income people in rural and urban public transport deserts, all things considered — unsubidised childcare being another factor —  there is often a compelling, rational case not to work.

But wait, we’ll throw in a paint job! For those who are on benefits in public transport deserts, there are often compelling costs — multiple medical visits, for one. Since government free clinics will suspend services if clients miss multiple appointments, a car becomes an essential part of maintaining health. The same for the unemployed put to the work test — who can be breached and have their benefits suspended for missed interviews. Or who can have their benefits delayed if they are sacked for negligent behaviour — i.e. persistent unpunctuality. Who would rely on public transport in Doveton to do anything, from anywhere?

The issue is not the fuel excise per se, whose costs are small. The bigger issue is the one that Hockey is utterly oblivious of — the necessity for many Australians of a car they can ill-afford to run — or essential journeys forgone, because no alternative exists.

Call urban and transport planning what it is — a war on the poor and low-income, nothing else. It is simply one feature of the neoliberalisation of Australian life — let private developers shape cities, define services as a public cost, thus essentially privatising the profits of social development and socialising the losses. The result is to build relentless service decline and inequality into the system. When that is underway, slug the poor inequitably for costs produced by the system you’ve imposed on them. When you’re embedded in the logic of that system, as Slow Joe and his advisers are, you don’t see its contradictory nature. You don’t see the poor either, marooned in low-service suburbs, or dying towns — except when you’re targeting them. But they see you. Suicide machines indeed.



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44 thoughts on “Rundle: Hockey’s suicide machine successfully alienates every single voter

  1. SusieQ

    (that line is from Born to Run by the way…)
    Its the uncaring attitude in all of this thats so disturbing from ‘the government of adults’.

  2. Pamela

    Its kinda nice really- these bastards who crippled the previous government with constant attack and denigration- now they are crippling them selves all by themselves.
    The Opposition are too lily -livered to even rise to the occasion but we the people need not despair. These self appointed eejits are so compulsively thick, mean and stoopid that they are competing with each other in the death race.
    Each day another one of them gets out of bed and opens their mouths to prove their stupidity, cupidity and lack of merit.

  3. graybul

    Talk about disconnect! Cigar smoking, Treasured Joe hockey’s latest fallacious claim about low income citizens not owning/driving cars far, perfectly illustrates danger of living on the North Shore!!

  4. MJPC

    Guy, excellent summary of the ineptitude of Uncle Joe. Something lost in translation of his comments is also that the better paid and those idle rich higher up the totem pole, lease cars either through company structures or salary sacrifice, which means that part of their car usage will be paid for by the rest of us who don’t have this luxury.
    Hence the Libs looking after their mates when they quickly rescinded the Labour legislation addressing private km usage of leased vehicles.

  5. Draco Houston

    “There is an IDF-quality to the appearance of precision given by the Abbott government disaster squad — it’s as if they ring people five minutes beforehand to tell them they’re about to lose their vote.”

  6. zut alors

    Thanks, Guy, I’d missed that nugget from the lips of the Education Minister.

    Has anyone thought to tell Hockey that some poor people actually live in their cars? Perhaps best to keep that fact quiet lest he impose an Occupied Vehicle tax.

  7. klewso

    Crass warfare from these “Kamikaze Cocks”?
    [“Tramps like us,
    Baby we were Born to Rule???????”?]
    How many of us can drive two or more cars at once to get somewhere?
    Let alone the age of some of those less efficient motors “the lower classes” have to use, because they can’t afford new ones?
    [Me? “I’m Waitin’ for the Man …. from ICAC”?]

  8. Mendoza

    It is about time the citizens of these areas turned on the government rather than asylum seekers or welfare recipients.
    But it won’t happen and the whole circus trundles along.

  9. klewso

    From the Book of “Sloppy Joe’s Sicko-fancy” :-
    [“Pay more for petrol – have less for your health co-payment!”?]

  10. klewso

    And – it wasn’t written down – didn’t he say this was going to be a “government of Rhodes”?

  11. paddy

    Definitely one of your better pieces Guy.
    This morning, I jumped in my limousine & drove to Melb from the rural transport hub where I live in darkest Gippsland. 2 buses a day (if you’re lucky) and no taxi service within 60 km!
    Thank goodness I’m obviously rolling in it.
    BTW By far the best bit of this morning’s drive, was listening to the outraged punters on the car radio.

  12. judith pugh

    Yes exactly. My village is 30 minutes from the nearest town and the only public transport options are various school buses leaving from 7.30-8.00am returning from 3.00pm, only of course on schooldays in school terms. Petrol is a huge big proportion of a weekly budget. Without a car appointments and social occasions have to happen around these times and without a lift or a bed overnight there is no going to films or theatre or gallery openings or out to dinner.

    Public transport infrastructure is crucial: there used to be several trains a day through here. Also what hasn’t percolated, it seems, is that there is research showing that young people EVEN IN CITIES, particularly in cities, want public transport so they can use social media while travelling.

  13. Lee Miller

    Spot on Guy, how smug and inept this lot are.

  14. Dogs breakfast

    “It’s an error with something for everyone: basic category confusion, bad reasoning and inherent contradiction with their own policy direction. It’s an error for the ages. They should have it bronzed and put it in the foyer of their headquarters.”

    Love it!

    Billy MacMahon is in his grave wondering if finally he can get the monkey off his back – ‘Worst Government in post-war Australia, and probably since Federation.’

    Sleep well Billy. 🙂

  15. Annalise Lampe

    the other factor about fuel excise and the well off not mentioned by Hockey is that the wealthy write off all their car expenses against their business and highly paid executives salary sacrifice the cost of their cars and their partner’s car. Their car costs in their entirety are subsidised by the taxpayer. So they don’t care if fuel prices rise.

  16. Venise Alstergren

    Is it possible that Joe Hockey is a mole for the Labor Party? God alone knows Bill Shorten ain’t gonna get us anywhere!

  17. Venise Alstergren

    JOE HOCKEY: I used to live in London where there was fast and efficient public transport, for rich and poor to use. This delicacy is something denied to Australians-rich and poor. I don’t wish to be rude BUT, Joe Hockey, to condemn the poor for being poor is worthy of another Joe whose surname was Stalin.

    Instead of criticising the public for being forced to own cars, how about the Federal Government does something to discourage Australians from multiplying so fast. No wonder infrastructure can’t keep up with the population explosion.

    Should you really desire to do something for “TeamAustralia” how about dissuading your leader, Tony Abbott, from introducing his pet scheme to reward women for reproducing?

  18. Mark Kennedy

    “It is simply one feature of the neoliberalisation of Australian life — let private developers shape cities, define services as a public cost, thus essentially privatising the profits of social development and socialising the losses. The result is to build relentless service decline and inequality into the system. When that is underway, slug the poor inequitably for costs produced by the system you’ve imposed on them.”
    Could you flesh this paragraph into another article?

  19. archibald

    Great stuff, Guy. Privatising the profits and socialising the losses indeed. Continuous expansion of the major cities as a growth driver seems to be the only model the local brains trust can come up with. They just don’t want to invest in anything that goes with it. Wait for the next installment: congestion charges. Want to drive on Hoddle Street between 7am and 7pm – better be prepared to pony up for the privilege. This is absolutely the plan and has been for decades already.

  20. John McCabe

    I like it, Guy. You’re spot on in so many ways.

    May I add that those of us who live in ‘the country’ are already being slugged with higher petrol/diesel/LPG prices than the city cousins. As an example, I pay between $0.91 and $0.99 per litre of LPG here on the north coast of NSW. On a recent trip to the Big Smoke (aka Sydney) I was delighted to fill up the tank for just $0.71 per litre. Maybe there’s a willing pollie who can address that anomaly, but it’s been like this forever and I’ve not seen them come running, including the Nationals.

  21. Andybob

    Hockey made Ricky Muir sound intelligent and wise. I actually support indexation of the fuel excise, although I would prefer the money go to public transport or adding infrastructure for electric vehicles, but Hockey makes me instinctively want to oppose it !

  22. Electric Lardyland

    And probably the most essential ingredient of a political suicide machine, is that it runs on the high octane blend of assuredness and self-righteousness, that is only really available to the truly ignorant and ill-informed.

    And good question, Zut: just a shame, that as far as I know, nobody interviewing Hockey thought to ask it.

  23. Graham R

    Yeeehaar, Guy, you rode him well. Squeal piggy, squeal…..

  24. Graham R

    That IDF line was priceless, BTW.

  25. Lubo Gregor

    Public transport infrastructure is a derogative in this country.

  26. Ken Lambert

    I wonder if this is the same Guy who lamented the demise of the carbon tax – a fossil fuel impost which raised the poor’s electricity bills by 9%.

    Did I hear Guy bashing Hockey for leaving the poor’s compensation for Gillard’s carbon tax in place after the tax was repealed??

    Is this the same Guy who is now squealing about a 1c/litre excise rise in the price of petrol, another fossil fuel which costs around 150c/litre – a 0.66% rise in cost.

    And Guy knows all about public transport. Wall to wall Labor Governments from Rudd/Gillard in 2007 to Qld, NSW, Vic, SA et al did so well at building it!!

    Does Guy remember Gillard’s ride to Rooty Hill? Was it by heavy rail Guy or Comcar? – fortunately Gillard’s last ride.

    The point is that sprawling heavy rail is very expensive to build and no Govt, Labor, the natural Party of the Poor, or Liberal has done well at it.

  27. Liamj

    Poor Peta Credlin, she finally got Tony to stick to painfully rehearsed scripts, and now shes got a whole list of halfwits who need their food pre-chewed. Wanted: voice-over experts familar with LNP/IPA/NewsCorpse policy/thought-bubbles.

  28. Andrew Dolt

    Peta will be way too busy overseeing hubby’s forthcoming performance at ICAC to look after the rest of the Liberal clown collective. Maybe this is what’s going wrong.

  29. Lord Muck

    “buses twice an hour, none after lunchtime on weekends”

    Correction: buses once an hour, none after lunchtime on weekends. Only some suburbs have the luxury of twice an hour.

    Hockey seems to be an own goal maestro.

  30. John Allan

    Actually, I have no issue with the surcharge to raise revenue. What pisses me off is that Gina et al get off scott free in this budget.
    This government has no vision. They lost me over the knighthoods – proving beyond doubt that Tony considered the country his own play-thing.

  31. klewso

    Toady’s an administrator – for Murdoch, saves him going to the people to have his polices voted on.

  32. drsmithy

    Instead of criticising the public for being forced to own cars, how about the Federal Government does something to discourage Australians from multiplying so fast. No wonder infrastructure can’t keep up with the population explosion.

    Our population growth isn’t from Australians multiplying, it’s from the massive influx of “skilled” migrants being used to suppress wages.

    ~200,000 immigrants a year for the last decade is why infrastructure is groaning.

  33. Ken Dally

    Excellent journalism, a thing often lacking in much of the media.

  34. tonyfunnywalker

    Another master piece Guy.

  35. Malcolm Grant

    And then Idiot Boy 2 adds arrogance to arrogance by uttering these words today as an ‘apology’.

    “I’m sorry about the interpretation, I am sorry about the words.”

  36. Albion Harrison-Naish

    drsmithy (no.34) and Venise (no. 17). Our depleted infrastructure etc is not a result of either immigration based or natural birth rate population increases, but rather can be directly tied to the decreasing levels of corporate tax being collected over the past 20 years.

    And Ken Lambert (no. 28), I realise that you most likely already understand this and were just being a dickhead, but Guy didn’t for one moment in this article criticise the idea of increasing the fuel excise. Indeed, he gave no opinion on that whatsoever. He was simply pointing out the degree to which Joe Hockey’s comments indicated someone who lacks critical thinking skills and is totally out of touch with any reality which isn’t based on his mates in the business world or on Sydney’s north shore. Both perfectly sensible observations. Personally I’d love to see fuel excise go up significantly, but that doesn’t for one moment change the idiocy of Hockey’s latest gaffe.

  37. Luke Hellboy

    Sleep easy people of Australia. At least those poor multi-national mining companies still aren’t paying excise on their petrol.

  38. drsmithy

    This government has no vision.

    The problem is not that the Government has no vision.

    The problem is they DO have a vision, and it’s to turn Australia into a smaller, even more neoliberal version of America.

  39. graybul

    The point about Smoking Joe (also his colleagues) and his apology . . is not that he (they) are sorry; rather that he (they) have no empathy with working people! Abbott, Morrison, Brandis, Pyne, Abetz, Hockey . . are simply disconnected from ‘Main Street’.

  40. AR

    As almost always, Grundle nails it, squirming & wriggling.
    Small point – the Cadillacs quote was in Detroit on 24.2.12 and two days later, in another state, he showed his street cred at NASCAR by telling the drivers that “I know a couple of team owners”.

  41. GideonPolya

    The harsh reality is that the neoliberal Coalition supports the continued aggrandisement of the One Percenters (Vaucluse, Toorak) and Ten Percenters (Mosman, Kew) to the exclusion of the Ninety Percenters. French Economist Professor Thomas Piketty in his seminal book “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century” explains how One Percenter possession of about 50% of the wealth perverts democracy and threatens economic sustainability (for detailed review see Gideon Polya “Key book review: “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty” , Countercurrents, 1 July 2014: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya010714.htm ).

    The share in total income of the top 1% in France, Germany, Sweden and Japan declined from about 20% in 1910 to about 8% in 1950 and thence remained low (Figure 9.3, p317). In contrast, in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia a similar decline occurred from about 20% in 1910 to 6-9% in 1970 but after 1980 the One Percenter share of total income variously increased to 10-18%. A similar pattern obtains with the top 10% in these countries, a phenomenon that Piketty describes as “the rise of the supermanager: an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon” (Figures 9.2-9.8, pp315-324). A similar post-1980 rising income share by the One Percenters is apparent in the emerging economies of India, China, South Africa, Argentina and Colombia (Figure 9.9, p327).

    The much higher return on equity by the super-rich as compared to the merely rich is also analysed by Piketty who presents powerful data on the much higher rates of return on greater capital asset sets. Thus for US universities the rate of return on endowments greater than $1 billion (60) is 10.2% as compared to 6.2% for endowments of less than $100 million (p498). The bigger the capital asset the more can be paid for better investment advice and investment access. (This is otherwise known as the Matthew Effect: “ For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath” ; The Holy Bible, New Testament, Matthew 25:29, King James Version).

    Neoliberal Hockey’s “the poor don’t drive cars” is a symptom of the Coalition’s pro-One Percenter disease and worsening inequality in Australia which, like other Western democracies, has become a Murdochcracy, Lobbyocracy and Corporatocracy in which Big Money purchases people, parties, politicians, policies, public perception of reality and political power. One-person-one-vote has become one-dollar-one-vote. Democracy aside, from a bottom-line science-informed perspective of preventable death, in prosperous Australia 66,000 Australians die preventably each year linked to resource and wealth maldistribution. Decent Australians who care for fellow Australians and democracy will reject the neoliberal Lib-Labs (Liberal-Laborals, Coalition-Labor Right), vote 1 Green and put the Coalition last.

    Unfortunately the neoliberal Lib-Labs (Coalition-Labor Right Liberal-Laborals) are whores of the One Percenters and in particular of the foreign One Percenters (this making the Lib-Labs traitorous whores), noting that about 80% of the Mining Industry is foreign owned. The Coalition in particular have betrayed Australia through its anti-science policies, slashing funding for Industry research, universities, the ARC, , CRCs and CSIRO and doing everything it can to hamper Australia moving to a “smart and green”, renewable energy-based economy.

  42. klewso

    You can tell the poor by their choice of cigar …. and the way they misinterpret what you reckon is best for them?

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