This article was originally on June 18, 2018. It has been updated in light of today’s events.
Despite the power of incumbency and the leadership of his party and of the federal Coalition, the former prime minister of Australia dared not speak some truths for fear of unleashing fury in his own ranks. These unspeakable facts ended up becoming impediments to sound policy that had to be skirted around or steadfastly ignored, but which stubbornly remained there regardless of what he said. What were they?
1. The transition to renewable energy and the end of coal is inevitable.
The iron laws of mathematics and physics mean that renewable energy is unstoppable and the private sector is no longer interested in wasting money on coal-based power. Fossil fuel obsessives within Liberal ranks have had to couple their Luddite views of energy technology with a demand for Soviet-style government intervention.
2. Our drug laws primarily serve to ruin lives, waste taxpayer dollars, fill jails and enrich drug dealers.
Anathema to the “tough on drugs” crowd, the facts about the failed War on Drugs have to be uttered by a senior conservative to generate momentum for change, but can’t be.
3. The Liberals are the party of high taxes and big spending.
They know it in their bones and they say it behind closed doors, but none dare say it out loud — under the Howard, Abbott and Turnbull governments, the Liberals have taxed more and spent more as a proportion of GDP than Labor governments.
4. Industry super funds substantially outperform big bank funds.
Despite two successive ministers with responsibility for superannuation, Josh Frydenberg and Kelly O’Dwyer — both former bankers — having their super in industry funds, the government is physically unable to admit industry funds beat retail funds, and by a long way, preferring to demonise industry funds as run by “venal union officials”.
5. Wage stagnation is because industrial disputation and collective bargaining have been made virtually impossible.
It might be low company profits. It might be the lack of company tax cuts. It might be poor productivity. But one thing wage stagnation can never be is the result of attacks on unions and the industrial relations system for 30 years. So wages growth will perpetually be “just around the corner”.
6. Iraq was a disaster and the Howard government lied to get Australia into it.
The greatest foreign policy debacle since Vietnam, which continues to roil the Middle East, killed hundreds of thousands and cost trillions somehow happened without anyone being to blame for it — or accepting responsibility for the lies told about weapons of mass destruction that provided the justification for it.
7. Newstart is too low.
Even the Business Council says our rate of unemployment assistance is too low — and had said that for years. But welfare must be an eternal cycle of crackdowns on rorts, not a recognition that Australia has a tightly targeted system that squeezes the unemployed into desperate choices.
8. Private health insurance subsidies are a waste of money.
Billions of dollars a year wasted propping up private health insurance is an article of faith on the Right, but deep down, they know it’s true — the money would be far more effectively deployed being directed straight into the public health system.
9. Labor’s response to the financial crisis was hugely successful.
It was the mining industry. It was China. It was anything but Labor’s stimulus programs, which underpinned household demand and the construction industry and saved us from recession — programs the Liberals opposed.
10. Our foreign policy has made terrorism worse.
Eighteen years on from 9/11, we spend ever more on counter-terrorism, we have ever stricter laws, we’re still killing people in the Middle East, and we’re no more secure than we were nearly two decades ago. Intelligence officials keep saying it, but no one else will — “they do not hate us for our values, but because of our policies.”